Chicana/o Studies at Cal State Northridge will be taking close to sixty Latinos and Asians students to Tucson later this month. It will be our third trip as a group within a year. Friends keep saying, “That is a big responsibility; you have paid your dues; why don’t you slow down and enjoy life?” In other words, take it easy, and let the young people clean up our mess.
Some make ridiculous statements such as that you must enjoy the pressure. What is probably meant to be a compliment is an insult. Only someone who is nuts enjoys constant stress and sleepless nights.
Frankly, I would be delighted if others would step up. No one enjoys constantly working as if there were no more tomorrows. No one enjoys sandwiching in writing and teaching, and never having enough time to edit and reflect – the tension of being constantly on stage gets to you.
I often wish that I would have become a monk. But, as a member of a community – a husband, father, grandfather, and teacher – I have no choice but to fight. The bottom line is that I care about the kind of world we leave behind.
Many of my Latino friends tell me not to worry; the Latino population is booming, and we are the future. Today Latinos are just over 15 percent of the population – over 50 million. If we were a nation, we would be the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world. By 2050 Latinos will be almost a third of the U.S. But will it really make a difference?
Knowing history I realize that what we do today will affect 2050. Population is not a silver bullet, and this growth is precisely what worries me.
In the 1970s I had a conversation with the late Willie Velásquez, the founder of the Southwest Voter Registration Project, who was at the time leading a drive to register more Mexican Americans. I asked Willie if he were not being overly optimistic about the importance of registering and voting Mexican Americans. We could register more Latinos, but what was being done about the quality of representation once we turned out the voters?
Willie responded that everything went in cycles, and we first had to register our people. Over the years I have thought about this conversation. Looking at the outcome, I think Willie is probably turning over in his grave when he sees the quality of our political representives, especially the trend of some Latinos running as Republicans. Who would have thought in the 1970s that Mexicans and other Spanish-speaking people would today be Hispanics?
As a group Latino politicos have not been especially progressive. Indeed, they have been less than courageous when it comes to police brutality and capital punishment. Latino politicos have been invisible during the escalation of tuition that is killing access to higher education for most. Few have spoken out on the Middle Eastern wars thus empowering President Barack Obama as he wags the dog’s tail.
In 2050, the Latino population will reach 30 percent. Surely, the gene pool will get darker; today in Los Angeles the probability of a first grade male marrying or partnering up with a Latina is about fifty percent. The only factors slowing down this process are where people live, go to school and economic class.
Has the political awareness of Latinos and Mexican Americans grown proportionately? I don’t think so! Political consciousness is like vocabulary — it is learned and acquired, and it is not cultivated through the use of third grade clichés such as the Decade of the Hispanic or Chicana/o power. It is learned through political education and awareness.
The growth or development of political consciousness depends on individual and group experiences. The media has a lot to do with this socialization process.
However, when we look at the content of most programs Latinos have access to, it is disastrous. Univision, the largest of the Spanish language networks, is run by conservative investors, and its content is heavily influenced by right wing Cuban Americans in Miami. Consequent to this, the most informative pundit is Jorge Ramos, a Mexican transplant who is progressive on immigration but to right of center on Latin American and domestic issues. This begets programs such as Don Francisco that features contests such as Señorita Colita (Miss “Little Tail”).
The Democratic Party and the left have done very little to fill the vacuum in the Latino’s political education, although it is becoming its largest bloc of voters. It takes Latinos for granted because they have no other place to go, given the racism of the Republican Party.
Truth be told, the left media like poverty has fed off the Latino’s misery while reaping the benefits of their votes. It sheds tears over racism and inequality, theorizing about it and doing little more.
Aside from “Democracy Now,” there is not a prominent Latino writer nurtured by this gaggle of left
media that includes The Nation, Mother Jones as well as others. The tragedy is that, if and when the Latino community votes Republican, there will be expressions of shock and blaming the victim.
What I have learned during my years of struggle is that I don’t have enough money, or prestige to change the group. I probably would have even less influence if I were at a a pampered professor at a prominent university, so I make changes through teaching working class students and by example.
At the moment I am concentrating on Mexican American and Central American students, a sector that includes most Latinos. According to the 2010 Census, Mexican Americans are officially 63 percent, and could be as high as 70 percent of the total Latino population. The Mexican origin population will grow the fastest during the next forty years due to Mexico’s proximity to the United States and the median age of Mexican women.
U.S. births are disproportionately Latino, accounting for one-in-four of the nation’s newborns in 2008. The growth is driven by Mexican Americans women who account anywhere from about 20 percent to 50 percent more children than non-Mexican Latinas.
The median age of Mexican origin women in the U.S. is 25, compared with 30 for non-Mexican-origin Latinas, 32 for blacks, 35 for Asians and 41 for whites. The typical Mexican American woman, ages 40 to 44, gives birth to 2.5 children versus 1.9 non-Mexican-Latinas.
Demographers predict that most future growth in the U.S. among Latinas will come from women with documents. Most of the growth within the Mexican American community will be poorer, less educated and concentrated in the working class sector.
The reality is simply that it is becoming more hazardous and costly for working class Latin Americans to migrate to the U.S. through the Mexican corridor that has been closed to them by drug gangs spawned by U.S. policy that has channeled the drug trade through Mexico.
In this scenario, the Mexican American middle-class plays an exceedingly important role. Necessarily they have to advocate for the civil rights of those not enjoying their privileges. However, the increase in tuition is threatening the stairway we built in the late 1960s for more Mexican Americans and Latinos going to college. There are also class divisions that occur among people of all color.
The only factors slowing this down assimilation are food and group consciousness, which lasts only so long.
Arizona as in the case of California Proposition 187 (1994) reminds the group that racism still exists. It defines who the bad guys are. However, this political education has to go much further.
In the past couple of years I have been writing pieces on Arizona to educate a small circle on the importance of that struggle. Good education is often a case of redundancy. It is the practice of constantly deducing and then applying lessons – much like the conjugation for verbs in Latin.
That is why we are taking students to Arizona. We want to educate them, and the best way is for them to experience it. In the last two trips, we have also been taking Asian students with us because we live in a multi-racial society, and we have to learn to work together. We share humanity.
Many of the students who have gone on the trips had never been out of California, some had never been out of LA. This effort will pay off because they in turn will use a more sophisticated political vocabulary, which they will teach their family members and eventually their children.
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.