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 Day 19

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Keeping the Lower 50 Percent in their Place

Vampires on the Border

by RODOLFO F. ACUÑA

Reuters reported that Americans are deeply worried that undocumented immigration is threatening U.S. traditional beliefs, customs and the nation’s economy – an amazing overwhelming majority — eighty-six percent of Republicans and 70 percent of Americans share this bias.

To get the full significance the article should be read concurrently with Noam Chomsky’s interview on the Israeli-Palestinian question on Democracy Now. Chomsky analyzes the effects of the Israeli invasion and occupation of the Gaza and the West Bank on the people. He makes the point that the occupier controls even the calorie intake of children rationing them just enough calories to survive but no more.

I posted the Chomsky interview on Facebook, and got the following comment: “Just like wage slavery here in the US, for the most part they know exactly how much things cost and exactly how they should pay (Mexican) laborers so that they barely survive, and moreover have them psychologically wanting more money which means more work, more stress, less education and critically, they will spend less family time… hence we then classically see gangs, drug use, pregnancy, exploited raza etc.”

The truth be told, the super-structure functions to control society and insure class divisions. Take the case of Arizona – the ruling elite class destroyed Mexican American Studies for the purpose of control and profit.  Legislators were paid to pass an agenda initiated by the Koch brothers and ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) for the purpose of keeping corporate taxes low and filling up privatized prisons with undocumented immigrants. In to accomplish this end, they eliminated successful educational programs and make sure Mexican American students would not succeed in school.

It is not a secret that Mexican Americans are becoming a majority in Arizona. This is a threat to white power and in order to keep Mexicans in their place they have to remain uneducated and uncritical. Like the rationing of calories education is rationed to the poor – just enough for them to survive but not flourish.

To maintain this hegemony the ruling elite must have popular support.  In the United States fear has been a popular method of dividing the working and middle classes. In the case of immigration Mexicans and Latinos have been demonized and stereotyped as dangerous and incapable of learning.

The process is insidious. The ruling elite know that the best method of keeping the poor down is to keep parents are unemployed, earning less than the minimum wage. It has the same effect as controlling students’ diets. They can only afford starches that lead to obesity and diabetes. Diets depend on money and the poor can rarely afford protein.  Thus diet affects school performance and success.

For the system to work, it is essential to create a pecking order. This is done through fear and the  belief that the undocumented families are “threatening U.S. traditional beliefs and customs.” This makes possible laws such as Arizona’s SB 1070 and HB 2281.

Scaring people to death plays a role similar as the horror movies of the eighties that were constructed by Cold War paranoia and the migration of blacks and browns to suburbia. First it was the Russians are coming, the vampires are coming, and now by the terrorists and the “illegals” are coming.

During the 1960s, we became educators because we wanted to do something about the high school dropout rate among Chicana/o youth. While we had some successes, the corporate controlled structure responded by dividing us into those with a green card and those who have the document. They divided us into the upper 50 percent of Latinos and the lower 50 percent. This has allowed the school dropout rate among Mexican Americans and Latinos to remain high and accessibility to higher education for the lower half to worsen.

This is no accident. The most innovation pedagogy and special programs have been scuttled. No longer if there an effort to recruit and train minority teachers to teach in barrio schools. Hope has been replace by a system where success is measured by tests.

Up until twenty years ago it seemed as if we were making progress. But corporations said they were paying too many taxes and convinced the public that it was fair to shift the cost of social production to the working and middle classes.  Higher education like food is relative to family resources.

Daniel Fisher  in a 2012 Forbes Magazine,“Poor Students Are the Real Victims of College Discrimination” stated that, “Income, not race, is the real determining factor in higher education today. Millions of otherwise-qualified high school students aren’t attending college, either because they can’t afford it or because the admissions system screens them out.” Although it was a provocative article, the author missed the point that race and income in America are synonymous and economic status is hereditary.

Fisher’s own data proves this:  “While 79% of students born into the top income quartile in the U.S. obtain bachelor’s degrees, only 11% of students from bottom-quartile families graduate from four-year universities, according to Postsecondary Education Opportunity. Put another way, about 55% of the bachelor’s degrees awarded in the U.S. went to students from top-quartile families with 2010 income above $98,875; 9.4% of those degrees went to students with family income below $33,000.”

Everyday students are relying more on loans.  This shift will worsen social mobility for the poor (the lower half of the Mexican/Latino community) who depend on higher education as an escape. One can only wonder what will happen if and when government grants such as the Pell grant are eliminated.

Scholars like Fisher are part of the problem mystifying the causes: “At elite law schools like Yale and Harvard Law, 60% of the incoming students tend to come from the top 10% of the socioeconomic spectrum, Sander says, while only 5% come from the bottom half.”  What is he saying?

The principle that the ability to go on to four year colleges is based on class is nothing new. In the 1960s we often raised the question of class, but only to be corrected by the cheerleaders who dismissed criticisms claiming that in America there was unprecedented accessibility to higher education. Community colleges gave everyone a second chance and was free to all.

The house of cards has come tumbling down and the chickens have come home to roost: “In fall 2009, more than 7.5 million students were enrolled at two-year colleges in the United States. This figure reflects a rapid expansion in two-year college enrollment over the past decade, with an increase of more than one-third (34%) between 1999 and 2009. The majority (57%) of two-year college enrollees in fall 2009 were enrolled part-time.” Zooming tuition and increased demand has ended the illusion of a pathway for people to the middle class.

So why do we take it? Fear keeps the cheerleaders under the illusion that they are better than the vampires. They believe that somehow American traditional beliefs, customs and the economy are the best. This illusion is breaking down, however, and many Americans are now aware that they are two payments from being homeless. Some are questioning the vampires are real and realize that an ugly side of American values is greed.

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution.