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Los Muertos de Hambre, The War on Chicana/o Studies, Unmasking the Illusion of Inclusion

By Rodolfo F. Acuña

Muertos de hambre is a derogatory phrase often used by Mexicans to refer to people who are predators, i.e., human vultures, vendidos. They are so starved for attention or recognition that they pounce on scraps of garbage discarded by their colonial masters.

The history of Chicana/o Studies is replete with examples of myths such as that they are failing because of a lack of enrollment. The truth is that they fail because they are denied a place on the Monopoly Board (General Education, electives and the like) that runs the university and rewards departments.

The CSUN Chicana/o Studies Department has a unique problem, it has been too successful. It offers 175 plus sections per semester, and campus wide departments are salivating at the prospect of picking off pieces of the program. The sad thing is that without the Mexican student population the university would be half its size.

The university is a plantation that is run by white overseers that are getting increasingly defensive about their illegitimacy. Take the College of Social and Behavioral Science. Like most colleges, it has avoided diversifying its faculty. Although there are approximately 12,000 Latinos on campus, out of 11 tenure track professors, Anthropology has 0 Mexican Americans; Geography (12-0); History (19-0); Pan African Studies (13-1); Political Science (17-2); Psychology (29-1); Social Work (16-0); Sociology 23-1); and Urban Studies & Planning (7-0).

Chicana/o Studies has challenged this inequity. It has confronted that there are few courses on the Mexican experience. In 1969, San Fernando State offered one course on Mexico that was taught by Dr. Julian Nava.

The professors, the overseers of the plantation, are nervous because the City of Los Angeles has changed, and over 50 percent are Latinos, 80 percent of whom are of Mexican extraction.

The white colonists are getting increasingly defensive about their privilege. Recently one of the departments discussed its hiring priorities. A Mexican American professor raised the racial disparity between the number of Mexican American students and its faculty. This evoked angry responses.

Faculty members said they were uncomfortable talking about race; that the department should not hire “unqualified” applicants; that they do not see color; that race has no bearing. Studies show that the race and class backgrounds of the professors determine the questions that students ask and research outcome.

Mexicans north from Mexico have always been under the illusion that the Mexican government and the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México (UNAM) care about them and would protect their interests. They naively believed that they were part of the Mexican family.

This illusion was recently shattered by UNAM’s lack of respect for Mexican Americans at CSUN. It entered into an agreement to house a research center there. The project was clandestine. Over the past year, David Maciel who has abandoned more programs than any academician I know started to bring in speakers from UNAM. Recently dismissed from UCLA, it was his way to wangle a part time position.

Maciel and the CSUN administration slapped CHS in the face, and did not inform it about the center until it was a done deal. The slight was outrageous. Chicana/o Studies has 90 percent of the Mexicanists and Latin Americanists on campus. For over 40 years, it has had premier cultural groups, and championed Mexican immigrants with or without papers.

A meeting was held on November 12th involving UNAM’s criollo elite administrators and the CSUN faculty. Basically, they told us that we could join or not join –take it or leave it. They avoided the question as to why they showed disrespect for Mexicans on campus. Their attitude was one of porque nos da la chingada gana. Clearly it is a matter of class, they consider the Mexican population of 36 million as pochos, and prefer catering to gringos. They avoid contact with Mexicans who are not of their social class.

As for the white faculty present, it was pathetic. Not one has been involved with Mexican immigrants. One said that he was interested in Mexico because his wife had taken a class at UNAM. A Central American professor whose specialty is literature (a post-modernist) said she was a Mexicanist because Central Americans passed through Mexico en route to the U.S.

It is evident that these muertos de hambre saw only the color green. Frantz Fanon makes it clear that colonization is possible only with the complicity of members of the colonized.

In this case, it was two Central American Studies professors — Douglas Carranza and Beatriz Cortez who are angry because I mentioned the role students and professors in the founding of CAS.

However, the colonizers and their collaborators have an obsession to rewrite history and mask their privilege. For the record, the CAS founders included Alberto García, a half dozen Central American women students, and Roberto Lovato who along with CAUSA and Dr. Carlos Cordova of San Francisco State developed the curriculum.

Additionally, Lovato and the students pressed the California legislature for funding to establish a Central American Studies Center. Cortez and Carranza came in well after the fact. Again part of being collaborators is the rewriting of history, and to create a counter narrative to establish legitimacy.

Los muertos de hambre are delusional, and somehow they have come to believe that CHS is taking courses from them. They also want to divert attention away from the fact that after a dozen years it still has only two professors, having bullied every Central American candidate out of the department.

These muertos de hambre have invented their own reality, wanting to erase the fact that CHS gave them four positions to start CAS.

We are also at odds with the Provost who says that we are obstructionists for not joining the process, which invitation came only after it was a done deal. His attitude is much that of the UNAM representatives.

If you allow someone to take your dignity from you, you are reduced to a serf. Thus, you cannot allow the colonizers to distort reality and erase you. As for the collaborators they must change history so as not to be seen as collaborators and opportunists.

As our Latino student population mushrooms, the resistance to Mexican American hires will increase. Life for los muertos de hambre will become more profitable as white professors will enter into alliances with them to limit the number of minority faculty. The subversion of Chicana/o Studies will be possible only with the support of collaborators.

I have always respected and considered Central Americans to be family. However, I realize like Mexicans they also have muertos de hambre among them.

As political people we must respect the tensions within our countries of origin, i.e., teacher strikes, Zapatista-like movements, Mexico’s violation of Article 27 of the Constitution, and the giving away of Mexico’s land and resources.

What hurts is that my illusions of jointly building a unity of progressives of the two Middle Americas have been shattered, although hope remains.

The fact is the Mexican government and UNAM have never had an interest in our community. They have not cared about Mexican immigrants whose rights Chicana/o organizations championed.

Los muertos de hambre only see us as a piggy bank. Even with the bad economy we send $22 billion annually to the homeland.

Dr, Ernesto Galarza in Spiders in the House and Workers in the Field (1970) wrote that it was in error to assume Mexicans did not organize – they did but they were subverted by the spiders in the house and los muertos de hambre.

Addendum: The College of Humanities is held up as the ideal in affirmative action by the administration. These stats are for tenure track appointments.

Asian American Studies Department, 7 fulltime0Mexican Americans
Chicana/o Studies Department2321 Mexican Americans
English Department 353 Mexican Americans
Gender and Women’s Studies Department 61 Mexican Americans
Linguistics Department 30 Mexican Americans
Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures Department
(Spanish Section)
111 Mexican Americans
Philosophy Department120 Mexican Americans
Religious Studies Department90 Mexican Americans


Google images are becoming like an archive of links to digital photos

Peanuts and Oranges: Support Scholarship Fund

For those who have an extra $5 a month for scholarship, the For Chicana/o Studies Foundation was started with money awarded to Rudy Acuña as a result of his successful lawsuit against the University of California at Santa Barbara. The Foundation has given over $60,000 to plaintiffs filing discrimination suits against other universities. However, in the last half dozen years it has shifted its focus, and it has awarded 7-10 scholarships for $750 per award on an annual basis to Chicana/o and Latina/o students at California State University-Northridge (CSUN). The For Chicana/o Studies Foundation is a 501(c) (3) Foundation and all donations are deductible. Although many of its board members are associated with Chicana/o Studies, it is not part of the department. All monies generated go to fund these scholarships.

We know that times are hard. Lump sum donations can be sent to For Chicana Chicano Studies Foundation, 11222 Canby Ave., Northridge, Ca. 91326 or through PayPal below. You can reach us at Click on to and make a donation. You may also elect to send $5.00, $10.00 or $25.00 monthly. For your convenience and privacy you may donate via PayPal. The important thing is not the donation, but your continued involvement

Hedge Funds and the Death of the Peasant Landowner

June 7, 2013
by Rodolfo Acuna

When I was growing up, relatives talked incessantly about retirement, which
generally meant going to live with a daughter and her family. When social security kicked in some older relatives became more independent especially those who had bought a home and paid off it. They could rent out a room or two to a close friend.

The ideal, however, was to own one or two houses that could be rented out. That was the Mexicans’ Individual Retirement Account (IRA) only better because they did not have to pay an agent or be at the whim of the stock market. The best part of it was that the houses were paid for by the rents.

The lessons I learned from my relatives kept me alive during the summers after I became a school teacher. Teaching paid under $3,000 a year – paid over ten months; they took out for retirement, taxes and other annoyances. So you had to hustle a job during the summer; the alternatives were to go into debt or starve. I would save $200 and every summer buy a fixer up, which I would sell later to finance the following summer’s venture and pay the household expenses for my family. If I would have kept this up, I could have wound up with ten to 20 houses. They were cheap at the time – cost $8,000 to $10,000 – no money down. However, priorities are set by your values. I gave the houses away in a divorce settlement, and turned to
more productive pursuits. I thought that I would die young; I didn’t like being a peasant landlord; and I expected my children to have the same opportunities that I had.

The times changed, and today it is the exception that can buy a house let alone two or three houses, and expect to live off the rents. I once had an IRA, but about 2003 I lost all $40,000 of it. This was not an aberration; many of my relatives’ children met the same fate. It almost seems comical because at the time George W. Bush was leading the chorus calling for the privatization of social security. I am not an economist; I am a historian; and I had fully expected the housing market to correct itself. During speculative years of the 1920s, housing prices soared, but were corrected by the crash of the Depression of the 30s and the Neal Deal. Working
class people could afford homes, if they had a job. The cost of housing rose above my relatives means, and during the housing boom they could not afford a second home. That was good and bad, and people were satisfied that the home they owned increased in value.

The FHA and the GI Bill made houses more accessible, but they also inflated prices. There was a slight rise in housing costs during the 1950s, with a correction during the 60s and 70s. By the 1980s, a boom again made buying that extra home more difficult.

In the LA area prices came down briefly only to jump up again in the latter part of the decade. In the 90s, the patron saint of the working class William Jefferson Clinton ended the regulatory acts of the 30s, and that ended ability of the housing market to correct itself, making the housing bubbles of the first decade of the 21st Century inevitable.

When the Depression of 2008 came about I looked for a silver lining. I hoped that prices of homes would come tumbling down, and maybe my relatives’ grandchildren could walk away from the inflated prices they had to pay for their homes during the decade of the bubbles.

Many had paid $450,000 for homes in marginal neighborhoods, which seemed a bit excessive – especially when the value of that home fell to $275,000. There was no way my relatives could keep making those house payments, or much less buy an extra home for retirement.
Many of us gave Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama passes when they gave bailouts to the Wall Street and the banks. Perhaps because we hoped that the bankers and the corporate elite would use the money for the common good. But like they used to say when I was in the army, “Never happen G.I.”

What finally burst my bubble though was the rise of the hedge funds, which are today for all intents and purposes in control of government.
I have known this for some time but have been in denial. However, I recently read a series of articles in a community newspaper called Tribuno del Pueblo on the takeover of the family housing market by the super rich. It wrote that this was organized by the largest bankers and hedge-fund operators that have seized control of Fannie and Freddie Mae grabbed half the nation’s mortgages and some 200,000 homes.

“The hedge-fund speculators who are buying up hundreds and thousands of houses in foreclosures and short sales are right when they say that this is ‘the new face of real estate.'” Rounding off the collusion between the speculators and government, the Obama administration is selling off tax liens to the former the super-rich – why not Obama’s appointments come from this class.

It is a new age and there is no room for the peasant landlord of my father’s times. We don’t have the capital to compete.

Recently a friend was trying to buy his first home. He followed the newspaper ads hoping to buy a foreclosure. The brokers refused his multiple bids on foreclosed residential homes. They tried to sell him “for sale” homes that had already been bid up above the asking price. Probing around he learned that the broker had reserved the foreclosed house for a local politician who he represented at auction. Well, there are those who are forever blowing bubbles. They are dreaming for the days that they could buy a home as an investment for old age and then pass it on to their children or grandchildren. But the truth is that those are only dreams, and
today we are living the nightmare.

Imperialism and the Origins of Mexican Culture. By Colin M. MacLachlan. (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 2015. Pp. 1-330. notes, bibliog. index. $35.00.)

Colin M. MacLachlan hypothesizes that the cultural fusion of Spanish and what he calls Indo-Mexico cultures began many years before their historical encounter in 1519. At that point, both peoples, according to MacLachlan, were becoming imperial powers. (MacLachlan’a use of the terms empire and imperial is problematic since in the modern sense the terms refer to the last stage of capitalism and the Aztecs were certainly not capitalists).
The strength of the book is its readability. It is an entertaining book, with a provocative if not controversial discussion of the world and religious views of both civilizations. One flaw is that the author, for the most part, does not use indigenous sources to document the gory and highly contested descriptions of human sacrifice and cannibalism (“Feeding the Population,” 92-97). There is considerable documentation that Columbus created the word “cannibal” initially derived from Carib or Caribes. Throughout Mexican Colonial History, the invention of cannibalism and human sacrifice were pretexts for enslaving or making war on native populations; charges of cannibalism and human sacrifice justified the brutal conquest. It also dehumanized the indigenous peoples.
The book has other flaws, beginning with MacLachlan’s reliance on arguments first made in his book (with co-author Jaime E. Rodríguez O), The Forging of the Cosmic Race: A Reinterpretation of Colonial Mexico (1980). That treatise offers a central argument that has come under much critical scrutiny: This is the notion that the Mexican nation-state forged an integrated pan-ethnic national identity during the colonial period. Today, the notion of mestizaje is contested and many younger scholars are more in tune with late Jack Forbes’ “The Mestizo Concept: A Product of European Imperialism.” It was Forbes who, before Bonfil Batalla, presented the argument that the concept of mestizaje is “a subtle undermining of native peoples.”
MacLachlan mixes his terms. He does not explain what he means by “civilization” or “culture.” His definition of the boundaries of “Indo-Mexico” is unclear; at times, he seems to refer exclusively to the Valley of Mexico and the Mexica (Aztecs). Although he mentions them, his narrative ignores the great indigenous peoples north and south of the Valley that played major roles in the cultural fusion of Indo-Mexico. I found myself asking, what happened to the Mayan, the Pu’repecha, Zapotec, Mixtec, and other great Mexican states in MacLachlan’s Indo-Mexico construct?
Population dynamics have constantly reshaped the history of Mexico. The driving force is the dramatic increase of the Mexican origin population in the United States. It has zoomed from three and a half million to 35 million since 1970, and the impact of this is the growth in the number of scholarly and popular publications on Mexico. Before 1971, for instance, 660 dissertations were listed on Mexico in the ProQuest data bank. From 1971 to 2010, 9,078 were written.
MacLachlan ignores the large body of research produced by Chicana/o and younger more radical scholars as well as many works on Mexico in other fields.[3] The study of Mexico is neglected by traditional history departments while the field of Chicana/o studies is growing. For example, at California State Northridge, the history department offers one course on Mexican History every other semester while the Chicana/o studies department offers over 160 sections per semester.[4] It offers courses on Nahuatl and has offered courses on classical Yucatecan Mayan. These changes promise to impact historical interpretation because no longer will history be learned exclusively in translation.
In sum, many scholars question not so much the established story, but what it is based on. More indigenous sources would have added to the depth and nuances of the author’s major arguments. MacLachlan is a leading historian in the field of Mexico; however, the lack of clear definitions makes it seem as if the author lacks a profound grasp of indigenous societies of the Western hemisphere.

California State University Northridge Rodolfo F. Acuña

Strike October 11, 2013 Lessons From the Working Class

History is about feelings, and in order to understand it, you have to understand people. British historian E.P. Thompson had a love affair with the working class (not classes); he believed it was the motivating force behind most economic and social progress. Thompson could have easily been Sol except for the fact that his love affair was with the English working class. In my case, I try not to romanticize the working class; at the same time, I consider many workers my teachers. I was very fortunate in the 1980s to have been part of the Keep GM Van Nuys Open campaign. I will never forget an auto worker who told me that the thing that he would miss most if the plant shutdown was the feeling that he got after his shift was done and thousands of workers would pour into the parking lot. He felt overwhelmed, he was powerful, and he had a union.

My research put me into contact with labor leaders. Exploring the Great San Joaquin Valley Cotton Strike of 1933, the name that kept popping up was that of Pat Chambers, the lead organizer for the strike. Pat had done oral interviews for the Bancroft Library, but if he was alive I wanted to see him. It was forty years after the fact so I sent out numerous emails. Chambers was a pseudonym; he was a communist who at the time were hounded. Pat did not like the party leadership, saying that they caused too many problems and cost resources to hide them. It was clear that he was not an ideologue; he got into the party because he admired the Wobblies.

The strike involved 18,000 cotton pickers and their families; 80 percent were Mexicans. It was a violent strike that saw three Mexican workers assassinated on picket lines at Pixley and Arvin. He described the Mexican women as the warriors who picketed and kept worker camps such as the one at Corcoran operating. The growers in collusion with the American Farm Bureau and the Chamber of Commerce kept the sheriffs and the elected officials pro-grower. To break the strike county and state officials denied workers relief and pressured the women to go back to work. Growers purposely starved at least nine infants to death.

The strike drew celebrities such as Ella Winters and Langston Hughes. John Steinbeck interviewed Chambers and others about the bitter Taugus Ranch and the Cotton strike. Steinbeck modeled the protagonist after Pat.

Yet although the overwhelming majority of the strikers were Mexican and a minority black, Steinbeck decided much as in The Grapes of Wrath to whiten the characters and make them White Oklahomans because he did not believe that his readers would be sympathetic to Mexicans or blacks. After this point Chambers dropped out of the Party and he went to work as a laborer. His last years were in the Local 51, San Pedro, California, of the International Pile Drivers Union.

Present and Future Consequences of Stealing the Truth

By Rodolfo F. Acuña

Recent political events frighten me. There is widespread corruption in the system but almost a majority of Americans cannot distinguish between right and wrong. Americans in general are in denial; this came through in the actions of the Republican senators during the recent impeachment trial of Donald Trump who is arguably the most immoral and corrupt president the United States has ever had. Similar character flaws were exhibited by past American residents who were not as greedy or blatant and covered up his flaws by lying and taking advantage of the mediocrity of most Americans and their refusal to think critically. 

The fact is that most white Americans wallow in mediocrity. Many early foreign travelers have noted American anti-intellectualism. Americans have historically rationalized their Anti-intellectualism and misrepresented it as a virtue.  According to them, Americans are champions of common folk. Populist based their campaigns on being against political and academic elitism. They claimed that educated people “as a status class [was] detached from the concerns of most people, and resented intellectuals who they believed controlled political discourse and controlled higher education. I recall a conversation I had with an old Jewish activist during Adlai Stevenson’s 1952 and 1956 presidential runs. I was young, enthusiastic but my bubble was burst by an old Jewish activist who told me not to count on winning because, according to him, Americans never voted for candidates smarter than they were. Stevenson spoke the English language well and had progressive ideas. Adlai was not one of them.    Ignorance was a virtue that Americans valued. 

As a result mythicizing the truth and inventing their own reality Americans cannot distinguish right from wrong and fact from fiction. American politicos have hijacked the truth. One theory popular theory is called détourment that according to the urban dictionary says was “A term coined by Guy Debord … … that became an International movement of the 1960’s.” Its meaning implies that it is a “diversion.”  It is an “artistic creation” that incorporates “plagiarism where both the source and the meaning of the original work was subverted to create a new work.” The method was and is common in “films, art, graphics for their journal and in posters” during the events of the Paris uprising of May ’68. Many Situationist ideas were popularized by the British Punk Rock explosion of the 1970’s. This form of plagiarism is today part of the American discourse that is portrayed in George Orwell’s 1984. The end result is that there is no truth, there is no right, there is no wrong. 

Although I am not religious I am guided by principles such as “I am my brother’s Keeper” and “There for the Grace of God Go I.”  This was important in making critical choices. In 1960 I decided to remain in teaching and not take a job with an international credit card firm serving Latin America. Over the years I have turned down offers in the states and in Mexico. If I had not been raised with these principles I would have made a lot of money, there would have been no limits, morality would not exist. Growing up I may have had my differences with the Protestants but I respected many of them because they were consistent in their beliefs and had a commitment to some version of the truth. Today morality is what is good for ME. The truth has been hijacked and the lie is the truth. 

The distortion was not an accident: A détournement (French: [detuʁnəmɑ̃]). It means “rerouting, hijacking”. It is a technique developed in the 1950s by the Letterist International,[1] and later adapted by the Situationist International (SI),[2][3] that defined it in the SI’s 1958 inaugural  journal as “[t]he integration of present or past artistic productions into a superior construction of a milieu. The result was there can be no situationist painting or music, only a situationist use of those means. In a more elementary sense, détournement within the old cultural spheres is a method of propaganda, a method which reveals the wearing out and loss of importance of those spheres.” It turns “expressions of the capitalist system and its media culture against itself”[5]—as when slogans and logos are used against their advertisers or the political status quo.”[6]

Détournement was used to set up subversive political pranks, a tactic called situationist prank; it was used by punk movement in the late 1970s [7] and was a form of the culture jamming by the late 1980s.[5] Cultural jamming was a political changing strategy and today it is used to control popular dissent by changing its direction. Currently Trump uses it to hijack the truth. Trump’s advisers call his blatant lies “alternative facts” — I call it “organized chaos”. He hides reality by building his own truth and forging a new narrative based on his lies. I doubt whether Trump knows the meaning of the term Détournement although he probably understands that he is hijacking the truth. I am not so sure whether he knows the meaning of plagiarism. 

Examples of the high jacking of the truth are abundant: advertising is propaganda and it is replete with examples of Détournement. Today neoliberals are using it as an attempt to privatize the American economy by seizing control of public spaces. Schools, public libraries and parks are assets that they believe belong to them. Neoliberals want to kill American public schools, privatize them and run them for profit.  

In order to do this they have to make teachers, administrators and their unions the enemy so people believe the lie. The strategy is to convince Americans that the private sector can do it cheaper and better. American oligarchs produced a film called Waiting for Superman (2010). Directed by Davis Guggenheim who won an Academy Award for the documentary An Inconvenient Truth (2006). The documentary’s premier kicked off a drive to privatize American public education; on the documentary’s DVD cover claimed it was a “groundbreaking feature film that provides an engaging and inspiring look at public education in the United States.” 

Waiting for Superman received glowing reviews and won several film festival awards. The film’s protagonists or good guys were celebrated guests on dozens of news channels and talk shows. It was praised by President Barrack Obama, Bill Clinton, and other powerful political leaders. The head cheerleaders were billionaires such as Bill Gates, Eli Broad, and Mike Bloomberg and others. Charter schools were the neoliberals’ new frontier where they could acquire real estate, buildings and an infrastructure paid for by taxpayers. 


Waiting for Superman reminds me of the MacDonald Hamburger commercial where María, a young Mexican MacDonald worker receives a letter informing of her acceptance to college. The commercial celebrates the news. It shows the joy of her family and friends. María has realized the American Dream and MacDonald’s made it possible. Attention is diverted from the fact that María has had to work at the Big Mac for exploitative wages, endure assembly line work conditions and often suffer sexual harassment and racist remarks. María was admitted to the stairway leading to the middle-class and Big Mac is the hero.  

Like Waiting for Superman is a commercial for American capitalism, a Horacio Alger story. The commercial has two intertwining narratives. One featured five kids who have their hearts and minds set on attending charter schools, where they believe they will receive better educations than in their neighborhood schools. Of the five kids, four are students of color from low-income families living in urban neighborhoods and are every bit as adorable as María. Kindergartener, Bianca lives with her mother in Harlem. Francisco, a first grader, lives with his mother in the Bronx. Fifth-grader Anthony lives with his grandmother in Washington, D.C.; and fifth-grader Daisy and her mother and father in East Los Angeles. The only white student is Emily, an eighth-grader, who lives in the Silicon Valley. 

Only Emily is upper-middle class, and she is headed for a well-funded high school. Nevertheless, her parents believe she will get a better education at a nearby charter school. All the children and their parents dream of a better life. The documentary expertly constructs a narrative that builds towards the finale. They feature local public lotteries. The message is that unless the children win the lottery, they will end up as losers. Forgotten is how the charter schools will facilitate the María moment. It is Little Princess story of the Shirley Temple Movies and the old Bing Crosby song “Pennies from Heaven.”  

No doubt Waiting for Superman was masterfully produced. Scott Bowles of USA Today (2010) called it a “masterful picture,” claiming that Guggenheim “mostly steers clear of politics in favor of the children’s stories.” Los Angeles Times critic Betsy Sharkey (2010) wrote it was “a withering examination of the country’s public school system” (which it was not).  John Anderson (2010) saw it as an “exhilarating, heartbreaking, and righteous” documentary; “an epic assessment of the rise and fall of the U.S. school” system. Writer Thomas Friedman (2010), titled his review “Steal This Movie, Too.”  In a María moment, without proof Friedman said that the film proved the “miserable failures” of the U.S.’s ailing public schools and by inference its teachers.

Charter School advocates launched a “daily onslaught of advertisements, corporate art, and mass-mediated popular culture by subverting public schools.” Détournement altered the truth by diverting the truth and making scapegoats of poorly paid teachers. It appropriated and subverted the reality of the public schools and distorted the meaning of popular symbols by mimicking and in many cases libeling. 

Forget About the Alamo!

This type of distortion is not new.  Hollywood was made a propaganda arm of the war effort during World War II. War movies mobilize audience support by demonizing the enemy. Two films stand out: Gone with the Wind and the numerous editions of the Alamo, distort the truth and diverts attention from the truth that the U.S.A. stole Texas.  Mexicans did not invade the Alamo, Texas belonged to Mexico who stole it from the Native Americans. It diverts attention from the atrocities committed by terrorist groups such as the Texas Rangers. Today the Alamo diverts attention from the fact that Mexicans were not illegal rather the so-called defenders of the Alamo are the villains and truth shines a bright light white nationalists. 

Fact check: contrary to popular myth, Mexicans were not the aggressors at the Alamo. Texas belonged to Mexico. The white Americans inside the Alamo arrived in Texas after 1821 (most after 1832), so it was highly improbable that many if any were born in Texas. Nor was the Alamo a defenseless mission. Like other missions of the times, the Alamo resembled a medieval castle, designed as a bastion of defense against those whom the missionaries considered infidels. Missions were usually built on high ground and their adobe walls were thick. 

The problem with Gone with the Wind is that it falsely claims that the Civil War was not really about slavery; it was about the nasty Yankee invading the South. In the process it whitewashes slavery and demeans Blacks. Both the Alamo Movies and Gone With the Wind high jacked the truth to the point that white Americans believe them and not the history books. They both demonize the victims and justify racism and oppression at the expense of the Truth. 

Comics as Bibles

As a kid our daily routine began with breakfast and reading the Examiner that had the best comic and sports pages in LA. Like in Superman the heroes were white males and rich. We kept up with Dick Tracy, Superman and Batman and other white characters. They even had porn for white people called Tijuana Bibles. Picture stories are not new. Humans have been painting pictographs for a long time. Cave dwellers painted vivid pictures and few if any surpassed the Maya stories on the pyramid walls and codices. They were carved and written to preserve the truth and destroyed to create lies.  

According to Wikipedia, “The history of American comics began in the 19th century in mass print media, in the era of yellow journalism, where newspaper comics served as a boon to mass readership. In the 20th century, comics became an autonomous art medium and an integral part of American culture.” American comics were published for profit and to entertain the non-reading. It featured super heroes with Fawcett Comics’ superhero Captain Marvel, DC Comics’ Flash and Green Lantern came out in 1940. Marvel’s Captain America and DC’s Wonder Women superheroes were first appeared the following year. According to Wikipedia the period from 1938 through the mid-1940s was the peak of comic book popularity.

Chicana/o History: The Invention of Tradition

As with all history, Chicana/o history is largely an invention or someone’s point of view. It interprets our memory and what we want others to remember. My favorite historians are British: EP Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm. Both were Communist. For the purpose of this piece I am concentrating on Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition.  In his introductory essay, Hobsbawm defines the invention of tradition as “a set of practices … of a ritual or symbolic nature, which seek to inculcate certain values and norms of behavior by repetition, which automatically implies continuity with the past.” As the compilers intended to show: the invented traditions had a purpose. They gave a continuity to the reader of varied accuracy that was formed largely by their stories.

Other historians have tied this invention of tradition to state building. William H. Beezley in Mexican National Identity: Memory, Innuendo, and Popular Culture sees identity as fashioned “in the streets”; however, there are others who say that very few holidays come from the people, tying the process to state building. The state builds a historical narrative that gives its citizens a sense of unity. Holidays are designed to legitimize the accepted version of history that not does always conform to the Truth. It is a process where the state builds a “national culture.” The state constructs a historical narrative that gives citizens a sense of unity. Holidays are designed to give legitimacy to the accepted version of history that does not always conform to the Truth. It is a process that builds a “national culture.” 

 October and November are crowded with invented history.  During these two months, the state allocates holidays for Columbus Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.  These official narratives become the Truth. Teachers teach students the official stories, and in turn the public is grateful for the gift of a holiday. “[T]he king of the holidays” is Thanksgiving. The narrative has been burned into our consciousness to the point that few Americans question the facts because no one wants to lay the proverbial intellectual pedo. 

The ritual of sitting down to eat cheap turkey chucked full of hormones has been immortalized by Norman Rockwell. It is a day that we eat cheap turkeys and hams and everyone can pig out. Not much thought is given to the truth of the narrative. Kids just want their four day relief from school, and parents are smug in the belief that the colonist and the Indians lived in peace. The only ones that care about changing the narrative are Native Americans who call it a National Day of Mourning.

Thanksgiving was invented by President Abraham Lincoln in October 1863 during the Civil war when he proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday. Thereafter, the myth of the Pilgrims and the Indians was constructed. Thus the legend has become fact. It is difficult to change the narrative because most Americans love their myths, and they love their cheap turkey. They want to believe the lie that makes them feel exceptional. There is little doubt that invented tradition strengthens nationalism. The elites are legitimized by the invented traditions, and in turn they invent other traditions. 

As I have said on other occasions Thanksgiving hides the reality of soup kitchens. The corporate owned media show charitable groups passing out free traditional Turkey Dinners to the poor when the reality is that many have been deprived of jobs, food stamps, and their children have been robbed of free nutritious lunches. Greater numbers are homeless. Yet the Thanksgiving narrative portrays Americans as a compassionate people – one big happy family who treated the ungrateful Indians fairly. Thanksgiving is the ultimate example of social control, and reinforces the invented reality that Americans like the pilgrims were justified in stealing the land and killing the people. Because we don’t question the narrative, we just keep repeating injustices.  

A Lie is a Lie: Why the Truth Matters

What I admire most about the Native Americans is not their great buildings, art and writing systems but their mastery and care of the land. They were among the world’s great botanists. At first glance many fail to appreciate the challenge of living in the Southwest, Mexico and Central America. They do not appreciate the First Peoples’ contributions and in many instance try to erase them. It is only recently motivated by the reality of climate change see things in a different light. The land has relatively little water; it is arid, mountainous and given to extremes. For many Europeans it was worthless, s Great American Desert. 

Increasingly historians are realizing the genius of the First Peoples. The nomads were not vagrants, they were among the world’s great botanist. They used the abundant variety of flora there and through trial and error learned which were edible and which contained water. Today many of these plants have become health foods. They also mapped the land finding the shortest and best routes.

Communities are under siege and their survival depend on their memories. The word “community” comes from the Latin communitas (communis). It is defined as “a group or network of persons who are connected to each other by social relations that extend beyond immediate genealogical ties, and who mutually define that relationship (subjectively) as important to their social identity and social practice.” It builds upon the truism “We Become What We Think About.” The communities’ survival depend on their histories and identities, that are being erased by gentrification and dispersal, neoliberalism and privatization.

Remembering what happens empower communities to collectively identify important problems, issues and concerns. It focuses attention on power structures and on processes such as institutionalized racism. Memory allows us to see and distinguish the similarities between the genocide of the Native American, Manifest Destiny, urban renewal, and privatization.

A community allows us to build strategies for analysis, for action and for change. Examining political and economic factors from the concrete base of the community allows for development of more effective strategies for change.

Memory allows us to build strategies for analysis, action and change. Examining political and economic factors from the concrete base of the community and allows for development of more effective strategies for change. Memory is essential for change and the essence of struggle is to never forget. It is the only effective way to organize against capital that has its own memories and strives for hegemony. For oppressed peoples, cultural memory engenders the spirit of resistance. 

When I was a graduate student I was told that for the historian to learn the truth she/he must be a skeptic. History is a search for the truth, when I read Henry Steele Commager, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and other prominent American historians I was disappointed, they were not critical of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson or of most former American presidents. I wonder how the future would treat Donald Trump, Bill Clinton and most of presidents. There are few lessons from these historical biographies because they are built on lies or inventions. In order to learn from them we have to be critical without demonizing them. 

In many ways Chicana/o and Latino history are inventions beginning with labels such as Hispanic, Latino or whatever is politically convenient. The truth is that there were no Hispanics in the Alamo just as there were few or any Mexicans on the contemporary Central American caravans. Some of us are in solidarity, but as a people were not part of caravans. The truth has to be exact and cannot or should not be distorted or diverted. The result of basing conclusions on falsehoods represents a loss of reality and a mystified consciousness that is not based in reality.

Unfortunately, Chicana/o history like the Catholic Church today venerates the past and makes colonial agents such as Fray Junipero Serra saints or heroes. My disillusionment with Church history came after reading the Gnostic Bibles especially the works of Elaine Pagels. She exposed the lies I had learned in theology classes and demonstrated how church traditions were invented by male leaders to eliminate the challenge of women members. Learned the pitfalls of building history on inventions, they are too easily unravelled. 

Much of Chicana/o history today is a product of the invention of the sixties and the mystification of reality. Let me make it clear that the sixties were incredibly productive but like all history it is an onion that must be peeled. Like with colonialism, we must search for the truth –and correct or cut out the rotten parts. Not everything was perfect in the sixties. There was sexism, homophobia, opportunism and debauchery that remain covered up by diversions and distortions of the truth. Like in life there were people who exploited the times and as with Gnosticism the truth was distorted. It is difficult to build any kind of strategy on lies. Example, the invention of the Chicana/o identity any kind of strategy or unity was necessary but must be tied to reality. 

Identity is complex and is still at issue. Students in the sixties and seventies accepted the term Chicano but grappled with whether their degrees should read Chicano Studies or Mexican American Studies. There is still ambivalence and name still carries political and personal preferences and baggage. An additional problem arose with what role of student organizations played and the reaction of faculty to student oversight. The failure to establish a common sense has contributed to false conclusions and disorganization. 

One fallout is the lack of consensus among those who are supposed to be searching for the truth. It has created divisions.  Many base their opinions not on facts but on personal feelings such as embidias, celos, chismes and a lack of skepticism. Over the years I have heard lies about me, my friends and the CSUN department that I teach in that are just not true. 

For example, a UCLA librarian started an interview telling me that CSUN CHS only hired their friends. I asked her what proof she had and questioned whether she had interviewed members of the hiring committees. She had not but she had repeated the lie up and down the state. I later found out that she was angry because she had not been hired. I have heard similar rumors about others; views that expressed in dissertations. I note that some of the authors lived in the Los Angeles area and could have easily verified their hypotheses by visiting me or the twenty-some professors in the department and interviewed them. In search for the truth before something becomes fact it must be vetted if not the dissertation loses validity as does the author and those who supervise the dissertation.  In one case, I got a call from a prospective employer of a so-called scholar. I told the truth and how it could be corroborated. The scholar learned about my negative evaluation and spread it around that I was chicken shit (again not telling it to me to my face). Part of finding the truth is using primary, credible sources and determining what is true. Your word was your bond. Gimmicks such as détournement, alternative facts and the intentional high jacking of the truth distorts reality so badly that lying is the norm. This has led to disunity and in many cases a further blaming the victim. It confuses identity and delays unity. One such case is the current controversy that blames students and diverts attention from Chicana/o studies.  

An example is the efforts of some students to change the name of Mecha (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanas/Chicanos de Aztlan), the Chicana/o student organizations on campuses. The proposed name change affects alumni, community, students and involves everyone involved in the fifty year history of Chicana/o studies.  Many Chicana/o activists accuse Mechistas of trying rewrite the past fifty year history of the Chicana/o movement and distort history. On the other hand, those defending the proposed name change claim it was progressive and would expand the constituency of the student organization whose membership had declined in recent years. The broadening of the name of the organization would attract new members. Those attacking the name changers accuse those wanting a name change of being reactionaries and conspiring to destroy Chicana/o Studies. Instead of a reasoned discussion both sides are captives of their own truths or myths. Neither has peeled the onion and searched for reality.

There is no doubt that change has to come about; however, is it solved by a name change. National Hispanic organizations have attempted this tactic without looking for the truth. The same can be said about the decline in the presence of Chicana/o organizations on campus. Finding the truth has become personal rather than collective. We have to ask: What is the purpose of Mecha? My hypothesis is that you cannot blame 18-21 year olds who have a tough time staying in school for today’s mess.  Have professors failed to mentor them? Deeper than that we have to rethink the catechism approach to history in general. There are no saints and we must expose the diversions. Gender inequality, homophobia, and racism all existed in the sixties and still exist. Finding historical truth is not an epiphany.

During the sixties many students and community activists participated in study groups in which the onion was peeled and imperfections and distortions were rooted out and peeled. Today more than ever history is being high jacked for profit.  In the case of Mecha at CSUN, I have spoken to many faculty and alumni in an effort to refresh my own historical memory. I concluded that Mecha was subverted when a faculty member clashed with the organization’s leadership and tried to destroy it by starting RZA, a Chicano fraternity on campus that allowed Chicano Greek clubs to gain legitimacy. The same faculty member also made deals with the Dean in an effort to become the permanent chair of the department. To add historical perspective there has been a decline in the historical memory of the history memory or interest in the faculty mentorship of students. 

In order to learn the truth we must learn, analyze and dissect history beginning with the Doctrine of Discovery through the myths of the American Dream and Horatio Alger. The myth that Spain and Europe brought culture and progress to the Indigenous People. Before we can organize we must correct the distortion in the layers of the Onion. Nothing can be resolved by escaping to Disneyland or by believing in María moments. Superman will not save us. 

I saw a mystery movie last week Knives Out (2019).  It follows a family gathering in which the family patriarch’s death where is investigated by a master detective. The film explores the family members interactions, quickly focuses on their relationship with the family maid Marta, who is from an immigrant family. Everyone loves Marta but no one knows her nationality. The plot thickens when the patriarch dies and deprives his sycophant and greedy family of their inheritance leaving everything to Marta who naively believes that everyone loves her when they are actually trying to frame her for the patriarch’s murder so that they can get their hands on the inheritance. 

The truth is uttered by the master detective when he contradicts Marta’s assessment that these are nice people. He bellows out, “No they are not nice People.” The truth is often hard to take and it hurts. Nevertheless, the María illusions imprison her and the lies and myths imprison us. Life after Trump will be difficult because he did not invent the illusions and myths in American history. Americans have never liked immigrants, this not a democracy and Americans are not nice people. Capitalism kills the truth and prolongs the solution.  

Letter from Gina Perez

I came across this piece of paper your gave me, Professor Acuña, sometime in Fall 2007. I was taking a course and you wrote down your email as you wrote me a letter of recommendation.  Thank you Sir! I finally graduated with my BA in CHS in  May 2018, yes, it took me 10 years, and I am now in my third year in the CHS MA program. I miss you on campus- I miss everyone on campus. Last year, in July, I began a late term (I’m 57) job change and I now work on the Scholarship office within the Financial Aid office at CSUN. I hope to one day create a scholarship in your name to honor you and your legacy.
Blessings Sir!


I am not taking anything away from Alfonso Cuaron, his progressive credentials are impeccable and I congratulate him for opening a much neglected conversation of Mexican racism toward its indigenous people. However, Cuaron I fear had a Father Miguel Hidalgo moment. Hidalgo led a massive army made up of Indigenous followers. Rallied by Hidalgo’s grito:  “¡Viva la religión y mueran los gachupines!” the Indigenous masses flocked to his revolutionary banner. His troops numbered in the tens of thousands as they approached Mexico City, but Hidalgo fearing a massacre did not attack the Azteca capital. Instead the revolution died in midstream. Cuaron like Hidalgo arrived at a similar moment of truth last night. In accepting the Oscar he said that that Roma was a critique of servants throughout the Mexico and the world putting it into the context of a class struggle, with which I do not quarrel. However, just like Hidalgo’s initial revolution the theme of the movie was much more. It was about race and maybe it is time to kill the gachupine in all of us that keeps racism against the First People alive. It is specifically about the gachupine, it is about racism.