Posts Tagged ‘Chicano Studies’

Scholar, Activist Rudy Acuna Responds to Arizona’s “Big Lie” Law, SB 1108

May 4, 2008

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This just in from Rudy Acuna, author of Occupied America, one of several books identified as “anti-American” by Arizona Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa and other backers of the racist SB 1108 bill. Rudy’s letter to the Tucson Citizen rightly denounces the dangerous tactic of the “Big Lie” inherent in SB 1108. Well made points by an eminent scholar and committed activist, one I have great affection for and admiration of.

Letter to the Editor:

Unlike many of the present day squatters in Arizona, I have deep feelings for Arizona. My mother’s family, the Elíases lived there for centuries.

But recently I have been swimming in a sea of emails alerting me to Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, amendments to Senate Bill 1108 that would permit Arizona to confiscate books, ban Chicano studies and exclude the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlan (MECHA) from Arizona’s campuses.

I am 75-years young and have lived through the McCarthy era and read about similar thought control crusades which history has exposed as idiotic. In the 1920s the words to the pledge of alliance were changed from “my flag” to the “flag of the United States” so aliens would not cross their fingers and salute a foreign flag. The present proposal ranks along side these kinds of idiocies.

If Pearce has his way, Arizona schools would ban courses “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization” and would teaching practices that “overtly encourage dissent” from those values, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious tolerance. Rep. Pearce who is not the sharpest knife in the box then would bar public schools, community colleges and universities from allowing organizations to operate on campus if it is “based in whole or in part on race-based criteria.” Among the books designated for burning is my book Occupied America: A History of Chicanos which has received the Gustavus Myers Award for an Outstanding Book on Race Relations in North America.

I am personally offended by Pearce’s labeling my book as seditious. Unlike Pearce I served in the armed forces and did not claim deferments. I was a full time student in good standing at the University of Southern California during the Korean War. I volunteered draft. Pearce and many of the thought control cadets took another route. Moreover, many of the statements Pearce attributes to Occupied America were in quotation marks. Having taught well prepared students from the University of Phoenix, I know that Phoenix teaches its students what quotation marks mean. .

For Pearce’s information, history is probative. It builds. That is why the content of U.S. history courses change from elementary through high school. University courses which Pearce should are much more complex.

What I am more concerned about are Pearce’s attempts to smear MECHA. Adolph Hitler was a proponent of the use of the Big Lie as a viable propaganda technique. Hitler said that the bigger the lie the more adapt people were to believe it.

Pearce implies that MECHA excludes other races and promotes racism, which is just not true. For Pearce’s information, MECHA organizations on every campus are chartered by student affairs. In order to be chartered, the organization has to be open to all students regardless of their race, ethnicity or religion. Every campus differs. I have visited hundreds of campuses throughout the country and have found that on some campuses the majority of the members were non-Mexican American.

I entered education because I wanted to give gang kids an alternative – I loved the kids but hated gangs. Many former gang members are today lawyers, medical doctors and teachers because of Chicano studies and MECHA. Indeed, in California 85 to 95 percent of all Latino elected officials are alumni of this organization. Frankly, people like Pearce relish in the portrayal of Mexican Americans as gang members rather than university graduates because they can step on us.

The Big Lie strategy of Pearce and company is effective because most people become paralyzed in the face of the Big Lie. During World War II, most Americans turned a deaf ear to the herding of over 100,000 Japanese Americans into concentration camps. As a Mexican American I am proud of 16-year old Ralph Lazo from Belmont High in Los Angeles who said that this is not right and declared himself of Japanese decent and went to Manzanar with his friends. That is in Occupied America.

Mexican Americans should realize that these attacks are today directed at them because Pearce looks at them as weak. He has not yet taken on the Hillel or the Newman Clubs on college campuses who like MECHA do fine work and incidentally have Jewish Americans and Catholics as their core members.

Hopefully, Arizonians will wake up and people like Pearce will suffer the same fate as the Pete Wilsons did in California. His attacks are race specific and based on the Big Lie. And history will unfortunately judge Arizonians.

Rodolfo F. Acuña, PhD
Chicana/o Studies Department
California State University at Northridge

Arizona Uber Alles: Legislators Target Chicanos in Attempt to Close Intellectual Borders of Schools

April 18, 2008

Though it looks like just another report on the anti-immigrant screed that grows like cotton out in Arizona and across the country, the issue raised in this article gives one reason to both pause and sound the alarm: Latinos are being used to institute uniformity of “values” in schools. Not satisfied with the political profits reaped by targeting immigrants, the white legislators behind Arizona’s SB 1108 want to expand their racial franchise by trying to cut funding to schools that teach courses that “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization”.

Among the individuals and organizations mentioned in the article as targets of SB 1108 are the student group, MECHA, Chicano Studies and my friend and eminent scholar/activist, Rudy Acuna, who emailed the piece with a telling title- “Scary”.

Though hardly new (ie; Rudy says his children’s books were targeted in a similar way in the early 70’s), these attacks come at a different time, a time in which the growing fear of Latinos is grotesquely fused with the kind of “civilizational” warfare and white fear I discuss in depth here.

By targeting Chicano studies, MECHA and other groups and individuals promoting critical thinking among Latinos, the forces of white fear get two important benefits: they get to motivate their aging, flaccid base with the political Viagra of a new “threat” while also turning critical thinking among Latino youth into a dangerous and expensive endeavor. Better for the young barbarians to be disciplined by institutions and environments free of critical thinking – military and police boot camps and other hero factories, shiny new prisons, Dickensian and de-unionized workplaces and schools that promote ideals mentioned in SB 1108 ,”American values”, “capitalism” and “civilization”.

Arizona uber alles.

Measure Backs ‘American Values” In State Schools

Arizona schools whose courses “denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization” could lose state funding under the terms of legislation approved Wednesday by a House panel.

SB1108 also would bar teaching practices that “overtly encourage dissent” from those values, including democracy, capitalism, pluralism and religious tolerance. Schools would have to surrender teaching materials to the state superintendent of public instruction, who could withhold state aid from districts that broke the law.

Another section of the bill would bar public schools, community colleges and universities from allowing organizations to operate on campus if it is “based in whole or in part on race-based criteria,” a provision Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said is aimed at MEChA, the Moviemiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, a student group.

The 9-6 vote by the Appropriations Committee sends the measure to the full House.

The legislation appears aimed largely at the Tucson Unified School District, whose “Raza Studies” program has annoyed some people. Tucson resident Laura Leighton read lawmakers sections of some books used in classrooms which she said promote hatred.

If the proposal becomes law, however, it would have a statewide reach. And that concerned even some lawmakers who voted for it, saying the language of what would and would not be prohibited is “vague.”

Tucson school officials have said the program under fire has helped Hispanic students improve their academic achievement by building pride and focusing on their cultural heritage.

But Pearce, who crafted the measure, said the program doesn’t stop there. He said taxpayers are funding “hate speech paid for by tax dollars.”

And Pearce said some of the teachings amount to “sedition” by suggesting that the current border between the United States and Mexico disappear, with Mexico – and Hispanics – taking over the American Southwest.

Leighton had specific problems with a text called “Occupied America,” a book touted by its publisher as examining Chicano history from the coming of the Spanish in 1519.

She read one line which said “kill the gringos.” Another talked about a plan to take back the U.S. Southwest and deport all the Europeans.

A closer look, at the book, though, showed the line about the gringos was a quote from someone referenced. And that the plan to take back the area was not urging current action but instead detailing one pushed by Mexico in 1915.

Leighton, however, said she and others who reviewed the course work believe it is unacceptable.

“We find hate and revolution is being taught in their books,” she testified. “We found a denigration and disparagement of American values and a subversion of our history.”

Anna Graves said she believes schools are promoting a double standard with such programs.

“If we were to have a group of white citizens teaching white culture only for the white children, it would be totally and absolutely inappropriate in a country that is a country of diversity,” said Graves, a Mexican immigrant now a U.S. citizen.

“I absolute deplore people who come from another country and do not want anything to do with the culture, the language or anything that has to do with the government,” Graves said. She said they are in this country to send back money to relatives elsewhere and “are not here to provide loyalty.”

Rep. Peter Rios, D-Dudleyville, said that kind of attitude ignores the United States as a “culture of diversity.”

“What is the downside of students learning about their culture along with the American culture, value and mores?” he asked. Graves said nothing – as long as it’s not just Hispanic culture being taught.

More to the point, Graves said it’s the job of parents to teach children about their own ethnic background and culture.

“Not everybody had what you had,” Rios responded. “So some of these children have to pick up some of this positive self-image building at the school because they’re not getting it at home, they’re not getting it in the barrios of the neighborhood.”

And Rios suggested there was a reason to have programs aimed at teaching Hispanic youngsters about their heritage.

“At the end of the day, we all know the history books are written by the victors,” he said. “And we didn’t win too many of our battles coming from a Hispanic culture.”

Pearce said nothing in the Legislature precludes teaching about various cultures. What he opposes, he said, are the “hateful, despicable comments” becoming part of public education. What would be illegal, Pearce said, are “race-based” classes.

“Nobody would stand here, I suspect, and try to defend the KKK teachings at a Tucson school or anywhere else,” he said.

House Minority Leader Phil Lopes, D-Tucson, said lawmakers should butt out of the controversy. He said decisions of curriculum should be left to local school boards.

But Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said lawmakers are entitled to regulate the use of tax dollars taken from Arizonans and “demand that our publicly funded education teach and inculcate our youth, our children with the values that make America what it is, the greatest and most free nation in the world.”

Biggs, however, conceded the language of what would be prohibited is “somewhat vague” and probably needs work.

Rep. David Schapira, D-Tempe, said it is more than vague. He questioned what it means to “overtly encourage dissent” from the values of American democracy and Western civilization.

School board and superintendents’ lobbyists signed in as opposed to the measure but did not speak. Nor did Sam Polito, Tempe schools lobbyist, saying it made no sense to try to derail Pearce’s bill in a committee he chairs.