Another What Might Have Been

You are what you make of yourself

By Andy Porras
Published on LatinoLA: January 24, 2005

Another What Might Have Been

History frequently finds dreamers and offers them an opportunity to reflect upon what might have been. As our nation prepares to honor African-American accomplishments this month, Chicanos too can benefit from Black History Month. Sadly, few of us realize that the ?Hispanic? umbrella dictates that Hispanics can be of any race - white, black, Asian or native American. We have been wrongly taught that Hispanics (Chicanos, Latinos, Etc.) are of a separate race and distinct from the traditional four. Time to do the research, folks.

For starters, one of the most revered and respected Mexican revolutionary heroes, Emiliano Zapata came from African roots! California?s last Spanish-speaking governor, Pio de Jesus P?co (1801-1894) was born in the San Gabriel Mission. He was the son of a soldier, Jos? Mar?a P?co, and a native of Sonora, Mar?a Estaquia Lopez. He had a mixed heritage; a combination of African, Native American, Hispanic, and European.

Early California history is full of heroines and heroes that were of both African and Mexican ancestry. The trouble is that neither schools nor parents tell children the whole story. No need to play the blame game anymore, what we need is to kick out the bums who are responsible for our kids getting their hands on outdated, one-sided books that pass for U.S. History texts. Publishing honchos, school administrators, book selection committees handpicked by ?honor? teachers and plain book peddlers have been in bed too long. It?s time to change the linen.

Many might recall, or have read about that day in April of 1968, when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis. Few know that following Dr. King?s visit to the striking sanitation workers of that city, his future itinerary included a meeting with C?sar Ch?vez in Delano. Speculation of a Brown and Black Coalition died on the balcony where Dr. King?s body came to rest after taking a fatal bullet. But another dream took flight that day. Communication between Chicano and Black activists was vehement back in the day. Both camps felt that the divisiveness came about from an educational system that ignored the contributions of both peoples to the world.

Prior to integration of school children nationally, Black kids grew-up convinced of their own inferiority. Spanish-speaking kids on the other hand, came face to face with a learning system that was full of negative perceptions of their ancestors and their culture. Black historian John Henrik Clarke said a long time ago that, to control a people, you must first control what they think about themselves and how they regard their history and culture. ?And when your conqueror makes you ashamed of your culture and your history,? he wrote. ?He needs no prison walls or chains to hold you.?

Injected with inferiority complexes by the establishment then followed by humiliation and cultural degradation from the educational system, both Blacks and Chicanos lacked knowledge about themselves and their past. They became walking time bombs, eventually exploding in the 60s. America began to reap what it had sown, ignorance gave way to blatant racism and sometimes innocent graffiti gave way to a guerilla-like unrest in our large cities.

In recent years the study of Black and Chicano intellectual tradition has risen to new prominence as ethnic studies programs have proliferated the nation?s campuses. Finally, a smattering of smart Americans are getting it and realizing that we?re all in this together. For the long haul. During Black History Month, it?d be wise for all of us to recall an old Swahili adage, ?you are what you make of yourself, and not what others make you.?

About Andy Porras:
Porras is the editor of CAlifas, a monthly bilngual newsmagazine in Northern Califas. Lives in Sacramento with his family, also CAlifas' staff.

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