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Thursday, March 03, 2005

BARBARIANS AT THE GATES: NEO-CONSERVATIVES AND AMERICAN HISPANICS–

This is from a very well respected colleague of mine. -Angela

BARBARIANS AT THE GATES: NEO-CONSERVATIVES AND AMERICAN HISPANICS–
THE INCIDENT AT NORTH TEXAS STATE UNIVERSITY

By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca is Professor Emeritus of English, Texas State University System–Sul Ross. He is currently Visiting Scholar and Lecturer in English and Bilingual Studies at Texas A&M University–Kingsville.

he demonstration early in the 2005 Spring semester at the University of North Texas in Denton by the university’s student chapter of Young Conservatives of Texas over immigration reform billed as Capture An Illegal Immigrant Day mushroomed into a controversial event.

The Young Conservatives of Texas wore orange t-shirts with bold black "Illegal Immigrant" lettering on the front, and "Catch me if u can" on the back. "Passers-by could check in at the group’s table, receive a badge and go find those wearing the orange t-shirts" (Josh Baugh, Denton Re-cord-Chronicle, 2/1/05). With bullhorns at the ready, the Young Conservatives of Texas attracted students to their booth in one of the Free Speech Zones set aside by the university, explained the purpose of their event, and encouraged students to go out and bring in an orange t-shirted "illegal immigrant" for which they would receive a 100 Grand candy bar representing the economic drain of illegal immigration on the American economy.

Hispanic students on campus called the event racist in intent, bringing adamant denials from the Young Conservatives of Texas explaining that the event was meant to call attention to the issue of immigration reform, not to offend anyone. It turned out that the event called attention to hate-mongering of American neo-conservatives who are acting like barbarians at the gates of American Hispanic communities, demonizing American Hispanics in their zeal to "reform" American public policies they regard as unorthodox.

In a comparable event at Southern Methodist University last year, the Young Conservatives of Texas sold cup-cakes indicating on a menu that Anglos would be charged $1.50 per cupcake, while Hispanics, Blacks, and other minorities would be charged only $.50 per cupcake. The event was staged by the Young Conservatives of Texas to call attention to the inequities of Affirmative Action on campus. That is, discrimination against whites.

When confronted by Hispanic students at the University of North Texas about the propriety of permitting such hate-mongering, UNT Dean of Students Ken Ballom responded that the university did not grant or deny access to the free-speech zones based on content. UNT Chancellor Lee Jackson performed little better when questioned by State Representative Pete Gallego (D-Alpine) when he appeared before the Texas House Higher Education Committee on February 15. For Gallego, Jackson’s silence in the fray amounted to "complicity." Apologizing for the incident, Jackson sought to allay Gallego’s misgivings by explaining that his delay in responding to the flap was not indifference but concern for the free speech issues involved, adding that a formal university statement was forthcoming. Many Mexican Americans have considered Jackson’s response too little too late.

ree Speech and the First Amendment are tricky factors in the public arena. No one wants to be accused of abrogating the First Amendment’s right to free speech. But Free Speech is not absolute per the Constitution. Anent free speech, Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft argued that no one is free to yell "fire" in a crowded theater. In our time, no one is free to yell "bomb" on an airplane. No one is free to libel or slander anyone with impunity. In the literary sector, the Supreme

Court has established a criteria by which books may be banned, namely, if the book offends community standards, if it appeals to prurient interests, and is without redeeming social value. It’s quite evident then that there are boundaries to free speech.

More recently, courts have taken into account the use of "fighting words" in public utterances. The "Catch an Immigrant Day" of the Young Conservatives of Texas was an event within the context of "fighting words." In light of the above, Dean Ballom and Chancellor Jackson’s defense of the event as a free speech issue appears rather lame. The Chancellor’s defense of the Young Conservative of Texas event as a "teachable moment" belies his assurance to State Representative Gallego that "UNT was committed to tolerance and respect at the university" (quorum report.com 2/14/05).

In an interview with the North Texas Daily (2/25,05), Jackson turned the issue into one of perception, that in his estimation the university and the UNT system "are serious in our pursuit of greater diversity and we’ll do it in a way that complies with law," adding "we are not half-hearted in our commitment to building a university that reflects the diversity of Texas." That’s a velleity more than a reality. In other words, there’s nothing wrong with the university, it’s the public perception that’s at fault.

Jackson considered the Hispanic response to the issue "emotional," saying "it seems an obvious lesson of this incident that far more heat than light will be generated by such an emotional approach to any serious issue." He explained that unless an issue "involves a direct and very ugly racial attack verbal or otherwise . . . there are available sanctions when students physically threaten each [other] and there are sanctions available for direct use of racial slurs and other things." The event staged by the Young Conservatives of Texas was prima facie use of racial slurs against students of Mexican ancestry. But Jackson did nothing to allay the rising emotions of Hispanic students on campus, resorting to the explanation that "the campus’s response was largely internal."

orth Texas has long been hostile territory for Tejanos. In the years that I taught at the Library School at Texas Woman’s University, just across town from the University of North Texas, campus attitudes toward Mexican Americans at UNT were chilly, and the presence of Hispanic faculty at both institutions was nominal at best. In 1992 I would have been the first Chicano to head a Graduate School of Library and Information Studies had the Vice-President for Academic Affairs at Texas Woman’s University accepted my nomination from the search committee (after an extended second year search) as the only qualified candidate for the post. Instead the Vice-President chose to reject my nomination and installed a white male by fiat (ignoring all the rules of academic protocol and of affirmative action).

That situation has not improved much in the intervening years despite the fact that demographically, as the Texas State Demographer Steven Murdoch has made abundantly clear, in a few short years Hispanics will be 65% of the states’s population while the Anglo population will have diminished to 25%. Admittedly the Anglo population will be clustered in enclaves like Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston-Galveston, The rest of the state will be Hispanic. It seems to me that the actions of the Young Conservatives of Texas are tying a noose around their own necks. The very population the Republican Party is trying desperately to woo into its ranks is the very population its young minions are alienating. That’s what Chancellor Jackson’s silence on the matter of the Young Conservatives of Texas antics abets– alienation. More scary, however, is that the antics of the Young Conservatives of Texas are the antics of a growing fascism in the United States. On the very day the group staged its "Capture an Illegal Immigrant Day" the group released a list of UNT professors who it claimed had a liberal bias in their teaching.

North Texas State University is not an Anglo fiefdom in which Hispanics are present on the sufferance of the Anglo administration. It’s a state assisted university. That means Hispanic tax dollars are supporting that institution. Hispanics do not therefore have to bear the whips and scorns of Anglo contumely. But Anglo university administrations like Chancellor Jackson’s seem to regard Mexican Americans, especially Tejanos, as though they were peasant chaff. This is the attitude manifested by the Young Conservatives of Texas. In a meeting where the Young Conservatives of Texas were asked by Hispanic students and community representatives to apologize to the entire campus and the North Texas Region for their event, Chris Brown, the group leader, explained that though the "side effect" of the event was not what they had planned, "We do not apologize for what we did."

They do not apologize for vernos caras de mejicanos. The Young Conservatives of Texas were unmoved by the testimony of Hispanic students speaking passionately "about the pain and humiliation they felt at the hands of the Young Conservatives of Texas" (Josh Baugh, Denton Record-Chronicle, 2/1/05). In chastising Chancellor Jackson about his silence in the UNT event, State Representative Pete Gallego informed Jackson at the legislative hearing of the Texas House Higher Education Committee on February 15 that "the orange t-shirts and slogans were not only in bad taste but were also hateful," concluding with, "To see this going on at a state university was disappointing" (quorumreport.com 2/14/05). Not surprisingly, a piece in The Dallas Observer, "Heat, No Light" (2/03/05), made "light" of the situation, to the point of sarcasm, questioning who the biggest dupe was: the organizers of the event, the Hispanic students who considered the event as racist, or the media who covered the event?

It seems to me Mexican Americans are faced here with the same kind of moral dilemma Malcom X faced in his time. Should Mexican Americans defend themselves with whatever means necessary? Or should they pursue more mediating approaches while Anglo barbarians are storming the gates of their very existence? I think Frank Ortiz, LULAC National Treasurer framed the situation well. In a note to Marcus Ceniceros, President of the University Democrats at the University of Texas at Austin, he wrote, concerned about the incident at the University of North Texas, that "if left unchallenged [this issue] will quickly spread and will become harder to suppress." Moreover, he added, "I am concerned because the same could occur in other areas of the nation."

At some Point, like the Mexican Americans who organized LULAC in 1929, contemporary Mexican Americans will run smack into mainstream bigotry. And like Pastor Neimollor of Germany who did nothing when the Nazis came after the Jews he discovered there was no one left to protest when the Nazis came after him. Mexican Americans need to speak up at the first sign of injustice, no matter who the victims are. Perhaps it’s time to draw a line in the sand.

ake no mistake. Neo-conservative Americans are out for "Meskin" blood. Since well before Austin’s foray into that Mexico which is now Texas, Mexicans have been regarded by White Americans as an inferior people, therefore, like black Americans, subject to the same kind of public disdain. Today, Mexico is regarded as the soft under-belly of the United States vulnerable to attack by terrorists entering the United States through Mexico. Good grief! Shades of the World War One Zimmerman Telegram panic when Mexicans were suspected of collusion with the Germans! The consequence is that, in this instance, Mexicans are lumped into the eiconic mix of terrorism. But Mexicans are not the enemy. Neither are Mexican Americans.

Why when around the world American leaders have called for the removal of barriers between nations is the United States building walls along the U.S.-Mexico bor-

der? Just as Ronald Reagan called for President Gorbachev of the Soviet Union to tear down the Berlin Wall, Mexican Americans should call upon President Bush to tear down those walls between Mexico and the United States. With 30 million Mexican Americans in its population, the United States can have no better ally than Mexico in any endeavor of national or hemispheric

defense. Mexico’s blood was shed in the Pacific during World War II. And its progeny in the United States have won more Medals of Honor for heroism and gallantry in defense of this nation than any other ethnic group.

I served with the Marines in the Pacific and China during World War II and in the Air Force during the Korean Conflict and the early Vietnam Era. Mexican Americans are serving and have died in Iraq in numbers disproportionate to their numbers in the American population. Surely our ticket to Americanism has been punched.

As Hispanics, Mexican Americans do not deserve to have their kinsmen ridiculed in public as the Young Conservatives of Texas have done. And we won’t eat their cheap-assed cupcakes.



Copyright © 2005 by the author. All rights reserved.

Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of English Language and Literature
Retired Tenured Faculty, Texas State University System--Sul Ross
English, Linguistics, Journalism, Information Studies, Bilingual Education, Chicano Studies

Dean Emeritus, Hispanic Leadership Institute, Arizona State University
Chair Emeritus, The Hispanic Foundation, Washington DC

1317 E. FM 1717, Kingsville, Texas 78363
Phone: 361-592-2030 Email: felipeo@usawide.net

Visiting Scholar and Lecturer in English and Bilingual Studies
Texas A&M University at Kingsville
Phone: 361-522-8256 Email: p-ortego@tamuk.edu

3 comments:

  1. What I found most interesting in this article was how Ortego y Gasca brought up the subject of the YCT alienating the very groups the Republican Party is trying to reach out to. I have done extensive research in this field and how Tejanos are slowly moving "Right". Well here is where the "Left" must reach out to grassroots organizations, they in-turn must reach out the masses and show them articles, videos, and educate them about the "future right" or as Ortego y Gasca so eloquently put it the "neo-conservatives".

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  2. Ever since learning about the YCT demonstration at UNT over immigration
    reform earlier this year, I have been feeling appalled and confused about
    these student's actions. Reading Dr. Felipe de Ortega y Gasca's comments
    helps me organize my thoughts about this problem. By having Dr. Ortega remind
    me that North Texas State University is a state assisted university (meaning
    that I contribute with my taxes to the education of these young conservatives),
    I am prompted to speak out. He makes me feel that if I choose not to take any action I am then contributing to my own oppression.
    And so what would the social consequences be if I choose not to do
    anything at all?
    Less than a year ago I had the opportunity to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland. I spent an entire summer day "touring" the place going from crematory rooms to barracks. I saw mountains of shoes, dishes and eyeglasses taken away from the Jews and the other groups that were "foreign" to the German standards. I saw the smoke still visible on the walls of the first crematory rooms, and also a roll of fabric made out
    of human hair. I can still hear the words of the guide, a polish professor with a strong English accent working a second job as a tour guide, "This is where my people were
    being killed, while the German officials and their families had sumptuous parties next door drinking fine wine and listening to selected music". "And see that gravel where you are stepping in? Look close because not everything is gravel, but the remains of human bones that were not completely destroyed during cremation. Those remains are there because they were carried out in wheel barrels to the fields you see there behind that line of trees". Needless to say at the end of the day I was emotionally exhausted sitting at
    the memorial and looking at the trees moving so serene with the wind. I just kept thinking for a while why these events happened and what we can learn from them. And so, where is the connection between my experience at Auschwitz and the events at the University
    of North Texas? During a conversation with Dr. Robles about my experience at the concentration camp she pointed out to me that the German's hate towards the "different" grew gradually. First, they wanted to differentiate the Jews from the rest of the population, so they were forced to wear a star. The rest of the tragic events, culminating with the holocaust, happened little by little. See the connection? Everything started
    with the demeaning, and dehumanizing of certain groups. Basically looking for scapegoats and putting labels on them. This is where I think Professor Ortega's encouragement to "speak up at the first sign of injustice, no matter who the victims are" comes into play. And if we consider the size of the number of students gathered last week to protest the actions of YCT, it seems we are on the right path.
    Now let's explore the financial side of this turmoil. My fellow conservative friends give general ideas about how immigrants are draining the economy. According to my knowledge of the English language (yes, I am an immigrant the granddaughter and daughter of Bracero workers; the ones who put the vegetables and fruits on your families' tables from 1942 to 1964) you are being demagogues. Give me the facts; don't just tell me that "illegal" immigrants cause economic drain in this country. In July 2001, on Congressional testimony, Alan Greenspan, Reserve Board chairman said the following "There are great misperceptions that immigrants are a drain on our economy, but many studies have confirmed that the opposite is true. Even undocumented workers - commonly referred to as 'illegal'
    contribute more that their fair share to our great country." He also tossed out
    some numbers; he indicated that essentially undocumented workers donate $27
    billion to state and local economies (the difference between what they pay in
    taxes [$70 billion] and what they use in services [$43 billion]. While undocumented immigrants pay taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (provided by the IRS) these workers are not entitled to federal programs such as social security and unemployment. In other words, these workers contributions are basically subsidizing American recipients of these benefits. The rest of immigrants who choose not to claim their tax refunds are donating billions of dollars to the public funds.
    The author Sally Denton, known for her award wining investigative reports,
    talks about immigrant's labor in the U.S:

    Characteristically, many Americans want it all. Business wants cheap labor.
    Consumers want low prices. Politicians want both the corporate contributions
    that come from supporting and tolerating the hypocrisy as well as the support
    of the burgeoning Hispanic constituency. But we don't want them in our
    neighborhoods. We don't want their children crowding our schools. We want
    them to pay taxes but don't want them taxing our social services. We want
    their labor, but we don't want them to negotiate union contracts. We want to
    be at liberty to employ them, but we don't want them to enjoy the protection
    of civil liberties.

    Last semester I joked with a group of friends about how the only way we could understand each other, by "we" I mean Latin Americans and North Americans,
    was to believe in reincarnation. Just imagine George Bush in his next life having to pick his own coffee from a coffee plantation, working long hours for a few pesos and dreaming of coming to "el norte" to improve his life, while Rigoberta Menchu could go and get her Frappuccino straight from Starbucks.
    Just a wild thought. :)

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  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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