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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.
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.