The weekend after the elections, approximately 1,600 Chicano students met at California State University at Northridge (CSUN) for the regularly scheduled fall statewide MEChA conference.
But what began as a conference turned into a huge protest and rally against the recently passed Proposition 209, otherwise known as the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI).
Students at the MEChA or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan) conference resolved to counter CCRI — which outlaws the use of race, ethnicity or gender in state hiring, contracting and college admissions — through a campaign of resistance and organized civil disobedience.
While the conference dealt with many issues relevant to the Mexican/Chicano community, the freshness of the election served to focus the attention of the students on Proposition 209. On the other hand, the California State University system, has decided on a course of generally continuing to operate in the same manner until told to do otherwise by the courts. The University of California (UC) announced earlier in the week that it has decided to comply with Proposition 209.
As expected, a number of groups have already challenged the legality of the proposition in court. Both proponents and opponents of Preposition 209 expect that, similar to Proposition 187, which restricts services to immigrants, CCRI will be tied up in the courts for several years.
Prior to the MEChA conference, students at UC-Berkeley had already staged a rally and protest, including 28 students taking over the tower on campus, in response to action by the University of California. In a Nov. 6 memo sent out by the US system, UC President Richard Atkinson stated: “We are well along in this process [of complying with Proposition 209] as a result of the Regents action last year eliminating race, gender, and ethnicity as factors in admission, hiring, and contracting.”
In an accompanying letter from the University of California system, C. Judson King, UC provost and senior vice president of academic affairs, sent out guidelines which say that “No further action need be taken.”
In reference to graduate and professional admissions, King states that UC is already in compliance with 209. However, for undergraduate admissions, the same prohibitions were to go into effect in 1998, but as a result of 209, said King: “effective immediately, campuses may no longer use race, ethnicity or national origin as one of the supplemental criteria used to select admitted students from the pool of eligible students.”
Additionally, unless directed by the courts to do otherwise, state financial aid on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender will be eliminated for 1997. Other programs will be reviewed by the UC Outreach Task Force, which is scheduled to make recommendations in February.
Jennie Luna, co-chair of UC Berkeley MEChA and one of the students arrested, said that students from throughout the UC are especially upset that the Regents are complying prior to a court order. Prior to the passage of 209, “students were actually unaware of the severity of the issue, of the repercussions,” said Luna. Aside from recruitment, financial aid and retention programs, one of the other big fears is that the university may move to eliminate ethnic studies programs. “Anything that is ethnic-based will be against the law.
For the next few weeks, you will see lots of civil disobedience,” she predicted. Jesus Mena, public information officer for UC Berkeley said that fears regarding the elimination of ethnic studies or women studies centers are unwarranted. “There should be no impact [on those programs],” he said. The university is still studying its options regarding Proposition 209, but in reference to ethnic studies centers, he said that they are protected under academic freedom and the First Amendment, and that as long as they are open to all students, which they are, they will not be affected.
Regarding the MEChA conference, Feliberto Gonzalez, chairman of CSUN MEChA says that “students came looking for answers–as to what do we do now?” He also predicts a series of statewide protests in the coming weeks.
“The David Dukes of the world have now taken off their mascaras [masks],” he said, adding that rather than chaos, the protests will be well organized. Whereas some might expect people of color to be disheartened as a result of the passage of Proposition 187 and now Proposition 209, Gonzalez said that it has actually served to unite and reinvigorate students.
The conference attracted more than fifty college chapters and several high school MEChA chapters. MEChA, he said, is also preparing itself for non-recognition. In fact, he said he welcomes it. MEChA should not be in the position of seeking approval to exist or function, he said.
Gonzalez said that MEChA is prepared to wage a long struggle to counter Propositions 187 and 209. “We know this struggle will not be won in a couple of months.” He predicted that the next MEChA statewide conference this spring in Santa Barbara will be a crossroads.
Rudy Acuna, one of the co-founders of Chicano Studies at CSUN said that he saw the conference as very positive in terms of how students are responding. “Students feel the pressure. They’re under attack.”
In addition to the,generalized polarization and racism that is part of California politics, Acuna said that certain hate groups have focused their attacks against MEChA. One such group, he noted, is the San Fernando-based Voices for Concerned Citizens. “They’s out to destroy MEChA,” he said, noting that they have placed full page ads in local newspapers against the organization and are stalking its leaders. Acuna’s assessment of Proposition 209 is that “it is disastrous.” It is an attempt to push people of color out of the educational system, he said.
He said that Spanish-language press had not been as vocal as they had been in the campaign against Proposition 187. Additionally, he said, white women overwhelmingly voted in the interests of their husbands. “Many are racists and they overrode their own interests.” However, he said, “If [many] white women hadn’t voted against proposition 209, it would passed 80 percent to 20 percent instead of 59 percent,” he said.
Rocky Ortiz, director of the National Xicano Human Rights Council and one of the keynote speakers, reiterated that the passage of 209 is a blessing in disguise. “It’s a kick in the rear,” she said adding that the current form of affirmative action is not what’s needed. She said, people of color have always had their own affirmative action. “It’s called decolonization.”
Meanwhile, in response to the passage of Proposition 209, Tirso de Junco, chairman of the Board of Regents of the University of California reassured the university community that: “With the passage of Proposition 209, the citizens of California have affirmed the Board of Regent’s July 1995 decision.”
“When the Regents made their decision over a year ago, they underscored their strong and enduring commitment to diversity. ” Del Junco further stated that “My colleagues and I on the Board of Regents are convinced that we can create a future for California in which all of our students are given the educational opportunity and preparation they must have to succeed.
We will work with President Atkinson, the chancellors, and everyone who cares about education in our state to see that this future arrives as soon as possible.”
COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com