Sunday, August 30, 2020

Report finds coverage of Texas politics dominated by white, male sources

This should set off all kinds of alarms. It's simply not ethical to have a press dominated by white men in Texas or anywhere. A diverse news room by race/ethnicity and gender holds enormous promise for better and  more complete, non-biased accounts. 

The opposite is white supremacy and white privilege.  I'm not at all surprised by this, but certainly disappointed. What will it take, I always wonder?

-Angela Valenzuela

Report finds coverage of Texas politics dominated by white, male sources

Warren Buffett’s Recent Explanation of How Money Now Works Is the Most Important in History

Super interesting. One can't help but wonder what money means right now—for famous billionaire, Warren Buffett, included.

-Angela Valenzuela

The value of the money you have is changing. “Debt “and what it means is fundamentally changing.

Tim Denning | August 24, 2020 

Image Credit:MarketWatch/Getty Images

Watching Warren Buffett completely change what he believes about money in a matter of months has been fascinating.

He is considered the most successful investor in history, so he’s worth listening to when financial markets enter a strange period that nobody understands or can properly explain (even if, like me, you don’t love everything he says).

These two lines from Warren made me think:

“The [US] debt isn’t going to be repaid; it’s going to be refunded.”

“You better own something other than debt.”

Buffett explains that when the government can just keep on printing money to pay their own debt it’s laughable to think they will ever default. He says, “The trick [for countries] is to keep borrowing in your own currency.”

So if money will keep being printed out of thin air then what does that mean for your investments, assets and savings? Let’s explore the topic in simplistic terms and see what you can do about it.

The Most Important Lesson On How Money Works From Warren Buffett

This is what Warren said recently about how money works that will test everything you thought you knew about money:

If the world turns into a world where you [governments] can issue more and more money and have negative interest rates over time — I’d have to see it to believe it, but I’ve seen a little bit of it. I’ve been surprised. I’ve been wrong so far.

If you can have negative interest rates and pour out money, and incur more and more debt relative to productive capacity, you’d think the world would have discovered it in the first couple of thousand years rather than just coming on it now. We will see.

It’s probably the most interesting question I’ve ever seen in economics.

Can you keep doing what we’re doing now? The world has been able to do it for now a dozen years or so [since 2008]. We may be facing a period where we’re testing that hypothesis that you can continue it with a lot more force than we’ve tested it before.

This description from Warren about all the free money we’ve all been getting access to because of a health crisis may explain why Warren has sold a lot of his US bank stocks recently.

The influential finance blog Zero Hedge wrote recently that Warren “appears to now be quietly betting against the United States,” because “the famously anti-gold investor has abandoned banks — the backbone of America’s credit-driven economy — in favor of a gold miner.”

A friend said this to me the other day: “Watch what the billionaires do, not what they say.” If Warren’s actions are anything to go by then the record prices in the stock market are something to be very cautious of.

Inflation Is Taking Hold

Inflation is when prices go up and the value of your money decreases. Four dollars last year may have got you a small cup of coffee. That same cup of coffee might cost you $5 this year, as a simple example.

Inflation is a hidden tax on your money.

Warren says, “I’ve been wrong in thinking you could have the developments you’ve had without inflation taking hold.”

Warren has put his firm’s money in gold, and treasury bills which he describes as “a terrible investment over time.” (A treasury bill is an investment where you are essentially lending money to the government.)

So Warren is comfortable putting his money in terrible investments in the short-term because of what he can see in the world of finance. That decision is worth contemplating when thinking about your own money and investments.

Why All of This Matters to You?

We’ve talked a lot of finance shop in this article. Let’s break down why the change in how money now works matters to you.

Negative interest rates

Negative interest rates can be bad for you because it means you have to pay to store your money. It also means the bank you choose to bank with may face severe financial trouble that leads them to go out of business.

Yes, banks have insurance in case of such an event, but if the problem is too big then that deposit insurance is useless — many people do not understand this. They assume the government or a magic insurance policy will save them without any negative consequences.

We’re in uncharted territory and I would not be relying on anybody to come and save you and your money.

The poor are being robbed by the rich who have the data to predict their moves.

Many retail investors are buying stocks using apps like Robinhood — the data tells us this trend.

While billionaires like Warren are exiting stocks and running to safety, everyday people seem to believe they are smarter than the pros — or the high-frequency, non-human trading bots who predict the moves of the retail investor and bet against them.

Investments firms use high-frequency trading to automate their investment decisions and beat the average investor. These same firms are front-running retail Robinhood investors. What does this mean in simple terms?

Sophisticated investment firms, according to Bloomberg, are getting access to data that tells them what the retail investors (dumb money as it’s known in finance) are doing so they can take advantage of them.

This data allows investment firms to rob the poor and pay the rich — the name of the Robinhood app is kind of ironic, isn’t it?

The stock market bubble

Record unemployment. A global health crisis. Protests. Despite the world we live in stock markets are beating record highs. Crazy, or a disaster waiting to happen?

Another iconic billionaire investor, George Soros, called the stock market a bubble. “Investors are in a bubble fueled by Fed liquidity,” he says and that’s why he “no longer participates.”

Either everything is fine with markets and businesses haven’t been affected by the health crisis at all, or we’re watching a bubble that’s about to pop. I don’t have the answer so that’s why I’m sitting on the sidelines.

The change in the velocity of money

While free money is being given away through economic stimulus and large amounts of money are being printed out of thin air, the velocity of money is down. (The velocity of money just means how many times one dollar passes through multiple people’s hands.)

When large amounts of money are created out of thin air and that currency is not spent, when that money eventually is spent, it can lead to larger than normal amounts of inflation that devalue the money you’ve worked hard for.

Example of decrease in the velocity of money:

Example of the extra money being printed out of thin air:

Friday, August 28, 2020

La Realidad: The Realities of Anti-Mexicanism — A Paradigm by Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones

UCLA History Professor and dear friend and colleague, Dr. Juan Gomez-Quiñones, addresses the evolution of anti-Mexicanism that at it base 

"is a result of the domination of Indians and enslavement of Blacks." This includes the North American invasion by English whites in their perennial quest for wealth, status and power at the expense of others. A multi-faceted white supremacism arises as the rationalization to secure these wants."

This is excellent and well argued. We must work collectively in unity to turn false ideologies and discriminatory practices around—and not solely among Anglos, but among ourselves who are racialized minorities.

Thank you Juan, for yet again, summoning us to rise up to the challenge for which I do think we are not only well prepared, but more prepared than we have ever been historically. Sí se puede! Yes we can!

-Angela Valenzuela

 Updated Jan 25, 2017

By Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones

“Where Have You Been My Darling Young One?”

Bob Dylan (1963)

La Realidad: The Realities of Anti-Mexicanism — A Paradigm 


U.S. anti-Mexicanism is a race premised set of historical and contemporary ascriptions, convictions and discriminatory practices inflicted on persons of Mexican descent, longstanding and pervasive in the United States. This essay conceptualizes, historicizes, and analyzes anti-Mexicanism, past and present, concurrent with some references to sources. Here, the emphasis is conceptual, not historiographical. Anti-Mexicanism is a form of nativism practiced by colonialists and their inheritors. Mexicans, being natives, became targets of aggressive practices inclusive of the violence directed at Indigenous and African peoples. The words “Mexican” and “Mexico” speak to Indigenous heritages. The origins of the thought and meaning of “Mexican and “Mexico” speak to historical native roots. White supremacist ideologues have understood this. When anti-Mexican rhetoric is used by white supremacists, those who proclaim rights to rulership, the public resonating response — violence and micro-aggressions — indicates the presence of this phenomenon.

This anti-Mexicanism practice is beyond crude prejudice or uncivil, ethnocentric chauvinism. To be sure, for some articulators, anti-Mexican words are such expressions. When anti-Mexicanism is articulated as a publically broadcasted set of negative evaluations that target Mexicans, recommends actions, and used as a means to a set of political goals, it is an ideology. Through broadcast, this ideology is validated as such by a collectivity of endorsers and enactors. This broadcasting does not parse its targeting — it is inclusive — women and men, gay and straight, disabled and able bodied — all of Mexican origin are encompassed. To be sure, the deep concern in this analysis is about the future, not the past. It aims to free the children of future generations from deeply hurtful practices and a set of imagined, negative denominators impacting their self-consciousness and personal freedom.

The large majority of people during the evolution to what became Mexicans and Mexico were and are Indigenous and of indigenous descent. Antipathy toward Native Americans is incremental upon English-speaking colonialists arrival. Their actions generate the initial steps leading to racists and white supremacy practiced in what came to be the United States. Disrespecting Indians politically is a step toward white supremacism and the eventual subordinating of Mexicans.

The hostility of European, English-speaking whites to Native Americans begins with the European arrival in what is now New England, Groton Connecticut. In 1637, over seven hundred Pequot men, women and children were attacked by white “colonists,” as the Pequot celebrated their annual Green Corn Dance. Those who were not shot were burned alive in their ceremonial space. The next day, the Governor of Massachusetts declared a day of “Thanksgiving.” This real episode is documented in the Holland Documents and the 13th volume of Colonial Documentary History. It’s also found in the private papers of Sir William Johnson, Royal British Agent of the Colony [of New York], circa 1640s. The core of this and other contentions is land possession or territorial dominance.

Under European, Spanish-speaking colonialism — primarily of indigenous origin, with African, and European intersections — a hybrid demographic becoming a “Spanish speaking” group in Mesoamerica was an evolution toward Mexicanos, the social, and Mexicanidad, the identity. Let it be understood, this social evolution is complicated with contradictions aplenty, initially related to its multiple ethnic decendencies and its diverse social-economic circumstances. Even as a partial contestatory response to the colonial experience, the social evolution entails the germs and evidences, the pathologies of the colonial — including racisms, authoritarianisms, and elitisms.

In the anglophone sphere, among the literate, perception of Natives is affected by the so-called colonialistic “Black Legend,” whereby Spanish colonialism is decried and English colonialism, by contrast, is upheld. This “legend” is a prejudiced and concocted propaganda. This dialogue deteriorates into an “Anglo-Hispanic” exchange of negatives — Protestantism versus Catholicism; Shakespeare versus Shakespeare. The “legend” could be judged a colonialist distraction promoted by elite serving intellectuals of both England and Spain who, watchful of another’s colonialist methods, ignores the racist and supremacist consequences of their own colonialism over Natives and Africans and their treatment of the descendants of both groups. Thus, racism is reduced as a mere by­product of inevitable colonial technologies, when in fact the racialization of Native Americans is a central premise of European colonialism and one corollary to the subordination of Africans.

More specifically, the deep historical record of anti-Mexicanism at its basis is a result of the domination of Indians and enslavement of Blacks. This includes the North American invasion by English whites in their perennial quest for wealth, status and power at the expense of others. A multi-faceted white supremacism arises as the rationalization to secure these wants. One can start with whites arriving in Massachusetts and Blacks in Virginia, and early persecutions of Native Americans anywhere. Overtime, Indio, Africans, Afro-Mestizos and Indio-Mestizo Spanish-speakers joined the ranks of those subordinated by English colonialists. Indians and Africans are the human resources for the empowerment of white colonialists, according to 17th and 19th century conditions and terms, empowering the colonialists’ maintenance of power over territories and localities.

The historical record of U.S.-Mexico relations is a narrative of subordination justified on racist and supremacist bases. To be sure, these are multifaceted and changing and not necessarily representationally inclusive of all whites. However, in fact, the record indicates U.S. citizens as the aggressors in the relation, not Mexicans. U.S. citizens are the perpetrators of negative views, invidious-distinctions and the domineering actions, according with these views. In contrast to U.S. negativity, Mexico — as a state and economy — has been useful to U.S. ambitions, where Mexican people have been serviceable to U.S. needs. Rather than respect, there are argued explicit reasons by U.S. whites from early and later negative characterizations of Indio-Mulatto-Mestizos related to whites’ quest for wealth, status, and power within the aegis of their culture and values. In sum, specifically, they take from Mexico’s land, resources and labor by whatever means are viable. The social views and territorial ambitions of President Thomas Jefferson, a Southern slaver, are early expressions of these wants which for long were related to benefits first derived from slaves and later racialized disempowered laborers summed in the observation: “the desire for possession is a disease with them.” There is a historical and ideological context to this quest.

In many studies, “race” applies when ethnicity is judged unchangeable and so is the assigning of place in the hierarchical order of a general society co-inhabited by supra-ordinates and subordinates. These judgments or claims are academic myths. Racism is more complex, more fluid and perennial. For Mexicans in the United States, their mixed heritages of Native American concurrent with those heritages from Africa or Asia and some occasional European descendancy, intertwine the ethnic and racial. Among and between these of formative importance are Native American and Mexican American relations. These all encounter the age-old racial perceptions of Euro-Americans and their racialized practices. For Mexicans, thus, the social science truism applies — race is not real, but racism is — and the pressing concern is white supremacism.

Hierarchy and even ethnicity are indeed subject to change. A happenstance is that some, or many, of the oppressor and oppressed hold (and held) “racialist” notions of themselves, as well as the “other,” whether near or across the globe. Their worldviews are racialized and this should change sometime in the future, hopefully through concerted actions. White supremacism is a further question. Supremacism can be changed through counter empowerment actions as the micro and macro elements of the paradigm of white supremacism pinpoint. Yet, supremacism remains.

The practice of a particular social consciousness can be quite mobile and practical in the pursuits of chosen ends. Analysis of white supremacy requires interpretive elasticity and decisively diverse counter measures to encourage progressive change. One hindrance to this end, a major obstacle, is that whites have been saturated with false history(ies) of themselves; a history which supposedly has been made possible through the practices of white supremacism. Moreover, it’s the fact that this false history and avowed utilitarianist, white supremacism are but two heads of a multi-head monster — a living, breathing real Hydra, an overarching hegemonic, and structured system that requires integral changes.

The U.S. Mexican “ethnic” is visualized as being socially within a historical collectivity descended from a common set of mainly native ancestors. Consciousness of these living legacies is formatively important, as one source of inner strength to counter anti-Mexicanism. True, the perception of outsiders bearing on this is important, but the struggle is also formidably internal. Particularly important is the extent that these influence the self-consciousness of young and adolescent Mexicans. Indeed, the consciousness of Mexicans needs change. In any case, Mexicans evolve socially, as does their consciousness.

Most U.S. Mexicans understand social change intuitively and counter instructively. Mexicans are likely to have some awareness of family social changes in relation to family culture and descendancy, more so than Euro-Americans who resist change — even though, as stated in any case — they also undergo changes. A revised, enriched, shared, Mexican political critical awareness can be an asset in thinking and actions to bring about positive changes. The positive and the negative need to and can be sorted out. Consciousness is an important step to counter oppression. However much complicated, the literature, concepts, and application of the terms race, racism and racialism, the cutting blade is that these are empowered through and by white supremacism beliefs and practices.

Mexican Americans are a bottom ethnic group and unless there are changes, Mexicans will remain so, even in a multi-ethnic and pluralist society, including below white Latinas/os. This may be the case even if the United States becomes a significantly demographically non-white society. This is a consequence, in part, to the diffusion of anti-Mexicanism to all sectors of U.S. society. It is not only taught to whites. Tragically, Mexicans also consume anti-Mexican propaganda and, in turn, produce and diffuse it consciously or unconsciously.

Thus, anti-Mexicanism must be challenged for the sake of the future, not the past. It must be challenged for a society in which children will be safe from past crimes.


Author: Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones is a professor of history at UCLA, specializing in the fields of political, labor, intellectual, and cultural history. As a prolific scholar, key figure in the Chicana/o movement and mentor to countless academics, he has a long trajectory in higher education, civic / political engagement, the arts, poetry, and related activities. Born in Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico, he was raised in Boyle Heights (East Los Angeles).

Notes: An extended version of this abridged essay — edited and circulated by Dr. Alvaro Huerta (also raised in Boyle Heights) — will soon be published with references, footnotes, sources, etc. Dr. Huerta aims to publish/circulate this exceptional essay/paradigm in as many outlets possible.



I am who I am—and many of us are who we are—in great part because of the "Chicana/o Movement" of the late 1960s and early 1970s— also termed the "Mexican American Civil Rights Movement." It continues today to be such a generative movement, inspiring our youth to take Ethnic Studies/Mexican American Studies, to be social justice oriented, and community involved. And tomorrow, we commemorate 50 years since the East L.A.'s Chicano Moratorium that you can read about here in Dr. Alvaro Huerta's informative piece published in the "L.A. Taco" news magazine out of Los Angeles, California. 

Most importantly, this brief historical account reminds us of the great sacrifices made by those that came before us so that we might obtain a good education. Even as we note positively the inroads that we've made into higher education—as my previous post, a testimonio by Dr. Huerta notes—we still have quite a distance to go in order to achieve equitable representation in both higher education and throughout the U.S. occupational structure.  

Thanks to all my intellectual, artist, and community-activist forebears for your sacrifices and contributions to our progress as a people and for the inspiration and wherewithal to keep on keeping on.  After all, even in loss, the Movement allows us to lead triumphant lives. Like my friend Tony Baez says, "The best curriculum is written in struggle." I take that as an endorsement of all the life-saving work that we as educators do in and with our students and communities today.

-Angela Valenzuela


While cops and other state agents have been killing Brown, Black and Indigenous people, among other racialized groups, since the first Europeans arrived in the Americas several hundred years ago, the horrific videos documenting the torture and murder of Mr. Floyd, allowed for millions of White people, etc., to witness what many who come from the streets are all too familiar with. 

As I witness the righteous avalanche of protests against the cop killing of George Floyd and Andres Guardado, and now shooting of Jacob Blake, as part of an ongoing resistance against systemic racism towards Black and Brown bodies, it seems like America changed overnight. 

Moreover, as I mourn the cop killings of racialized people, I can’t help but recall when the cops killed the acclaimed journalist Ruben Salazar on August 29, 1970, during the National Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles. 

The cops (specifically, Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy Thomas Wilson) murdered Salazar at The Silver Dollar while the journalist was taking a break from the protest, where two other protestors died. In Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, 5th Edition (2004), the Chicano historian Dr. Rodolfo “Rudy” Acuña sheds light on this historic event: “… By noon participants numbered between 20,000 and 30,000. Conjuntos blared out corridos; Vivas and yells filled the air; placards read: ‘Raza si, guerra no!’ and ‘Aztlán: Love it or Leave it!’ Sheriffs’ deputies lined the parade route, helmeted, making no attempt to establish contact with the marchers: no smiles, no small talk. The march ended peaceably; and the event turned into Laguna Park [now, Salazar Park] …” (p. 333). 

As documented by the Chicana historian Dr. Cynthia Orozco, while a doctoral student in history at UCLA, before the cops, initiated violence and mayhem, this was a peaceful event against the war in Vietnam “… and discrimination and exploitation in the barrios…” (La Gente, October 1985, p. 9). 

“The Chicana/o Moratorium signaled our communities’ strategic opposition to the racist and capitalist overtones of U.S. militarization.”

As part of the turbulent 1960s, when many Mexican Americans transformed into Chicanas and Chicanos demanded their civic and human rights, the activists focused on key issues impacting their communities. This included the fact that Chicanos were disproportionately drafted to fight and be killed or maimed in the U.S. imperialist war against Vietnam. This also included protesting against poor, segregated schools, where Chicanas and Chicanos lacked (to the present) opportunities to pursue higher education and upward mobility. According to the Chicana historian Dr. Irene Vasquez, this historical event represented a conscious opposition against the system: “The Chicana/o Moratorium signaled our communities’ strategic opposition to the racist and capitalist overtones of U.S. militarization.” 

Acknowledging the inherent contradictions of American capitalism and its imperialist nature, the Chicano historian Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones wants us to focus on the heroic leaders and protestors of this historic event: “Memories, films, and writings of people’s bravery best commemorate August 29th, not the viciousness and cowardice of law enforcement” (communication, July 16, 2020). We can clearly see the importance of documentation by the excellent writers and photographers of La Raza magazine, such as the photographs included in this essay. In terms of archival documentation, we’re also fortunate for the filmmaker Tomas Myrdahl who captured this massive protest on film. Writing eloquently and powerfully, as is his custom, about the Chicano Moratorium in an earlier essay, Dr. Gómez-Quiñones states: “To be sure, the memorial candle does not lighten either dark comers or as yet unwritten pages on all matters pertinent to the events of August 29, 1970.” 

On July 20, 2020, I interviewed—Carlos M. Montes—veteran activist, co-founder Brown Berets and member of East L.A. 13—about the significance of the August 29th protest in particular and the movement in general. As part of the interview, Montes—a longtime resident of East Los Angeles (my motherland)—informed me about his role with the Brown Berets, who played a leading role in organizing this massive protest. According to Montes, the Brown Berets, led by David Sanchez, evolved from the Young Chicano for Community Action, which emerged from the original Young Citizens for Community Action (YCCA). The language from “Citizens” to “Chicanos” represents a transformational change of this young nascent organization. 

While there’s usually a focus on men in terms of most social movements during this period (to the present), Montes stressed that Chicana leaders, like Gloria Arellanes (and other Chicana activists), also played a major role in the rise of the Brown Berets and the movement. (Given that other Chicana and Chicano historians have written about internal conflicts in the Brown Berets, along with state agents, infiltrators, and provocateurs. I will defer to other scholars and writers for additional details on these important matters.)

As part of their organizing efforts, the Chicana and Chicano activists opened La Pirañya coffeehouse in East Los Angeles—the current location of Tamayo’s Restaurant (on Olympic). At La Pirañya, the activists socialized, invited speakers/leaders (Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales), learned about politics, and organized political activities. They also produced their own newspaper, La Causa, and operated El Barrio Free Clinic

While individual leaders may receive all the credit…it takes a collective effort to succeed in successful social and justice movements.

Prior to the Chicano Moratorium of August 29th, according to Montes and other sources, there were several protests leading up to this historic event, as part of the national and local anti-war movement by la Raza. This included, but not limited to, protests in East Los Angeles on December 20, 1969, January 1, 1970, and February 28, 1970. For Montes and fellow activists and protestors, they opposed U.S. imperialism in Vietnam, where Chicanos were being sent to fight and be killed for a nation that treats them as second-class citizens. Activists also learned from and respected international leaders, such as Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who fought heroically against U.S. imperialism.

As part of their organizing efforts, the Brown Berets formed the National Chicano Moratorium Committee, where they collectively organized their first demonstration on December 20, 1969, at Obregon Park in East Los Angeles (on 1st Street), where an estimated 1,000 protestors participated. Rosalio Muñoz —UCLA student, first Chicano student-body president and member of the United Mexican American Students (UMAS)—became co-chair of this important committee. 

To be clear, while individual leaders may receive all the credit, as a former community organizer and expert of social movements, it takes a collective effort to succeed in successful social and justice movements. In fact, Muñoz, who valiantly challenged his draft notice letter, like other brave Chicanos (e.g., Ernesto B. Vigil, Salomón Baldengro), gives credit to the Chicana activists who played a major role in the protest that occurred on February 28, 1970 in East Los Angeles at Laguna Park, where an estimated 5,000 protestors participated: “It was the first Chicano demonstrations when a Chicana organization, Las Adelitas de Aztlan, marched in its own right. Many units of the Brown Berets marched, having come from Santa Barbara to Riverside, Oakland to San Diego. College MEChA groups marched with their banners” (LatinoLA, February 24, 2010). 

As Chicana and Chicano activists organize for the 50th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium on Saturday, August 29, 2020, I interpret these significant actions and protests—past, present, and future—as collective demands by a proud people to be treated with dignity and respect.


A Chicano Mathematics Contender and the Severe Under-Representation of Latina/o Mathematics Professors

Powerful testimonio /testimony by Dr. Alvaro Huerta that sheds light on the problem of the under-representation of mathematics professors at our nations colleges and universities from a personal vantage point.

As a backdrop, Dr. Huerta notes the following abysmal figures:

"Based on NFS’s 2016 calendar year, out of 1,827 earned doctorates in mathematics and statistics, Hispanics or Latinos held only 63 doctorates, or 3 percent. In comparison, whites held 673 doctorates, or 37 percent. Given that Latinas/os, as the largest racialized groups in nation, represented an estimated 57.5 million residents in 2016, or about 18 percent of the U.S. population, 3 percent represents a minuscule and unacceptable figure."

One can't help but wonder what did not happen because of the discrimination that he and his friend, Martha, faced.  Both were subject not only to exceedingly low expectations, but were actually robbed of a first-place, mathematics victory that they had earned. 

This cannot be left to chance. We must collectively work to increase the numbers of Mexican Americans and other minoritized children of color in STEM. To get there, we must create pathways to STEM careers and also continue offering and teaching against the kind of racism that creates mindsets that fail to teach equitably and in so doing, reduces possibilities for students of color. 

-Angela Valenzuela

A Chicano Mathematics Contender?

Much more needs to be done to increase the number of minority faculty members and to promote mathematics as a field of study for students of color, writes Alvaro Huerta.

March 15, 2019

What does it take for an African American mathematician to abandon a tenured faculty position at a major research university? In recently published article in The New York Times, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Amy Harmon documents the unfortunate case of Edray Goins. According to Harmon, while African Americans represent fewer than 1 percent of doctorates in mathematics, Goines is one “of only about a dozen black mathematicians among nearly 2,000 tenured faculty members in the nation’s top 50 math departments.”

After a series of isolating experiences at Purdue University and mathematic conferences, Goines, who received degrees in mathematics from California Institute of Technology (B.S.) and Stanford University (Ph.D.), decided to speak out. He eventually sought refuge at Pomona College, a liberal arts college in Southern California. This is not to imply that there’s a surplus of African American mathematics professors at this elite liberal arts college or, for that matter, throughout California’s colleges and universities.

As I read this article, I reflected on my one-time aspiration to become a world-famous Chicano mathematician. When it comes to pursuing a profession in mathematics, I often feel like Marlon Brando, during the greatest scene in American cinema, in On the Waterfront, when he uttered, “You don’t understand … I coulda been a contender …” Growing up in one of the most violent neighborhoods in the nation, Ramona Gardens housing project (or Big Hazard projects) in East Los Angeles, I excelled in mathematics. At Murchison Elementary School, mathematics always came easy to me. Whenever I opened my math books, I visualized the problems and solved them in my head, while my classmates or childhood homeboys suffered in bewilderment. By the time I was in sixth grade, Ms. Rose had taught me high school algebra. My superb mathematics skills represented my ticket out of the projects. At the age of 17, I enrolled at the University of California, Los Angeles, as a freshman, majoring in mathematics.

I was determined to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics at the university, becoming the Chicano version of Isaac Newton or Gottfried Wilhelm Leibnitz -- the co-founders of calculus. But I experienced a deep sense of alienation in my calculus classes, where I was the only brown body in my lecture classes with hundreds of white and Asian students. I felt like a pinto bean in a bowl of milk.

As a result, I changed my major to history, and eventually earned a Ph.D. in city and regional planning from the University of California, Berkeley. I blame a racist society that has low expectations for Chicanas/os in STEM. I also blame the math judges in Los Angeles who denied me my 15 minutes of fame during a regional high school competition.

During my senior year in high school, I first joined the student club for math nerds, MESA (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement). We met during lunch with a math teacher adviser -- let’s call him Mr. Nicholson -- to talk about math-related events, programs and competitions. By joining MESA, I shared a passion for mathematics with like-minded students. When my homeboys from the projects asked why I occasionally didn’t hang out with them, I always said, “I’m making a move on a cheerleader.” I didn’t want to lose my street cred!

While some of the MESA members were taking calculus, others, like myself, were taking precalculus. To catch up, I took a night class in calculus at California State University, Los Angeles. When the regional MESA competition arrived at a nearby college, Mr. Nicholson selected Javier and Ritchie (not their real names) to compete against students from other regional schools. One week prior to the competition, Javier and Ritchie got nervous and dropped out. When Mr. Nicholson asked for volunteers, like a dummy, I raised my hand. Another student, Martha, also volunteered.

Once we left the meeting, I told Martha, “I hope you can deliver us to victory.”

She bluntly replied, “We have no chance.”

She probably felt this way because very few Chicanas were taking calculus at our school. Also, we didn’t have any Latina/o teachers in the mathematics and science department, and we couldn’t even imagine ourselves competing in any academic competition. For myself, it didn’t help that I grew up in the projects, where many of the residents lacked a high school diploma.

When the big day arrived, on a sunny Saturday morning, I drove my 1967 Mustang to the college campus. As the test started, the proctor distributed four pages of calculus problems. I panicked. Once I calmed myself down, I started with the last problem, working backward, one problem at a time. After I finished, I wasn’t sure of the outcome. As the awards ceremony started, where calculus was the top prize, I was resigned to defeat. After the judges announced third place and second place, I still waited in suspense for the first place winner.

“And the winner of the MESA calculus competition is …” the moderator exclaimed loudly. He paused a few seconds. And then, with great gusto, he yelled out the name of … another school.

One month later, Mr. Nicholson announced over the school intercom, “Congratulations to Alvaro Huerta and Martha Peña for winning the regional MESA calculus competition.” At our next MESA meeting, he told us that the judges from the “winning” high school had cheated, favoring their own students. In fact, I had the highest score, and Martha had the second highest. In short, we were robbed.

Many moons later, as I seek to determine how many Latinas/os in general and Chicanas/os (Mexican Americans) in particular possess doctorates in mathematics, I reached out to highly accomplished Latina/o mathematicians, including William Yslas Velez, Richard Tapia and Herbert Medina. They all referred me to the National Science Foundation and its annual Survey of Earned Doctorates. Based on NFS’s 2016 calendar year, out of 1,827 earned doctorates in mathematics and statistics, Hispanics or Latinos held only 63 doctorates, or 3 percent. In comparison, whites held 673 doctorates, or 37 percent. Given that Latinas/os, as the largest racialized groups in nation, represented an estimated 57.5 million residents in 2016, or about 18 percent of the U.S. population, 3 percent represents a minuscule and unacceptable figure.

In fact, apart from the fact that this category also includes statistics, the actual number for Latinas/o and Chicanas/o mathematics doctorate holders raised in the United States is lower than 3 percent, as 850 -- or 46.5 percent of the total 1,827 -- consist of “temporary visa holders.” Also, since the term “Hispanic” generally refers to individuals with Spanish surnames, doctorates in mathematics from Spain and other parts of Europe shouldn’t be categorized with Latina/os and Chicanas/os with roots in the United States and from Latin America. Moreover, the figures are not precise in terms of Latina/o subgroups, like Chicanas/os, Cuban Americans, Puerto Ricans, etc., which makes a big difference in a country where individuals of Mexican origin represent over 36 million, or 63.3 percent, of all Latinas/os.

To increase the number of Latinas/os, particularly Chicanas/os, in mathematics at the faculty level and promote mathematics as a field of study among communities of color, institutions of higher educations must do a better job of collaborating with K-12 public schools to bridge this racial gap in the academy. For example, colleges and universities should give service credit and financial incentives to mathematics professors to mentor and motivate K-12 students, starting with elementary schools. Also, as part of their efforts to diversify their departments in mathematics, they should provide extra financial incentives, such as grants and fellowships, for Latinas/os to major in mathematics, especially at the doctoral level. I’m not diminishing the importance of the existing programs to diversify STEM in general and mathematics in particular. But much more needs to be done to produce more Latina/o and Chicana/o mathematics professors and teachers so brown youth can have more positive role models -- showing and telling them by example, “¡Sí, se puede!/ Yes, we can!”