The Death of Gracia Alkema
Rodolfo F. Acuñ
Lately, I have become more reflective, not because I am getting more considerate but because I am getting old. Grappling with what is surely the last edition of Occupied America that through no fault of its own has like Ulysses wandered. It started out in 1972 with Canfield Press (a division of Harper & Row and in the 1980s went under the direct supervision of Harper & Row. I worked with Gracia Alkema, a fiery editor with whom I often clashed. When things got heated she would fly down from San Francisco or I would drive up. It was a good exchange and she made frequent and valuable recommendations and changes.
You don’t have that many editors in book building today. The industry has been privatized, and a strict division of labor has taken place. No longer do you get the opportunity to work with an editor and it shows. Today everyone in the film industry wants to be the director when in truth the best trained editors as former script writers and editors. The editor like Gracia fights for their ideas and then learns to direct them.
Harper & Row was a big publisher and much more difficult to communicate than with Canfield that had small offices in San Francisco. However, for the most part, they were available, and you communicated with the editors by phone. They were part of the formation of the book. By the fourth edition I was with Longman that I did not know at the time had been gobbled up. Founded in London, England, in 1724 and it became part of Pearson PLC in 1968. Under. Longman, Pearson it used primarily as an imprint division. The tone changed and it became less personal.
By 2013 (8th Edition) the shift was complete. Communication with the editors whose function under Longman was outsourced. The new Indian editors were more concerned with production and I was a fly in the ointment that kept changing things. Unlike with Gracia there was no give and take. Initially, I had difficulty because the grammatical corrections clashed with my English. They spoke a 19th century classical English. Slowly we both adapted.
Pearson is multinational publishing and education company. Unlike Grecia its employees are not editors in the historical sense. They are concerned with the presentation of the product. The political has been strained out of the product.
Being an old man I feel like an uncle of mine at the funeral of my cousin Sandra. When they were putting her in the grave they brought out a small cigar-like box with her ashes. In a loud voice my uncle kept repeating “that’s not Sandy!”
Gracia Alkema died in 2011.
The Limitations of Research
The Search for the Truth
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
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.
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.
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.