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POLITICAL SALSA Y MÁS with SAL BALDENEGRO 01.18.15 “CHICANO HISTORY WEEK?”
Chicano History Week?
Should there be a Chicano History Week?
Members of a Listserv I subscribe to were recently asked to lobby their respective legislatures to designate the week of February 2-8 as “Chicano History Week.” That week was chosen because the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed on February 2, 1848, ending the Mexican-American War. With all due respect to those arguing for it, I don’t believe that there should be a “Chicano History Week” because in a very real sense that would ghettoize our very rich history.
First and foremost, we should not be asking anyone for permission to celebrate our history. Secondly, Chicano History should be taught every day in our schools. The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) was doing exactly that until the tea-party racists who run Arizona deemed that teaching our history is illegal. Last week we witnessed history in the making: the Ninth Circuit Court heard arguments of TUSD Mexican American Studies teachers, parents, and students who sued, challenging the constitutionality of that discriminatory law.
Chicano history is American history…
The indisputable truth is that the history of the United States of America cannot be taught without substantial and substantive discussion of the role of the Chicano-Mexican American community in shaping that history.
Latinos built America through their hard work.
For example, military service is a popular rendition of American patriotism. In a previous blog I noted that it is beyond ironic that teaching young people about the patriotism of the Mexican American community—e.g., that Mexican Americans have played key roles in WWI, WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War and have earned
Mexican Americans served in all branches of the armed forces in WWII.
more Congressional Medals of Honor in proportion to their numbers than any other ethnic group in the U.S. is considered “un-American” and is illegal to teach in Arizona.
“Rosita the RIverter” contributed to the war effort in WWII.
And it wasn’t just men on the battlefields. Mexican American women played a crucial role in winning WW II as they—along with women all over the country—took over the factories and manufactured materiel for the troops during WW II. Groups such as Tucson’s Asociación de Madres y Esposas (Association of Mothers and Wives) went throughout the barrios, selling millions of dollars’ worth of war bonds. Asociación members also collected scrap metal to sell—and they picked cotton in the fields outside of Tucson—and donated the proceeds to the war effort.
Documenting our history.
That is just one sliver of our history. Rodolfo “Rudy” Acuña, Christine Marín and other historians have amply documented our community’s history, achievements, and contributions. These run the gamut of human activity—labor, art, literature, science, commerce, ranching, etc. The history of our community is not a history of victimization, of victimhood. Our history is a rich tapestry of struggle, of standing up against what is wrong and for what is right, of flourishing in the face of all manner of attack on our culture, our language, our very existence.
Let’s not ghettoize our history…
To reduce our history to a single week would be impossible. To even try would be a gross injustice and insult to our ancestors. I’m not objective about this. My generation created much history that should not be trivialized by ghettoizing it into a “Chicano History Week.”
Baby Boomers of the WWII Generation.
I am of the Chicano Generation, the children of the Mexican American Generation (MAG), also known as the G.I. Generation in that its members distinguished themselves during WW II. Although the MAG made many civil-rights advances, society still treated us as foreigners and tried to “de-Mexicanize” us and instill an inferiority complex in us. We were beaten at school for speaking Spanish, teachers arbitrarily changed our names, and we were tracked into vocational and out of college prep courses.
The Chicano Generation had two choices. We could acquiesce and shuffle through life, hat in hand, picking up society’s crumbs. Or we could resist and assert our humanity. We resisted.
The author on the front lines.
We weren’t coffeehouse philosophers, sitting around debating theories and ideologies. We were doers. We took risks and got things done. Some of us quit college to become full-time organizers. We marched. We picketed. We rallied. We confronted policy makers. We stood up for workers and organized unions. Many of us were arrested doing these things. We were some folks’ worst nightmare: assertive Mexicans not only refusing to believe they were inferior but openly expressing pride in their heritage and being pushy about their rights.
We took the MAG advances to another level and flung open the doors of opportunity the MAG opened even further. But our generation’s greatest contribution was that it instilled a deep and irrevocable sense of pride in our community, especially our youth.
Honor our history by continuing to make it…
Chicano history must be more than symbolic marches.
However, we should not be lulled into thinking that we “have arrived,” that our work is done. I fear that a “Chicano History Week” would devolve to what MLK and Cesar Chavez days have too often become: an occasion to have symbolic marches, breakfasts, and bloviating speeches by folks, many of these elected officials and others who in real life should not, could not, would not ever, be mistaken for genuine civil-rights activists or leaders.
Chicanos and all Latinos are a part of American history.
The best way to honor our history is to continue making it by beating back the reactionary forces that have coalesced to pass SB 1070-type laws and its clones. The achievements of the MAG and the Chicano Generation, and the demographic dynamics that we are experiencing, i.e., the “Browning of America,” have made us too visible and threatening to these reactionaries. So they have set out to erase our community’s legacy by nullifying our advances and trying to make us invisible. I’m sure the reactionaries would gladly throw us a bone of “allowing” us a “Chicano History Week” to pacify us and keep us from fighting them.
Our history spans centuries and like all peoples’ histories, it is complex and nuanced. A “Chicano History Week” would not even serve as preface to our story. c/s