The UCLA Chicano Network has a nice summary of the holiday Cinco de Mayo, which is celebrated in Mexican American communities (one such celebration in California a couple of years ago, pictured right, photo credit) and not yet much outside those communities: Cinco de Mayo is a date of great importance for the Mexican and Chicano communities. It marks the victory of the Mexican Army over the French at the Battle of Puebla. Although the Mexican army was eventually defeated, the “Batalla de Puebla” came to represent a symbol of Mexican unity and patriotism. . . . Cinco de Mayo’s history has its roots in the French Occupation of Mexico. The French occupation took shape in the aftermath of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. With this war, Mexico entered a period of national crisis during the 1850’s. Years of not only fighting the Americans but also a Civil War, had left Mexico devastated and bankrupt. On July 17, 1861, President Benito Juarez issued a moratorium in which all foreign debt payments would be suspended for a brief period of two years, with the promise that after this period, payments would resume.The English, Spanish and French refused to allow president Juarez to do this, and instead decided to invade Mexico and get payments by whatever means necessary. The Spanish and English eventually withdrew, but the French refused to leave. Their intention was to create an Empire in Mexico under Napoleon III. Some have argued that the true French occupation was a response to growing American power and to the Monroe Doctrine (America for the Americans). Napoleon III believed that if the United States was allowed to prosper indiscriminately, it would eventually become a power in and of itself.In 1862, the French army began its advance. Under General Ignacio Zaragoza, 5,000 ill-equipped Mestizo and Zapotec Indians defeated the French army in what came to be known as the “Batalla de Puebla” on the fifth of May.Clearly, it was a substantially indigenous army that defeated the mighty Europeans, an early and clear counter-colonialism event. This is an event that all who support self-determination for indigenous peoples and full human rights for all peoples should remember and honor.The UCLA network account also makes some interesting observations about how this day is differentially celebrated in Mexico and the United States:In the United States, the “Batalla de Puebla” came to be known as simply “5 de Mayo” and unfortunately, many people wrongly equate it with Mexican Independence which was on September 16, 1810, nearly a fifty year difference. Over, the years Cinco de Mayo has become very commercialized and many people see this holiday as a time for fun and dance. Oddly enough, Cinco de Mayo has become more of Chicano holiday than a Mexican one. Cinco de Mayo is celebrated on a much larger scale here in the United States than it is in Mexico. People of Mexican descent in the United States celebrate this significant day by having parades, mariachi music, folklorico dancing and other types of festive activities.And here is a more detailed discussion of how it came to celebrated by Chicanos (Mexican Americans) over the years in the US. In my view, this is a good holiday for all those Americans who are opposed to colonialism and imperial invasions.
How many of us have had our names anglicized for the convenience of whites? José had his name changed to “Joe,” Maria had her name changed to “Mary,” Roberto was renamed “Robert,” and Elena was renamed “Ellen.”
Who are we? A simple question. Yet, it is not so rare that persons and groups of color experience a change in their identification at the will of whites. Throughout the history of the United States, white individuals and institutions have given themselves the right to rename others according to their predilection. The tendency to change the most intimate possession of another person—the name that their own parents gave them—or the identity of a racial or ethnic group reflects the white supremacy that continues to exist in our country and the dominance of whites over people of color.
This is what occurred in Texas recently. In mid-April, the State Board of Education voted in favor of changing the name of an elective course for high schools from “Mexican American Studies” to “Ethnic Studies: An Overview of Americans of Mexican Descent.”
David Bradley, a white man on the Texas State Board of Education, led the opposition to the name “Mexican American,” arguing that this is a divisive term. Never mind that Bradley is not a person of Mexican origin. Bradley, along with eight other white persons on the State Board of Education, renamed our community as “Americans of Mexican Descent,” the only manner in which they would support the elective course. A Latina member of the board also voted in favor of the name change, but later changed her vote. Marisa Pérez-Díaz, a member of the board who opposed the name change, aptly described the significance of the board’s decision for Mexican Americans: “a slap on the face.”
Ironically, the names of other ethnic studies courses–including African Americans, Indigenous Americans, and Asian Americans including Pacific Islanders–were accepted without change.
The fight, put simply, is against Mexican Americans. It is Mexican Americans, the locomotive of the state’s demography, which the Republican Party considers a threat and seeks to keep in their place.
Even though research findings clearly document the value of Mexican American Studies courses for Latino students, the last thing that Republicans want is critical thinkers who are civically engaged, exactly what is needed for conditions of Latinos and African Americans to improve in our state.
However, what the State Board of Education did is not new. The lack of respect toward our language, culture, names, and identity is part of the social practice of many segments of white Texans. How many of us have the painful memory of being scolded publically with the demand that we speak English? How many of us were punished in school for speaking Spanish? And what about the experience of many of us who have had our names changed for the convenience of whites? With me, personally, the white doctor who assisted my mother give birth to me, asserted “don’t name him Rogelio, but Roy, like Roy Rogers!” In my hometown of Mercedes, where I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, the three others boys named Rogelio also had their names changed to “Roy.” I personally had to exert force and fight to reclaim the name that my own parents had given me.
The message was clear: our language, culture, and names—-our identity—-did not have any value.
Unfortunately, the action of the Texas State Board of Education, composed largely of Republican white individuals, reminds us that we continue to be oppressed and demonstrates that we continue to lack respect concerning our being and identity.
The solution? We need to fight proudly and vigorously for our identity. We need to ensure that our children continue with their studies and that they question the system that continues to treat us as second-class citizens. And, if you are U.S. citizens, register to vote and vote.
Dr. Rogelio Sáenz is dean of the College of Public Policy and holds the Mark G. Yudof Endowed Chair at the University of Texas at San Antonio. He is co-author of the book titled Latinos in the United States: Diversity and Change. A Spanish-version of this essay was published recently in ¡Ahora Sí!
On November 19, after a long delay, President Obama issued an Executive Action on Immigration Reform that contained three stipulations. First, more resources will be given to law enforcement personnel charged with stopping unauthorized border crossings. Second, the President will make it easier and faster for high-skilled immigrants, graduates, and entrepreneurs to stay. Third, the President announced steps “to deal responsibly with the millions of undocumented immigrants who already live in our country.”
The first provision will please opponents of unauthorized immigration and the second will be supported by business interests. They are not likely to give rise to controversy. The third provision, however, has already caused a furor among conservative Republicans. For example, Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz asserted that Obama’s “actions are . . . unconstitutional and in defiance of the American people who said they did not want amnesty in the 2014 elections .” House Speaker Boehner, brimming with vitriol, stated that “President Obama has cemented his legacy of lawlessness and squandered what little credibility he had left .”
Once again, white-oriented Republican leaders reached in their demagoguery tool kit and grabbed their standard response to all things Obama: Obama is dishonest, the problem is his fault, and the American people are on their side. Of course, they won’t do anything to fix it.
Many individuals sympathetic to the undocumented‘s difficulties are in a festive mood. But there is a factor to consider before we can truly celebrate: we need to see President Obama follow through. Angelo Falcón, President t of the National Institute for Latino Policy, puts it as follows:
We are . . . concerned that the President will not fully exercise his power of executive action to impact on all those who should be eligible for legalization, and expect that they will be shortchanged in terms of what should be basic human rights benefits such as health insurance. President Obama’s record also demonstrates that his public pronouncements do not necessarily result in effective federal action, with agencies such as Homeland Security consistently undermining the President’s rhetoric.
I share Mr. Falcón’s misgivings. I’ll wait and see how things turn out before I celebrate.
Victorious intruders often justify their actions by playing up their self-defined probity vis-à-vis the supposed wickedness of their victims. White settlers in the 19th Century Southwest were no exception: they held an undisguised contempt for Mexican citizens residing in the region. Their attitude was couched in the language of race and they referred to Mexicans as “niggers” and mongrels.
One of the “racial” traits that “tainted” Mexicans was their language. In the aftermath of the 1848 Mexican-American War, the eradication of Spanish became an important goal of whites in power. They started early in a person’s life. To “divest” Mexican children of their racial baggage, the elimination of Spanish was pursued avidly in schools.
In 1929 some Mexican Americans in Corpus Christi, Texas, decided that to improve their lot they would succeed in areas in which they were supposedly deficient. To this end, they founded the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), restricting membership to US citizens and emphasizing English-language skills. Predictably, their efforts were insufficient to penetrate staunch racist barriers. : LULAC members and their mother language remained racialized.
The efforts to squelch Spanish extended well into the 20th Century. They included the portrayal of Spanish as an intruder in English’s linguistic realm. Harvard luminaries Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Huntington (2004) were among the proponents of this perspective. Schlesinger said unequivocally that “The language of the new nation [US] . . . [is] primarily derived from Britain.”
In a similar vein, the Huntington asserted that
America’s culture … is still primarily the culture of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century settlers who founded American society. The central elements of that culture … include . . . the English language.
There is overwhelming evidence that the “establishment” still favors the hegemony of English. However, white economic and political elites have been forced to relent in their “monoglot” policies, not so much as a gesture of sympathy toward Latinos but as a necessity for these elites to pursue Latino votes and markets.
In her insightful book, The Trouble With Unity, Cristina Beltrán highlights the intolerance to dissent found in the 1960’s and 70’s Chicano and Puerto Rican Movements, especially with regards to gender issues. This intolerance to debate within the movements weakened the democratic nature of the groups where as Beltrán states, “Disagreement is treated as a pathology” (p. 46). She goes on to say, “In the politics of unity, someone or something must be found and blamed for divisions and disagreements” (p. 46). Are we seeing some of this again in the recent attacks on prominent Latino leaders and activists such as Dolores Huerta who have chosen not to come down hard on President Obama for his Democratic-party-pressured decision to wait until after the November elections to issue any more executive orders on immigration in order to keep the Senate under Democratic control?
In a recent article on the National Institute for Latino Policy a number of authors state:
On the whole, Obama’s Latino defenders all have a financial stake in his regime. They are all recipients of largesse either from the administration directly or through his party or allied private foundations. They belong to the corrupt patronage system and have gladly accepted their proverbial role as house peons who run to save the master’s burning house faster than the master himself. The most immoral observation about their behavior is the lack of transparency about their personal moneyed interests and positions as they implicitly defend massive deportations of historic dimension.
This intolerance to dissent is reminiscent of calls of “traitor” or “sell-out” found in the 1960s and 1970s Latino movements as highlighted by Beltrán.
It is one thing to differ on strategy, approach, and timing of politics. However, not to recognize that there could be differences in approach is short-sighted at best and an excellent strategy for the Republican party at worst.
The Latino community is bigger than ever in U.S. history and our numbers have reached a tipping point whereby Latino issues are prominent issues in the national debate. Latinos have always been from diverse national origins tracing back to many different Latin American countries with different historical experiences in the U.S. as John A. Garcia notes in his book on Latino Politics.
While we also share important common denominators such as the experience of discrimination and lack of inclusion in the U.S. as Feagin and Cobas describe, these subgroup differences are large enough to generate diverse policy interests or at the least differences in strategy. So, it should come as no surprise that there are issues where there is dissent between Latino groups and that is only going to become more frequent.
Intolerance to dissenting views by leaders of Latino organizations seems very out-of-touch, and ultimately very unproductive. Notions of unity in a group (that will soon comprise 20 percent of the electorate) that are intolerant to political dissent will condemn us to a fringe of insignificance. When Latinos are finally having an influence on national elections and therefore eventually on public policy, do we really want to start calling each other “peons” if we disagree with each other? Instead, what we need is to take an adaptable, big-tent approach to building an enduring, influential political coalition in the United States. This is one way to make Latino politics matter in the future.
In this week’s edition of Inside Higher Education, Scott Jaschik reports on a picture taken of a group of Penn State Chi Omega sorority sisters mocking Mexicans. It is offensive enough that the picture depicts the group dressed in spaghetti western attire, but even more despicable are the signs featured in the picture:
“Will mow lawn for weed and beer” and “I don’t cut grass, I smoke it.”
What does this say about the collective views this group has of Mexicans? We have expectations about where certain groups belong based on generations of ethnic and racial stereotypes and societal stratification that are illustrated in this example. These views not only shape our expectations about one another, but also impact the way we treat each another.
For example, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Steven Gonzalez writes about the experience of being mistaken as a criminal defendant in a federal courthouse. He states:
Let me mention for example attorneys of color who are sometimes in criminal cases mistaken for the defendant by the participants. How do we respond to that? Sometimes we are overly formal, by making sure that we’re dressed particularly well and that our speech is particularly professional, just to let people know who we are because we’re not always given the benefit of the doubt. I remember when I was a federal prosecutor I was traveling with my wife to Texas and we went to the federal courthouse in Laredo, Texas. I was curious, I thought I’m part of the federal family, so I’m going to go in and see what a different federal courthouse looks like. When I went into the courthouse I started getting tailed by security; they followed me through the courthouse, and when I walked into a courtroom the clerk said, “Defendants sit to the left.” That was the first thing she said to me as I walked in. And I realized that out of my suit, I looked to them like a suspicious person or a defendant in that context.
(soon available here)
Being out of his suit is only part of the story. The other part is the fact that there are negative stereotypes about Mexicans and Mexican Americans that follow us wherever we go. Latino professionals universally encounter these challenges as I highlighted in my book on Latino lawyers. The notion that we should be mowing lawns, drinking a beer (presumably under a cactus), or working as maids/custodians has certainly impacted my life both personally and professionally. The impact of the views represented by the Chi Omega sorority picture penetrate into all aspects of Latinos’ lives and certainly bring to mind many memories of my own experiences.
Some of mine include being asked for a my social security card during a routine traffic stop for speeding (it took me years to stop carrying my social security card), or being asked for a “green card and an ID” before being allowed to go into a club or being asked rather aggressively by an older woman at a health club I used to belong in, to bring her some water while I was sitting down on a bench waiting for my daughter to finish tennis lessons. (The coach teaching the lessons recognized what was going on before I did and turned to the woman after she’d asked me for water for the third time and tells her he’ll get it for her when he was done giving his lesson). These examples pale in comparison to the examples I’ve experienced as a professor. I am not alone. It has been recently documented in a book on academic women of color, Presumed Incompetent that cover topics from campus climate to tenure and promotion as experienced by female faculty of color.
At the heart of all these examples is the way Latinos continue to be stereotyped by others as so grossly illustrated in the Penn State Chi Omega sorority example.
The Pew Hispanic Center has an eye-catching headline on a May 3 press release, which I have not seen much coverage of in the mass media: “Net Migration from Mexico Falls to Zero—and Perhaps Less.” The research account headed by a former student of mine (talented demographer Jeffrey Passel) at University of Texas begins with this:
The largest wave of immigration in history from a single country to the United States has come to a standstill. After four decades that brought 12 million current immigrants—most of whom came illegally—the net migration flow from Mexico to the United States has stopped and may have reversed, according to a new analysis of government data from both countries by the Pew Hispanic Center, a project of the Pew Research Center. The standstill appears to be the result of many factors, including the weakened U.S. job and housing construction markets, heightened border enforcement, a rise in deportations, the growing dangers associated with illegal border crossings, the long-term decline in Mexico’s birth rates and broader economic conditions in Mexico.
Lots of interesting and revealing data in this report (pdf for researchers here), some of it countering much political conventional wisdom.
Do these data pose a problem for our many nativistic politicians and anti-Mexican-immigrant pundits, and their often racist arguments?
San Luis, Arizona is a small border community (2009 population was 25,682) located on the southwest corner of the state. As is true in most Arizona border towns, its population is predominantly Latino (94%) and Spanish is the common language.
In an interview with the New York Times Archibaldo Gurrola, a local UPS deliveryman and former San Luis councilman, stated that
It’s strange to speak English here. Spanish is what you hear everywhere, maybe with some English thrown in.
Language and political hegemony go hand in hand, and thus it is not surprising that a 1910 act granting Arizona statehood includes a provision requiring that officeholders must perform their duties in English without the aid of a translator.
Alejandrina Cabrera was a candidate for a seat on the City Council and her English proficiency is limited. She is a U.S. citizen and a graduate from an Arizona high school. Apparently motivated by political rivalries, Mayor Juan Carlos Escamilla filed a legal challenge to Mrs. Cabrera’s inclusion on the ballot on the grounds that her “lack” of full English proficiency disqualifies her from serving on the Council.
The case was brought up to the County Supreme Court. Judge John Nelson ordered a linguist to assess Mrs. Cabrera’s English proficiency. The linguist, William G. Eggington, who originates from Australia, determined that Mrs. Cabrera
does not yet have sufficient English language proficiency to function adequately as an elected City Council member.
Mrs. Cabrera noted that she was thrown off by Professor Eggington’s accent at least once. He asked her about summer, which he pronounced “summa.” That is the sobriquet for the nearby community of Somerton, causing Mrs. Cabrera to be utterly confused.
On January 25 Judge Nelson agreed with Professor Eggington’s recommendation and ruled that Mrs. Cabrera be struck from the ballot. Her lawyers said that they might appeal to the Arizona Supreme Court.
Discussing dysfunctions within a minority culture that already experiences oppression and discrimination by mainstream white society is a difficult thing to do. Many women of color—Asian, Indian, and Black women understand sexist treatment from both dominant white society and from their cultures. Black women have courageously written about the unique oppression as women of color from Sojourner Truth’s Ain’t I a Woman to Kimberlé Crenshaw’s pathbreaking article in the late1980s, “Demarginalizing the Intersection of Race and Sex: A Black Feminist Critique of Anti-discrimination Doctrine, Feminist Theory and Antiracist Politics,” to the writings of Audre Lorde, and bell hooks to name a few. These and many other women of color have provided the foundation for analyses that examine how multiple identities such as race, class and gender result in increased oppression for women of color that are separate from those of white women. The same is true for Latinas.
The unequal treatment of Latinos in many aspects of traditional Latino culture is one of the greatest dysfunctions of our culture. And my study on Latino lawyers demonstrates that even for Latina professionals, this dysfunction does not easily go away. It is evident within the law firm and it is also evident in many traditional Latino families.
For example, Josefa one of the Latina attorneys I interviewed had this to say about sexism in the firm environment:
I see women more involved. Men often get the limelight, but women do the work….What’s ironic is that women are not reaping the benefits and success that men generally experience as a result of community involvement. All you have to do is look at the rate of women making partnership in firms. The percentage is absolutely dismal.
Reflecting on her time in law firms, Josefa commented,
There is such isolation. Even after you ‘make it,’ you are probably the only Latina or the only woman of color. You are always viewed as the outsider, with little support to help you succeed. No one tells you of the land mines because, frankly, you make them uncomfortable and they really want you to go away. . . . Perhaps it is our past that prevents Latinas from fitting into a profession where people frequently come from very privileged backgrounds.
Latinas experience sexism in our culture as well. As one Latina respondent shared with me,
When I was in law school and I’d go to Latino dances with my friends, we would have to lie to the guys so they would ask us to dance again.
She and her friends discovered that once they revealed they were law school students they would not get asked to dance again. So they developed the strategy of telling the Latinos whom they were interested in dancing with again that they were secretaries in order to be asked for more dances. Sharing this experience made her laugh. However, she quickly stopped laughing and said that one of her greatest personal challenges has been with her traditional Latino family stating it has been very difficult “to be taken seriously . . . being taken seriously that this was my career choice and that I would be good at it.”
Many of the Latina respondents also expressed feeling trapped between unreasonably rigid gender roles in Latino culture and stereotypes and limitations from mainstream society. As one Latina attorney from Seattle stated:
I think people need to understand the challenges of becoming a lawyer in spite of our culture that expects different from us, from our families that expect less from us, from our husbands that are not always supportive. The fact that in our culture humbleness is a virtue but not in American culture. That culturally we sometimes feel caught between acting as advocates for Latinos in an American system or acting as Americans representing foreigners.
In fairness, many Latinos recognize the problem with traditional sexist roles in Latino culture as well. One of the male Latino attorneys relayed the following experience during one of his volunteer Latino youth educational outreach efforts:
One thing during undergraduate work at the business school, once in a while they sent out brochures and those kinds of things, and we asked high school students from Eastern Washington, especially [which] is where we were trying to focus. You know, get them here to the U [the University of Washington] so they can experience it. And I remember one response from this high school girl that she really wanted to come but her parents felt that a girl’s position was in the house. So you had those cultural barriers as well.
Rigid gender roles hurt the entire Latino community, are recognized by both Latinos and Latinas, and unfortunately, are also perpetuated by both Latinos and Latinas. Until we face this dysfunction in our culture we hold ourselves back. I am not saying that white culture isn’t sexist, but Latinas and other women of color have to fight for equality, respect, and freedom not just within dominant mainstream society, but also within their own families and culture.
We have to fight being oppressed and controlled at many levels. And my study on Latino lawyers’ experience underscores this huge problem. There is a long entrenched historical pattern of unequal treatment and even the devaluing of Latinas in traditional Latino culture. Ignoring these challenges within our culture will only keep us all down.
I just got a Constitution for an organization called the Mexican American Democrats of Texas, dated June 1 of this year. It clearly reflects the growing demographic and political strength of Mexican Americans in Texas, a state where all statewide elected officials are currently Republicans. Since Mexican American voters tend to vote for the Democratic Party (about 67 percent voted for Obama in 2008), will this mean that Texas may soon move back into the “blue column,” especially given the new attacks on immigrants just this week mounted by the mostly white Republicans in the special session of the Texas legislature. The dramatic growth of the Mexican American (and larger Latino) population in Texas has led to reasonable forecasts that Texas will be more than half Latino in just a few decades. It has also led to forecasts that the Latino growth in numerous states will likely be to the benefit of Democratic Party candidates.
Even the usually savvy on immigration issues Texas governor, Republican Rick Perry, has joined in the rather nativistic support for severe limitations on the rights of the many undocumented Texans with their roots in Mexico. These Texans do much of the hardest and toughest work in Texas.
(That anti-immigrant political position is a bit ironic given that “Texas” history started as an invasion of US citizens mostly of European origin [and usually without documents] flooding what became Texas. Eventually the US invaders decided to secede from Mexico by force, in part so these whites could protect the enslavement of black Americans they enforced in the Texas area. That immigration story is often told in a substantially mythological form some distance from the historical truth.)
Here is the first part of the new constitution for the Mexican American Democrats. (Here is their email address: email@example.com)
CONSTITUTION AND BYLAWS
We, the Mexican American Democrats of Texas, seeking to ensure the benefits of a free society for ourselves, our families, our communities, counties, state and nation, and seeking to achieve full representation at all levels of the Democratic Party, do hereby adopt the Constitution and Bylaws of the Mexican American Democrats of Texas.
ARTICLE I – NAME
The name of this organization shall be the Mexican American Democrats of Texas, hereinafter referred to as “MAD” or as “Texas MAD”.
ARTICLE II – PURPOSE
The purpose of this organization shall be to seek full representation of Mexican Americans at all levels and in all activities of the Democratic Party. This shall include, but not be limited to, participating in the delegate selection and committee processes at all levels of the Democratic Party conventions and organizations; selecting, screening, supporting, and endorsing Democratic candidates; taking appropriate public stands on issues relevant to our communities; and proposing, supporting, and, when necessary, opposing legislation relevant to the Mexican American community.
ARTICLE III – GENERAL MEMBERSHIP
Section 1. Qualifications: The General Membership of Texas MAD shall be open to any member of the Mexican American community, but will not be limited to the Spanish surnamed.
Section 2. Application Procedures: The Credentials Committee of Texas MAD shall adopt a mandatory application form which shall at a minimum include the applicant’s name, address, voter registration number, effective date of state membership, and a mandatory signature line. The Credentials Committee of Texas MAD shall also adopt verification procedures of membership.
[and it continues at some length]