As has been universally acknowledged, Antonio Villaraigoza's victory as mayor of L.A. this past week is of historic proportions. Coupled with two other major developments, his election takes on an even greater national and historic significance.
Last weekend, some 40 anti-Mexican bigots were chased out of nearby Baldwin Park as they went from protesting immigration to protesting the Mexican-Indian heritage of the region and continent. What drew their ire are several inscriptions on a monument. One reads: "This land was Mexican once, was Indian always and is, and will be again." Another one reads: "It was better before they came.? Artist Judy Baca says that the latter quote refers to a statement by a white civic leader who was lamenting the influx of Mexican immigrants into the area - not an anti-white statement as the detractors were claiming.
The protest reveals that the anti-immigrant movement is indeed anti-Mexican and anti-Central American, and that these communities are not docile and dormant. In response to the protest, some 500 counter-protestors sent the small group of extremists scurrying home, reminding the world that accepting insults belongs to another era. These hate-mongers had been emboldened by the armed Minuteman militia project (encouraged by Gov. Schwarzenegger and egged on by Lou Dobbs at CNN) that patrolled the Arizona border last month.
Another equally important development is this week's inauguration of the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UCLA. It's been a long 36-year wait, and the symbolism is stark.
Villaraigoza attended UCLA during the early years of Chicano Studies (early 70s) when students of color were scarce and not welcome and Chicano Studies was viewed as an illegitimate discipline. This was also the early years of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan), a student activist organization that was also viewed in a similar light. (Some high schools and universities across the nation continue to view MEChA in a negative light).
Despite the efforts of the extreme right wing to demonize MEChA (along with Chicana/Chicano and Ethnic Studies) Villaraigoza's victory is not so much a vindication of the era's politics of decolonization as it is an affirmation of the larger and current global struggle for equality, human rights and human dignity.
Villaraigoza's victory comes at a time when the anti-immigrant movement has been invigorated by the passage of the REAL ID Act - an apartheid-type law that restricts undocumented immigrants from entering federal buildings, boarding planes and getting a driver's license. (Aren't we all comforted by the knowledge that the next terrorist that ploughs a truck bomb into a federal building, airport, hotel or shopping center will be fully licensed?)
The reality is that it is a fear-driven anti-Mexican measure, not unlike many other Department of Homeland Security initiatives. (While DHS anti-terrorism operations at airports and other facilities have snagged some 1,100 undocumented workers the past two years, they have netted zero terrorists.
This is why Villaraigoza's victory is historic; because it affirms the politics he has been a part of since the 1960s. Normally, this would be irrelevant, but it is so because those are the politics that the extreme right has been vilifying for years. It is these same extremists that have been haranguing Villaraigoza and other elected officials over their involvement in the human rights struggles of that earlier era.
This is also why the inauguration of the Chicana and Chicano Studies department is of equal importance and linked to his victory and also linked to the situation in Baldwin Park. Ethnic Studies is about memory - and precisely why it is in the crosshairs nationwide of those same forces. Without that memory, the extremists get to invent their own history and challenge not just the humanity and indigeneity of the people, but of the land itself.
The anti-immigrants are deluded by their own biases, convincing themselves that they are not anti-Mexican nor anti-immigrant - just anti-illegal alien. Here's a news flash by way of every major religion and great world philosophy: Ningun ser humano es illegal - no human being is illegal.
Humanity's challenge is not to create more illegal categories or larger hunted populations, but to chart a course for the day when there will no longer be any more legal or illegal citizenship or human categories.
That may take 100 years, but that course can be charted now. Villaraigoza has to run the city of the future, but if he so chooses, he can also join in that other leadership role. Either way, he deserves a historic congratulations.
? Column of the Americas 2005
The writers can be reached at: XColumn@aol.com or (608) 238-3161.