Chicano/a Studies in an era of Transcendence:
Globalization, Constant War, Terror, and Mass Expulsions
The official history of NACCS states that “In 1972, at the annual meeting of the Southwestern Social Science Association held in San Antonio, Texas, Chicano faculty and students active in the American Sociological Association, American Anthropological Association and the American Political-Science Association came together to discuss the need for a national association of Chicana/o scholar activists. Discussions culminated in a proposal to establish the “National Caucus of Chicano Social Scientists (NCCSS)”—now NACCS.
Since that time, the field of Chicana/o Studies has blossomed into a multiplicity of different perspectives, theories, and even graduate degrees that award PhD. Coupled with this growth have also been the comparisons among other ethnic groups, particularly those considered “stateless” and without a home, for example, migrants to the Americas. Since the 1970s, the US has also been mired in a perpetual state of war, conflict, and intervention while simultaneously overseeing some of the largest mass deportations in its history. Rough estimates are that the Administration of William Clinton deported 12 million people to Mexico and Central America; G.W. Bush probably deported close to 10 million while Barack Obama’s administration deported close to 3 million and the numbers are rising.
If Chicana/o Studies is a scholarly discipline that merges theory and practice, what impact does constant war, terror and mass deportations mean for the discipline? What strategies and perspectives, coupled with community activism, can serve to address this global trinity of globalization, war and mass expulsions?
Given the 44 year history of NACCS and the concomitant surgence of scholarly work in the field of Chicano Studies since its origins, there is little doubt that Chicano Studies is a scholarly discipline that merges theory and practice as evidenced by its scholarly production and the impact of that production on the practice of Chicano Studies, starting with the Plan de Santa Barbara—the template work in the creation and continuity of the field. The plan we used in creating the Chicano Studies Program at the University of Texas at El Paso in 1970 when I was Founding Director. The very “multiplicity of different perspectives, theories and graduate degrees that include the Ph.D.” attest to the scholarly characterization of the field.
The question posited by NACCS for this year’s Conference asks: “what impact does globalization, constant war, terror and mass expulsions mean for the discipline?” This is not a question about an impending demise of the discipline but, rather, in the face of these scourges—globalization, constant war, terror, and mass expulsions—what, if any, are the responses of the discipline to these Damoclean scourges. In other words, what are the responsibilities, if any, of the discipline in confronting these challenges?
The responsibilities are enormous. The discipline must confront these issues head-on for they bear significantly on the future of Chicanos/as everywhere.
Essentially, “globalization” is defined as:
- the process enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely as a result of deregulation and improved communications
- the emergence since the 1980s of a single world market dominated by multinational compa- nies, leading to a diminishing capacity for national governments to control their economies
- the process by which a company, etc, expands to operate internationally.
In other words, the development of an increasingly integrated global economy characterized by free trade, free flow of capital, and the tapping of cheaper foreign labor markets. Globalization augurs economic, political, and/or cultural change(s). Perforce, in many quarters such changes threaten the status quo and the comfort of business as usual. As patterns of globalization, NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) raise fears that that kind of “internationalism” impacts the further reduction of labor which is why American Labor Unions oppose those patterns of globalization.
Critics of globalization point out that globalization, the march of international capitalism, is a force for oppression, exploitation and injustice. Globalization moves across the planet unchecked, they say. Wherever it goes, it bleeds democracy of content and puts “profits before people.” (The Economist, http://www.economist. com/ node/795995). This characterization of globalization does not bode well for the impoverished—principally people of color—already in difficult straits. Where should NACCS, American Hispanic and Chicano scholars stand on this issue? The choice is between profits and the common good.
Aphorisms supporting globalization abound: “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Chicano scholars must ask: literally, how many Chicanos own boats? Jesting aside, the promise of the metaphor augurs amelioration of impoverished lives—how can that be bad? That’s the nub of research for Chicano scholars. How does globalization affect the nation and Chicanos?
In the seemingly endless presence of constant war the praeternatural question arises: who is called upon to fight in the endless presence of this constant war? Made evident to me in the 1980s when I chaired the IMAGE Commission on the Status of Hispanics in the Department of Defense—authorized by Caspar Weinberg, Secretary of Defense under President Ronald Reagan at the time–American Hispanics made up disproportionately the largest group of the armed force of the nation—not in the Warrant, Company, Field, or Flag ranks of the officer corps but in the enlisted ranks of the force (Ortego, 1984).
My 10 years in the Air Force as an officer from 1952 to 1962 were constructive, advancing me from a Reserve 2nd Lt. to a Reserve Major. Often I was the only Hispanic officer in a number of units. At Flying School in 1953 I was the only Hispanic officer in my flight (53-O). When I finally left the Air Force I explained jokingly to friends and superiors that I was leaving because I realized I was never going to be Air Force Chief of Staff. As a Mustang officer—someone who has served in the enlisted ranks—with 3years of service as a Marine during World War II my Air Force tour was heartening. In Europe I was a Threat Analyst in Soviet Studies. My study of Russian and Russian literature as a Comparative Studies major at Pitt helped.
In the face of this endless war since Desert Storm in 1990, the presence of Hispanics in the fighting force of Desert Storm was much higher than their proportion among the nation’s poor: 14 percent for Hispanics. As the largest Hispanic group in the United States (66%), the greater of the poor are among Chicanos. Why? The product of marginalization, historical exclusion, and discrimination.
In Desert Storm as in Vietnam, Hispanics were disproportionately a larger share of the American fighting force–20,000 Hispanics were in the American fighting force (Rochin & Fernandez). A total of 4,476 American “men and women in uniform” died, and 32,102 were wounded (Lerner). On a wall in my university office near my computer is a memorial of my time in the Marines during World War II. On one side of the Marine Corps seal is a picture of me in a green uniform when I was 17. On the other side of the seal is a plastron in miniature of military medals I earned.
Despite the history of Mexican America as an internal colony of the United States, I’m proud of that service. For it signifies that despite the colonial nature of Mexican America’s history more than 500,000 Mexican Americans served in that conflagration in defense of the nation. NACCS Chicano Scholars must keep reminding the nation of that fact and the valor of the living and dead Mexican American men and woman soldiers, sailors, airmen/women, and Marines. That valor resulted in Mexican Americans being awarded more Medals of Honor during World War II and Korea than any other ethnic group.
Donald Trump’s ruckus with Mexicans is, in effect, a slap in the face of Mexican Americans, progeny of Mexicans whose country during World War II was one of the staunchest allies of the United States. In April 1943 Mexican President Avila Camacho and American President Franklin Roosevelt met in Monterrey, Mexico, to discuss military cooperation. By September Mexico entered the war as a full military partner of the United States, the only Spanish–speaking nation in Latin America to become a combatant in World War II (Miller 29). There were Mexican military units under their own command.
By 1944 the Mexican Air Force had Squadron 201 ready for combat in the Philippines (40 pilots and 350 ground crews) trained in San Antonio, Texas, in P-47 Thunderbolts—one of the planes is on permanent exhibit at the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas.
Nearly a century after a bitter defeat by the United States, Mexico sent a military force to fight against the Axis powers alongside U.S. military forces in World War II. It was the first time that Mexico sent combat personnel abroad and the first time both nations battled a common threat. This unique unit was the Mexican air force, Fuerza Aerea Mexicana (FAM). Its pilots provided air support in the liberation of the Philippines and flew long-range sorties over Formosa, earning praise from Allied theater commander General Douglas MacArthur and decorations from the U.S., Mexican and Philippine governments. –HistoryNet, 6/12/2006
In addition to the 500,000 Mexican Americans who served in World War II—in which I was a Marine Corps Sergeant in the Pacific—Mexican citizens joined the U.S. armed forces “in impressive numbers . . . taking their place along with other allies in the fight against the Axis powers” (Ibid. 35-36).
Given that 40 million Mexican Americans constitute ¼ of the 160 million Mexicans and Mexican Americans, it appears that in better times Mexico’s future lies with ligatures to the United States and its diasporic children.
The War Against Terror has transmogrified the images of Mexico and Mexicans into the images of Mexicans flying those airliners into the Twin Towers. The pilots of those hijacked airliners were Muslim Jihadists not Mexicans. The War Against Terror has anathemized Mexican drug smuggling into terrorism reinforcing American fears that only a Mexican wall can qualm (Ortego 2007). Drug smuggling terrorism is a reality in Mexico but allaying American fears that terrorism is terrorism not Mexican terrorism is difficult. But that transmogrified image has become indelible in the minds of many Americans, so indelible that only a wall between the U.S. and Mexico can assuage that fear.
This is a task for NACCS Scholars—allaying that fear of terror in exchange for bridges not walls. Perforce not all terror is diminishable by bridges but we cannot shirk the responsibility of trying (Ortego 2016).
The specter of Mexican terrorism in the United States is not new. It surfaced during World War I:
In January of 1917, British cryptographers deciphered a telegram from German Foreign Minister Arthur Zimmermann to the German Minister to Mexico, von Eckhardt, offering United States territory to Mexico in return for joining the German cause. . . The telegram had such an impact on American opinion that, according to David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers, “No other single cryptanalysis has had such enormous consequences.” It is his opinion that “never before or since has so much turned upon the solution of a secret message.”
National Archives, https://www.archives.gov/education/lessons/zimmermann
Whether a hoax or not, the Zimmermann telegram cast a lingering pallor on U.S.-Mexico relations, still there today despite Mexico’s alliance with the United States during World War II. But the suspicion of Mexican terrorism has other roots as well, namely, suspicion that Mexicans—now Mexican American Chicanos—have plans to reclaim the territory of the Mexican Cession of 1848 and to establish it as the nation of Aztlan—name of the mythical homeland of the Aztecs. True or not the file is said to exist in the archives of the FBI. During my four years in Washington, DC as Chairman of The Hispanic Foundation I was never able to acquire it.
There’s little doubt that significant pockets of Chicano nationalism has revved up American fears of Chicano terrorism which has been exaggerated out of proportion. Also, “There’s been a persistent and mostly baseless claim in American politics over the last few years that Islamist terrorist have been actively attempting to enter the country through the U.S.-Mexico border” (Keating). Concern has also surfaced about Mexican drug smugglers acting as couriers for ISIS. There are also fears that Jihadists may or are attempting entrance to the United States among undocumented immigrants seeking entrance to the U.S. via Mexico.
Many Americans have a hard time distinguishing between swarthy Mexicans and swarthy Syrians and Iranians. According to the latest issue of The Atlantic Donald Trump has been stoking those fires of fear. Hysterically Trump’s rallies have increased the volume of their protests over prospective resettlement of Middle Eastern immigrants in the United States.
Though Trump’s rhetoric belies the rhetoric of reality anent Muslim Jihadists in the U.S., Trump supporters are comforted by Trump’s assurances as protector and patriarch (Ortego 2017) of American values. The problem lies in the prospects of internecine warfare between Trumpeteers calling for Draconian measures of safety and the Libertarian guardians of constitutional safeguards. The outcome hangs in the balance for NACCS scholars.
Mexican and Mexican-American families wait to board Mexico-bound trains in Los Angeles on March 8, 1932. County officials arranged these mass departures as part of “repatriation campaigns,” fueled by fears that Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were taking scarce jobs and government assistance during the Great Depression.
During the 1930s and into the 1940s, up to 2 million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans were deported or expelled from cities and towns across the U.S. and shipped to Mexico. According to some estimates, more than half of these people were U.S. citizens, born in the United States.
The deportation of American citizens during the immigration raids of the 1930s was deliberate solely because they were of Mexican descent. From the beginning in 1848, Mexicans cum Mexican Americans by conquest and fiat per the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo did not fare well in their own lands when constituted as territory of the United States. They were left to cope as best they could with the English language while their Spanish language was institutionally forbidden wit harsh corporal punishment when noted in the schools, they had to abide by American law(s) foreign from their own, and they had to navigate an educational system that did not understand them and did not want them (Ortego 2015).
The burden of American imperialism loomed heavily on American coffers. Mexican Americans were ergo relegated ipso facto to the pauper class of los de abajo (the underclass), their rights restricted, their properties seized and confiscated by legal shenanigans or eminent domain, their humanity besmirched and summarily killed by Texas rangers.
An archival photo from the early 1900s shows Texas Rangers with the lassoed bodies of men they had shot. The original caption of the photo said “dead bandits.” But scholars say the Rangers killed some people without cause, or purely on suspicion that they might be thieves or troublemakers.
It’s incumbent upon NAACS Scholars to bear witness to these truths and like Edward Said speak truth to power in elevating the Mexican American story to its rightful place in American history.
Copyright 2017 by Dr. Philip De Ortego y Gasca; Scholar in Residency (Cultural Studies, Critical Theory, Public Policy), Western New Mexico University; Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Cultural Studies, Texas State University—Sul Ross. Deportation photo used under “fair use” proviso of the copyright law, all other photos in the public domain.
Works Cited and Consulted: