Category Archives: Op-eds

Blogs and op-eds prior to 2017

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.

 

.

[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.

Rodolfo Acuña, “Cal State Admission Plan Makes Naive Assumption,” [Home Edition], Los Angeles Times Jan 12, 1985. pg. 2

  1. Rodolfo Acuña, “Cal State Admission Plan Makes Naive Assumption,” [Home Edition], Los Angeles Times Jan 12, 1985. pg. 2

 

I am appalled at Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds’ Dec. 15, 1984, letter thanking The Times for its editorial support (Nov. 19), “Cal State: Quality With Equality.” In essence, the Board of Trustees of the California State University System wants to improve quality by requiring stiffer admission requirements. This proposal naively presupposes that it will improve high school training by requiring more solid subjects for admission into the state university system. This assumption represents a total ignorance of history, a retreat from the 1960 commitment to ensure equal access to the state university system for minority students, and a return to hypocritical racist policies which have traditionally excluded minorities from higher education.

 

When I began teaching at California State University Northridge (then San Fernando Valley State College), fewer than 75 students of Mexican extraction attended CSUN. Two years before this, only seven Mexican-Americans studied there. Because of the civil rights struggle, the Cal State system was forced to recruit and create retention programs for minority students.

 

 

Today 1,300 Mexican-American students attend CSUN (out of a student body of 28,000. This is less than 5% of the students).[1] This is in spite of the fact that more than 40% of the Los Angeles Unified Schools are of Mexican extraction (this figure excludes other Latino groups).

 

While we are not satisfied with this record, Chicano faculty and staff realize that without special programs, i.e., special admissions and retention, that this record would be even worse. We can document success stories of students who came ill prepared to CSUN and, through their dedication and that of a small number of faculty, staff and administrators, have overcome obstacles to become medical doctors, lawyers, journalists, engineers, business persons, teachers etc.

 

Throughout this struggle, most of the CSU System was dragged along. It fought almost every innovative proposal that was made and refused to institutionalize proven programs. Its record toward blacks was bad, and toward Latinos, it was even worse. Now Chancellor Reynolds, a newcomer to California, who has had no previous track record with Latinos, states that the system wants to correct “the disparity between the proportion of minorities, especially Hispanics, who enroll in the state’s universities and the representation in the population requires corrective action.”

 

What is her corrective action? To return to the exclusionary racist policies of the pre-civil rights days when unrealistic requirements (in view of society as it was) effectively kept minorities out.

 

Reynolds offers rhetoric in place of substance. She assumes that the high schools in the black and Latino areas will upgrade their offerings because the state universities will it. She assumes that the public will fund an upgrading of minority high school programs. She ignores the fact that before standards can be raised in those schools, teachers’ salaries must be professionalized, the student-teacher ratio must be drastically reduced, curriculum offerings must be enriched, and the students’ parents must have jobs generating a decent wage. It is also necessary to have more minority teachers in the schools in order that students have proper role models.

 

Reynolds ignores the fact that present programs such as Student Affirmative Action, which was created specifically to recruit Latinos into the CSU System, have failed. In the case of CSUN, only 40 Mexican-American students were recruited this year. At many campuses, more students from Southeast Asia have been recruited into SAA than Chicanos.

 

Reynolds’ plan spells doom. If it is implemented, it will reduce equal access to the CSU System. In turn, minority group members are not ready to sell out their people and worsen the present caste system. Chancellor Reynolds’ proposal will force many of us to resume agitation to 1960 levels to prevent the exclusion of our peoples.

 

Universities play an important role in stratifying society, and history has not proved that the state system is a friend of the economically and politically disadvantaged. When the CSU system had higher requirements in 1967 than it does today, it had dramatically fewer minority students.

 

I recommend that Chancellor Reynolds and The Times study history and accept society as it is. Moreover, Reynolds should study the function of the CSU system which she heads. It is not a Big Ten university and it is not the University of California. She had better pay more attention to improving conditions for students and professors within that system before making assumptions about matters she knows nothing about and that may very well damage what little minorities have gained.

 

[1] Today there are 11,000 Latinos (Mexicans are not counted) at CSUN. A demographic breakdown is getting more difficult and there is an economic incentive for the schools to inflate the number of Latino students. If they at least 25 percent Latino students  they are listed as Hispanic Serving Institutions under Title V and thus eligible for funds and services.

  1. RODOLFO ACUNA, “Guest Worker Program in U.S.” Los Angeles Times, Times Apr 17, 1980; pg. F6

I read Frank Del Olmo’s article (April 4) on Julian Nava’s confirmation as U.S. ambassador in Washington for the State Department briefings and his comments on the guest worker program indicate that the Carter Administration is giving the program serious consideration.[1]

No matter how beautifully this program, is packaged, it is a repetition of the bracero program, which thwarted the organization of agricultural labor throughout the Southwest.

Advocates of the guest worker program always point to European models as if the programs there had been equitable to all sides. Even if this as the case, there are important differences that must be examined.

First, the guest worker program in Europe was initiated during a period when some nations had a tremendous shortage of labor.

 

Second, the guest workers primarily entered the industrial sector and relatively few worked in agriculture.

Third, farms in Europe are not the factory farms that we have in the States, thus the relationship between employee/employer was not the same.

Fourth, trade unions in Europe were and are much stronger than in the United States and consequently played a much larger role in the formation of the guest worker program.

Fifth, the administration of the guest worker program would be in the hands of U.S. bureaucrats and agencies, which have been historically anti-Mexican  – treating Mexcan labor as a cheap commodity to be exploited to its fullest.

Advocates of the guest worker program should examine and thoroughly investigate the results of those programs in Europe. You may only have to view films such as “bread and Chocolate” to understand the sub-class status that these workers in Europe suffer under. The European guest worker programs have not resulted in an amelioration of racism nor have they led to any improvement in the bargaining power of the less developed nations from which the guest workers come.

A guest worker program in the United States would make the U.S. government a labor contractor for the benefit of big business. The program would be administered for the benefit of big business. The largeness of the program would have built in evils that would allow for the manipulation of the workers and increase the dependence of Mexico on the United States and the program.

This program would not slow down the flow of labor into the United States but would in effect accelerate it. It would give the U.S. government a dangerous weapon with which to interfere into Mexico’s internal affairs.

[1] The issue of the guest worker program has resurfaced and it is popular among many on the right and left. The debate has been muted by the growing xenophobia. The right has a dilemma. They don’t want any more Mexicans but U.S. agri-business is being wiped out because of a lack of farm workers.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 13, 1988)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 13, 1988)

itle – “The West Side’s unfair shot at Richard Alatorre”

For the past two weeks, my West Side friends have been calling me to ask why Councilman Richard Alatorre voted against measure that would have made it easier for the City Council to revoke the ordinances allowing Occidental Petroleum to drill for oil in the Pacific Palisades. The question reminded me of my junior-high teaching days, when my white colleagues would always ask me to explain why Chicano students were misbehaving, or why Chicanos had so many babies.

Some members of the press have certainly been no help. One explanation of Alatorre’s vote has it that the councilman was angry at the West Side “political machine” of Democratic Congressmen Howard Berman and Henry Waxman because it supported then-Assemblywoman Gloria Molina, not his candidate, for the newly created Latino 1st District seat. Supposedly, Molina received machine money. Alatorre thus voted for Palisades drilling to get even with the West Side machine, and, at the same time, collect a few political chips from Mayor Tom Bradley, who didn’t want to face the issues yet again.

For starters, the account’s implicit portrayal of Molina as the little sister of the rich, white liberal West Siders is sexist and racist. She simply doesn’t need progressive white males, wherever they may live, to protect her from East Side machos. Ask Alatorre. Furthermore, Molina says that she received only a small donation from Berman, not the Berman-Waxman machine, which, in any case, is hardly preoccupied with any significant East Side concerns.

Second, I have known Alatorre for more than 20 years. If revenge was on his mind, he certainly would not have been barely audible, as news accounts described it, when voicing his “no” vote. That kind of meekness is not in his character. Alatorre enjoys paying the role of Big Daddy. He’s even belligerent at times. It is unthinkable that he would have stuck the knife in without smiling, as he did when he abandoned then-Assemblyman Berman in the latter’s bid for the speaker of the Assembly in 1980.

Why Alatorre voted the way he did can only remain the subject of speculation. Much more important is the feeling among my West Side friends, and no doubt among others who live there, that the councilman should be punished for siding with Occidental.

Truth be told, Latinos have little reason to empathize with West Side angst over Palisades oil drilling much less sympathize with the liberal supporters of Berman-Waxman. Latinos remember that Congressman Berman was one of the leading architects of the immigration laws that now threatens to keep thousands of immigrants underground in America. Neither has he nor any other West Side politician decried the toxic waste yards on the East Side or opposed dumping prisons in minority neighborhoods. Gang activity, and the economic deterioration that feeds it, in East Los Angeles is hardly noticed until gang-related violence hits close to their homes.

Moreover, East Siders remember that it was another West Side liberal machine in the 1960s, led by then-Councilwoman Rosalind Wyman, that pitted Latinos against blacks and appointed a non-Mexican to fill Edward R. Roybal’s seat on the City Council after his election to Congress, then reappointed his district to make it impossible to elect a Latino for the next two dozen years. And it was that same machine that joined with conservative business forces in Los Angeles to wipe out Latinos’ homes in Bunker Hill and Chavez Ravine.

Unlike Alatorre, I would have voted against Occidental because the company’s oil drilling plan unduly risks polluting the surrounding environment. No doubt, my motives, too, would have been fair game for a news media reflexively suspicious of Latinos who hold political power. How could I, they would ask, vote against a project that could mean more city dollars, as a result of oil royalties, going to the East Side? Regrettably, such scrutiny is never applied to the motives of whites when voting on our pet projects.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (January 29, 1988)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (January 29, 1988)

Title – “Power grabbers threaten dream of Latino museum”

While in Ciudad Chihuahua, Mexico, last October, I visited Pancho Villa’s home, which is now a museum. Walking through the home, I noticed an old man and his granddaughter standing in front of Villa’s portrait. After a while, he turned to the little girl and said in broken English, “This is mi general. He made us proud to be Mexicans.”

The old man’s pride in Villa struck me as ironic. It reminded me that though California has more Latinos than at least, half-a-dozen Latin American countries, more Mexicans than most states in Mexico, there is not a single museum celebrating our contributions to Los Angeles and California. Japanese Americans, Jewish American and blacks have one. But not Latinos.

Angelo politicians, who appropriated the money for those museums, are not solely to blame. Latino politicos have not exactly rushed to sponsor a Latino museum bill. Only after Antonio Rios-Bustamante and William Estrada, both of the California Museum of Latino History, spent years hounding Latino representatives in Sacramento did they finally persuade Assemblyman Charles Calderon to introduce a bill, in 1985, for a state-mandated feasibility study. The $50,000 report, conducted by the Economic Research Associates, supported the idea of a Latino museum and recommended four possible sites.

This month, Calderon introduced a bill, AB2798, that would fund the museum. The Alhambra Democrat estimates that $8 million will be needed to build it, and about $1 million a year to operate it (roughly the operating expenses of the Afro-American Museum.) With the museum’s funding now a real possibility, the fight over site has begun.

California State University Chancellor W. Ann Reynolds, a member of the Southwest Museum’s board, has written to a number of state representatives urging them to locate the Latino museum in Southwest Museum. Her rational: Southwest already has a large Native American collection. Adding a Latino museum would attract more art collections. Southwest’s shaky financial position would be significantly eased.

Museum sources, however, deny that Reynolds speaks for Southwest. They point out that the board has yet to take a position. In any case, Southwest is not a historical museum; its mission has never been to celebrate Latino history, nor, it seems, could the museum take up such a cause: No Latino sits on its board of trustees. Indeed, only one board member is a Native American, even though the museum specializes in Native American culture and art.

Another frequently mentioned site is East Los Angeles Community College, which would use some of the $8 million to supplement its Vincent Price art collection. True, East L.A. College is important to the Latino community. But its isolation from the cluster of museums frequently visited by schools argues against it as the best homes for the Latino museum.

The Terminal Annex next to El Pueblo Historic Park is another site possibility. According to Calderon, The East Los Angeles Community Union wants to buy the property and push it as the location for both the Latino and Children’s museums. Many Latinos, however, are doubtful that TELACU has the expertise to run a museum.

The most logical site, in terms of accessibility to visitors, for the Latino facility would be Exposition Park, where the Afro-American, Science and Industry, Natural History Museums are located. But the Exposition establishment doesn’t want a Latino museum on the premises.

Up until a month ago, Calderon was quick to concede privately that the California Museum of Latino History was the only organization with sufficient experience to build and operate a Latino museum. It had produced museum-quality exhibitions, among them the “Latino Olympians, 1896-1984” and the more recent show of Dr. Ernest Galarza’s works at Occidental College. Calderon also has privately assured Rios-Bustamante and Estrada that they will remain key players in the Latino museum project. But he has publicly distanced himself from them.

In part, the reason may be Calderon’s fall from Speaker Willie Brown’s grace. Calderon, like other members of the so-called “Gang of Five,” was punished by the speaker for displaying too much policy independence, losing his seats on the Assembly Ways and Means and Finance and Insurance Committees.

Weakened politically, Calderon appears to be using the Latino museum as a trading chip to recoup his power. Calderon, it should be noted, is no hero to Latinos. He supported Gov. Deukmejian’s quest to build a new prison next to Boyle Heights, and, on other issues, has more often than not voted against Latino interests. His primary constituency is the insurance and banking companies.

Which leaves Richard Alatorre as the real power broker in the museum affair and Calderon’s ticket back into the political limelight. Alatorre wants the Latino museum in his district but is wary of politicizing the siting issue.

It may be too late for that. The judgment of the officers of the California Museum of Latino History already has been questioned in some news accounts. Specifically, Rios-Bustamante and Estrada’s tentative plans for a Latino museum have been criticized for including a spacious executive bathroom and boardroom. What goes unreported is that the two are largely responsible for brining the dream of a Latino museum closer to reality.

But the museum does not belong to the California Museum of Latino History, or to the Latino politicos. It surely doesn’t belong to the “missionaries” who have been suddenly struck by the urgent need for one. It belongs to the community.

It would be nice, for once, if the Latino community could win without having to endure the experience of watching a long-overdue idea be ruined by political power-grabbers. That would require Latinos to get involved. The incentive is certainly there: An opportunity for Latino children and grandchildren to celebrate the sacrifices of their grandparents and parents. We, too, have our Pancho Villas to praise.

 

Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 3, 1989)

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner (March 3, 1989)

Title – “The caner in the ranks of L.A. teachers” “Petition attacking bilingual education reflects growing nativism”

It’s easy to support the higher-wage demands of the United Teachers of Los Angeles. I know too many dedicated classroom teachers who deserve better pay and more professional esteem. But UTLA President Wayne Johnson’s apparent decision to allow teachers belonging to Learning English Advocates Drive to circulate a petition attacking bilingual education raises serious questions about his and the union’s leadership.

LEAD is financed by the ultraconservative U.S. English and English First movements, both of which are known for their anti-foreign-born and Third World biases. Linda Chavez, a prominent Latina Republican and Reagan appointee, recently disassociated herself from the racism of the English-only leadership.

The petition also singles out a program that has been part of the Latino education agenda since the beginning of the occupation of the Southwest. It is as fundamental to Mexican-Americans as integration is to blacks.

The LEAD proposal calls on union members to reject a contract provision already agreed to by the Los Angeles Unified School District: to pay stipends of up to $5,000 a year to 4,000 bilingual teachers. Since only 20 percent of the stipend comes out of district general funds, it has little impact on other teachers’ salaries. Thus, the aim of the petitioners seems to be to buy bilingual education by compelling the teachers in the program to leave. According to Johnson, the proposal stands “a very good chance” of passage.

Why would Johnson risk a union vote that could potentially divide his rank and file? It is almost impossible for him not to have known of and approved the petition’s circulation. Union rules and regulations give him the power to stop it.

The truth is that Johnson has a history of supporting anti-Latino agendas. For example, two years ago, he encouraged passage of a LEAD proposal to shift UTLA’s support of bilingual education to advocacy of the English immersion (“sink or swim”) method.

Latino teachers shouldn’t buy Johnson’s excuse that he is barred from taking sides because UTLA is a democratic union.

“Why, then, did Johnson last summer violate the constitution and policy of UTLA by censoring a Chicano/Latino Education Committee article on bilingual education?” asks Mark Meza-Overstreet, a member of the Chicano/Latino Education Committee. “Johnson went out of his way to insult UTLA’s standing committee on Latino education by using non-union bilingual teachers as consultants in his current contract negotiations with the board.”

So much for union solidarity.

There is little doubt that up to 70 percent of the union teachers will vote for the LEAD proposal. Some will vote that way because they feel every bit as worthy as those who speak a foreign language. But the crux of the matter is a rapidly spreading nativist mindset, inflamed by the changing demographics of the school system, among L.A. teachers.

Twenty years ago, Latinos comprised 20 percent of the district’s student population. Today, they constitute nearly 60 percent. Teachers are not immune to the fears and frustrations those shifting numbers have bred in society as a whole, in which the media and elected officials encourage an anti-foreign-born bias.

Interestingly, LEAD was born in Sun Valley, a community mirroring the changes and frustrations in the L.A. school district. There, residents and teachers, most of whom occupy leadership positions in LEAD, blame the Latino influx for a host of problems.

Union chief Johnson knows his teachers and sympathizes with their discontent. For him, there is no percentage in championing the rights of the student majority or the interests of Latino teachers who make up roughly 10 percent of UTLA’s 22,000 members. It is the not-too-silent majority who can re-elect him or send him back to the classroom.

Johnson is fond of saying that “the real needs of children and teachers are indivisible.” Apparently, that’s not the case in bilingual education. Ironically, most Latino teachers will not benefit form the bilingual stipend, since the majority are Anglo. They demand that UTLA support bilingual education and that it take a stand against the spreading cancer of nativism in teacher ranks. The Latino teachers want programs that give Latino students the skills they will need to achieve what UTLA members want for themselves – esteem and good-paying jobs.

Yes, I am for teachers getting paid a fair wage, but they ought to be appalled at the growth of nativism in their union. Until now, the Chicano/Latino Education Committee has carried the burden of the day-to-day struggle within UTLA. It’s now time that teachers and progressives of all colors join to support this standing committee in combating a disease that could lead to ugly confrontations. The LEAD referendum is a symptom of a much greater problem, and we better all be concerned.

Labor/Community News (August-September 1989)

From – Labor/Community News (August-September 1989)

Title – “We, the Community, Have a Stake in the Future of GM Van Nuys

The next time someone asks why the community is involved in the Campaign to Keep GM Van Nuys Open, I’ll answer a rhetorical, “why not?” Why shouldn’t the community be concerned about its future? Does anyone really believe that the San Fernando Valley would not be impacted if the plant closed?

GM Van Nuys has been part of the growth of the Valley for a half century. Its workers shop, live and go to church with non-GM families. Their children attend Valley schools. The Greater San Fernando Chamber of Commerce estimated that if the plant was to be closed:

 

  • 35,000 additional jobs in the community would be lost through the ripple effect
  • 514 retail establishments would be closed
  • $290 million in annual retail sales would be lost
  • 108,000 local residents making up almost 50,000 families would be relocated.

 

Historically speaking, the community as an institution is one of the oldest units of production; only second to the family. Early trade unionists recognized the community’s importance, and they attempted to preserve it through the organization of mutual aid and cooperative societies. Fair wages and job security were and are fundamental to the maintenance and independence of a community.

It was not until the Social Darwinists of the right with their “survival of the fittest” rhetoric rewrote history, selling workers on the idea that labor-management relations were an individual affair, that unions were conveniently separated from the community. The separation made workers increasingly vulnerable since the corporations easily divided collective bargaining into “you and me” instead of “them and us”.

Community members of the Coalition to Keep GM Van Nuys Open want to keep Los Angeles a community where our children have a wide range of occupational choices. GM Van Nuys is a union shop where auto workers get a decent wage and benefits. Too many plants like GM Van Nuys have left the metropolitan area and tha(***) not healthy. The choices are quickly narrowing and future generations will be divided into professionals and those working for a McDonalds like industry. We don’t think we can afford to (***cut off word***) back and be lulled by GM executives who don’t give us anything more tangible than “Trust me.”

We buy more cars in Los Angeles than any other place in the world. Justice demands that those profits be used to improve the quality of life in the community where they are consumed.

The Van Nuys plant, because half of the workforce is Latino, is of particular significance to the Chicano community. Of all ethnic groups, Chicanos are the most loyal buyers of GM products. If GM closes the only auto plant in the country with a largely Chicano workforce, many will interpret this as racist.

But how can we convince GM, a company without a conscience, to abide by the ethic of social responsibility? How can we make GM understand that the corporation must make a long-term commitment not just to the workers but to the community as well? The only was is to tell GM as follows:

“IF YOU EVER CLOSE DOWN THE GM PLANT, THE COMMUNITY WILL ORGANIZE ITS OWN BOYCOTT OF GM PRODUCTS AND THE WORKERS CAN JOIN AS OF THE COMMUINTY. IT IS THE COMMUINTY THAT PURCHASES GM PRODUCTS AND IT IS THE COMMUNITY THAT WILL RETALIATE IF GM EVER CLOSES DOWN THIS PLANT. TO THE EXECUTIVES OF GM IN DETROIT, WE SAY, “KEEP GM VAN NUYS OPEN, AND MAKE A LONG-TERM COMMITMENT AND YOU WILL GAIN THE SUPPORT OF THE GREATER L.A. COMMUNITY. CLOSE THE PLANT AND YOU WILL HAVE A BOYCOTT ON YOUR HANDS.”

 

Los Angeles Herald Examiner August 7, 1987

From – Los Angeles Herald Examiner August 7, 1987

Title – “Olvera Street faces wholesale changes”

The fate of Olvera Street, Los Angeles’ oldest, is up for grabs. Earthquake laws, historically preservation, the pimping of Mexican culture and a political power struggle over who will control El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historic Park, all are playing a role.

During the 1880s, Olvera Street was part of a larger Mexican barrio – encompassing today’s Chinatown – called Sonora Town. Although they competed with newcomers to Los Angeles to live there, Mexicans made up a majority of its residents at the turn of the century.

But by the mid-1920s, Sonora Town, now reduced to Olvera Street, was in its last urban cycle. Its residential character was gone, its buildings occupied by commercial enterprises. When light industry moved in, almost everyone expected Olvera to be bulldozed. Enter Mrs. Christine Sterling, who wanted to save the Avilla house, as well as other buildings, and preserve a bit of “Old Mexico.”

With the help of the city elite and convict labor, Olvera Street, as we now know it, opened in the early 1930s. The area was not only meant to be a tourist attraction. It also was intended as a showplace of Los Angeles’ multi-ethnic heritage, a demonstration project on how different races could work and live together in the city. Ironically, that ideal was daily tarnished by government-sanctioned repatriation squads looking for Mexicans, who, during the Great Depression, were blamed for the shortage of jobs. A mural critical of American capitalism – “America Tropical” by David Siquieros, the great Mexican muralist – was whitewashed. Yet Sterling’s Ramonaland, a sort of Mexican Romeo and Juliet fantasyland in which rancheros wear oversized sombreros and their wives wear layered petticoats, survived.

When California established El Pueblo Park in 1953, Olvera’s merchants had great expectations. They were short-lived. As their first priority, state bureaucrats insisted on restoring the street’s buildings. That meant those built by the Italians, Chinese and other ethnics. The dwellings of the poor – the adobes, where Mexicans had lived since 1781 – were the first to be bulldozed.

Today, Olvera Street is more tourist trap than model of inter-racial harmony. But many of its merchants and their families have developed strong ties to the neighborhood – some have lived there for 57 years – where Mexican traditions such as “Las Posadas” and the “Blessing of the Animals” are still celebrated. Indeed, it is their continuing presence that has preserved much of Olvera Street’s traditional image.

But the rise of Chicano nationalism and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Mexican nationals and Central Americans have significantly transformed the character of El Pueblo. On Sundays, up to 13,000 Latinos attend mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels. The plaza is increasingly used to celebrate Latino holidays, as well as to protest continuing injustices. In short, Olvera Street is not just an enclave of Mexican business families. Over the years it has come to represent a sense of place for the larger Latino community to share its culture.

A merging of forces, financial and political, threatens to change all that. The enactment of strict earthquake standards, many of which fail to take into account the nature of historical buildings, have made bringing Olvera structures up to code extremely expensive. Environmentalists have compounded the problem by demanding laws that limit a building’s restoration to its original shape and use, without insisting on additional money to achieve this purpose. Faced with paying the bills, the Legislature has decided to appropriate only limited funds to upgrade quake safety in the area.

The lawmaker’s reluctance in part stems from a long-simmering squabble over who should pay for the repairs. The city says Sacramento is responsible, since the state owns the park. In turn, Sacramento wants the quake buck passed to the city, which administers El Pueblo. The dispute has led some city politicians, notably the mayor, to pressure Sacramento to transfer park ownership to the city, a goal that many Olvera merchants support. And for good reason.

The directors of El Pueblo Park have been non-Mexican. In setting policy, they never bother to solicits the advice of Mexican-American scholars. Furthermore, the directors have tried to intimidate the Olvera merchants by reminding them that at other state parks, concessions are bid on. The message is clear: Don’t make waves or you’ll have to compete with Taco Bell.

The massive redevelopment occurring across the street at the old Terminal Annex and the Union Station also has upped the economic and political ante. It is an open secret that developers would like to assume management of Olvera Street and parcel out the concessions to the highest bidders.

Only two years ago, the City Council unanimously approved preconditions for Olvera Street development. Among other things, they promised to protect the merchants and preserve the integrity of the district. But political winds shift quickly.

The council’s recent redistricting put Olvera Street squarely in City Councilman Richard Alatorre’s district. Some of the merchants worry that Alatorre’s ties to East L.A. redevelopment corporations might compel him to put developer profit motives at the head of the line, should the councilman ever be in a position to move and shake.

Other Olvera merchants also are leery of plans being pushed by Tom Bradley’s office, which wants the park put under the control of the Parks and Recreations Committee. Specifically, the businessmen fear they might be forced to compete in bidding wars for the street’s concessions which would be prohibitively expensive for most of them.

Another option would be for either the merchants or a directorship controlled by them to buy the park. The idea led them to commission a study on how this could be achieved. They realize that the needed changes must safeguard the Latino community’s deepening stake in the park while not unduly jeopardizing Olvera Street as a tourist attraction. Toward this end, Latino run shops and Latino employees seem indispensable. It would also serve as a reminder that Mexicans (of Indian, black and Spanish blood) originally built and lived on the street.

But will poor Latinos still be allowed to attend mass at Our Lady Queen of Angels or sit in the plaza? Will activists be able to hold political rallies in the kiosco in defense of La Raza? Or will they, like Siquieros mural, be whitewashed, lest they interfere with Ramonaland’s image?