The Limitations of Research The Search for the Truth

The Limitations of Research

The Search for the Truth

By

Rodolfo F. Acuña

When I decided to transition from high school teaching and then to community college I knew that I had to make adjustments in my career. The focus was teaching, but the doctorate opened up the field of research. Drawn to research I planned concentrate on the study of Northern Mexico and the State of Sonora.

My problem was that life had unsettled me. I was always on the hustle. A two year stint in the army, an early marriage, working over forty hours a week and carrying a full load in college, formed me. I loved teaching and my experiences in the Latin American Civic Association and reading Uncle Carlos had seduced me.

I did not plan to stay in the state university system. I knew that carrying a four course a semester load limited research opportunities. I always marveled that professors at research institutions ended their careers with only one or two books. So I made adjustments.

I did not remain chair. During the first years of the Chicana/o Studies Department, we rotated the chair annually to expose new faculty to the institution. This freed me. I did not have to go to committee meetings and I could use my summers to research. The downside was that we had no research assistants and had limited funds to support research.

In my fifty years at SFVS (aka CSUN) I received release time twice; instead of teaching four classes I taught three which is still considered a heavy load. I never begrudged this because it was my choice and being able to teach and run around the country laying intellectual pedos was my reward.

That brings me to why I am rewriting many of my early works. My father was a tailor; he worked for the Western Costume Company. I started there at the age of five sorting buttons. I met a lot of people. Western Costume was across the street from Paramount and I would sneak into the studios and watch directors shoot a scene. I found myself second guessing the director when he yelled “Cut” or “Wrap it up!” I was offered an apprenticeship as a cameraman, but I did not take it because I asked myself, “Why?”

It was just like when my father responded to the news that I got a doctorate, he asked me, “Si eres doctor que curas?” There has to be more to life than just yelling, “Cut!”

I also began to question historical biographies. I considered them useless if they did not ask, “Why?” Most are limited fictionalized accounts of a person’s life.  Examples are Arthur Meier Schlesinger Jr.’s (1988) and Jon Meacham (2009) both of whom wrote biographies of Andrew Jackson. It did not believe they added much to the nation’s corpus of knowledge. In effect, the works are apologies for a racist who launched genocidal wars on Indigenous People.

My last book Assault on the Mexican American’s Collective Memory, 2010–2015: Swimming with Sharks was a micro-narrative of the period from 2010 to 2016. I struggled with it because it forced me to go beyond the story. History is not entertainment.

A book must be true; it is not become true because I said it is. In this context documentaries are no longer about the truth. The contrary they are propaganda. They are not independent but the oligarchs’ efforts to institutionalize their truth. In Assault on …Memory, I discuss how oligarchs “creatively appropriate the language and issues” to fit their reality. They define the problems and the solutions interpreting the social world. Worse they define who can fix them.

The documentary Superman lays out a counter narrative. The argument is that the unions and the teachers are the bad guys. Thus the oligarchs appropriate the truth, something that is possible in the absence of a free press. I posit that a lack of critical commentary or counter narrative facilitated the Rise of Donald Trump.   

Waiting for Superman is made up of two intertwining narratives. It is a masterpiece in the art of détournement meaning “rerouting, hijacking” the narrative.  Superman is masterfully put together and well financed by right wing foundations and pushed by giants such as Bill Gates. In short, Waiting for Superman is a running commercial for charter schools and five kids; four are children of color from low income families in urban neighborhoods

The oligarchs first showed Waiting for Superman at the national PTA convention. “Some have wondered if … [the PTA’s] decision to promote the film has anything to do with its receipt of a $1 million donation from the Gates Foundation.”  Gates’ solution to the budget crisis is for school districts to cut pension payments for retired teachers. It is part of a campaign led by plutocrats such as Eli Broad and Bill Gates to privatize public education.

The book is not going to make money, it does not entertain, but it is epistemologically sound. The truth matters!

Death In Academe

Death in Academe

By

Rodolfo F. Acuña

I remember a conversation with Marcos Aguilar and Minnie Fergusson in May 1993. They had just gotten arrested for invading the UCLA faculty club to call attention to Chancellor Young’s arrogant announcement that there would never be a Chicano Studies Department at UCLA as long as he was chancellor.  I remarked that I thought the time had passed to mount a major push for Chicana/o studies – finals were coming up and everything would die until October (the beginning of the Fall Quarter).

Marcos and Minnie in this instance proved me wrong; they launched a major offensive on May 24, 1993 as five students, a professor and three community members set up a tent city in the center of UCLA and began a hunger strike. A perfect storm hit UCLA as thousands of Chicana/o LAUSD students watched the events.

Thinking back I remember that every successful student offensive I participated in began in the fall. Campuses in the summer are dead. During my first years in academe I made it a point if I could never to leave LA in the summer. The summers are the days that campus administrators and the Trustees do the most damage to student and to faculty rights. It is a time that there is no one around to criticize them – to say “No!”

In recent years this has gotten worse. Faculties no longer have communities. Innovations such as block classes have been introduced. They supposedly give faculty more time to do research (although there is no evidence that scholarly production has increased). Today most faculties teach M-W, T-TH or F-S people. This is easier since part timers outnumber tenure track professors.

However, there are pitfalls. M-W professors whose classes are on W do not see their students until M. Their office hours are on those days and they can only attend meetings on those days. Everything has to accommodate M-W, T-TH, and F-S. This in itself has increased the power of campus administrations and eroded faculty governance.

Next week finals begin at Cal State Northridge; so beginning then and until late August the vampires will haunt the campuses. Look for Chancellor Timothy P. White to find victims.  Like most CSU chancellors White does not want to educate students but to build his Chamber of Horrors.

White is not original. In 1982 Chancellor Ann Reynolds took over the 19- campus California State University System. Reynolds had been the provost at Ohio State and was a respected biologist.  Reynolds was imperious and she demanded deference.  The daughter of missionaries I always envisioned her wearing Wellington boots and carrying riding crop whip.

Like White, Reynolds was not from Los Angeles, she had never taught in the schools of LA. However, she was ambitious and pushed a plan to raise the admission standards to the CSU. Her reasoning was that by raising admission requirements the public schools would be forced to raise their standards and offer more college bound courses thus removing the burden of remedial classes from the state universities that could then spend the money on math and science.

Like White the key was required math and science courses. Like White, Reynolds did not appreciate the tremendous progress being made in the education of working class students that led to student diversity.  Reynolds eventually won but lost the support of the Trustees and the governor and was forced to resign.

A side note: Faculty especially in math and sciences supported Reynolds. The opposition was led by Chicana/o Studies, Mecha and the League of Revolutionary Struggle. In Reynolds case the story did not end there. She went on to be chancellor of the City University of New York (CUNY) (1990–1997), and president of the University of Alabama at Birmingham (1997–2002). Like all good vampires she avoided seeing the light.

More recently under the cover of summer vacations faculty governance has been eroded during the dark month of June, July and August when the vampires come out to play.  The vampires have hit Chicana/o Studies hit hard.  Remember the appointment of administrators, the signing of the UNAM Accord and the so-called Mellon Foundation mentorship program for Latinos. They were all announced during the dark of night.

Faculty Discussion: Neo-Liberal University 2

Rudy Acuña

In exploring neoliberalism it is instructive to look at the past. During the Colonial Period in New Spain, the Spanish governed through an organizing principle of racial categories, a sistema de castas. The system of castas was more than socio-racial classification. It was labelled a sociedad de castas. Today it is still used and Mexicans naively use the classification mestizo rather than Indigenous. The castas socially ranked the mixed-race people. Its attraction is witnessed by the obsession of many Mexicans  getting DNA tests.

This system of castas in the neoliberal university is subtle. I have been asked by faculty if I have a doctorate. If I say yes they then ask, “From what university?” I guess they are trying to assess the value of my brand. (I attended a night school, got my PhD from USC, the only university then that offered classes after 4 p.m.) We used to have a Dean of Students named Ed Packham, called him pecker man, who had an E.D. from Harvard who always put down Harvard but slurred over the E.D. He was an asshole.

This elitism is today called professionalism. I call it  giving value to acommodity. Invariably the first thing that appears on new faculty email addresses is the Ph.D. as if it is part of their name. It is what I call establishing a brand. A Godiva Candy Bar costs more than a Hershey Bar. Adjunct faculty is kept in line by a caste system that no longer lists them as part-time but designates them as lecturers.

Resources are distributed by the overseers. If you comply, you get rewarded. Harry Hellenbrand was a master of the patronage system. Merit has very little to do with it. One year I published two books and got a one-step merit increase. Another professor got five steps and published nothing. The president said I was not a good citizen – I sided with the students. Published two books in the past two years and not acknowledged. This is the way castes work and the neoliberal ensures professionalism.

It is similar to the way Congress operates. Be a good boy and you will come out of it a millionaire. Play the game and I will become a full professor. I should be happy that I am not a lecturer. I become a professional, not a worker.

The Neoliberal University

The Neoliberal University

Responto a colleagues question on ho the university has changed.

Martha, your point is a very good one but one that most faculty want to avoid. The neo-liberal university has changed education and ideologies. There is much less faculty governance today, the faculty senate is a sham. Because of the overwhelming number of adjunct professors the administration is able to manipulate the faculty even more. But I guess what I miss is not so much the faculty, white faculty then and now were and are racist. The most fundamental change is that even though the white faculty was hostile there were the janitors, the grounds people, the vending machine techs, the car pool people and the painters who were permanent family. You could talk to them. (Their jobs have been oursourced) The cops were always bad but you had those such as the only black cop on campus, Juanita, who came to us for help when it became intolerable. She cared about the students and would get in trouble with her department. Today the Mexican campus cops are Hispanics, they feel entitled. Then our kids were here for a purpose, today they are commodities. We knew we were outsiders, today we think we are insiders and we can can join student and faculty fraternities and sororities.

Rudy

Collective Memory

Collective Memory

By

Rudy Acuña

Somebody asked me the other day if I was from ELA, I responded that I was born there and spent the first 20 years of my life in LA. However, my home since I got out of the army has been the San Fernando Valley, I started teaching junior high there in 1957. I have always criticized people who used communities and then moved on. That was one of the big hurdles some never built any institutions not even at the university. Your community is where you live and people who yearn for something else are like married men who are always looking for greener pastures. If you live in a place become part of it.

This is what building a collective historical memory is all about. I knew that I was not an organic leader. I had a role which was to educate people. In order to do this, I had to study them and associate my self with their struggles. The San Fernando Valley deserved my respect. That is why I never left. My heart was here. Students and institutions like the Latin American Civic Association make this possible.

My new book, the Preface of my book that follows is about present-day struggles that added to the history of the people. It involves two case studies: 1) is the struggle for Chicana/o studies centering around Tucson, Arizona. 2) is about the privatization of education that is rapidly endangering the gains we have made as a people in the past fifty years. It is as if people have developed historical amnesia.

What I did learn was that some people are true heroes. Sean Arce, Jose and Norma Gonzalez, Curtis Acosta are true heroes. They won against all odds and personal sacrifice. They made mistakes but they set precedent. I also saw that like Simone de Beauvoir pointed out that it is only possible for the colonizers to stay in power through the complicity of the colonized. Cyrano de Bergerac laid at the feet of jealousy. I would like to personally thank the Tucsonenses for overcoming hurdles.

The struggles in academe will be more difficult yet. Professors, there have no community. They are no part of the community that made possible their paychecks. Ernesto Galarza once said that a people without a community have not history. We can blame no one, we have all been reduced to commodities.

I thank the Tucson Plaintiffs, you made my day.

Rights and Illusions

For every right there is a corresponding duty. We have the right to free speech, but we also have the corresponding duty that our speech is truthful and does not limit the rights of others. “Every duty supposes a corresponding right, and every right a duty: right and duty are correlative and inseparable,” In my view privileges are softer. You have the privilege of driving, not the right. With a privilege there is a corresponding obligation (not duty).

I am going through this exercise because we should think about our rights and duties, our privileges and obligations. We have the right of free speech but like an academic paper it has to be based on fact. We have the right to write but also the duty to base it on the truth.

While I do not like the FBI, I cannot but marvel on Mueller’s methodology at getting to the truth that has nothing to do about morality but everything with what the truth is. It has nothing to do with who did it but with elections. People vote, they have the right to vote and the right to expect free outcomes. However, elections throughout the world are not free and both the Russians and the United States are trampling on the rights of other individuals. In both instances Russia and the U.S. have violated the rights of others denying them the right to vote.

It is like talking about the right to have a gun. What are the duties in carrying a gun and what is the duty of the state that gives that right? There is no denying that state has the the right to grant this right; however, what is its duty? What are the rights of people who do not have guns? I could go on and on but the truths uncovered by the Mueller investigation will go for naught if we do not admit that our elections are not free. The elections of other nation are not free because of our interference. Democracy is a hoax or at least an illusion.

Rudy Acuña

Max Benavidez, “– “The Raza’s Edge,” L.A. Weekly, January 10-16, 1986

The activist:

 

  1. Max Benavidez, “– “The Raza’s Edge,” L.A. Weekly, January 10-16, 1986

 

Rudy Acuna, scholar-activist of Aztlan, sat among the stacks of books, dusty journals and yellowing student papers in his office at Cal State Northridge, dressed in his usual blue jeans and a casual cotton shirt. The lead stories in the morning paper were about Latinos. One announced that Ronald Reagan’s Justice Department had filed suit against the L.A. City Council for deliberately fragmenting Latino voting strength. The other story focused on the City Council debate over a resolution declaring Los Angeles a “City of Sanctuary.” The front-page affirmation that Latinos were news barely drew a contemptuous glance from the salt-and-pepper-haired professor.[1]

The author of nine books, including the classic Chicano history Occupied America, Acuna is an angry man. His consciousness was forged by a father who held a strict sense of right and wrong and by the moral code of his Jesuit teachers at Loyola High School in Los Angeles.

Acuna (pronounced Ah-coon-ya) was born in the Boyle Heights district of East Los Angeles in 1933. Since those barrio days he’s been guided – some say driven – by a desire to make sure that people learn the truth about Mexicans in the United States. Along the stormy way, he’s gathered a doctorate in Latin American studies, a Rockefeller humanities fellowship and an American Council of Learned Societies Award. He’s helped build one of the largest ethnic studies programs in the country at Cal State Northridge, where he continues to live in a San Fernando Valley barrio.

L.A. Times reporter Frank del Olmo, a former Acuna student, wrote that Acuna is as known for “political activism as for his academic research into the history of the southwestern United States and the Mexican-Americans who helped build the region.” Del Olmo added that “despite his academic credentials, Acuna is also a gadfly who freely criticizes the shortcomings of the system that nurtures him. Only his reputation as a teacher and the fact that he has tenure protect him.”

It’s true. Over the last year he’s fought CSU Chancellor Dr. W. Ann Reynolds all over the map. He’s bitterly denounced her new admission requirements as “racist and elitist” because they will effectively lock out the next generation of Latino students. Reynolds’ reaction to Acuna was formulated by Dr. Ralph Bigelow, the chancellor’s chief staff officer for admissions and records, who doesn’t think all the commotion has added up to much: “We didn’t need his observations to be aware of the educational problems among Hispanics,” Bigelow sniffed coldly. “That’s a social problem that many people are aware of.”

Acuna probably knew that his efforts to stop the new rules were a long shot. Nevertheless, he stood his ground and waited outside the CSU headquarters in Long Beach with 75 Chicano and black student demonstrators on a damp, cold day in November when Reynolds and his trustees made their fateful decision. As rain clouds scudded overhead, the trustees tightened admission standards. The proposal Acuna tried so hard to stop were state university policy by the next day.

United Auto Workers organizer Eric Mann has worked with Acuna on labor-related issues, including the fight to keep the Van Nuys General Motors plant open. Acuna is an important spokesman, says Mann, because of “his moral outrage at a time when outrage is out of fashion. He’s a top-rate scholar with impeccable credentials and he’s willing to work to build a coalition.” Mann recalls that at a meeting with the president of GM, Acuna mentioned what he called a “historical affection between the Chicano and the Chevrolet” – a bond he vowed to break if GM closed down a plant where more than 50 percent of the workers are Latino.

Last spring he was honored by the progressive Liberty Hill Foundation because, as Mary Jo von Mach, the foundation’s executive director, put it, “We’ve known about Rudy for a long time.” Speaking to an audience including economist-philanthropist Stanley Sheinbaum and Ed Asner, Acuna quietly asked that they take the time to get to know his community. Although Mexicans founded this city, he said, even progressives rarely give them any thought until it’s time to hire a good housekeeper or they require the urban backdrops of the Eastside for a TV series.

All this is slowly changing. The recent election of a Mexican to the L.A. City Council, the first since 1962, growing support for the sanctuary movement and an intensifying nationwide debate over U.S. intervention in Central America will bring more attention to L.A.’s Latino community. A long piece that ran in The New York Times in December declared that a “Hispanic surge” is signaling “the coming of a new era of Hispanic political influence that will be felt beyond Los Angeles.”

This new era will bring to prominence a generation of Chicanos influenced by Acuna, who is still constantly reminding whomever will listen that there is a context that must never be forgotten: the poverty, illiteracy and history of a people who are, in his words, “a community under siege.” More and more are listening, and with unfailing precision Acuna spends his time puncturing unrealistic expectations. His prescriptions for the future are marked by an understanding of the present based on a keen study of the past. While others speak of dreams, he points to the nightmares many would prefer to ignore. While some fantasize about Hispanic power, he assesses Mexican life in L.A. circa the mid-1980s. Here are his thoughts at the beginning of 1986.

 

 

 

The Raza’s Edge

 

 

Benavidez: You’ve been an activist for decades. Yet, for all of your work and the work of countless others, it seems that social change has slowed. How can people who feel bogged down by this inertia get moving again?

 

Acuna: I’m not bogged down. I think that I was more frustrated in the ‘60s than I am today. I honestly thought changes cold be made within the system. When I look at the present structure I don’t think anything is going to change. Right now the most important thing is to be realistic. To assume that Latinos, for example, are going to gain real power is to live in a political Disneyland.

 

Benavidez: Why won’t Latinos gain real power?

 

Acuna: You have to get down to an elementary and fundamental principle. The Mexican in the U.S. today has no sense of history. The Jew, for instance, has a history, and the rest of us have incorporated that history. It’s in the Bible. It’s taught in the schools, taught to Mexicans, and it becomes part of their reality. Until recently, most Mexicans didn’t know that they’re descended from highly evolved civilizations like the Aztecs and the Mayas in Mexico.

It’s all part of building a strong self-image. But we don’t learn about this in the schools. Less than 1 percent of the high school students of Mexican extractions have ever taken a Chicano history class. Bilingual education doesn’t emphasize political or social image. Right now the common denominator for most Mexicans in the U.S., native-born or not, is oppression. What you have today are Mexicans thinking that they have equality because they’re “American.”

 

Benavidez: Why is it important that our community maintain a sense of history?

 

Acuna: I don’t think it would be as important if we didn’t have so many poor people in our community who have been traditionally poor and have the stigma attached to them. I think it’s correct to say that the poor will be poor tomorrow. The poor lose their identity. Any type of self-awareness and pride is taken away from them. They are immobilized. Mexicans, being poor, have been immobilized. This is due to lack of self-image, the lack of identification with any type of revolutionary figures. I mean, poor Zapata and Villa are fantastic figures, but besides them people don’t know about someone like Ernesto Galarza, who struggles for many years in this country. They don’t know about the Crusade for Justice, they don’t know about Jose Angel Gutierrez.

 

Benavidez: You say there’s this long-standing poverty within the community. And, of course, there is, but doesn’t it really boil down to a psychological dimension on the part of Latinos and others?

 

Acuna: It’s not psychology. It’s the structure of capitalism.

 

Benavidez: There are other people who face these problems and deal with them. Blacks, Jews, Koreans.

 

Acuna: Jews have made it? Look: In the first 100 corporations in the Fortune 500 only a minuscule fraction of corporate managers are Jews.

 

Benavidez: You’re saying that even with a sense of consciousness and a sense of history, people still have a lot of problems?

 

Acuna: Look at the Latino professionals, who, by and large, are opportunistic. They honestly believe that they help the community just by being professionals. They don’t help anyone. The only time they come back to the barrios is when they want to impress their gringo friends and eat menudo. And they come once a year. I don’t see them working with youth out there. Where are the role images? The Baldwin Hills are very close to the black ghettos, and professionals in the Baldwin Hills do work with their community. I’d like to see the Latino professional go into East Los Angeles and the other barrios, into the schools.

 

Benavidez: Do you think the average Jew or black knows about the people who have struggled for them?

 

Acuna: Yes, I do. They do have a sense of identity. I think in both cases that a sense of identity is kept intact by religion.

 

Benavidez: I’ve met a lot of Mexicans who have a sense of identity – through their family, their pride in their work. Sometimes they identify with their religion and with Mexico. They feel that they are struggling to make their lives better. I don’t see the difference between this sense of self and a sense of self in other oppressed groups.

 

Acuna: There is a difference. Look at the class relationship of Jews in this country. The overwhelming majority are middle-class. There are working-class Jews, but the bulk are middle-class. When you start to look at the census figures for Mexicans in this country you see that only one third are employed in expanding industries. That means two thirds are working in industries that may not be around in the next 20 years. They’re very vulnerable. Even the third in expanding industries are vulnerable because they are stratified in the lower segments. Poor people, in their relationship to society and those social forces that run society, are an awful lot different than people who have some social control over their environment.

 

Benavidez: That brings us back to the main point again: political influences and power. The Jewish community has a lot of political influences in this state. The black community is represented by the speaker of the Assembly, Willie Brown, and the mayor of Los Angeles, who is going to run for governor, is also black. But the black and Jewish populations are small compared to the Latino community.

 

Acuna: They see the world through a black/white perspective. They don’t see other colors. Liberal whites don’t see us. Look at the ones who sit on the CSU Board of Trustees, the system that could help make a difference for our community. It was only recently that a Chicano was appointed president at CS college, in Bakersfield, which is the smallest of all the state colleges. Until then the Cal State system had appointed only three black presidents. Blacks need these appointments. I’m not saying that they don’t. But in reality the Mexican population is considerably larger than the black population. ..

 

Benavidez: People are oriented towards issues like apartheid; but they do little in terms of Latino-oriented issues. Except perhaps for the sanctuary movement.

 

Acuna: Not even for the sanctuary movement. It hasn’t received that kind of support. The sanctuary movement has religious overtones. The other thing about the South African issue is that we’re really criticizing the South African government, not our own government.

 

Benavidez: Why do you think that Latino leaders, especially visible Latino politicians, don’t speak out on issues like the sanctuary movement or undocumented rights or education?

 

Acuna: Because I think that an awful lot of the identification with the term “Hispanic” and the movement for many Latinos is opportunistic. It’s not based on ideology or a feeling of community.

 

Benavidez: Would you say that Richard Alatorre [newly elected L.A. City Council member] is opportunistic?

 

Acuna: I’m not talking about Alatorre.

 

Benavidez: Are you talking about Art Torres [California Democratic state senator] or Gloria Molina [the first Latina, also a Democrat, elected to the state Assembly]?

 

Acuna: I’m talking about our professionals.

 

Benavidez: But I’m asking you about the politicians, these elected leaders of the community. What about them? They appear to avoid most controversial issues. I know a politician who shrugs his shoulders and says, “Compromise. That’s politics.”

 

Acuna: The more you make me think about it, I don’t know why Latino politicians haven’t come out. I think it’s a lack of courage. Compromise is one thing, but to ignore certain moral issues is wrong. The Latino legislation in the California Legislature have failed to take a strong stand against U.S. actions in Central America. So have those Latinos who sit in the U.S. Congress. Many of them will take a stand against South Africa. However, the hypocrisy of it is that they will criticize the South African government but they won’t criticize their own government, which is supporting the contras.

I’m really talking about the failure of Latino politicians. In general, they have failed to educate the Latino community regarding Central America, undocumented aliens, a whole range of issues. I’m taking about moral leadership. Many Latino elected officials are efficient politicians. But they aren’t providing more leadership.

 

Benavidez: You’ve often said that the term “Hispanic” is a way of Europeanizing the Chicano. Yet, you find Marxism relevant although it’s a European way of thinking. Is socialism an answer for Latinos?

 

Acuna: It depends on how you see the current situation. Let’s look at literacy. One third of all Americans are functionally illiterate. That means that they read below the 10th-grade level. Most of our magazines, newspapers, etc., are written at the 10th-grade level. The median level of education for Mexicans in the U.S. is below the 10th-grade level. That means that most Mexicans are illiterate. They cannot pick up a journal, they can’t pick up a newspaper and read a commentary and really get the full essence of it. These are a captive people. They are made captive by the educational system that determines class in our society.

You ask if I would want a socialist system. Well, I think the consequences for the majority of Chicanos would be much better than under the present system. By the year 2000, 70 percent of all prisoners are going to be Latino and most of those are going to be Mexican. They’re going to prison because they’re poor. Because they’re poor they don’t know how to read. Just ask, is socialism any worse when I look at Cuba and Nicaragua, which have the first- and second-highest literacy rates in Latin America.

 

Benavidez: L.A. is a city of brown faces. Even with the demographics it’s hard to find individuals who can speak to these issues. I don’t think the point is to put you on the spot. But who does one ask about these things?

 

Acuna: I think the Anglo liberals and progressives have to be put on the spot. I don’t think the liberals and progressives have done a goddamn thing to raise awareness about Chicano issues.

 

Benavidez: What do you want people to do? What are progressives supposed to do?

 

Acuna: Shoot themselves. If they don’t know what to do, why should I have to tell them? Why should I have to tell them about injustices? Why should anyone have to tell them about the problems? If progressives see so many goddamn brown faces out there on the streets, if they see so much damn poverty why don’t they do something about it?

They shouldn’t look to people like myself to take them out like little missionaries. I’ve had it with the progressive community. They haven’t done a damn thing. The Democratic Party has been one of the biggest enemies of the Mexican community.

I don’t agree with the federal suit that’s come out against Bradley and the City Council. Obviously, there are ulterior motives. Bradley is now breathing down Republican necks and they want to do him harm, using Latinos as the club. Suddenly, our reactionary attorney general, Ed Meese, got a revelation from God. That the man in the White House doesn’t give a damn about Mexicans. If they’re so concerned with Latinos, why didn’t they do something in 1982?

At the same time, I’m not absolving Bradley or the City Council. Pat Russell (council president) is one of the most devious people on the council. I think they made Art Snyder a scapegoat. I’m not carrying a brief for Snyder, but one thing about him is that he’s not a hypocrite like most of them. He’s not the one who split up the 14th District. It was the whole council, and the Mayor approved it.

Since 1962, when Ed Roybal was elected to Congress, the Democratic Party has not given a shit about Mexicans. The only reason that we now have Assembly representatives and state senators is the demographics. [There are so many of us] they can no longer cut into the barrios. At one point in the ‘60s they cut into the barrios in five ways, diluting the voting strength of Latinos. They wanted to make safe Democratic districts. You had, in effect, 10 Assembly districts cutting into the Eastside when instead we could have had two good districts and two representatives for over the last 20 years. They didn’t do that.

 

Benavidez: So you feel that liberals and progressives who are always lamenting the fact that Latinos are politically important have a certain responsibility to bear, that they’re hypocritical?

 

Acuna: Right, but most of them also have a sense of black history. The only thing they know about Mexicans is that we like mariachi music. When Hollywood made Reds, a movie about John Reed, it didn’t touch upon his experience during the Mexican Revolution. They don’t have the consciousness.

 

Benavidez: You recently said that you see a wave of activism in our community coming in the late ‘80s or early 1990s. In practical political terms, where do you see this activism coming from? It doesn’t seem apparent at this point in time. What do you base your prediction on?

 

Acuna: On demographics. One of the reasons that the ‘60s were so volatile was that most people were young. U.S. society is no longer as politically volatile because people have aged, they’re older. But, among Mexicans, we still have a very volatile situation: high unemployment – around 20 percent to 25 percent for our youth. There’s also a lot of uprooting. The forces of social control in the community have been weakened.

I remember the Zoot Suit Riots in the early ‘40s. I was only 7 years old. I remember the zoot suiters going to church, wearing the crucifix, having tattoos of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Today, the vato loco is no longer religious. He doesn’t go to church.

 

Benavidez: I think that’s a good point. It is a very young community. And there are problems being faced by these young people, such as the high dropout rate, the high pregnancy rate among Mexican girls. What are the political consequences of that for the community?

 

Acuna: Again, it’s social control. The family has always been an institution of social control.

 

Benavidez: What’s happened to the family?

 

Acuna: One unpublished study revealed that approximately 30 percent of the families in East L.A. are headed by females. It breaks up your myth of the Mexican family. Only folklorists and poets believe in the myth of the Mexican family. As an institution, the Mexican family ain’t what it used to be. It’s been under siege for a long time. Now we’re seeing what that long period of siege has brought about.

Ninety percent of all Chicanos in the U.S. are urbanized. In 1950, we were the least urbanized minority in the U.S. Today we are the most urbanized ethnic minority in the U.S. That’s fantastic when you stop to think about it.

 

Benavidez: What is happening?

 

Acuna: I don’t know yet. This type of urbanization created disorganization for blacks, and I think we’ll probably have a lot more disorganization in our community because of it. For example, in 1950, we were 50 percent of East Los Angeles. Roosevelt High School’s majority was white. Today, 35 years later, 95 percent of the high schools in the area are Mexican. It means that segregation hasn’t decreased; it’s increased.

 

Benavidez: You’re talking about the overcrowding of the schools. You also point out that 70 percent of the prisoners are going to be Latino by the year 2000. You’re painting a picture of a community that is, as the title of your latest books says, “under siege.” I know it’s hard to say what should be done. But what do you think can be done in just practical terms, say, between now and the end of the decade.

 

Acuna: I don’t want to be pessimistic. However, what can really be done? In the 1960s, the black community had an awful lot more force along with, for a elements of the white progressive community that was supporting them. As a result, a Voting Rights Act was passed, affirmative action became a public–policy reality, you had the Justice Department looking into denials of people’s civil rights. Today the Civil Rights Act has been used against us. Affirmative action has been destroyed.

One educator said the ‘80s is not a decade of equality but of quality. What the hell is that supposed to mean? Does that mean equal schools? No. They judge the end product. I don’t think there is anything that we can do without fundamentally changing the political and economic structure of this country. That would be the termination of capitalism.

 

Benavidez: Isn’t that the impossible dream?

 

Acuna: I’ll tell you about the impossible dream. Do you think an American public made up mostly of a generation of people going through a mid-life crisis is going to pay taxes to provide quality education? One way you could do it is to have quality schools where they’re needed. Another is to give meaningful jobs to everyone. Another way is to have a fair taxing structure. Another way is to have a cleaner environment.

 

Benavidez: These kinds of reformist strategy didn’t work.

 

Acuna: That’s what I’m saying, they’re the impossible dream. The great danger of Cuba and Nicaragua for this country is not that they threaten the security of the United States, because only a fool would say that a tiny country like Nicaragua is a threat to the greatest superpower in the world. The big lesson is that if governments really want to, they can teach people to read and write.

In many ways, I’m optimistic. I know that change is inevitable. It’s going to be rough. The most important thing is that there is a grinding away of classes. Even in the new tax proposals there is grinding away of the middle. When a person who makes $42,000 a year has to pay as much tax as someone who’s making a million dollars, something’s very wrong. The number of poor people is growing. I think society itself will provide the seeds of change.

How much longer are people going to put up with making a base salary of $800 a month and paying $600 a month for an apartment? How can a poor person pay $1,300 a year for car insurance? I have an absolute faith in people’s sense of survival and their sense of struggle. These things go in cycles.

Now we have more social control than ever before. We have think tanks where people are paid to sit around and think about ways to counter, forestall and limit these cycles.

Having Ronald Reagan in the White House doesn’t help. He’s the perfect example of the mass man, the man who can’t think. Nevertheless, given all the obstacles to change, I think people will begin to act. They will only take so much.

 

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[1] Max took some liberties such as where I lived which is next to the university and hardly a barrio. The thrust of the interview was how little white society paid attention to Latino issues, which was because of the lack of knowledge on the part of white society of Mexican American history and Latino issues.