Friday, March 02, 2012


Presented at the Forum on the Elimination of Mexican American Studies and Banning of Chicano Books in the Tucson Unified School District,  Western New Mexico University, February 21, 2012.

By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
Scholar in Residence, Department of Chicana/Chicano and Hemispheric Studies, Western New Mexico University

The title of this piece are the last lines of a poem by Richard Olivas penned some years ago. Sitting in his history class, Olivas asked: “If George Washington’s, my father, why wasn’t he Chicano? The question raised in the poem embodies the reason for the emergence of Mexican American/Chicano Studies.
Indeed, the White Studies curriculum of American schools indoctrinates students in American classrooms in the apodictive historical perspective of the nation—myths and all. Until the advent of the Chicano Movement Mexican Americans knew little about their history in the United States as a colonized people.

Mexican America as an internal American colony

Blame it on Manifest Destiny! By hook or crook, the United States was determined to extend its domain from sea to shining sea. But Mexico was standing in the way. In 1846, President James K. Polk declared war on Mexico on the pretext that Mexico had invaded the United States by crossing into Brownsville, Texas, with armed troops. Only the year before, the United States had admitted Texas into the union even though Mexico had never acknowledged the break-away independence of its Texas province. Despite this international state of affairs with Texas, dead-set on adding Texas to the union, the United States annexed Texas in 1845.

The U.S. War against Mexico lasted less than 2 years, after which per the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo signed on February 2, 1848, the United States dismembered Mexico and annexed more than half of its territory, permitting Mexicans (by choice) to remain in the American acquired territory of Mexico or to relocate to the new boundaries of Mexico. My father’s family chose to relocate to Guanajuato, Mexico; while my mother’s family chose to remain in San Antonio, Texas, where they had settled in 1731, some 45 years before the break-away American colonies of England in 1776. Most Mexicans opted to stay with what they considered their homeland.

As an internally colonized people, Mexicans—now Americans by fiat—had to learn English, how to navigate the American political system, and how to survive the American schools. I wrote about that survival in 1970 in a piece entitled “Montezuma’s Children,” published as a cover story by The Center Magazine of the John Maynard Hutchins Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions. The piece was read into the Congressional Record by Senator Ralph Yarbrough of Texas in 1970 and was recommended for a Pulitzer. 
Mexican America comes of Age

For 162 years—from 1848 to 1960—Mexican Americans sought to become the citizens the United States expected them to be: They fought in every American war since then, distinguishing themselves in World War II as the only group to win more Medals of Honor than any other group. Of the 16 million Americans who served in that conflict, 1 million were Mexican Americans. When the United States called on Americans to defend the nation, Mexican Americans have responded overwhelmingly.

Mexican American loyalty and allegiance to the American flag has not waned. What changed was Mexican American expectations of equality for their service to the nation. Those expectations surfaced in 1960 with the Chicano Movement—a groundswell of patriotism in search of recognition. Out of that groundswell emerged the Chicano Renaissance: a literary recognition of their evolution in the American mosaic. In the Fall of 1969 I taught the first course in Mexican American/ Chicano literature at the University of New Mexico. In 1971 I completed Backgrounds of Mexican American Literature (University of New Mexico, 1971), first historical and taxonomic study in the field. In 1960, only 10 novels by Mexican Americans had been published in the United States. Since then, the count has swelled to hundreds. Overall, the count of books by Mexican Americans in the American publishing arena is in the thousands. Mexican Americans realized that if America is to know who Mexican Americans are, then Mexican Americans must write their own stories. Mexican Americans are not who mainstream America says they are; Mexican Americans are the only ones who can say who they are.

Today, the most egregious example of prejudice and discrimination based on ethnicity and ancestry is the situation in the Tucson Independent School District where Mexican American Studies has been eliminated as a program of study and a list of particular books bans their use in classrooms. These are books by eminent Chicano and Native American scholars. Banned also are Civil Disobedience, Brave New World and Shakespeare's The Tempest. The logic defies understanding except that it seems to be based on ethnicity and ancestry.

All of this hullaballoo is the result of Arizona House Bill 2281 signed by Governor Jan Brewer banning Ethnic Studies Programs (which includes Chicano Studies) on the grounds that these Programs advocate ethnic separatism and encourages Latinos to rise up and create a new territory out of the southwestern region of the United States. Perhaps those Xenophobes need a history lesson on how the Hispanic Southwest came into the American fold. They also need to look at school textbooks to see how under-represented Asian Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and Mexican Americans are in those textbooks. Which is why we need Asian American Studies, African American Studies, Native American Studies, and Mexican American Studies. What are white Arizonans really afraid of? HB 2281 has come to the attention of the United Nations which condemns the Bill, citing Arizona’s rage against immigration and ethnic minorities as “a disturbing pattern of hostile legislative activity.” The better word would be “racism.”

Chicano Studies as the Voice of Chicanos

Forty-eight years ago when I began university teaching after some years as a high school teacher of French, there was no Chicano Stud­ies. That is, no Chicano Studies as an organized field of study. To be sure, there were Mexican American scholars working on various aspects of Mexican Amer­ican life and its cultural productions, scholars like Aurelio Espinosa, Juan Rael, Arturo Campa, Fray Angelico Chaves, George I. Sanchez, Americo Paredes, and others. Important as this scholarship was, it emerged amorphously, reflecting independ­ent intellectual interests rather than a scholarship reflecting a field of study. This is not to say that some of these scholars may not have considered their work as part of a field of study conceptualized as Mexican American Studies. Despite its lack of an under-pinning, it was a field of Mexican American Studies, its constituent parts subsumed as American folklore. 
This situation created a critical barrier to the public discussion and dissemination of information about the presence of Mexican Americans in the Unit­ed States and their contributions to American society. Until 1960 and the emergence of the Chi­cano Movement, Mexican Americans were charac­terized by mainstream American schol­ars–-principally anthropologists and social work­ers–-in terms of the queer, the curious, and the quaint. That is, Mexican Amer­icans were categorized as just another item in the flora and fauna of Americana.

The Chicano Movement–that wave of concientizaci­on that came to bloom among Mexican Americans in the 60's transforming them into Chica­nos– help­ed to change American perceptions about Mexican Americans. While Mexican Americans knew much about Anglo Americans, Anglo Ameri­cans knew little about Mexican Americans.

In 1970 I was recruited to be founding director of the Chicano Studies Program at the University of Texas at El Paso, first such program in the state (and still there). By this time, I had become “conscien­tized” as a Chicano. From 1967 on, I had become identified as a Quinto Sol Writer, that is, among the first wave of Chicano writers of the Chi­cano Renaissance which had its beginning in 1966 with the creation of Quinto Sol Publica­tions.

The Arizona Challenge

Mexican American accounts of who they are are being challenged in Arizona. The Tucson Unified School District in Arizona made headlines in recent weeks when it eliminated its Mexican American Studies program. John Huppenthal, the Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, declared the program illegal under a state law that bans racially-divisive classes. Books by Mexican American authors have been yanked from TUSD classrooms: Message to Aztlán by Rodolfo Corky Gonzales (2001) and Chicano! A History of the Mexican Civil Rights Movement by Arturo Rosales (1997).

Everywhere, there are xenophobic and fas­cist forces that threaten the existence of Chicano Studies. Mainstream suspicions about the ideological agenda of Chicano Studies has become paranoiac. In Arizona there are legislative initiatives to remove from the schools programs deemed to be seditious, programs that promote divisiveness and breed revo­lution, programs like Chic­ano Studies–any ethnic studies program that challen­ges Western values. One Arizona legislator believes that such an initiative will restore the image of the United States as a “melt­ing pot”—that relic salvaged from the reliquary of dystopic America.

Tony Diaz, founder of the literary nonprofit Nuestra Palabra: Latino Writers Having Their Say is organizing a caravan from Houston to Tucson over spring break to raise awareness about the situation and taking Hispanic books to Tucson students. He calls it the Librotraficante movement. It begins in Houston on Monday, March 12 and ends in Tucson on Saturday, March 17. Along the way, the caravan will stop in San Antonio, El Paso and Albuquerque, for read-ins and other activities. The caravan will be filled with authors and activists, accruing people as it proceeds toward Tucson.

Como una hija querida, tenemos que defender Chicano Studies porque si no, perderemos nuestro futuro. That’s too important a future to lose, too ex­acting a price to pay. This is the exact moment of history for Chicanos to rise to the occasion. Inaction sustains the status quo. Now, more than ever, we must band together in common cause. Chicano Stud­ies deserves no less. Actually, all Americans must stand up to this current wave of xenophobia.

American Government/Social Justice/Education
  • Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998) by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
  • The Latino Condition: A Critical Reader (1998) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
  • Critical Race Theory: An Introduction (2001) by R. Delgado and J. Stefancic
  • Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000) by P. Freire
  • United States Government: Democracy in Action (2007) by R. C. Remy
  • Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006) by F. A. Rosales
  • Declarations of Independence: Cross-Examining American Ideology (1990) by H. Zinn
American History/Mexican American Perspectives
  • Occupied America: A History of Chicanos (2004) by R. Acuña
  • The Anaya Reader (1995) by R. Anaya
  • The American Vision (2008) by J. Appleby et el.
  • Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years (1998) by B. Bigelow and B. Peterson
  • Drink Cultura: Chicanismo (1992) by J. A. Burciaga
  • Message to Aztlán: Selected Writings (1997) by R.  Gonzales
  • De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views Multi-Colored Century (1998) by E. S. Martínez
  • 500 Años Del Pueblo Chicano/500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures (1990) by E. S. Martínez
  • Codex Tamuanchan: On Becoming Human (1998) by R. Rodríguez
  • The X in La Raza II (1996) by R. Rodríguez
  • Dictionary of Latino Civil Rights History (2006) by F. A. Rosales
  • A People's History of the United States: 1492 to Present (2003) by H. Zinn
English/Latino Literature
  • Ten Little Indians (2004) by S. Alexie
  • The Fire Next Time (1990) by J. Baldwin
  • Loverboys (2008) by A. Castillo
  • Women Hollering Creek (1992) by S. Cisneros
  • Mexican White Boy (2008) by M. de la Pena
  • Drown (1997) by J. Díaz
  • Woodcuts of Women (2000) by D. Gilb
  • At the Afro-Asian Conference in Algeria (1965) by E. Guevara
  • Color Lines: "Does Anti-War Have to Be Anti-Racist Too?" (2003) by E. Martínez
  • Culture Clash: Life, Death and Revolutionary Comedy (1998) by R. Montoya et al.
  • Let Their Spirits Dance (2003) by S. Pope Duarte
  • Two Badges: The Lives of Mona Ruiz (1997) by M. Ruiz
  • The Tempest (1994) by W. Shakespeare
  • A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America (1993) by R. Takaki
  • The Devil's Highway (2004) by L. A. Urrea
  • Puro Teatro: A Latino Anthology (1999) by A. Sandoval-Sanchez & N. Saporta Sternbach
  • Twelve Impossible Things before Breakfast: Stories (1997) by J. Yolen
  • Voices of a People's History of the United States (2004) by H. Zinn
  • Live from Death Row (1996) by J. Abu-Jamal
  • The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven (1994) by S. Alexie
  • Zorro (2005) by I. Allende
  • Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza (1999) by G. Anzaldua
  • A Place to Stand (2002), by J. S. Baca
  • C-Train and Thirteen Mexicans (2002), by J. S. Baca
  • Healing Earthquakes: Poems (2001) by J. S. Baca
  • Immigrants in Our Own Land and Selected Early Poems (1990) by J. S. Baca
  • Black Mesa Poems (1989) by J. S. Baca
  • Martin & Mediations on the South Valley (1987) by J. S. Baca
  • The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America's Public Schools (1995) by D. C. Berliner and B. J. Biddle
  • Drink Cultura: Chicanismo (1992) by J. A Burciaga
  • Red Hot Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Being Young and Latino in the United States (2005) by L. Carlson & O. Hijuielos
  • Cool Salsa: Bilingual Poems on Growing up Latino in the United States (1995) by L. Carlson & O. Hijuelos
  • So Far From God (1993) by A. Castillo
  • Address to the Commonwealth Club of California (1985) by C. E. Chávez
  • Women Hollering Creek (1992) by S. Cisneros
  • House on Mango Street (1991), by S. Cisneros
  • Drown (1997) by J. Díaz
  • Suffer Smoke (2001) by E. Diaz Bjorkquist
  • Zapata's Discipline: Essays (1998) by M. Espada
  • Like Water for Chocolate (1995) by L. Esquievel
  • When Living was a Labor Camp (2000) by D. García
  • La Llorona: Our Lady of Deformities (2000), by R. Garcia
  • Cantos Al Sexto Sol: An Anthology of Aztlanahuac Writing (2003) by C. García-Camarilo et al.
  • The Magic of Blood (1994) by D. Gilb
  • Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings (2001) by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales
  • Saving Our Schools: The Case for Public Education, Saying No to "No Child Left Behind" (2004) by Goodman et al.
  • Feminism is for Everybody (2000) by b hooks
  • The Circuit: Stories from the Life of a Migrant Child (1999) by F. Jiménez
  • Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools (1991) by J. Kozol
  • Zigzagger (2003) by M. Muñoz
  • Infinite Divisions: An Anthology of Chicana Literature (1993) by T. D. Rebolledo & E. S. Rivero
  • ...y no se lo trago la tierra/And the Earth Did Not Devour Him (1995) by T. Rivera
  • Always Running - La Vida Loca: Gang Days in L.A. (2005) by L. Rodriguez
  • Justice: A Question of Race (1997) by R. Rodríguez
  • The X in La Raza II (1996) by R. Rodríguez
  • Crisis in American Institutions (2006) by S. H. Skolnick & E. Currie
  • Los Tucsonenses: The Mexican Community in Tucson, 1854-1941 (1986) by T. Sheridan
  • Curandera (1993) by Carmen Tafolla
  • Mexican American Literature (1990) by C. M. Tatum
  • New Chicana/Chicano Writing (1993) by C. M. Tatum
  • Civil Disobedience (1993) by H. D. Thoreau
  • By the Lake of Sleeping Children (1996) by L. A. Urrea
  • Nobody's Son: Notes from an American Life (2002) by L. A. Urrea
  • Zoot Suit and Other Plays (1992) by L. Valdez
  • Ocean Power: Poems from the Desert (1995) by O. Zepeda
UPDATE, Monday, January 16, 2012
Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
  • Yo Soy Joaquin/I Am Joaquin by Rodolfo Gonzales
  • Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
  • The Devil's Highway by Luis Alberto Urrea

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