Myths: Were the Sixties Really Better?

The present generation cannot go back to the past, but they can defend what we have today.

By Rodolfo F. Acu??a
Published on LatinoLA: October 1, 2010

Myths: Were the Sixties Really Better?

After writing an appeal to the faculty urging them to attend a function,
one of my colleagues brought it to my attention that I was perpetuating
the myth that the generation sixties scholars were so much more radical
and focused than today's Chicana/o studies professors. It was a message
that I had not intended to convey since, the truth be told, conditions
were much different then. In reality, the institutional gains made in
the area of Chicana/o studies was forged by a small number of professors.

As today, most people were caught up with their own lives and focused on
doing a job. They had families that formed their priorities. The truth
be told, the institutional growth of Chicana/o studies at San Fernando
Valley State was driven by three professors.

It cannot be denied that the present generation of Chicana/o scholars
are much better prepared than those of the sixties and seventies. One
must take into account that in 1968 there were only about a hundred
scholars of Mexican extraction in the United States with doctorates.
Puerto Ricans were similarly underrepresented.

At San Fernando Valley State College we had to improvise because we
could not attract more than two or three people with doctorates in hand.
It was a sellers' market and most Chicanas and Chicanos chose research
institutions where teaching loads and perks were significantly higher
than at state colleges.

The lack of options made that generation of scholars by necessity more
vulnerable to student pressure. Chicana/o studies gave most an
opportunity to gain their degrees while working.

There were other differences. While many scholars today come to
Chicana/o studies from prestigious doctoral programs, the distinguishing
characteristic of yesteryear's' CHS scholars was that they went to
parochial schools. Three-quarters of our professors at SFVSC were from
Catholic schools.

But probably the most important difference between then and now are and
were the generational experiences. Discrimination then was much more
marked than it is today. Higher education has shielded the present
generation of scholars who often pass from K through 20 without fully
experiencing the racist environment of the streets.

Like one of my students once said about students from his neighborhood,
they were from the barrio not part of it.

Society has evolved and racism is today often disguised.

Today, many are from middle-class families and have had it better.

However, this is something that they should not apologize for. After all
this was what we were fighting for in the sixties.

Apologizing for material goods is something that both generations of
Chicana/o scholars have in common. In the sixties, we apologized for
having a house or for what we wore. Ironically, we did not apologize for
the quality of MJ that was smoked.

This hypocrisy was highlighted when I was working on the Campaign to
Keep the GM Van Nuys Plant Open. I was at a meeting at the Machinist
Union Hall when my friend Eloy told me, "I want to show you something
after the meeting." Afterwards we went into the parking lot and he
showed me his new Cadillac ÔÇô a big white car with leather upholstery.
Ironically, I had just been apologizing for my Rockport shoes.

I thought to myself, "Why shouldn't Eloy be proud of his car? He worked
hard for it. The car did not detract from his labor activism.

With academics there is always the guilt for having made it. Perhaps
instead what we should feel guilty about is if our teaching is marginal,
we don't publish, or fail to counsel students.

My whole message in the past three months is that Arizona is going to
save the Chicana/o and Latina/o soul. It is a reminder of where we have
come from.

The present generation cannot go back to the past, but they can defend
what we have today. As in the sixties, many of us are children of
immigrants. The very proposal of the anchor baby who is born in the
United States and is denied a birth certificate is abusive.

Not only does this generation have the opportunity to fight xenophobia
but the racists frontal assault on their history. HB 2281 outlaws ethnic
studies but allows the study of the holocaust, black and Native American
Studies. It singles out Mexicans and other Latinos.

As in the case of the Nazis, they single out and isolate groups so the
others will think they are safe--for the moment.

Whether we like it or not the present generation of Chaicana/o scholars
will determine whether we win the battle against Caliban and we survive
as an area of study. It boils down to amor propio, pride, self-respect.

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