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Priorities: There's a Difference Between One and Ten

Despite our dramatic growth in population, immigration reform still lingers around the ten spot

By Rodolfo F. Acu??a
Published on LatinoLA: April 17, 2011


Priorities: There's a Difference Between One and Ten


In the mid-sixties, I attended a lecture by Dr. Ernesto Galarza. Someone in the audience asked him why politicos and those in social movements didn't care about Mexican Americans. Galarza responded that most elected officials that were Democrats cared about Mexican Americans but that we were never their number one priority or even close to it on their to-do list.

Galarza went to the blackboard and drew a vertical line and showed the difference between one and ten. According to Galarza, the legislators would negotiate with the other party that also had its priorities, and if they got the majority of their first five items, they would consider the legislative session successful. For years, farm workers or "Mexican" issues never seemed to break out of the number ten spot. Democrats cared about Mexicans, but just not enough to invite them to the wedding.

The Galarza factor still plays out in academe and in left journals such as The Nation in considering hires and how much space is to be given a particular issue. Everyone loves Mexicans, but they remain Number Ten.

The genius of C?®sar Ch?ívez was that he short circuited the process and made the farm worker movement a social movement rather than strictly a labor cause. Because of pressure from the progressive left, farm workers for a time made it to the top five.

As a consequence, the immigrant worker struggle benefited and was given a push. It did not hurt that as in the case of the Catholic Church, Latino workers by the 1980s made up a significant portion of union membership. I cannot help thinking that if it had not been for these numbers we would still be number ten.

Even so, as a people we are still a long way from making it to the top five. The negotiations over the Dream Act are proof of the Galarza factor. Despite our dramatic growth in population, immigration reform still lingers around the ten spot.

The growth of the Latino community has added other nuances which have allowed so-called progressives to bifurcate number ten. They can claim I am for Mexicans, I support the banning of dangerous pesticides and so on.

Bifurcation has evolved into an art form. Witness Arizona where progressives mobilized against SB 1070, Arizona's draconian immigration law that in effect legalized racial profiling. For a time, it made it to the top five. However, the left is promiscuous and when Wisconsin came along, like a suitor in heat, the left pushed everything else aside.

This is not to say that Wisconsin should not be high on everyone's list--it should. I am just saying that a political person should be able to multi-task.

That brief period in the top five brought results and the Department of Justice filed a suit against Arizona. Consequent to that action enforcement of SB 1070 has been blocked.

Other anti-Latino measures have not fared as well in Arizona. HB 2281 legalized a racist attack on the Tucson Unified School District's La Raza Studies program that has successfully stemmed the Latina/o student drop out problem. It is a pedagogically sound program that could serve as a model for other school districts.

But thus far the Obama administration and progressives have not shown much interest. In April 2010 when 2281 was passed I contacted numerous people and organizations who at the time said 1070 was their Number 1 priority. Others said that getting Jerry Brown elected governor was Number 1.

I could not understand this reasoning since these were also my priorities and it was not an either or proposition.

However, love is blind. Most liberals cannot draw the correlation between labor rights and civil rights. They lack the genius of C?®sar Ch?ívez.

HB 2281 attacks freedom of speech. It allows the Arizona superintendent of public instruction and the attorney general to capriciously enforce a racist law. It denies students and teachers in the program their right to equal treatment by sanctioning the disparate treatment of Mexican American studies. Finally, it denies students the right to learn almost guaranteeing that over sixty percent will dropout of school. The outcome is a right wing indoctrination filtered through the "minds" and whims of two elected official with no background in teaching minority students and who have a political agenda.

As a historian I find this terrifying.

How can this happen and why don't people see and feel the same issues with the same intensity that I do? Why isn't this issue in the top 5?

Perhaps they have never seen the hopelessness that the lack of identity and literacy produces. Gang kids are made they are not born gang kids.

It is the Galarza factor at work. I remember that I once complained to Congressman Howard Berman because he voted to take funds away from mostly Mexican immigrants to give to Eastern European refugees. He responded that he had to take care of his own first, which was an important priority, but why either or?

It was not that Berman did not care about Mexicans; we were just not Number 1 or even 5. The challenges for Latinos as a community is to multi-task and at the same time use our numbers to prioritize actions that address the Latina/o community. We have to avoid the promiscuous habits of the left and remember that issues are inter-related.


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