Since the United States seized half Mexico's territory after the American War of 1847, Mexican Americans have suffered a chronic isolation. The Mexican American population was centered along the border, often months away from the East Coast, a place where very few white Americans lived. Consequent to this isolation, for most Americans, an out-of-sight, out-of-mind mindset developed.
What most people knew about Mexicans was formed by stereotypes in the press and popular literature -- stereotypes that persisted to until recently in the works of progressive such as John Steinbeck and John Grisham. Trade unionist had more jaundiced views, seeing Mexicans as competitors and potential threats.
Mexicans, however, endured hundreds of lynchings and suffered discrimination Even though many Mexicans had never seen Mexico, white Americans considered them foreigners -- intruders in land that once belonged to them. It was not until the World Wars when large numbers of Mexican Americans lost their lives fighting for the U.S. that some Americans accepted them.
As transportation cut distances between the East and the Southwest, the numbers of Mexicans multiplied, and their voting power increased. The new visibility forced the left to begin to take some notice. Liberals cared about the plight of migrants and condemned discrimination, but Mexicans were never high on the left's shopping list of causes. It was even harder for the left to tack on the word Mexican to American, as if the terms were incompatible.
Mexicans were so isolated that even sociologists were slow in finding them. Many of the early studies on Mexican Americans included the descriptor "the invisible minority" when referring to the group as a whole.
Things appeared to be looking up by the 1980s as labor finally dropped its xenophobic policies toward immigrants. The truth is that their numbers were too large to ignore. About this time, the fiction of a greater Latino community emerged as more Latino organizations headquartered themselves in Washington DC.
However, events in Arizona, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina and elsewhere were a wake-up call and they have exposed the vulnerability of Latinos and exploded the myth of the sleeping giant.
The reality is that Latinas/os organizations are national in name only. They have not yet formed the national consciousness, which is essential to forming a community. Without this national consciousness, it does not function as a family.
Liberals as a whole do not include Latinas/os on their Xmas gift lists. Progressive magazines run an occasional article about injustices toward them and feel good about eating their weekly taco.
A strange value system has evolved that we unfortunately pass on to our children. Consciously and unconsciously, we get caught up with the idea that there is no natural order of things. History becomes an abstraction, a political tool for those who justify the chicanery of the robber barons in our midst. Without this moral compass it is difficult to form a logic that informs our values.
A new vocabulary emerges that limits us. A person who questions or, for that matter thinks, is a cynic, a skeptic. She is labeled a pessimist instead of a seeker of truth.
I consider myself a cynic but far from being a pessimist. I am optimistic because I believe that ultimately history will judge the current crop of criminals. I am active in the struggle in Arizona because I believe in values such as community that help check injustices.
I would be lying if I did not add that my optimism is being sorely tested by the lack of justice in Tucson today. The events in Arizona shake my faith in American democracy and the fairness or ability of the judicial system to bring about equality under the law.
Without passion, a moral compass does not check the grievous actions of government as well as the lynch mob that often controls places like Arizona.
In Arizona I met Sean Arce, a young forty-something teacher who coordinates the Tucson Unified School District's La Raza Studies program. You cannot miss Sean: He is a big man. Sean is married, has two kids, Maya and Emiliano. His wife is a school teacher; he is working his on his PhD; she on a law degree at night.
Born in Tucson, Sean was raised in Oakland, California; a linebacker at San Jose State University. Sean returned to Tucson to play linebacker for the University of Arizona. Sean became a school teacher and was one of the founders of the TUSD's highly successful La Raza Studies. He wanted to do something about the dropout problem; he wanted to teach students to think critically.
The problem is that Arizona does not want Mexican Americans to get an education. Based on pressure by Tea Party leaders the assault on La Raza Studies has been incessant for a decade.
In 2010 the legislature passed HB 2281 which outlaws Mexican American Studies as seditious. Driven by the Southern Arizona Leadership Council (SALC), a cabal of mostly white males, the TUSD wants to eliminate Sean. SALC members have reaped over a billion dollars by manipulating Tucson government ÔÇô e.g., the city, the schools, the University of Arizona.
SALC anoints business friendly directors of these public programs who in turn determine who gets the contracts. SALC's decisions have nothing to do with leadership, civic improvement or community. The pursuit of its members is profit. Its attitude is, "What's good for SALC is good for Tucson."
SALC's power rests on the support of the Arizona Republican Party, today a hostage to the Tea Party Movement. Its base is disaffected white voters who fear the growth of the Latina/o numbers.
Used to not being questioned, the SALC leadership feels threatened by the growing Mexican American sense of community. In 1997 the TUSD was forced to initiate a Mexican American Studies program. SALC was stunned by its successes in bonding the community. They were weary of teachers such as Sean who did not just draw a paycheck but put in 80 hour weeks teaching. The results were too good.
Empowered by 2281 and racist state politicians, SALC moved to control La Raza Studies. They appointed one of their own, John Pedicone, as superintendent of the TUSD at the incredible salary of $250,000. This was so even though Pedicone had had an unspectacular career as a six-year superintendent of a district of under 6,000 students.
In just over a year, Pedicone has made life miserable for Sean, his family, the teachers and students. Just this month Pedicone stripped Sean of his supervisorial duties. Teachers are being transferred to non-threatening positions.
In the midst of an educational crisis, Pedicone has come up with a solution -- attract white students to three of its magnet schools. The cash strapped TUSD Governing Board passed a $92,000 appropriation to fund the campaign.
According to Pedicone, the district does not educate students because there are not enough white students "in a district where 75 percent of students are minority, the reality is there is a need to attract Caucasian kids to get some kind of balance."
The target schools have students of nearly 85 percent Mexican American.
Arizona's older white Americans comprise 83 percent of the state; children under 18 are 57 percent minority. SALC's answer is to wipe out a program where 80 percent of its Latino students go to college, in comparison to only 24 percent nationwide. Anyone who does not agree with it is "anti-American, Marxist, communist, socialist, and must be stopped." Get rid of Sean Arce and his Pancho Villa's followers will be silenced.
Where is the liberal media and the Latina/o community in all of this? Where is the moral outrage that will check what is going on? Evidently the courts and the Barack Obama administration have turned the other way.
The Ninth Circuit decision recently required enforcement of the settlement agreement between Tucson schools and the federal government which embodies the ethnic studies program, reopening court supervision. Pedicone and company laugh at this decision and do what they damn please.
Where is the moral outrage of liberal media and liberal institutions? The truth be told, they always have a Wisconsin or a Jerry Brown to re-elect.
But the hardest thing to understand is why the Latina/o and particularly the Mexican American communities outside Tucson have been so passive?
Perhaps we have become a Prozac nation. Remember the American people were had by Wall Street ÔÇô and few went to jail.
But how much different is SALC from the Mexican cartels or the Italian mafia? How much different is Pedicone from the pedophile? They both damage generations of students who are deprived of being all that they are capable of.
It always seems that people like Sean pay the price for caring about the kids, for caring about the community.
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