By The Time I Get to Arizona
Mr. Mount is a teaching assistant at San Diego State University and a HNN intern. He is currently working on a scholarly article for publication titled “His Queer Choice: The Interracial Marriage of Frederick Douglass to Helen Pitts and the Politics of Race, Religion, and Sexuality.”
In a fabled land that imagines itself as a “nation of immigrants,” ethnic studies programs would seem to be a natural fit for classrooms all across the United States of America. If we truly were a great “melting pot” of ethnic identities, it would seem reasonable, and indeed necessary, to explore the various ingredients that made up America’s collective social stew. A genuinely egalitarian society would value the history of all its constituent parts and seek out the various ways in which every assimilated person had contributed to the collective social whole. Our democratic principles, which champion free speech and open debate, would certainly embrace a diversity of perspectives as we explored the larger melting process and encouraged every historical voice to be heard. Anything less would amount to totalitarianism, which we claim to despise, or fascism, which we claim to have defeated (current legislation withstanding).
On the other hand, we may assert that the various European “immigrants” who populated this nation, in conjunction with the indigenous peoples who were already here and the African peoples who were violently enslaved and involuntarily shipped across the Atlantic, actually resisted the great melting pot paradigm. Here we might assume that all Americans kept some, or even most of their original cultural traditions. In this scenario, ethnic studies programs would seem to be all the more essential. With no overarching, all-inclusive national culture, our unum would be exclusively a function of our pluribus. This would once again require a concerted effort on our parts to make sense of our varied histories and tell the truth about every group in America, no matter how painful or uncomfortable that may be. America’s founding fables would need to be revised, and the ideal of assimilation would be forced to give way to the reality of pluralism.
Either way, studying ethnic history in a country where everyone is supposedly an ethnic “somebody” would seem to be as American as apple pie (or to delineate its “foreign” influences, an Egyptian engineered semi-sphere of dough filled with some twice imported Turkish fruit). Indeed, the “Western” educational aim of the wider ethnic studies project is clearly bolstered by the fact that academia is perpetually, and almost religiously, engaged in the business of compartmentalizing subject matter into discrete, teachable, and well-defined areas of study. European history, for example, aims to provide students with a general grasp of European civilization while stressing Europe’s many contributions to humanity. Students need not be of European origin to take such a course, nor to benefit from it. Students who do happen to be of European ancestry may or may not take a certain amount of pride from such a course, depending largely upon which elements of European history are stressed and revealed and which ones are minimized and concealed. Students may develop a deeper sense of their own personal identities in light of this newfound historical knowledge, or they may regard the entire affair as ancient history that has no real meaning in their daily lives. The overall process does not preclude, and may even demand, studying history from different perspectives, in different places, and at different times.
When studying from a European perspective, this simply becomes one way of looking at human history. In recent years, the so-called “developing” continents are now also validated via this process. Latin American history can focus exclusively on the development of Latin America, African history can freely explore the peoples and legacies of Africa, and so on, and so on. Nothing is broken and the usefulness of organizing information in this way, for better or for worse, is now widely accepted as valid educational protocol in classrooms all across the nation.
Yet for some strange reason, the moment that African history becomes African American history, or Mexican history becomes Mexican American studies, things start to fall apart. These particular incarnations of ethnic history, along with Native American and Asian American studies, have relentlessly and consistently become the sites of cultural controversy, social outrage, and hateful legislation. To understand why, a brief survey of the history of ethnic studies programs in America can help serve as a guide.
The Drama Begins
The great irony, of course, is that from the very outset white American history was written purposefully and unapologetically in an effort to “advocate ethnic solidarity.” This was accomplished by pitting white American setters in a moral battle against the evil British Empire on one side and an untamed wilderness filled with “savages” on the other. The architects of Arizona’s House Bill 2281 are clearly not concerned that by bringing back an outdated version of American history that they might “promote resentment” towards the British (certainly a “race or class of people”) or that such a history would be “designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group” (in this case white Arizonians). Yet this is exactly what the earliest histories of America aimed to do through books, pamphlets, and newspapers, which were written to “promote the overthrow of the United States government” and create a national American identity that was distinct from all “others.”
In this vein, honest Arizona teachers will have a tough time complying with the letter of the law while teaching students about the patriotic valor of the Revolutionary period. The Declaration of Independence, as the founding document of our national democratic experiment, makes it the “Right of the People” and the sacred “duty” of every citizen to overthrow the U.S. government if, at any point in time, that new government ceases to function in the interests of the people. Some might claim that we perpetually overthrow our government every four years; we just do it in a peaceful ballot box. Overthrowing other people’s governments (violently or otherwise) is another story altogether. Suffice it to say that revolution, resentment, and regime toppling are all part of our collective national legacy and continue to inform our policies to this today. For Arizona to outlaw one form of revolutionary dissent, in the form of ethnic studies programs, they would, in all fairness, need to outlaw all such forms of dissent in the teaching of history, including examples in the American Revolution, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the civil rights movement, etc., etc. This kind of censorship would have the unwanted consequence of erasing many of the most cherished portions of America’s past.
Even as the dominant revolutionary brand of white ethnic history was being codified in early America, alternate ethnic histories began emerging. Anthony Johnson, in the mid-seventeenth century, named his family farm “Angola” in an effort to retain the history and the legacy of his African homeland. His farm, and the history that it preserved, were almost entirely repossessed by those intent upon excluding people of color from the wider American landscape. His children were left with little more than scraps—remnants of a history that might have been. Pocahontas defiantly refused to reveal her true name to her Virginia captors—symbolically guarding the history, the rituals, and the traditions of the ancient Powhaten people from their European colonizers. Early Scottish, Irish, Dutch, and German narratives also offered a competing history which challenged British hegemony and argued for a place in the sun for America’s various, and soon-to-be-white, ethnic minorities. To imagine such efforts as being “un-American” would certainly require a very twisted revision of the past; one which neither the opponents nor the supporters of Arizona’s HB 2281 would be willing to seriously entertain.
The Middle Passage
Over the next hundred years following its independence, America was forced to confront the lingering problem that it created when it chose to liberate only a select few ethnicities from a government of tyranny, oppression, and injustice while leaving others in a languishing state of bondage. Ironically, freedom depended upon confinement. As slavery continued to fester, and the genocide of Native American people continued, America found that its history was at war with itself long before the states began firing shots at one another. The North and the South in the period leading up to the Civil War were engaged in an ongoing battle to define the meta-narrative of American life and fixate the position of the peculiar institution. Would America live up to its soaring promises and its lofty ideals or would it transplant its own brand of neo-feudalism to the New World?
This sectional divide was chronicled by Bessie Louise Pierce in her 1926 book Public Opinion and the Teaching of History in the United States. Pierce’s book, which was conspicuously dedicated to Arthur M. Schlesinger, Sr., was one of the first scholarly explorations of what we now call American “history standards” and examined how the production and politicization of national history books impacted the nation. In her book, largely informed itself by the post-WWI cultural climate, Pierce argued that all forms of ethnic history and patriotic indoctrinations should be abandoned in favor of a more intellectually “objective” version of the past. Attempts by Catholic Americans, German Americans, Irish Americans and others to write themselves into early American history were seen as threatening, biased works of “propagandist agencies.” These efforts by white ethnics groups were viewed by Pierce as undermining the goals of professional historians that were perfecting the writing of history towards a more scientific and absolute version of an allegedly stable social past. The danger to “American” identity posed by these white ethnic groups may seem odd today, but at the time was the cause of extreme alarm.
Although Pierce makes almost no reference to people of African descent, numerous African Americans spoke out forcefully in print during the antebellum period as they worked to recast American history by bringing the evils of slavery to the foreground. Early slave narratives, including those of Harriett Jacobs, Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, and Venture Smith, were in many ways designed to re-write the history of slavery and fill in the gaps that were being ignored by both Northern and Southern historians. The endless appetites for such accounts, be they sensationalized or not, provided clear evidence that the public at large demanded a more complete history of the past, as opposed to what was being told to them in the official renderings. Although riddled with problems, these accounts, along with various other Native American narratives, became the cries of America’s excluded ethnic groups yearning to be heard, even if their voices would knowingly become distorted, misappropriated, and exploited in the process. In this genre, the written form of ethnic studies was born.
After the Civil War, the North and the South were both compelled to reconcile with one another and remake the past. Historians have examined everything from race, religion, gender, economics, and memory to determine exactly how (or if) white Northerners and Southerners eventually buried the hatchet, re-imagined the war, and bridged some of their deepest divides. Revising the sectional and regional histories that predominated before the Civil War, while constructing a history that both sides could embrace, was no easy task. Making sense of slavery was central to this process and was not without its controversy.
African Americans, for their part, threw their hats into the ring and demanded that the nation hear their side of the story. In 1883 George Washington Williams produced what might be regarded as the first formal academic work in ethnic studies. The History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1880 was “well researched” by today’s standards, to put it mildly. Williams consulted over twelve thousand books (that’s 12,000), while referencing over one thousand (yes, 1,000) of them in his footnotes and reviewing an extensive array of primary documents. Shockingly, his work received very favorable reviews even from the white press who could not deny the validity of such an exemplary endeavor. Williams seemed to anticipate Arizona’s current anxieties long before its statehood, however, when he assured his readers that “I have not striven to revive sectional animosities or race prejudices” and that he was not a “blind panegyrist of my race” but that he simply hoped to “to record the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” Absolutist epistemology aside, ethnic studies programs today have remained surprisingly true to this legacy and, despite claims to the contrary, are not in the widespread business of promoting “resentment toward a race or class of people.”
T. Thomas Fortune, the African-American editor of the New York Age, reviewed and advertised Williams’ book extensively and spoke at length about its historical significance. One year later he published his own contribution to the field of ethnic studies titled Black and White: Land, Labor and Politics in the South. Fortune, who had made a name for himself through his fervid editorials in the New York Age, delivered one of the first explicitly Marxist interpretations of race relations in America, a trend which would become vitally important to proceeding generations in the ethnic studies medium. Fortune argued, somewhat naively, that poor blacks and poor whites in the South should abandon the yoke of racial animosity and unite behind their common class interests in a post-emancipation multiracial movement aimed at social justice for all. His appeal demanded that poor Americans recognize that racism in America was the deliberate design of ruling white elites and that it represented the efforts of capital to keep the proletariat divided and disempowered. Even though historians have abandoned Fortune’s, Williams’s and Pierce’s affinity for absolute truth, objectivity, and totalizing schemes, the quest to produce a more perfect history that can be reasonably instituted in our public school system is still a daunting and omnipresent task.
The Evolution of Ethnic Studies
Efforts to produce a complete history of the American past broadened in the first half of the twentieth century as successive world wars, rapid industrialization, and the preliminary emergence of a more interconnected and globalized world spurred the development of new ethnic studies projects. Carter Woodson founded the Journal of Negro History in 1916 and ten years later initiated what we now know as Black History Month. Looking at the period just after Woodson’s heyday, UCSB Professor of Black Studies George Lipsitz argued in his 2001 book American Studies in a Time of Danger that ethnic and American studies finally came into their own with the convergence of the social, political and artistic movements of the Great Depression. For Lipsitz, politics drove identities. He found that the economic turmoil and political upheavals of the 1930s prompted many white ethnics to reconsider the key question of what it meant for them to be American and caused scholars to re-think American identity in a more fragmented and compartmentalized manner. This shift has dominated the study of American history ever since. Thus, the reactionary measures against ethnic studies programs today by the radical Right in Arizona, are responding as much to the intellectual foundations of a hyphenated America based in the 1930s as they are to the more obvious civil rights movements of the 1960s. It should come as no surprise that once again today, during the “Great Recession,” battles are resurfacing over what it means to be American and how American history should be taught. Many of the same economic insecurities and fears of a government/minority takeover that characterized the Great Depression have returned today, along with the scapegoating of downtrodden people and their ethnic histories. It seems that the backlash has a past.
During these same transitional 1930s and 1940s, ethnic studies proper was in full swing as well. Japanese artists and activists responded to America’s home front concentration camps and pointed out the insanity of locking up Japanese Americans in the name of national security while German and Italian Americans got a free pass via their whiteness. African Americans such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, though diabolically opposed to one another, worked to re-write the history of the African diaspora and develop a pan-African orientation to confront the denial of social justice in America. Du Bois’s Black Reconstruction, often viewed as a pivotal text in the field of ethnic studies, was also written during this period and attempted to re-interpret America’s “unfinished revolution” long before the scholars of the sixties and seventies got around to it. At the same time, the Pachuco movement among Mexican Americans began to appear in large urban centers. Although it masked itself as a cultural movement, the intellectual roots of the Pachucos ran deep and, after the zoot suit riots of 1943, the Chicano movement would slowly emerge to reveal the political frustrations behind the Pachuco’s hip artistic displays and challenge the subservient history that was levied upon Mexican Americans.
Built from Below
Most people trace contemporary ethnic studies departments to the civil rights era of the 1950s and ‘60s, and this is partially for good reason. Although the arc towards ethnic studies had already been firmly established, it was during this turbulent period that the conservative anti-intellectual currents of McCarthyism would come face to face with the radical social revolution of the counter-culture and the anti-war struggles. This was perhaps also the first time in recorded history where students revolted against their teachers to demand that the academic curriculum more accurately reflect their cultural and social needs. The idea that the university system was to be the servant of the student body, and not its feudal lord, was born from ethnic studies demands during this period as students of color sought an academic foundation for their political activism. Thankfully, by the time that students finally organized in 1968 to demand the formation of the first ethnic studies department at San Francisco State University, scholars were not completely caught off guard. Many historians such as E. Franklin Frazier, Melville Herskovits, and countless others were already using interdisciplinary approaches to the study race and ethnicity in America.
As ethnic studies programs expanded and matured throughout the 1970s and ‘80s, they also diversified and became more transnational in their orientation. Americans scholars looked overseas for inspiration calling upon French philosophers such as Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, and Gilles Deleuze or members of the Frankfurt School such as Jugen Habermas and Theodor Adorno. African diaspora studies gained ground and Asian American pan-ethnicity movements advanced. Native American activism and sovereignty movements continued to emerge as part of the larger anti-colonial process happening all over the world, culminating in the Pine Ridge Reservation Shootout and the questionable conviction of Native American activist Leonard Peltier. LGBT studies were spurred to action by the gay rights movement and the horrific AIDS crisis that was ravaging gay urban men. By applying the ethnic studies model to LGBT history, scholars found that the intersection of race and sexuality was an important component to the study of diversity in America.
The Back Lash that Steals
The anti-authoritarian attitude and the open resistance to entrenched institutions by ethnic studies programs did not go unnoticed by the powers that be. Already upset at being forced into integration via school bussing and having to confront a progressively sex-positive social climate, the religious Right fought back with gusto and the culture wars began. Affirmative action was branded reverse racism and the underground drug culture in America, which flourished on all levels of society, found itself surrounded in laws and images designed to insure that people of color were disproportionately blamed for this social scourge. With so many other pressing issues for conservatives during this period including abortion, deindustrialization, and the Cold War, ethnic studies departments themselves received somewhat of a honeymoon both within the academy and from the public at large. It turns out, however, that this was only the calm before the storm as the cultural and political issues that were brewing in the post-civil right era would explode in the 1990s.
As long as ethnic studies programs were confined to elite universities in progressive college towns and big cities, the opposition to them was often indirect. Once the research done in ethnic studies departments began to filter down, however, and infuse textbooks at the high school and elementary school levels, the everyday politics of inclusion quickly boiled over. Gary Nash, Charlotte Crabtree, and Ross Dunn were at the center of this controversy as they collaborated with the National Endowment for the Humanities to develop a national set of history standards in the early 1990s. Their book History on Trial, published in 2000, gets to the heart of the matter as it chronicles their efforts to gain widespread recognition for ethnic studies-inspired research against fierce opposition from those unwilling to admit to the shortcomings of the prior methodologies.
Multiculturalism and post-modern aesthetics were openly challenged by conservatives both from within the academy and beyond. In perhaps the most well-known critique of the period, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. lambasted what he saw as The Disuniting of America in 1992. In response to these criticisms and in an effort to explain the ongoing presence of racism in cultural terms, several pioneering thinkers such as Toni Morrison and David Roediger began to develop what we now know as whiteness studies. Extending the ethnic studies model once again, scholars aimed to show that white Americans should not only be studied as an ethnic group in America, but that their relationships to race in America were just as problematic as those of other ethnic groups. Almost none of this research has worked its way into the popular discourse yet, much less into the public schools’ history text books, but the answer to “why can’t we have a white history month?” can perhaps only be answered articulately through this body of evidence, and as such it needs to be put to good use.
During the Bush years, popular support of academic freedom seemed to systematically erode as the “war on terror” made dissenting, “un-American” voices from the Left increasingly suspect. Although Cornel West, Howard Zinn, Angela Davis, and many other public intellectuals continued to speak out, the realities of life in a post-9/11 American severely curtailed the audiences for their messages. Only by appeals to fear, insecurity, and terrible unknowns did a platform like the one that developed in Arizona foment in the way that it did. Such a message was increasingly employed as part of the wider pushback to the deeper transformations taking place in American life. It carried with it an emotional resonance that might have been on the decline prior to 9/11 but that hit home dramatically in its aftermath. With the success of post-structuralism and the rise of moral relativism, the same tools that scholars utilized to argue that all voices should be equally heard were now being used by those whose voices historically were always been heard the loudest, to argue that their demands for continuing an unjust status quo should be valued. By abandoning notions of morality, ethics, and absolute truth, scholars opened the door for malicious perspectives arguing in favor of rolling back ethnic studies programs and undoing the progress of the civil rights struggle. Sophisticated arguments promoting fairness and equality through relativism, multiculturalism, and the valuing of diverse opinions, have in many ways backfired horribly.
Aware of this gaff, scholars of all stripes recently began scrambling to reclaim the moral high ground and argue from a place of greater certitude. Yet in the current debates over history standards, it seems that the only scholars willing to speak up with courage on issues of academic freedom and social justice, while abandoning the air (error) of neutrality, are those whose departments end in “studies.” Where are the historians who still value history from the bottom up? Who among the profession still cares about the micro narratives of oppressed peoples? Where are the advocates of the larger revisionist project when you need them? Perhaps Howard Zinn’s death will forever mark the end of the historian/activist. Perhaps mainstream historians are caught up in the same post-racial fantasies that so many everyday Americans have succumbed to while believing that our ethnic studies programs are no longer necessary in the age of Obama.
Some would argue that the voices of the oppressed have been sufficiently woven into the larger American narrative and that, accordingly, ethnic studies programs have run their natural course and perhaps even succeeded in their aim. But when racist laws are steeped in anti-racist injunctions and legislators banning ethnic studies programs claim to have participated in the march on Washington, all bets are off. When the academic freedom of ethnic studies programs are under fire while the first black president can be called a racist on national television and a black scholar in a suit can be casually said by a leading anchorman to “look like a cocaine dealer” then it is safe to say that our limitations on free speech need to be drastically reconsidered. This is not your grandfather’s racism.
Michael Eric Dyson of Georgetown University confronted many of these trends head on in a recent CNN debate with Tom Horne, who is Arizona’s State Superintendent, and the proud author of HB 2281. Horne claimed to have participated in the 1963 March on Washington and repeatedly quoted the now neo-conservative mantra that all people should not be “judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” Suspecting that Horne may have been in the restroom for the balance of King’s speech (which we must remember, after all, was a “dream” to be worked towards) Dyson systematically dismantled Horne’s appropriation of one of the greatest anti-racist leaders in history and the use of King’s rhetoric to gain support for a law targeting Mexican American studies programs. Knowing that King would never support such a law, which has earned the rebuke of the UN’s highest body on human rights, Dyson stated emphatically that “Martin Luther King, Jr. cannot be used to justify xenophobic and racist passions that are dressed up as desires to reform the curriculum.” Horne in an unconscionable response stated that “I would say that the xenophobia and racism is on your side.”
The fact that anyone who is even remotely familiar with Professor Dyson’s work would accuse him of racism and xenophobia with a straight face, demonstrates quite clearly how we have failed to educate the masses who are all too ready to accept such a formulation. Horne’s statement taken alone is evidence for the continuing need of ethnic studies programs in America, even if it is only to educate the next generation of state superintendents on the basic definitions of racism and xenophobia. It also demonstrates that we are often asking the wrong questions in regards to this kind of legislation. Given the twisted logic that is in place, perhaps we should not try to recount the many ways that such a law is racist but rather ask the public: “Is this law anti-racist?” The answer for most thinking people becomes quite clear.
The Law that Never Was
In the end, this HB 2281 and all other historical attacks directed at ethnic studies programs are not really about ethnic studies programs at all, but are in reality, about the very future of history itself and its relationship to public sentiment. Deciding who is authorized to tell the story of America and who deserves to be included in its master narrative will continue to be a point of national contention. Arizona’s law by this measure will likely prove itself to be largely ineffective, irrelevant, and unenforceable as school districts will undoubtedly find its strange combination of injunctions and counter injunctions patently unintelligible. The Tucson School District, whose ethnic studies program was the target of this legislation, has already stated that they will simply ignore it. After all, how can a teacher guarantee that they will not “promote the overthrow of the United States government,” “advocate ethnic solidarity,” or “promote resentment towards a race or class of people” if they continue, as the law explicitly permits, to teach courses that “include the discussion of controversial issues” and “include the history of any ethnic group” and study “the historical oppression of a particular group of people based on ethnicity, race, or class”?
The bigger question centers around why we study history to begin with and what the role of the historian in society should be. Is it the job of the history teacher to ameliorate student outrage over injustice, or is it simply their duty to “tell the truth freely” as former educator Ida B. Wells so famously put it? How can a teacher teach about racism without inciting a healthy amount of outrage? Isn’t part of citizenship the responsibility to think critically about one’s government and hold it accountable for its errors, both past and present? If the ethnic studies approach does not represent the very best in traditional American values than we should ask to see a model that does.
The only real fear at this point is that many of the teachers who do not outright ignore this legislation may choose to avoid topics of diversity altogether in a manner similar to that which the state of Texas is implementing. Here we should be very concerned. What Arizona has outlawed is not nearly as troubling as what Texas has mandated. When the Texas State Board of Education, by the stroke of its pen, commands “imperialism” to become “expansionism” and “slavery” to disappear in favor of “the Atlantic triangle trade”, historians everywhere should be up in arms. Hiding the truth, indoctrinating children with falsehood, and propagandizing American’s youth in a mythological cloud of patriotism is not the goal of good history or of a good democracy. Historians must demand the proper use of their profession and, much like the heroic scientists who refused to allow their intellectual property to be applied towards the making of an atomic bomb, disavow all attempts to harm children through the distortion of our national past. The ethnic studies project has proven itself to be a persistent and valuable academic movement that is at least as old as America itself. Historians must now come to the defense of this critical scholarly field that truly represents the epitome of American democracy, liberty, and justice for all.
HNN Special: Defining Ethnic Studies
- Guy Mount: By The Time I Get to Arizona
- Simon Balto: In Defense of Ethnic Studies and American History
comments powered by Disqus
Bill Heuisler - 8/22/2010
Two things About Sheriff Arpaio, his jurisdiction is Maricopa County, not Arizona. Maricopa County does not border with Mexico, but with Pinal County - which borders with Pima County. Phoenix is 150 miles from the Mexican border. When you wrote, "He could go after the immigrant smugglers." you admitted to ignorance of geography or ignorance of County Sheriffs' duties.
Jurisdiction for the border falls on the Feds or the border County.
Second, Arpaio has busted at least six "safe houses" in Maricopa County and jailed the persons IDed as the Coyotes or their agents. This is a better average than the Feds have at the border. Where are you getting your information about Arizona?
Nat Bates - 8/22/2010
I am kind of on hiatus from HNN now, just because I think my usefulness is probably passed. A few points:
1) NAFTA is not about free trade. It is about corporate world governance. Far from weakening the Mexican authoritarian government, it has strengthened the most reactionary forces within it. We are also losing jobs because of it. The top sector has been helped everywhere, and true to form no President will be willing to overturn it.
2)If "Repti-cop" Arpaio has carefully hidden compassion, then it is very hidden. He could go after the immigrant smugglers. Instead, he goes after the immigrants themselves. He never seems to do anything with any real courage, just beat up on the powerless. Interestingly, when the powerless were Americans, few seemed to have a problem with it. You are right about the illegal issue. He is not that in to it. Rather, his real target seems to be Constitutional liberties.
3) Some of the perspectives in Ethnic Studies and Multi-cultural Departments have problems. I believe in the values of universality that came from the Eighteenth Century. That means equal rights for all. Societies that have a reactionary way of treating women, working people, or some group need to be criticized. I do not believe in holding white-skinned Christians to a "you-better-like-gays-women-oppressed people-or-you-are-terrible" standard and yet blatantly excuse Saudi Arabia for the same exact violations of liberal ethics. However, this has no bearing on the issue in Arizona, since we are talking about America and not Saudi Arabia. We have always been a mix of cultures. Go back to the colonial period and see that English had to compete with German as a possible national language. Hebrew might even have made it as the colonial tongue of Puritan New England.
OK, I wish you all the best.
Bill Heuisler - 8/17/2010
Your whiff of Fascism is accurate. Your opinions of NAFTA and Arpaio are a little skewed. Many years in Mexico and border Arizona have taught me most Mexican people are hard workers who want more than anything else to support their families and be left alone. They are very much in fear of their government...not ours.
Their government is as close to Fascist as the definition will allow. An Oligarchy rules with connivance of huge labor unions and the military. NAFTA allowed some free market forces into a closed economy and raised the average income of average Mexicans. NAFTA did not destroy anything in Mexico except the stranglehold of government on prices. NAFTA helped average Mexicans and hurt government.
As to Arpaio, he is a rather cold man with a high opinion of himself. But he has always obeyed and upheld the law here in Arizona. He is a second-generation Italian immigrant, with a carefully hidden compassion for the Mexican immigrants who are being killed, raped, enslaved and abandoned in the huge, deadly deserts south of Maricopa County. More than 550 bodies have been found this year in the deserts of Pinal, Cochise and Pima Counties - Mexicans killed by Mexican criminals.
The illegal issue does not matter as much to him as the exploitation and inhumanity. Arpaio is far more altruistic than cynical politicians like Napolitano, Holder and Obama who care more about Hispanic votes in the US than they do about Mexican dead in the desert. The only way to stop the holocaust in southern Arizona is to secure the border. Arpaio is more aware of this than most politicians.
One of the most amazing things about the Ethnic Studies contraversy is the total absence of information about the authoritarian Mexican government, and the news blackout in this country about Mexican immigration laws whose punishment for illegal entry include no due process, imprisonment and (on the Southern Mexican border) death.
Real ethnic studies would encourage Mexican Americans to celebrate their new freedoms and to look back on the "Old Country" with fondness, but relief they are no longer there.
Nat Bates - 8/16/2010
"Aztlan" has strong Fascist origins. It is a blood-and-soil concept. I have no quarrel with opposing such a concept as out of place in modern democracies. The idea of driving all non-Hispanics out of the Southwest is innately Fascist, as is any rhetoric around "oppressed nationalities" that ignores the position of universality in addressing oppression. Note the similarities with Fascism in Europe, with left elements married to blood-and-soil nationalism.
My objection is to the fact that citizens of Arizona are falling in to the same trap. Some have called it the "action-reaction spiral." The citizens of Arizona are responding to a natural migration of people whose homelands were destroyed by NAFTA. Such people are not followers of Aztlan. They are not interested in abstractions. Yet, they might fall for Aztlan ideologies if pushed that way, and then we have a war that leads to martial law. The politicians win in the end.
So, on the one side, we have blatant neo-fascism on the Mexican side that has some left elements but which is really a form of ultra-nationalism. Then, on the other side, we have neo-fascism that has some libertarian elements but which is really a plaything of American politicians. And, do not forget that "Repti-cop" Joe Arpaio has no love for the Constitution. He wants to destroy every last shred of it.
Bill Heuisler - 8/16/2010
Most people reading the above article will nod and ask, Why Not"?
As a resident of Tucson, with first-hand experience here in teaching and law enforcement I can attest that HNN has only heard half the story.
Ashley Thorne did some research and wrote an article for the National Association Of Scholars
Look it up and learn some facts. Here is an exerpt:
"La Raza, we noted, means “The Race.” Members of MEChA (which stands for “Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan” and means “Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan”) identify themselves as “La Raza.” MEChA is a Chicano organization dedicated to regaining control of “Aztlan”—the Southwest region of the United States. The guiding idea is that this region rightfully belongs to Chicano people, not Anglos, or the American people generally undivided by race or ethnicity.
We observed that two of the main books for the TUSD program were Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, by Rodolpho Acuña. Freire’s book, of course, argues that teachers must train students to acquire “critical consciousness” (an understanding that they are oppressed); to give voice to their grievances; and to liberate themselves from the bonds of imposed assimilation. A reviewer of the book for The Nation, wrote, “Wherever education is explicitly involved in struggles for equity and justice, Freire’s ideas and his books, especially Pedagogy of the Oppressed, will live on.”
This revolutionary fervor is even more pronounced in Occupied America, which tells the story of the Southwestern United States from the perspective of Mexican Americans and has been called “the Chicano bible.” The book is sympathetic to Mexico in a reference to the battle at the Alamo. In another place, Acuña wrote:
Gutiérrez attacked the gringo establishment angrily at a press conference and called upon Chicanos to ‘kill the gringo,’ which meant to end white control over Mexicans.
Actually, “kill the gringo” means “kill the gringo.” Jose Angel Gutiérrez, who is referenced here, is the co-founder of the Raza Unida Party, a U.S. political third party. At a 1995 conference Gutiérrez declared, “We have got to eliminate the gringo, and what I mean by that is if the worst comes to the worst, we have got to kill him.” Today Gutiérrez is a professor of political science at the University of Texas at Arlington."
We used to have ethnic clubs at school and now the taxpayers are paying teachers to teach classes (from which "Anglos" are segregated) that preach hatred. So we've got the government paying to separate and indoctrinate our kids. Sound familiar?
Nat Bates - 8/16/2010
Understand, of course, that most poor Americans were intelligent enough to know that "race" was something made up to divide the workers. It was the so-called intellectuals who believed in race as a real concept, including Jefferson, De Goubineau, Buffon, and Darwin.
Most poor people knew better than their "betters." Sadly, however, as the people's historians point out, such people were spoken for rather than actively able to speak.
I am sure you have read Eric Foner on Reconstruction. However, I encourage the third party readership to do so. He makes it clear that Reconstruction ended due to an anti-democratic plot as much as a racist plot. Great reading!
- Five Things You Need to Know to be a Better Digital Preservationist
- Book on Losing British Generals Wins American History Prize
- Stanford scholar explores civil rights revolution's positive impact on the South's economy
- Harvard Historian Nancy Koehn on Amazon's Tentacular Reach
- Q&A with historian and author Nick Turse