May 2, 2008

The Public Forum . . . El Foro Público

Arizona may ban Chicano Studies if Senator has his way

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 then be allowed to define patriotism and bar public schools, community colleges and universities from allowing organizations to operate on campus if they are “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, a recipient of 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 but I volunteered draft. Pearce and many of the thought control cadets took a more opportunistic 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 changes 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 story is documented in Occupied America.

Mexican Americans should realize that these attacks are today directed at them because Pearce looks at us 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 who do not speak out.

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

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