Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Reflection on Age and Generation: The Raza Unida Party Reunion

Valenzuela: A Reflection on Age and Generation: The Raza Unida Party Reunion
Last Updated: 15 July 2012
By Angela Valenzuela          
Angela Valenzuela

AUSTIN, July 15 - I had the wonderful opportunity of celebrating the 40-year anniversary of the Raza Unida Party by attending a statewide reunion in Austin last weekend.  

I have been reflecting on a comment made by a young person attending the reunion: “You older folks need to make way for the younger generation.”  

“In whose way are they standing?” I thought to myself. Mal educado, ese muchacho. Poor manners. What a silly thing for a young person to say, generally, but particularly at a Raza Unida Party reunion attended by activists.

Just prior to the conference, one of our elders, the renowned Martha Cotera, shared this dicho with me in the context of a conversation that we were having about our political identities and nurturing the next generation: "Al que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija." ("If we get close to a good tree, a good shade covers us.") This is a statement about mentorship. We shouldn’t bask in someone’s shadow, but rather in their shade. Mentorship experiences should be nurturing and fulfilling.

We need our elders. They offer much wisdom, knowledge, and experience that the younger generation can still benefit from. As I spoke to members of this earlier generation before and during the conference, what became evident is how the movement energy lit an unquenchable fire for social justice, with many holding positions of leadership and high esteem within our communities to this very day. Martha Cotera is a great example of one of them.

This was and remains a formidable generation that has left our community and the world with a continuing and enduring legacy in the righteous struggle for civil and human rights. This was a generation that decided that being Mexican and speaking Spanish was not only a private identity, but a public one, as well.  

This generation used arguments about history and identity to lay claim to their charter member status, not as immigrants but as natives to this land of the Southwest.

This generation talked back to oppression and said: “We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us."  

As the late Gloria Anzaldua said in her landmark text, BORDERLANDS/LA FRONTERA, there isn’t a Tejano or a Tejana alive who doesn’t know that the lands were taken away. It’s in our “cultural DNA” as this knowledge provides us with the cultural antibodies that we need to endure an entire history of conquest and colonization fraught with discriminatory laws, policies, and practices.

A lot of these persons—if not most—have continued to be civically engaged in one way or another. And many of them are now retired and with more time on their hands. They were young activists 40 years ago; they are young, retiring Baby Boomers today. This was and remains an exceptional generation regardless of their age and we need them now more than ever.

Angela Valenzuela, Ph.D., is a professor at the College of Education at the University of Texas at Austin. Valenzuela serves as the director of the University of Texas Center for Education Policy.
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