Protesting California’s anti-affirmative action
Proposition 209 and the general anti-Latino and anti-immigrant mood of
the state and the country, the twenty-fourth annual National
Association for Chicana and Chicano Studies (NACCS) conference kicked
off with a rally here late last month at the base of the state capitol.
Activism has long been a part of NACCS. Last year, for example,
hundreds of members took to the streets to protest comments made by the
late newspaper columnist Mike Royko of the Chicago Tribune. Royko had
written that Mexico had contributed nothing of value to this country
this century except for tequila.
Additionally each year NACCS struggles to ensure that there is a
connection between scholarship and activism, according to Teresa
Cordova, professor of community and regional planning at the University
of New Mexico.
Part of the activism is reflected in the workshops or plenaries at
the conference, which range from issues such as alcoholism and its
effect on communities of color to environmental racism.
But many of the younger scholars are from a middle class
background, notes Cordova. Because they’re not working class, they
don’t know what working class struggles are, she says.
Desiree Sandoval, a doctoral student in cultural studies at the
Claremont Graduate School, agrees that many scholars can become
detached from their communities. According to her, some of the younger
scholars subscribe to new theories such as post-modernism,
post-structuralism and essentialism.
“The criticism is valid,” Sandoval admits.
But some of the older scholars still do not recognize their sexism
or the sexist language they use in putting forth their ideas, complains
Sandoval. She cited a workshop which featured some of the older
scholars as an example. At that workshop, according to Sandoval, one of
the older scholars said, “The federal [teat] was drying up,” at which
point, many of the women and some men walked out.
A Question of Unity
One of the main problems for many of the younger scholars is that
many of the older scholars still see unity between Chicanos (those of
Central American, primarily Mexican, descent) and Latinos (those with
descendants from the rest of Latin America) as a prerequisite to
action, says Sandoval., Many of the younger scholars don’t agree. They
believe that they should be able to organize with African Americans,
women, the poor or whomever without first having to achieve
Chicano-Latino unity, she says.
Dr. Paula Moya, a young Stanford scholar who received her doctorate
earlier this year from Cornell University, says that there is a
difference in scholarship and believes it is a product of the times.
She says that because of affirmative action — despite the current
backlash — more young scholars have more individual opportunities
within their fields. In the past, Chicano and Chicana scholars tended
to be concentrated in the social sciences and education.
“There’s a glut in those fields and everything else gets
neglected,” says Soraya Cardenas, a Ph.D. candidate at the University
of Nebraska at Lincoln.
Cardenas says that many of the younger scholars have seen older
scholars having problems getting tenure. As a result, the younger
scholars try and not follow the same path, she says. As a young
scholar, she is active in her community and says she does feel as if
she should be doing more. But if she wants to advance academically, her
first job is to publish and get tenure.
“I have to safeguard my future. Once I have tenure, I can do more,” she explains.
According to Cardenas, there are younger scholars who do much more
community organizing and are much more active. But, she notes, they are
not published and, she claims, they accept that.
She says that many of the younger scholars are made to feel that
unless they grew up in a barrio gang they are not really Chicano. That,
she explains, is part of the reason some younger scholars are turning
away from the path paved by the older scholars.
Another thing that Cardenas says younger scholars have noticed is
that in the past, the field of Chicano studies was very narrow —
relegated to the social sciences and education.
“We need to broaden Chicano studies,” says Cardenas, whose field of
study is environmental sociology. “It’s good that students are entering
the fields of chemistry, biology and business. We need to broaden the
field of research by Chicano and Chicana scholars.”
Moya strongly agrees that scholarship should be connected to
community and activism, but part of the difference between the
generations is how one perceives community. In the 1960s, activism
meant being part of a community organization. Today, she says, activism
can mean raising her own children and challenging the orthodoxy of the
university. To Moya, the old guard doesn’t view raising children as
“They simply view it as something women do.” she says.
“Buying into the System”
Armando Navarro, director of the Ernesto Galarza Research Center at
the University of California at Riverside, is one of the scholars
considered part of the old guard. He says, “The younger scholars are
mainstreaming, adapting and buying into the system. But the dichotomy
is not just among scholars, but in society as a whole.
“Jose Angel Gutierrez, Raul Ruiz, Rudy Acuna and myself, we’re part
of the old guard,” adds Navarro, naming several prominent Chicano
scholars. “We were part of the Chicano movement, a time that will never
be repeated. The new scholars are buying into the system, buying into
the game. They’re part of a different politics. That’s why there’s no
Chicano movement today. With few exceptions, the newer scholars spew
the rhetoric, but aren’t movement activists.”
Navarro says that scholars who say that they can’t be active —
either because they won’t get tenured or won’t get published or won’t
get promoted — just use excuses not to be active. The old guard were
all students when they were organizing in the community and they had no
one preceding them, he says.
“We had no role models, no mentors no Ph.D.s, no books, no
curriculum. In a generation, we now have all that. The new scholars
have it easy. Instead of picking up the torch from us, no one’s there.”
As for sexism, Navarro says that the younger scholars don’t see the bigger picture.
“They’re so immersed [with new academic concepts] that they can’t focus on the system,” he says.
“I am terrified at what I saw at the panels at NACCS,” says
Navarro. “It was mediocre scholarship. They function using the ideology
of `gringolandia’. They have lost their cultural underpinnings to their
analysis. That’s part of the generational conflict.” Similarities and
Dr. Adaljiza Sosa-Riddell, of the Chicana/o Studies Program at the
University of California at Davis, doesn’t necessarily see a
generational split among Chicano and Chicana scholars.
“The impetus all our generations share is a strong sense of
injustice, a need to understand our present conditions, a need to leave
behind any sense of collective blame for overwhelming forces that seem
to burden the lives of our families and friends, and a thirst for
knowledge,” she says.
According to Sosa-Riddell, one of the founders of NACCS, many of
the young scholars have the same motivations as the older scholars.
However, she does see differences.
“I see two major differences,” Sosa-Riddell says. “One is that
these young people are not so beset with self-doubt as we were. They
like being intellectuals. They are comfortable with it.
“Secondly, they have more breadth of knowledge than we had.
“Finally,” she adds, “it seems to me that they have achieved what
my generation only dreamed of, but did help create — a more expanded
Chicana/Chicano Studies, with fluid boundaries [and] a view of the
world from our perspective, without doubting that their perspective has
David Hernandez, a Ph.D. student at the University of California at
Berkeley, taught a course on race, class and ethnicity this past
semester at the University of New Mexico. He says that although it is
difficult to generalize, scholars from his generation are more open in
regards to questions of identity.
“We’re more fluid,” says Hernandez, who calls his work and views on
issues of identity a political mestizjae (mixture) as opposed to a
“Chicanas, gays and lesbians, feminists: They all felt disconnected
to the Chicano movement. These are groups that always lived in the
shadows,” says Hernandez. “Feminists were accused of being vendidas
RELATED ARTICLE: Chicano Student Group Splits Over Community Involvement
EAST LANSING, Mich. — The annual conference of the national
student organization known as Movemiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan
(MEChA) began with a night of culture, poetry and a spiritual ceremony.
But ended in discord.
At issue was the structure of the national organization — which
was founded in 1969 at the University of California at Santa Barbara —
and the role of outside organizations. For more than twenty-five years,
the campus chapters have operated as autonomous and loosely affiliated
organizations. The organizations was designed that way to prevent a
central authority and to encourage community and local action.
The Michigan State University (MSU) chapter, which hosted the March
conference, argued that because most Chicanos are not college students,
the student organization has to allow fellow Chicano organization to
participate within MEChA. To not do so is seen as abandonment of the
1969 charter and mission of the organization, they say.
The rest of the conference disagreed and ultimately banned the
chapter from membership. In protest, the MSU chapter changed its name
to Movemiento Estudiantil Xicano de Aztlan (MEXA).
The members who banned MSU-MEXA say that their effort to limit
participation of non-student organizations has come to do with a desire
to avoid manipulation than to stifle work within the community.
Conflict is no stranger to MEChA conferences, and this one actually
was milder than past years where the behavior of hundreds of students
have caused conferences to be canceled. In the past, the conflicts were
more clearly ideological, with battle lines drawn over ideologies such
as nationalism, Marxism and other political philosophies. Despite this
year’s conflict, the conference was not disrupted to the point where it
had to be canceled.
This year, each day began with an indigenous spiritual sunrise
ceremony. MEChA conferences have opened with indigenous ceremonies for
the past five years — an indication that the indigenous philosophy,
which at one time was rejected by many earlier MEChA students, is now a
staple of the organization. Evidence of this influence is seen in the
many chapters which utilize an “X” for Xicano or Xicana rather than
Chicano or Chicana. In the Nahuatl language — the dominant original
indiginous language of Mexicans — the “X” is pronounced with `sh’
sound. Those who utilized that spelling and sound emphasized the
indigenous roots of Chicanos.
Jennie Luna, a student from the University of California at
Berkley, said that despite the conflicts, what continues to move MEChA
“is the struggle for human rights and a passion for our people. We may
not get to see the fruits of our labor, but maybe our grandchildren
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