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Reflections of a White Studies Survivor

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

“Hello, my name is Alvaro Huerta and I’m a White Studies Survivor.”

What does White Studies mean? (Thank you for asking.) It basically refers to a Euro-centric philosophy or curriculum taught in U.S. schools (and beyond), where there’s a racist assumption—perpetuated by the dominant culture and elites—that individuals of European origin (or white people) and their history, etc., are “inherently superior” to non-whites.

As a U.S.-born citizen, while spending the first four years of my life in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico, I survived numerous educational years in White Studies. This includes K-12 education at LAUSD (13 years); undergraduate studies at UCLA (4 years); graduate studies (master’s) at UCLA (2 years); and graduate studies (doctorate) at UC Berkeley (5 years). That adds up to 24 years of indoctrination …I mean…education in White Studies!

When you’re poor and brown and everyone else around you is the same, as I’ve previously argued, you’re not often cognizant of your class status and race. It’s only until you exit your segregated community that you’ll be reminded and treated (micro and macro levels) by members of the dominant culture that you’re not only different, but also inferior compared to whites! (I’m sure there are some execptions to my generalization, like in the cases of Republican Senators’ Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.)

As a 12-year-old Chicano kid from East Los Angeles’ notorious Ramona Gardens housing project (or Big Hazard projects), I, along with childhood friends, was part of a desegregation busing program to Mt. Gleason Jr. High School in Sunland, Tujunga—a then-white suburb of Los Angeles. On the first day of school, I was quickly reminded of my class status and race when “greeted” by a bunch of white kids (more like white mob!): “Wetback!” “Beaner!” “Lowrider!” “Go back to where you came from!”

Did I mention that they also threw rocks at us while riding in our yellow LAUSD bus? (To be honest, the rocks didn’t faze me since I grew up in the projects where violence was omnipresent.)

While I didn’t experience the same racist atmosphere in high school, the outcome was the similar in terms of the mostly white faculty and Euro-centric curriculum. It wasn’t until I took my first Chicana/o history class with Professor Juan Gómez-Quiñones at UCLA when I first learned about my people—the Chicanas/os and Mexicans in el norte. Since Professor Gómez-Quiñones—now a long-time friend, fellow activist and colleague—also grew up in East Los Angeles and looked like me (not sure if he’s better looking?), I also learned that Chicanas/os had a rightful place at elite institituations without compromising their values and heritage.

Thus, as a strong supporter of Ethnic Studies—K-12 and higher education—I don’t want any current/future generations of brown students to wait until college/university to take an Ethnic Studies class—if they make it that far, given structural racism—to learn about their rich history and be proud of their beautiful heritage!

 

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Dr. Alvaro Huerta is an assistant professor of urban and regional planning and ethnic and women’s studies at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He is the author of “Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm,” published by San Diego State University Press (2013).

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