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.
I guess it is because I have never mastered the English language – or any language for that matter – that I am intrigued by the meaning of words. The word scholar is one example of the vagaries of English meanings. In Spanish I am called a catedrático – a professor so I would assume that I would be a scholar — a person who has studied a subject for a long time and knows a lot about the field.
Like professor the word catedrático sounds more impressive than it is. However, my family had a way of bringing me back to earth and deflating my sense of self importance. When I told a relative that I was a catedrático, he answered “¡qué catedrático ni qué demonios! no eres más que un maestro! (Like hell you’re a professor! You are just an ordinary schoolteacher).
Supposedly a scholar is an intelligent and well-educated person who knows a particular subject very well but who often knows little about life. Without a sinecure he would probably starve. For my relatives he/she was a person who teaches twelve hours a week (if that) and gets paid three times as much as the ordinary worker.
However, the great irony is that the more a catedrático teaches the less of a scholar he/she is in the eyes of his/her peers. The mentality runs if he is so hot, why isn’t he teaching two classes a semester? The truth be told, the word teacher has been downgraded to the point that some people repeat the stupid saying “those who can’t teach.” The people who say this are usually those who can’t deal with their own children.
The scholar often runs away from being a teacher, and in the fashion of academe they create their own class pecking order. I marvel at my former students – so called Marxists – who make it a point after passing their terminal exams to immediately start putting crema on their tacos and add the term Dr. to their names imbedding into their persona.
When you tease them about it they answer “I’ve earned it (the title)”. So did my relatives earn respect but they do not tattoo it on their chests. Basically what I object to is the expectations that the title creates. It sets a context that demands veneration and let’s everyone know their official position in society. In real life it is like the service ribbons we wore above our hearts in the military.
Scholars are obsessed with their professional or academic ranking. They unconsciously or consciously perpetuate a pecking order of the sciences, social sciences, humanities and “non-content” areas such as education, which like physical education is a pedagogical field distinguishing it from content areas of study.
The influence of the title doctor is pervasive — just like the label scholar it conditions research topics and trajectories of enquiry. The result is a narrowing research research topics, reducing them to esoteric Chicana/o areas that admittedly have cultural value but detract the field of Chicana/o studies away from working class studies, which it was originally intended to pursue. It limits the questions asked by not only the scholars but the field itself, creating an internal class pecking order.
It is important to study and understand the socialization of Chicana/o scholars and the distance that it creates between them and the community. Epistemology is important because it asks questions about “How” what we know and how we know it is logical. The questions we ask must be answered before we can start to develop theories or what course of action is justified. Without this process we remain an inchoate field of study.
Simplifying the epistemological process, it is similar to working out mathematical equations by breaking down fractions to their lowest common denominator. It gives one a coherent pathway for sound thinking. In order to know the nature of knowledge one must understand that others aren’t always familiar with a subject and that empirical knowledge is not based on books.
A mechanic does not have a doctor qualifying him but he sure in hell has more knowledge than I do about engines. Unfortunately, it is not a problem that we as a community can ruminate about because people feel attacked.
Along these lines it is interesting to read Facebook and read the individual Dr. Scholar Facebook pages and see what so-called Dr. Scholars are saying about the border crisis caused by U.S. policies such as the War on Drugs. Out of ten randomly selected Dr. Scholar sites – two of which were posted by Central American scholars there was relatively little or no comment on what is happening on the border. It is as if activism has been separated from their roles as the custodians of the Truth.
I have to admit that this partially due to the summer vacation. I weekly send out about 4-5000 emails with my blogs. The number of responses from Dr. Scholars that they are on research leaves jumps during the summer months to over 200. A lot of them are on sabbatical leaves something that my Dr. Mechanic cannot take.
Doing research without grants is no longer part of the job of being a Dr. Scholar who has to have extra time to be a scholar. This is ironic since I have met many medical doctors in Mexico who write excellent history as a hobby.
For over fifty years I have averaged six to twelve book reviews a year. They have little scholarly value but I do it because I want to stay current with the literature. The books supplement my activism. So quite frankly I am disappointed with the reasoning in the Dr. Scholars’ books. The research is good but their analyses of the past are weak. Unlike Dr. Mechanic they don’t know how the engine works.
I am currently reviewing a book on the influence of Chicana/o scholars on Mexican pedagogical ideas and the reverse during the 1920s and 1930s. Dr. Scholar discovers George I. Sánchez and his role in Mexican education. Thus far in my reading he has not acknowledged what made Sánchez unique which was that he was an activist. The ideas of John Dewey and the rest were important but Sánchez and the Mexicans based their ideas not only on books but on experimentation. Sánchez was a leader in the Mexican American Movements of the fifties and sixties, so much so that I would gladly call him Dr. Sánchez.
As for the title that I most cherish it is Maestro or teacher. I learned more as a junior high school teacher than I did in all of my research. It changed me. So take no offense to my ruminations, I am not a doctor and offer no prognosis, just a teacher trying to learn how the pinche engine works.
We must recognize that government is not the problem — we are. Government only works when people are involved and frankly we are not. We believe what the media tells us, ignoring that it is controlled by the one percent. Through the media and the outright bribes, the Kochs and their tribe control a majority of our elected officials — from local elected public officials to the Supreme Court, to the president.
Meanwhile, we dream of nirvana, a place of continuous pleasure. For many the consuming issue has become pot, and the dream that when it is legalized Like in the sixties they can go to bed taking one last hit before they sleep, and then light up again to usher in another day.
They stumble through life with the more ambitious among them dreaming of becoming part of the system seeking to become “part of the solution rather than the problem.” This scenario is played out on Facebook with Chicanas/os posing with politicos smugly believing that they are doing their best for their people.
Tragically the will to fight back has been taken out of them. They have been domesticated by the old biblical sayings such as turn the other cheek – and sayings that have never been followed such as “the meek shall inherit the earth” — rules written by the one percent to appeal to pendejos during the early stages of Christianity.
Even activists are conditioned to believe that it is futile to fight back – join the system instead of resisting it. They are reduced to just wanting to take their toke or take a vacation so they can escape reality.
The truth be told, it is frustrating to fight back. It is aggravating to constantly fight with vendors and government brokers over trivial problems.
My family just spent over a year fighting Kaiser Permanente over claim that should have taken five minutes to resolve. The same is true of the Bank of America and the government bureaucracy that rely on frustrating you, knowing that very few people will fight back!
However, the materialist side of me has taught me that if I want to change things I have to fight for changes on earth and not nirvana. Materialism has given me a sense of community. It instructs me that the more education people have the more responsibility they have to change reality – change does not happen by escaping.
In the initial stages of Chicana/o studies, it was expected that full professors would take most of the burden of pressing the administration. They were the most protected by the institution. Unfortunately, this did not always happen and some complained that those at the forefront got all the credit forgetting that leadership requires visibility and sacrifice.
A factor in the success of CSUN’s Chicana/o Studies Department has been its refusal to turn the other cheek. It took criticizing Chicanas/os and Latinos who betrayed the interests of the student community. Although distasteful, Chicana/o Studies is currently criticizing the administration for disrespecting us and distorting the truth. The current controversy may take us over the cliff; however, the alternatives are to turn the other cheek or take a deep puff on a joint.
The truth has become an obsession with me. I am currently exposing a lack of respect by the California Attorney General’s office that is supposed to vet judicial appointments. I won’t bore the reader with a litany of judicial improprieties of the state and federal court system. However, the system supposedly vets judicial appointments to insure the appointment of impartial judges.
This past month I received an email from Michael E. Whitaker, a Supervising Deputy Attorney General in the Employment & Administrative Mandate Section of the State Attorney General’s Office. It began “I am in the process of vetting Judge Audrey Collins who has been nominated by Governor Brown to be an Associate Justice of the California Court of Appeal.” Whitaker wanted to speak to me. I made arrangements for him to call me at my home.
However, Whitaker intentionally shined me on after I made my feelings about Collins known – evidently he was not serious about vetting her. I followed up with numerous emails that he ignored. In my email correspondence I made it clear that Collins was the most biased judge that I had encountered.
This was based on the fact that she did not recuse herself during my trial although she had personal and professional ties to the defendants — the University of California and its counsel. The defenses’ lead counsel was a personal and professional friend of Judge Collins and he wrote a letter of nomination for her during her appointment to the federal bench. The vice chancellor at the University of California Santa Barbara at the time of the controversy was her law professor at UCLA and she had professional and personal ties with the UC, i.e., she was active in the UCLA law alumni association that through Ralph Ochoa and others played a major role in my case. From the beginning she was antagonistic toward us.
At trial, Collins allowed her clerks to run wild; they sat and ate with defendants’ counsel. Her head clerk took a count for the defendants’ team and she seemed as if she were interviewing for a position with the UC. Collins’ rulings were questionable; she severely limited the number of documents my attorneys could present. As the plaintiff I had the burden of proof, and this was especially harmful because I had two causes of action.
When the draw of jurors appeared to go our way, Collins dismissed three minority jurors saying that it would not be fair to have too many minorities on the panel. At the time having minority jurors was an anomaly — rarely if ever were white jurors dismissed because there were too many white jurors on the panel.
At the end of the trial she had a group of mostly Latino prisoners led into the court room in chains and dressed in prison garb. Judge Collins was visibly shaken by the verdict that went in my favor. When my counsel spoke to the foreman of the jury he commented on how solicitous the judge was of the defendants but he thought it was like a criminal case where “the judge was required to protect the defendants’ rights.” Collins never cleared this relationship up.
It is difficult to prosecute a case against someone that has “deep pockets.” The UC spent $5 million on the case. Evidently Whitaker was not in the mood to hear the truth. So I feel that it is my moral duty to expose his office and his malfeasance. Once appointed appellate judges for all practical purposes the appointee is on the bench for life.
If those of us who have benefitted most from the system do not complain and expose elected officials, judges like Collins and public officials like Michael Whitaker who should? Not everyone has equal access to resources.
A student once told me that she admired me because it seemed as if I was always getting arrested for a cause and that her father seemed mute. I pointed out to her that if her father missed a day of work, her family missed a meal whereas I could list the arrest on my resume as “community service.”
The problem was not her father, but the Latino leaders posing for photos – like my father used to say smiling, “como changos comiendo caca.”
The other day I gave a presentation to teachers in Moorpark. Like always you can predict the question and answer period. More often than not you get friends in the audience who don’t ask questions but give speeches instead of questions.
Everyone wants to be a presenter, and activists feel more entitled than most to promote their point of view.
Moorpark was no exception, and an old time friend from the San Fernando Valley was chomping at the bit to promote his cause and his perspective. My friend is a cheerleader, so I settled back realizing that this is a very important function of the Left. We get so few spaces to reach out to people outside our orbit.
You also learn a lot from the speeches, such as what tendencies or lines different groups are pushing. In this case my friend asked or better still stated that the Latino critics of the immigration bill were jeopardizing the passage of an immigration reform bill. I was taken aback because this is the kind of rhetoric usually used by the Right to silence the Left.
I shot back that I was a critic of what was coming out of Washington on immigration reform. I have not played the game of follow-the-leader since childhood – quickly rattling off what was wrong with the proposals: no quick and just pathway to citizenship, a jingoist and racist border security policy, and a neo-bracero program.
I emphasized that in this instance I did not trust President Obama, Senator Marco Rubio or for that matter the Latino leadership on the question of immigration reform. Further, I did not trust the knowledge of our so-called Latino leaders to bring about a fair and just immigration bill.
History shows that the wrongheaded logic of a half a loaf of bread is better than none results in none.
I realize that I am getting old (but not senile), but since when is losing winning?
Last Saturday we had a reunion of Chicana/o studies alumni at California State University Northridge where we screened “Unrest” – the story of the founding of the department. With only a little over a month to organize and zero funds, we were surprised when over 300 attended (not enough food).
In the documentary I was asked why it was so important that I had a PhD and a quick path to tenure. I replied because I had to be secure that I could tell administrators and white faculty to go to hell. The decision to play it fast and furious was very important to the success of the CSUN Chicana/o Studies department which offers five to ten times as many classes as the next most populated programs.
Of course, in order to do this it was essential to have united students that the administration feared. It was the only power that Chicanas/os had at the time that prevented the administration from eliminating us.
My feeling was that I did not take the leadership in a program to lose. A department had to have a full complement of courses and the teachers to teach them. Anyone who stood in our way had to be taken on.
I always felt that if we could not be the best then I should not take the job or sell out and go into a traditional department in a prestigious university where my pension would have been much higher than at a state college. Besides if money was the issue, I could have made much more money in sales than in education.
Looking back at the students that have gone through the department and the Education Opportunities Program, they have done so much more collectively than I could have done as an individual. I was never good looking enough to be a movie star.
This brings me back to the game of Follow-the-Leader. The purpose of education is to produce leaders. To produce leaders who think and are not copycats. Issues such as the current immigration bill are too important for us to settle for a half loaf of bread; for us to compromise even before a vote is taken.
We should learn from history. Ask questions such as why other programs are not as large as the CSUN Chicana/o Studies department? We should ask if our leaders have led? Looking at my former students on April 27, 2013, I realized that it was because of them that we have had a measure of success. They were too raw, too idealistic to accept that losing was winning.