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The Bourgeois’ Dilemma

The other day a colleague called it to my attention that I was wearing New Balance so in some way I was breaking a boycott. I pointed out that they were the only shoes I had. In retrospect I was becoming so gringo. I have never been for the indiscriminate application of boycotts. In 2010, the early stages of Arizona assault on immigrants and then on Mexican American Studies I questioned the call for a boycott of Arizona. I felt that it isolated Tucson and prevented friends for going there to show their support by visiting the Wall and standing in solidarity. Not all boycotts were like the Farm Worker Boycott.

Getting back to the New Balance Boycott, I will certainly not buy that brand again just like I won’t buy at Walmart. However, I believe it would be stupid for me to throw away a pair of shoes that I wear for health reasons. Having diabetes, shoes are a big deal! You’d know if you had it. New Balance is one of the few brands that have triple width shoes. In my estimation if would be a bit more strategic to pass out buttons emphasizing not to buy New Balance. While I respect the sentiments of Debra Messing and Swae Lee, they are not my teachers.

In the 1960s I pointed out to a group of activists that we should dispense with introductions because they consumed so much time. We should substitute the intros by wearing combat ribbons like generals do telling the world which demonstrations we had attended, with stars for each time we had been arrested. Maybe a platinum star for each time we had been fired from our jobs. Not buying the products of our enemies would be and should have been taken for granted. Instead of throwing away the product the emphasis should be on not buying it. This, however, would take work; you would have to organize trips to the boycotted places. The truth be told, liberals don’t much cotton to work. It is easier to tell people to throw away things.

During the grape boycott, my understanding was that the purpose was to hurt the grape growers economically. It was not to have us run to our refrigerators and throw all of the grapes away. It was to go out and picket the super markets where the sales we made. No one thought of regurgitating them and purging our bodies of the evil substance.

It kind of irks me because so much of our politics is for show. It reminds me of the 1960s when we purposely dressed down because everything seemed to be for show. I remember that students were ridiculed for dressing up to go to classes. They were “bourgie.”

We all followed this trend often without questioning. In the eighties I remember going to a meeting for the “Save the Van Nuys GM Plant open” at the machinist hall in Burbank. During the meeting the machinist rep whispered to me, “Rudy, I want to show you something after the meeting.”

After the meeting we went out onto the parking lot. Leroy led me to a brand new white Cadillac convertible. He had just bought it. I self-reflected that in activist circles this would be labeled “bourgie.” I thought to myself, “Leroy has been a worker all of his life. He has been involved in the labor movement. His labor had made this possible whereas I as a university professor apologize for wearing Rayburn Sunglasses.” That is the difference between the factory worker and the so-called cultural proletariat.

I am getting old and find myself getting cranky and I guess nit picking. But I get impatient between those calling for symbolic acts versus substance. At the university professors’ advocate but few will sacrifice for a cause. They will picket and even strike for higher wages but ignore increases in student tuition. They turn the other way while neoliberal policies decimate the blue collar class. Privately they will complain about the administration but when confronted by administrators they get sick smiles on their faces. I got my fill during the UNAM (Universidad Autonoma de Mexico) controversy when many Chicana/o Studies professors were unwilling to go to the edge of the proverbial class and to go over it to fight for faculty governance. It is easy to say I am boycotting but another thing to sacrifice. Instead professors smile at despicable people like the College of Humanities Dean Beth Say. Perhaps I should throw away my used New Balance shoes, go barefooted and smile.

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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.

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