Sunday, November 23, 2008

Chicano/a Studies

One semester away from graduation day. Then I better become a functional tax paying member of society making my way in the world. I don't expect to be wealthy financially, but I will hopefully make enough to be independent. My major is Chicano Studies. After years of Chicano Studies classes at various schools I've decided to give a couple thoughts on my field of research.

I notice most published books actually employed in the classrooms cover either Tejas or California. I realize that these two states both assert a heavy role in starting the Movement, yet I feel the two get too much damn attention that other states do not yet receive. They read about us but we don't read about them. Chicano Studies should not even be limited to Aztlan. Raza live nationwide now from Chicago to New York. I don't think raza from many communities have yet received a true voice or inclusion.

East Los and Downtown Los Angeles get far too much attention. You would think that East L.A. and the Downtown area are the only parts of Los Angeles with a history of raza communities. I'm from Los Angeles, my family is from the Southside of L.A. (mostly Comptone)and the Harbor Area. Yet Chicano Studies rarely covers our part of Los Angeles.

I'm not blaming East Los for doing a great job of establishing themselves. I'm merely saying our community needs to begin researching and preserving our own particular histories instead of focusing on Chavez Ravine, East L.A. and their history. We have our own Chavez Ravines. My abuela tells me about Mexican Hollywood. We had a little downtown community in San Pedro that was torn out to build the Vincent Thomas Bridge. Several Mexican communities have been destroyed or come under attack in the name of "progress" yet many of us don't realize this. We are so busy learning the history of the Downtown area that we don't realize the exact same thing happened in our own communities. We end up angry over their situation not realizing historically we experienced the exact same thing in our own communities.

I see raza more aware of the history of East Los and Downtown than they are of their own communities. They really think their own communities don't have a history! (or at least a history worthy of researching and retaining.)

When the Aliso Housing Projects in Boyle Heights were torn down and gentrificated, I saw nationwide protest on the web over it. I am not upset because they deserve to get attention. What happened there was wrong. I was just disappointed that only when it happens in East L.A. does it get recognized by many people in the movement. Park Western Lomas was torn down in San Pedro and the exact same gentrification development took place there. Once again an old Chicano community is torn out and the people dispersed to build upscale houses none of them could afford. Harbor City also suffered the same fate. Their housing projects were torn out and replaced with the same style developing as Boyle Heights. Both of these more local Chicano communities were destroyed and gentrificated, yet ours received no attention from the Chicano movement. They never set the radar off, only Boyle Heights plight did like usual.

I'm realizing that many of our communities have histories of people, places and events that have equally important histories within the Chicano Movement and Chicano History. Yet we are so busy focusing on East Los that many youth take it for granted that East Los must be the only place worthy of commemorating and respecting. We are raised to take it for granted that our communities must not have anything or anyone important enough to remember. We subconsciously learn to take our own history more for granted under the current Chicano Studies system.

I think if Chicano Studies focused on a more diverse array of communities this field of study would attract more youth. Many youth don't care about what happened in some community they have never been, never heard of and don't know anyone from. They are going to be far more interested in their own communities. I think Chicano Studies needs to ask the question,

How or where did this happen in YOUR community?

Each time they teach about Chavez Ravine or East Los they need to ask us afterwards,

Now how or where did this happen in YOUR particular community? -because it has.

Eventually a Chicano Movement will emerge that is more inclusive of all of the communities in it in its literature, books, films, attention, preservation and passion.

I really respect East Los for rising up and establishing itself in the face of racism. I am realizing that instead of living on the fringes of their hard work we need to do the same in our communities as well. Each community should have a history book of itself. Every varrio should have its own history book of its own story and legacy. They could be assembled into a larger history book of each area. I think this would interest more youth in history if they could relate to it more personally. People would also take more pride in their own communities once they are more in touch with their particular histories.

I've seen communities lose their histories except for a few elders that few even know about, and I've seen other communities take power and rewrite history downplaying ours or even denying ours to trump up themselves. Blacks in Compton, Filipinos in Carson, Whites in San Pedro; I've seen alot of very old Chicano communities robbed of their extensive histories and contributions in the memory of their own communities by another community that took power. We are treated as the immigrant community when we actually are the veterans, our role in the development of the community, the local church, schools or other aspects are ignored or diminished while their role is exaggerated and trumped up to suit their ego at the expense of the sober truth.

Chicano Studies hasn't payed much attention to this. Other than Olvera St. which once again is downtown, this field has left us to fend for ourselves. Then it wonders why more raza aren't interested or majoring in our field. Our people are so hungry that you could talk about East and Central L.A. all day and many will listen to it. This should not be exploited however.

The number of textbooks actually used, movies, and places remembered are disproportionately about the communities, people and histories of East and Central Los Angeles. I'm not going to get mad at them for doing an exemplary job of standing up for themselves. I am going to get upset at ourselves for not doing the same for our own communities and merely giving them an unspoken right of way.

I can't help but wonder how many small towns across Aztlan have went unrecognized by Chicano Studies. Los Angeles itself has probably received far too much attention itself and we have East Los to thank for that. We need to force ourselves to begin integrating other parts of both Los Angeles (such as the Harbor Area, Southside, SFV and SGV) and other cities of Aztlan into the curriculum and documentaries. The amount of movies, films, inclusion in history books, art and focus still tends to dwell on the Central and East Los Angeles communities of past and present or on Tejaztlan.

I don't understand how this disproportionate amount of attention and passion has gotten funneled into such a small sector of the community. It is as if the myths of the past still hold sway over our policies within the Movement. East LA was not the only old Mexican community to rise up nor was it the only source. It was merely the largest barrio for a period of time that has long since passed. South L.A., Compton, Watts, Long Beach, The Los Angeles Harbor communities have long since caught up in numbers and in all honesty I think the Southside passed East Los a long time ago although it is rarely given the same attention. Did you know the oldest Lowrider Club is from South Central's 38st community? All mainstream studies talk about is Whittier Blvd. No one talks about other historic Blvds such as Avalon in Wilmas. Other smaller communities that existed and contributed seem to have gotten robbed of their credit and legacy due to the focus on East Los.

I think this situation arose from two causes.

1. When the youth of East Los rose up they honestly had no idea they would succeed the way they did. They were fighting for survival. I doubt they had secretly hatched a plot to hijack the Chicano Movement they were a part of. I doubt they had ill intentions, they were merely fighting for themselves and were quite victorious. They ended up taking center stage and most likely were not even anticipating it.

2. Many Professors and authors residing in Los Angeles that I've met are not actually from Los Angeles. They moved here as adults and they honestly do not have a heavy connection to Los Angeles. All they know about Los is what they have heard, read or saw in videos until they came here as adults. They were not born here, their parents were not born here, their abuelas were not born here, their great grand parents did not live here... they have very, very shallow roots in Los Angeles. If they have so much as 2 generations it is rare. How is someone that is so shallow in their roots here going to be presiding over a curriculum of this city and metropolis?

My family has lived in Los Angeles for 5 or 6 generations. We have remained quite Mexican and every once in a while my grandparents or parents will teach or tell me something about somewhere or someone that you will never find in any of the books. I was born and raised here k-12. I have alot of love for the 213 as it originally was when I was young. I am not trying to be cruel or mean, but how are people who recently emigrated here going to be in charge of teaching me my own history? Why are they deciding what to include and what not to include? True they live in Los Angeles and it is their home too, but they are not FROM Los Angeles. It is not part of the home, family and upbringing. I don't mean to be inconsiderate, but seeing so many people from out of town determining Chicano Studies and the history of Los Angeles somewhat disturbs me. It just seems unsafe to me. We should be writing our own history and determining our own fates, not people that moved here during college or after.

I have to give gratitude to these people though, many have sacrificed so much and preserved so much that they really do deserve praise. I just cant help but wonder if their lack of roots here is why they just blindly followed the leader in focusing on East Los and Downtown. They honestly didn't know better and since they were not rooted here they didn't realize how biased such focus truly was and is.

I've also noticed another issue within our field of studies. While many old Chicano families remain, Mexjicanos have risen in numbers in Los. Many do not consider themselves Chicanos. Many find it an insult and have shown scorn for things such as Aztlan, Chicano Power and other Chicano concepts. Most Mejicanos have a very strong connection to Mexico and are proud of their Mexicano heritage. Chicano Studies and Chicanismo are considered North American and white to many of them. As a result many do not feel a connection to Chicanismo and I've had several express this to me. They don't feel a connection to alot of our traditions and history. Some don't even consider Chicanos to be true Mexicans and view us as whitewashed. The end result is that many Mejicanos are not finding empowerment through Chicano Studies. Due to huge misconceptions and estrangement suffered on both sides, Many Mejicanos choose to retain Mejicano traditions and histories and are not interested in Chicanismo. They have their own social circles and customs that they preserve independently from Mexican American social circles and groups.

I've seen our two groups cross paths in a contradicting way. Sometimes we get along other times we fight with each other like enemies. Places like school, Danza Circles, jail, the streets and workplace have all become places where our two sides meet and interact. I've seen cases where we get along great and other cases where we don't. Neither side is rooted in the other. Sadly we are two separate camps with two separate epicenters we report to when there is trouble. When something goes wrong Mejicanos know that retreating to each other is the safest choice. Not us. Likewise Mexican Americans retreat to each other as well in times of crisis. There is a blurred and phantom divide that sometimes is nowhere to be found and other times is blatantly present. Our two halves share the same home and do attempt to befriend and interact with each other. Sometimes successfully and other times merely formally. We have different rhythms that we both find to be somewhat out of our comfort zone. So we are polite to each other although we tend to remain in our own particular corners of the same community.

I think Chicano Studies needs to consider becoming more Mejicano and less Mexican American. The reality is the majority of raza in Aztlan are more and more Mejicanos who are first generation. I'm talking about in the millions. Mejicanos are not the minority to Mexican Americans anymore. They are equal and in many communities they are the majority, not the minority. Yet Chicano Studies seems aloof to this this massive shift in the dynamics of our community and seems to still travel along on a more Mexican American rhythm focusing on Mexican American history. This alienates many Mexicanos/Paisanos from Mexico. They are not on the Mexican American rhythm. They are on the Mejicano rythmn which although similar is still different enough to deter many. We need to acknowledge the discrimination they are facing within the movement. Merely speaking Spanish is not the solution or even a solution. Who we are focusing on and the rhythm we give the right of way to needs to become more Mejicano and less Mexican American. Until Chicanismo recognizes the shift in demographics and embraces this, we are actually alienating them irregardless of how much we talk about how "Aztlan once was a part of Mexico, blah blah blah..." They have a much different experience that Mexican Americans have. One we have never had to live or even are aware of. Yet Chicano Studies does not reflect on their experience the same as it does on Mexican Americans and our experience. We might study them and write about them but we are not really treating them like this is truly their home.

Many Mejicanos refuse the word Chicano and separate themselves from identifying with us by referring to each other as Paisanos instead. I use this word because this is the actual word they use to refer to each other and distinguish themselves from Mexican Americans. I learned this word from Mejicanos. I say it with respect.

I remember having a UFW pin on my bag and some paisanos looking at it with looks of disgust on their faces. They were not disgusted by the actual UFW. They were disgusted because it was on me. They didn't identify with me and as a result were both offended and cynical about me, a pocho having a pin representing something that only paisas actually worked and suffered. I honestly never expected a UFW button to bring disgust from my own people, but I did not realize I am not a Paisano, I'm a pocho to them and seeing a pocho with that button offended them. Pochos dont know what working in the fields is like. Only Paisanos know what that is like so I later realized they had a good reason to be offended seeing a pocho with the button.

I had another friend that told me directly that he hated listening to Mexican rap. He found it ridiculous to rap about Brown Pride and if we were so proud of our Mexican ancestry then we should be singing and bumping nortenos and banda like him. Once again... the Chicanos and Mejicanos have two different experiences and mind states. Two different points of views about the same things. Chicanos tends to enjoy American music styles while many Mexicanos are very loyal to corridos and find giving any other music status over it to be awful.

The two communities are both of Mexican descent, yet they have two experiences and POV's. Our rhythms are different whether we like to admit it or not, so until Chicano Studies begins respecting their POV, rhythm and culture; many 1st generation Paisanos do not feel at home with Chicanismo nor interested very much in it.

I've had Paisanos tell me directly not to call them Chicano. I could see that to them it was an insult not a compliment. They weren't pochos they were Mejicanos and very proud of it. They weren't going to rob themselves of this by calling themselves Chicanos. The two sides of our communities define the very word Chicano differently. I've had Mejicanos ask me why I don't just call myself Mexican then if I am not ashamed of it. Why say Chicano instead? To Mejicanos it is seen as hiding the fact that you are Mexican by using another word. It is not viewed anything the way Chicanos see employing the term as.

While many Chicanos take pride in Aztlan, many Mexicanos don't care much about Aztlan because they are more rooted and proud of their home state. Sinaloa, Michoacan, Guanajuato, these instead are the motherland they treasure and I dont blame them. Their family heritage is rooted there, not Aztlan like many of us Chicanos. So expecting them to enter a movement that focuses on Aztlan instead of their homestate immediately alienates them. Aztlan might have significance towards Mexican Americans but Mejicanos are not going to abandon their home state for something they have no family legacy in simply to suit the comfort of Chicanos. True we might say Que Viva Mexico but even that is too vague. True Mexicanos have a state they are proud of. You can often differentiate the difference because while Chicanos advertise Aztlan, SUR X3, the name of their city, etc... Mexicanos advertise their home state in Mexico. In their social circles they find other people from the same state or at least more understanding of this experience. In Chicano circles we are too busy talking about Ruben Salazar and East Los and they don't feel at home at all. Until we recognize their community and its experience, we are going to unofficially estrange them while waving Mexican flags just like them.

Most Chicano Studies seems only interested in indoctrinating Mejicanos into our worldview instead of respecting theirs. True the Mejicano world view coming in from Mexico today is not the most respectful, but it nonetheless is truly Mexican. It is rooted in Mexico and to treat it as ignorant and demanding it surrender itself to the Mexican American view robs it of its equality. Their experience and view (no matter how degrading we might find it) needs to be incorporated into Chicanismo, otherwise we will further ignore and alienate a huge segment of the community. Chicano Studies needs to sincerely acknowledge the Mejicano population that exists and shares spaces with us. We need to include their experience and beliefs (including those about us) in our curriculum. We can disagree while approaching the exact same concept, term or history from both of our experiences in a way that respects and acknowledges both.

While Chicano Studies programs vary from campus to campus, the movement still seems to be more focused on the Mexican American rythmn and experience. The experience of Paisanos is not included or even acknowledged to exist by Chicanismo. We treat them as someone to absorb into us instead of recognizing them and absorbing ourselves into them. True, Mexico has a different way of thinking than the U.S.A. and Chicanos dont approach everything the same way Mexico does. We have gotten influenced and acculturated by things Mejicanos are only now coming into contact with. Even how they respond to such things show a difference between our communities. Where as Chicanos resisted asimilation into anglo and black culture, many paisanos that decided to Americanize have scorned Chicano Culture and embraced either white or black culture in a way that many Chicanos would consider to be selling out! Where as many parents remain Paisanos, the children end up becoming what many refer to as "mayateros" in a derogatory manner. They learn to talk, walk and even think like blacks they share communities with in their attempt to find an identity in a new nation. Chicanos usually find this appalling. To Chicanos this is considered selling out and losing your identity, but many Mejicano youth do not respect or acknowledge Chicanismo. So they aren't interested in becoming vatos or cholos or anything else from our experience because it is equally foriegn to them and some even look at Chicano styles with disgust; prefering to imitate blacks before they imitate Mexican Americans. Both communities have shown themselves to look down on the other. This unspoken, unrecognized face off is rarely acknowledged openly but I've seen it consistent. Mejicanos still go about things differently than Chicanos even when they are assimilating into American Culture. They still assimilate differently and practice American culture differently than many Chicanos.

My observation is that while some find a home within the Chicano Movement, a large majority do not feel at home in it. Instead of blaming them I am going to blame us. We have failed to sincerely incorporate and respect their experience and POV as equals within Chicanismo. Until we restructure the Movement to include and recognize the Paisano Experience equally, we will have a biased movement that discriminates against a huge part of our community. It means things will change but that is normal even if it is uncomfortable.

The Chicano Experience and the Paisano Experience might disagree but no more than other factions within the movement do. Chicana Feminists, Chicano Marxists, Indigenistas, Intellectuals and Activists all disagree with each other within the movement and no one can even agree on the definition of the very term "Chican@" much less surrender to the fact that different groups have different experiences within our vast community. The Mejicano community has had to create a homebase outside of the Chicano Movement although they reside in the same home as us. Somewhere along the way our Movement failed them because many dont relate to it, dont employ it and quite a few dont even respect it. I wore a Brown Pride T-Shirt once on the bus and it was Paisanos that made insulting remarks behind me about it, not blacks or whites. The only insults I listened to about my shirt was from Mexicanos speaking in Spanish. My shirt said "La Raza" and he said "Chinga tu Raza" because he didnt consider Chicanos to be the same raza as Mejicanos. We were not real in his eyes, and he did not consider our la raza to be part of his raza. Our two communities have alot of bridges to build for multiple reasons. My point at the moment is that our movement is not seen by many Mejicanos the same way we see it or wish they would see it. Many seem offended by it and by us. Although this lack of recognition can be degrading and suprising. Instead of rioting like some Paisas and Chicanos do against each other in prison, we need to figure out how the Chicano Movement can embrace the Mejicano Experience as equal to that of the Mexican American experience. Until their experience and POV is reconciled and included equally with our own, Chicanismo will fail to offer this part of the community a true home in the United States respectful of them.

There is so much more I would like to ponder but I need to go so perhaps later...

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