Tag Archives: history

24 Hours in Cristal

flopopeyeI spent a day in Crystal City, TX this past weekend for my mother’s funeral mass. Yes, THAT Crystal City that’s been in the news after the indictment of its mayor, a couple of councilmen, and the city manager. Recently, another councilman was indicted for human smuggling. And, then, it made national news again when the water turned black and dirty.

Crystal City has a political history in Texas. What most Chicanos see as a history of political involvement and self-determination, others saw as a bunch of young brown-skinned radicals that Texas’ then-Democrat Governor called communists. Other Dem leaders pushed back against migrant farm workers (including activists from my hometown) marching to Austin to demand higher wages. They didn’t seem to get that in the process of political change, Chicanos in South Texas saw an increase in higher education attainment and Chicanos were finally part of the political process at various levels–and by their own doing, not through political favors from the establishment Democrats who preferred docile, unquestioned loyalty.

It was during this time that I was born and grew up. A lot of these newly degreed Chicanos and Chicanas would become my teachers. I was reminded of this when two of my former teachers that I had not seen in decades attended my mother’s funeral mass. I was reminded that the History of our little town was indeed a positive one and not one worthy of blame for any problems that were actually caused by a power structure that demanded Chicanos be politically and economically (cheap workforce) subservient. Cristal was punished, no doubt, for its activism. In a sense, it’s still being punished.

When an anglo Republican, a few years ago, somehow finagled his way into the city attorneys and then the city manager’s job at a salary almost equal to that of the Mayor of Houston, a lot of people began questioning what was going on. That the guy’s salary took 1/2 the city’s operating budget was questionable enough. But now that indictments have come about because these guys were getting [allegedly] bought off to ensure a gambling business’s success, among other things, the city has gone through a lot of embarrassment that somehow has called into question the City’s political history. What it did show was the town’s vulnerability.

Then, the water turned black, according to a few pictures and internet memes. For sure, the water had some sort of contamination. While the town’s water tower and system has always been under some sort of repair, there’s no doubt that there has been a need for major investment in the town’s infrastructure. Streets have been crumbling, pipes have been bursting, and leadership (state and federal) has been lacking. Surely, the town’s tax base couldn’t cover the costs of infrastructure development since major businesses have avoided Cristal for other area towns. Even the fracking boom mostly missed the town for other localities, while some of my friends gained a few jobs in the field. Still, we’re talking about a town of 7,000 souls who should have a right to drinkable water. A town whose population grows older and infirm. But this stuff isn’t reported in the news. (And we’re still awaiting the results of water tests from TCEQ.) And the needs of these South Texas towns, even with billions of dollars being made by oil companies, have gone largely ignored.

sawsBut I was also reminded that there are a lot of good people in the world. The San Antonio Water System sent a semi with 5,000 gallons of drinkable water to give out to the people. An environmental services company and the neighboring town of Carrizo Springs sent several pallets of bottled water to give to the elderly and homebound. Volunteers came together to make sure this happened. I felt a bit of pride in my town while I watched some of this happen.

Crystal City has turned out many survivors and fighters. And even folks like me who left the day after high school graduation who will still advocate for it and the people. The town has been through much while people who had been stepped on for decades pressed forward–at times successfully, if only temporarily. When other forces pushed for its demise, the town and its people survived. Crystal City can and will survive this.

The wheels, ever slow, are in motion as, hopefully, some good people without any self-interest will be elected to a new City Council after all the business of recalls and court dates is done. All new management will be hired to hopefully put the city on a better path. For now, though, it’s inevitable that the town will see a bit more turmoil and drama while it works out the kinks. “No hay mal que por bien no venga,” as my momma Flora used to say.

My mom loved her pueblito. She was born there, grew up there, and she and my Daddy made their family there and ran Medellin’s Texaco for decades. They even switched to La Raza Unida after conservative Democrats defeated Sissy Farenthold for Governor. Through all the changes and turmoil, we survived on love and friendship. We experienced that all over again as we returned for a day to give mom the Catholic funeral mass that she deserved. A lot of family and a lot of friends joined us, including the Flo-Fans from Facebook. Thank you for a wonderful experience. ¡Que Viva Cristal!

 

3rd Centavo: Acuna ~ How History is Socially Controlled in K-12

Setting Standards:  Serfs and Lords

by Rodolfo F. Acuña

People ask me if the banning of books is actually a blessing in disguise because it calls attention to the banned books. I respond, “Hell No!” Censorship threatens our freedom of speech, and it is the final step toward a totalitarian state.

In the guise of security, our emails and our phones are tapped. Anyone using a Wi-Fi can be spied on at will. What is happening today pales George Orwell’s 1984; it is as insidious as the methods used by the Nazis, the Stasi and the Russians.

The fallout of the banning of books affects all of us. In the future, it will negatively affect the publication of Latino books. What makes it so dangerous is that most of us are oblivious to this threat to our liberties. We are like the serfs in the Middle-Ages who were willing surrender their freedoms and their properties to the feudal lords in return for protection.

The first fatality of censorship is the truth. In the case of the censorship of books by the Tucson Unified School District, it was not just the books that were banned, it is also what will be published in the future. The banning of books did not affect the sales of Occupied America or the other banned books – the banning certainly did not hurt Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

The big losers are the new authors. Mexican Americans and Latinos do not have a defined market share to start off. Now they scared publishers to take a chance. As it stands, publishers look at us as foreigners and find excuses not to print books on U.S. Latinos.

The banning in Arizona will have a chilling effect on less established Chicana/o children book authors whose previous books showed promise, but will now have to wait and see which way the wind blows.

This hits close to home — been there before.

My first works were children and young adult books. They were accepted by publishers because there was a slight opening. They saw an emerging market for them in California and Texas. In the latter sixties, California’s social studies standards wrote Mexican Americans into its guidelines; this represented a huge breakthrough.

California purchased all the books for its school districts so even as supplemental reading material, there was a niche.

The other market was Texas. Publishers could have cared less whether Nebraska expressed an interest in Chicana/o K-12 children’s books. Publishers cared and care more about profit than need.

I had planned to write a children’s book every other year. At the time, I was inspired by the children’s books of Nephtali De Leon and Ernesto Galarza that went beyond entertainment.

At first the Texas Education Agency was enthusiastic about the books. However, things quickly changed. The first was a teacher backlash such as when San Joaquin Valley teachers threw Cultures in Conflict into the waste basket and refused to teach it.

Meanwhile, my activism was making waves, and Chicanos in the TEA told me that they were getting complaints about me from various districts. I was told in confidence that Texas would not be buying my books; this was confirmed by the American Book Co. and Charter Books both of whom had planned to publish more books on Mexican Americans.

These were not isolated cases. The truth be told, thought control exists throughout American education. It is subtle, and is much less transparent than the banning of books.

In Tucson, the books were removed from the classrooms in full view of students and teachers. The only thing that was missing was the Inquisitor’s bonfire. Also, most districts are not as stupid as Tucson and outlaw Shakespeare.

In California and the rest of the country commissions are appointed by the state boards of education to determine what can be taught at K-12 grade levels. The commissions are comprised of small groups of educators – generally white. Their actions are followed closely by special interest groups who want their version of the Apostles’ Creed taught in the schools.

Standards seem innocuous. Indeed, the word standard seems progressive, and we think of it as some kind of measurement. The mindset is that standards are necessary to furthered safety. They are necessary to improve our lives.

But the word is not as innocent as it seems. Today, the setting of standards in education has reached ridiculous proportions. It dictates what students can and cannot learn. Who is and who is not important to know about. In every sense of the word it amounts to censorship.

Without the knowledge of most people, the fight over standards has become part of the nation’s culture wars.

The problem is not so much with setting benchmarks in math and science – that is, unless they become muddied by the teaching of creationism. The major battlefields are in the field history–social science where right wing conservative groups focus their attacks.

Even liberals such as the late historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. often join the nativist ranks. Schlesinger in the 1990s wrote The Disuniting of America: Reflections on a Multicultural Society that attacked multiculturalism and Afrocentrism. His position was so jingoistic that Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a professor of English and Afro-American studies at Harvard, called Schlesinger’s arguments a “demand [for a] cultural white-face.”

Schlesinger and his gaggle of supporters wanted U.S. standards to focus more on what the United States has done right than wrong on topics such as slavery and the treatment of Native Americans.

According to Schlesinger, the American identity was in jeopardy because multiculturalism and Afrocentricism placed race and ethnicity over national affiliation. Identity politics, according to Schlesinger, promoted separatist ideas of history.

Today, well-funded right wing foundations such as the National Association of Scholars have openly entered the culture wars. Their tactics are to purchase right wing scholars and fund their research.

In reality, Schlesinger’s position was not out of character. In an editorial in the New York Times Barry Gwen, “The C.I.A. and the Culture War,” wrote that Schlesinger’s early career was funded by the agency. The practice was part of the Cold War strategy.

In recent years Texas has been in the eye of the storm. Its fifteen member board of education is intent on promoting a curriculum that cultivates a suspicion of the notion of the separation of church, and indoctrinates students on the alleged contributions of the National Rifle Association to American history.

Texas is important because it in 2011 it had 4.8 million textbook-reading schoolchildren. The board that selects standards, selects what the children read. Special interests control the board because of a light turn out of voters and because of the contributions of wealthy donors that elect culture warriors.

This is not new. Since the 1960s, the selection of schoolbooks in Texas has been the target of the religious right.

Why do publishers tolerate these standards and demands to censor books? They are in it for the money. The State of Texas pays for the textbooks and the loss of this market could be a financial disaster.

In Arizona and Texas, the Mexican has replaced the communist as the boogeyman.

Witness the idiocy of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne who justifies the censorship of books and the attack on Mexican American Studies by making absurd accusations that MAS promotes separatism and intends to reconquer Aztlán.

In conclusion, the banning of books or allowing right wing extremist to tell us what students should learn or not learn is thought control. It is undemocratic and we should fight back.

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of ChicanosDr. Acuña writes various opinions and essays on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

3rd Centavo~ Acuña: The Young Grow Old

by Rodolfo F. Acuña

Rank and file Democrats are desperate for a turnaround of their political fortunes, and an end of the Robber Baron era — so much so that they see the recent elections as their deliverance. For them, the last presidential election was a sign that the country is turning to the left, and that Democrats will be able to keep the presidency for eternity. They believe that obstructionism of Republicans will be drowned by the growing numbers of youth, minority, homosexual and Latino voters. Their hope is that the changes will put them on the road to a more communitarian and humane society.

Pundit after pundit predicts that the entrance of large numbers gay and Latino voters will end the culture wars that divide the country. There is only one problem — progressives forget that the “Young Grow Old.”

It is easy to get caught up in the euphoria of the moment. I remember demonstrations in the 1960s, and thinking that we had entered a new era. I did not fully appreciate the seductive power of capital in negating any communitarian or humane transformation. I also underestimated the ability of the ruling class to twist the words of sociologists, and blame the victim with phrases such as the “culture of poverty.”

Nor did I take into account the self-interest of many of the demonstrators who opposed the war; they remained interested for only as long as they were personally threatened. Poverty and injustice was only visible for as long as the young remained young. They became invisible once more as the baby boomers grew old, and took on mortgages. They then distanced themselves from poverty, which again became a non-priority.

Before we enter the World of Oz once more, we should remember that age will not make us wiser; it will not make us more humane. Our system of governing has been taken captive by billionaires who have always been old and count on the young growing old. They count on the individual and the community being disconnected. They have purposely disconnected the family unit from the community, and destroyed any sense of shared history. In this environment poverty and injustice become invisible.

We are blinded by temporary victories and the glitter of that huge flag pin dangling from our lapels.

Tax breaks for the rich are softened by senior citizens discounts. Daily we play the game of bargains. Every day my family receives more advertisements from Macy’s than it does from St. Jude’s.

The tactics differ; St. Jude tries to jar us with photos of pelones, bald children who have gone through chemotherapy. Macy’s plays more to our self-interest, and like society seduces us. It sends us coupons. Items that cost $99.99 are marked down to $79.99, and then as a preferred customer you get an additional 20% off, and if you have a Macy’s Bank of America card, you get an additional 20%. By the time you get through with the sale you have saved over 50%. That is a deal!

The cost of being taken (exploited) becomes invisible. Penney’s recently started a marketing strategy where it posted the true price. No coupons. However, it was such a disaster that the new CEO came under attack and was fired. The truth be told, we have reached the point where young and old want to be taken.

As Latinos and gays get older and discrimination is hidden by the coupon game they will forget that at one time Latinos did not have green cards, and gays could not marry. None of us are immune to seduction. We just turn the other way. Latinos and blacks today tolerate reactionary voices among them, although it is obvious that these voices conflict with their interests.

As in the movie “Soylent Green,” (1973) we’ll take the green wafer which is advertised to contain “high-energy plankton.” Foods that we remember will fade from memory as we grow old.

Coming off my high horse, it does not have to be like this. Our minds can stay young, and we should remember that at one time most people could afford a home. I bought my first home at 21 – no down payment, total cost $8500. I could qualify for it on my janitor’s salary. Today that same house costs $500,000; $100,000 down. And I am sure I could not qualify for it on a teacher’s salary. You do not get coupons to buy a home unless they plan to take it away.

The Left is complicit in the aging of our memory. Their journals and their activities include little material to politically educate and integrate Latinos. The Nation rarely includes articles on Latinos west of Chicago. Tellingly, most turned the other way as Mexican American history, books and culture were banned in Arizona.

If Democrats want to keep Mexican Americans and youth young, they are going to have to invest in their political education. They must integrate Mexican American and Latino history into the fabric of the progressive history of the United States. The Left is going to have to respect Mexican Americans and support their causes and know who they are.

Recently there was an exchange between so-called socialists; a Mexican American member (a true activist) criticized the body for its white chauvinism. He criticized the members’ lack of knowledge of Latino history. A pedant answered the criticism with a long winded response naming many African-American members of the Communist Party.

What was revealing was that the respondent named only Latin Americans living south of the United States as communist. It was as if Mexican Americans or Latinos in this country did not exist.

If progressives really want a communitarian society they will support Mexican American and other Latino issues. They will integrate these causes into the progressive agenda, work to achieve them instead of just handing out coupons. A sign of respect for the masses is remembering their names even when they are not considered part of the vanguard.

I must admit it is nice to get a senior citizens discount even though there are others who cannot afford to watch the movie. You know, the people cannot afford Obamacare because of the cost of medical insurance. In order to have a humane and communitarian society, we have to go beyond, “Don’t touch my Medicare!” and stop hoarding it as if it were only for the old.

Rodolfo Acuña, Ph.D., is an historian, professor emeritus, and one of various scholars of Chicano studies, which he teaches at California State University, Northridge. He is the author of Occupied America: A History of Chicanos. Dr. Acuña writes various opinions on his Facebook page and allows sites to share his thoughts.

Dan Patrick Targets Ethnic History Courses

Our friend the AztecMuse and some of his associates will be in Austin to discuss what seems like a surprise move to make changes to higher education History requirements.

Taking a page out of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer’s anti-ethnic playbook, State Senator Dan Patrick has filed SB1128, a bill which will basically bar colleges and universities from allowing students the opportunity to take History courses with an ethnic emphasis in place of the required U.S. History and Texas History Courses. In essence, Mexican American, African American and other U.S. History courses are now threatened by Dan Patrick’s bill.

Patrick offers a simple, yet dangerous, change to the original statute by adding “from courses providing a comprehensive survey” of American History. Patrick adds that students may partially satisfy the two-course requirement with a Texas History course “from courses providing a comprehensive survey” of Texas History.

Most dictionaries will define a survey course as,”An academic course consisting of an overview of a broad topic or field of knowledge.”

So, in this case, he is definitely targeting any course with an “emphasis” in, or even a course that deals specifically with, a U.S. or other ethnic group. Or at the very least, forcing university and college administrators to define what material is included in a survey course.

The Librotraficante folks state they have the following issues with the bill:

*This would prevent the story of Mexican American Congressional Medal of Honor Winners from being taught in courses that count toward degrees in Texas colleges.

*TX Senator Dan Patrick is basing his bill on the findings from a survey conducted by the National Association of Scholars (NAS). This group targets multicultural studies throughout the U.S. In 1990, the group was active in getting the Mexican American newspaper at the University of Texas defunded.
*If it isn’t broke, don’t’ fix it. The NAS survey uses faulty research to erroneously discredit the Texas educational system.

*In a global economy, why would anyone want to build a border wall around History Courses?

And Los Librotraficantes are headed to Austin to state the case of those of us who support ethnic studies and courses which are as American and Texan as any others deemed such, and as has been decided by Texas colleges and universities for decades.

Houston, TX (March 13, 2013) – Does Texas Senator Dan Patrick want to prevent the story of Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Roy Benavidez from being taught in Texas classrooms? Dan Patrick’s Senate Bill 1128 (SB1128) would do just that.

Who: The Librotraficantes will be heading to Austin, TX this time instead of Arizona. This includes writers, professors, school board members, & students in Mexican American Studies programs.

When: Thursday, March 14, 2013. 9 a.m. – 12:30
Meetings with Education Committee Chair Rep. Seliger (9am), Dan Patrick (10:30 am) and other reps.

Why: TX Senator Dan Patrick’s SB1128 must be taken off the floor. It is another Arizona House Bill 2281 in the making. It is an attack on Ethnic Studies.

Back when DosCentavos was in college, I took care of my History requirements at Austin Community College. At the time, there was an offering of HIST 1301 and HIST 1302 (the required courses) with a “Mexican American emphasis.” Actually, it was taught by a white guy by the name of Al Purcell, who actually taught them quite well and no other History was missed; if anything, a good dose of History about Texas Latinos was included that may not have been included in a “regular” course for whatever reason.  Now, I look at the course selection and separate courses are offered with the ethnic emphases, and I wonder, what happened? And can these “emphasis” courses be brought back in case Dan Patrick gets his way? And did this happen at other college and universities? And why?

Either way, this bill, and its companion bill HB1938, stand to affect how colleges and universities operate, and how the legislature can simply affect curriculum based on attitudes toward US ethnic groups.