Notes from Aztlán
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Santino J. Rivera is originally from Denver, Colorado but migrated to St. Augustine, Florida at the age of 25. He began writing at the start of his college career and started an independent newspaper at the University of Colorado, Denver. A few of his past occupations include jobs as an independent journalist, paid journalist, as well as a few years as a firefighter and EMT. He came back to writing and publishing and used his experiences as a witness to the horrors he saw in the streets to write his first two books, “Demon in the Mirror” and “AmeriKKKa”. Rivera was inspired by the book banning in Tucson, Arizona to write “¡Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature” and essentially hoping to stack book shelves with more Chicano/a literature in prominent bookstores such as Barnes & Nobles. Rivera hopes to inspire youth to challenge themselves and to acknowledge the fact that they can be authors, they can writers, they can publishers with the help of positive role models.
Q: Why was it important to publish “¡Ban This! The BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature”?
A: I think because there’s such a void, as far as that goes. Again, if you go to Barnes & Nobles and you go looking for Chicano authors, depending on what state you’re in from coast to coast, you might not find any. If you do, you’re going to find a little section and of that you’re going to the same people, the same authors. You’ll usually find Gustavo Arrellano, Lalo Alcaraz and among that you’re not going to find any diversity and I know it’s an untruth because there’s a ton of us that are authors and writers and we don’t have any exposure. We do not have the support of the mainstream literary community. This book was inspired by the penguin anthology of poetry, the 25th poetry anthology and there is hardly any Chicanos in there, I think there are two in the whole book. If we’re such a force to be reckoned with, as the politicians and media say, then we also need to be represented in the arts. So I’m trying to help change that.
Q: Would you consider your book as the first wave of Chicano/a action against censorship?
A: I hope, that is definitely what it is meant to do. When I published it and I brought together an all-star group of people, there is very well-known authors and up & coming authors as well, it was to strike back against censorship and basically say, “You can ban those books but we’ll make more. We’re going to come back twice as hard.”
Q: In response to Rodolfo Acuna’s, “Occupied America” being banned, what is the purpose of censorship? Is there a hidden agenda?
A: It depends on where you’re talking about it, but when “Occupied America” was taken away the people who did it, are afraid of the truth, they are afraid of history, they are afraid of successful programs in high school that will graduate brown students and educate brown minds. If you go around everybody’s personal feeling about this and that and you get to the core of what an educator does, the goal is to graduate a student. It’s the entire goal. It doesn’t matter what you think of the student or what your background is. It’s to graduate students. That program that they had which included, “Occupied America” and other books was very successful in graduating students and getting them on to college. I think the powers that did that, are afraid of young educated brown minds going on to vote and voting them out of power. They are afraid of an educated brown mind.
Q: Is Los Angeles the perfect place to promote the book?
A: Yes, I would say so but anywhere is the perfect place to promote the book. It’s one of the things I try to push, is that Chicano literature is American literature. As much as they want to deny it, as much as they fight and kick and scream about it, Chicano history is American history. It’s part of American history and I think this book should be marketed everywhere. It is fantastic to be in LA but I’ll push this book anywhere, because we are juts as part of the core as anybody else.
Q: The censorship in Arizona can be compared to ______?
A: The cliché answer to that is Nazi Germany, but you can find instances of censorship throughout history and it is usually people who are worried about what children are learning. So for fill in the blank, I would say Nazi Germany.
Q: Do you feel Chicano/a youth should feel obligated to preserve our culture?
A: Yes I do, very much so because there has been a lot of struggle, a lot of bloodshed, there has been a lot of sacrifice that has been forgotten. I do not think a lot of the kids are taught and how much of that was sacrifice and how much of that history is there for their benefit. A lot of that gets pushed to the side and there is a whole group of people who want to whitewash over all that struggle and history that isn’t acknowledged anymore. It’s very important and we were talking about Sal Castro recently, who just passed, his sacrifices and his contributions need to acknowledged. They should be important to kids.
Q: Is it ultimately your goal for this book, to start a second wave of Chicano/a movements amongst the youth?
A: Yes, but not necessarily the primary goal. When I was kid and we would go to the library or the bookstore and even today, I’ve never seen a book like this. I was always searching for a book like this, because something like this to a kid can make a big impact and have them think, ”Maybe I can do that”. It’s empowering to have something to look up to and if anything I would like to inspire people to go around the system that is oppressing you if you cannot defeat. I admire the kids in Tucson who I met with, who had these books taken away because they are meeting on their own and learning Chicano/a studies outside of school and are going to receive college credit. If there is a primary goal for anything, it is to take the inspiration to do it yourself and fight back. So many people think they can’t because they are so oppressed and they believe they have no voice. That’s not true, this book proves that, this book came out of the dust. I mean, I’m just a regular guy. This book made it to national T.V, C-SPAN and it made an impact so I think if anything kids should learn to follow their dreams and to not take no for an answer. No matter how many times or who tells you, don’t take no for an answer and to challenge authority because that is what it takes.
Q: Is Chicano/a Studies just a way to preserve our culture or is it the vessel for us to challenge the system?
A: It means different things to different people. For example, the definition of Chicano/a, you’ll never find two with the same definition, same ideology, or even how it should be used. You have people fighting on what should be done with it. I think at the core of it, just as we learn the Constitution or the Bills of Rights, you preserve your core and we have such a rich history in this country, that I think it should be taught and preserved. Whether people agree with it or not, you can’t just wipe the slate clean. It’s a tough question because you have so many people who want to different things with it, but definitely as an empowerment, because learning your history and your past is empowering. We have a lot of accomplishments and a lot to be proud of. It is extremely empowering.
Q: Will censorship ever end, be it Chicano/a Studies, Ethnic Studies, or etc.?
I don’t know if there will ever be an end to it, it goes in cycles. We have different turns of the cycles, like in the 70’s people fought back really hard but also works in a kind of a lull cycle, where people are sleeping, like now. We’ve been working to wake people up to fight back. I don’t think we’ll ever have a period where there is no censorship because someone always wants to control the information. Information is power so, when it comes to, “When is it going to end?”, I don’t think it will but that doesn’t mean we have to take it. That’s what we are trying to, is plant the seed so the next generation of people can take this knowledge and fight back. Right now we are in a lull, there a lot of people sleeping on this and not empowering themselves, and taking no for an answer. Hopefully future generations take this information and fight back.
– by Pedro Martínez
MEChA de CSULA
¡Ban This! Noche de Conciencia y Resistencia
Commemorating 45 Years of Chicana/o Studies
Commemorating 44 Years of MEChA & El Plan de Santa Barbara
Who: In April 1969, Chicana/o students from the United Mexican American Students, the Mexican American Student Confederation, and the Mexican American Student Association met at the University of California, Santa Barbara to unify the Chicana/o student movement. It was at this conference that the name Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) was adopted.
In 2013, MEChA de CSULA commemorates 44 years of resistance as the leading voice of Chicana/o students on the campus of Cal State L.A. In addition, CSULA Chicana/o Studies commemorates its 45th Anniversary.
What: MEChA de CSULA will organize a ¡Ban This!: Noche de Conciencia y Resistencia as an evening of community discussion, culture, and celebration of 44 years of cultural resistance.
MEChA de CSULA will host a keynote speaker with panel discussion on the state of Chicana/o Studies and the Chicano Movement featuring:
- Santino J. Rivera (Xicano Independent Publisher & Author including Demon in the Mirror, Alcohol Soaked & Nicotine Stained, AmeriKKKan Stories, and ¡Ban This!: The BSP Anthology of Xican@ Literature
- Margarita “Mita” Cuaron (student leader at Garfield High School during East LA Blowouts and currently nurse and artist)
- Mayra Rangel (Political Science major and Chicana/o Studies minor at CSULA)
- Stephanie León (Chicana/o Studies and Sociology major at CSULA)
- Ron Gochez (Social Justice Educator, and member of Union del Barrio)
MEChA de CSULA will entertain with an evening of cultural awareness and pride through Chicana/o film, poetry, music and danza with:
- Danza Kalpulli Tlatekuhtli
- Las Cafeteras
When: Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 6:00-9:00pm in the Los Angeles Room (3rd Floor of the University Student Union • 5151 State University Dr. Los Angeles 90032)
Is Chicano Studies as relevant as it was just 20 years ago? “Have you ever taken Chicano Studies?”
His face and voice projected a steady countenance as he looked directly at me from across the table. It seemed he could see through me and sense that I was in need of some direction.
“Yeah, I remember taking a Chicano Studies course a long time ago!” I answered indifferently.
“Well there are different kinds of Chicano studies” He replied. Frank was not what I expected by way of a guidance counselor. Hell, I was only there because I chickened out after two days of intermediate algebra. I arrogantly dismissed the college’s assessment of my math skills by enrolling in a course that I was not prepared for. The bravado I exhibited in the first class quickly diminished on the second and landed me in the East Los Angeles College (ELAC) counseling office reduced back to the timid underclassman that I was.
To my good fortune, fate appeared in the form of Frank Gutierrez, a grandfather like figure sporting a gray braid and life as I know it would never be the same.
This chance meeting with Mr. Gutierrez would profoundly alter my future educational experience. Turns out he was also an instructor of Chicano Studies who just happened to be recruiting for his course. Frank exhibited a genuine desire to see that Chicanos and Chicanas succeed in all their educational endeavors.
Frank Gutierrez’s Chicano Studies course inspired me to put my best self forward. Frank’s approach to the subject imbued a sense of purpose that is to awaken young naïve Chicanos/as to their historical reality. Frank effectively lectured to his students a trajectory of Chicano history from western European feudalism through colonization and U.S. imperialism and its subsequent effects on our indigenous heritage. His soft-spoken demeanor was very convincing as he connected the past to the present condition of Chicanas/os in the U.S. He always made clear that his job was to deprogram our minds and to undo our public education/brainwashing.
That one class instilled me with a greater sense of social responsibility toward my community. I excelled in my studies and became more politically aware both on and off campus. I went from a spectator to a participant. In other words, Chicano Studies motivated me to get involved. I was radicalized.
One of the first examples of me stepping outside of the box was when I drove from my apartment in Bell to U.C.L.A. to support a student fast in the early 1990s. The cause was to establish a Chicano Studies as a full-fledged department. I remember seeing the brief coverage on the local morning news and knowing that I had to be there. In the past, I would have sat idly by, let alone getting into my car and driving to Westwood.
I like the way Consuelo Rey, a Chicana professor of political science describes it, “It is like a foco in your head suddenly gets switched on!”.
Like I stated earlier, the altering of my education would fuse learning with activism in the ensuing years. One would compliment the other. The issues facing the Chicano community are broad in scope. I found myself engaged at some degree in issues regarding Affirmative Action, student fee increases, bilingual education, police brutality, immigration rights. I attended and helped organize conferences, educational forums and demonstrations. I worked and volunteered for organizations and programs such as MEChA, EOP, Upward Bound, Associated Students, Southwest Voter and Education Project and Americorps.
One of the most rewarding was working several summers as a program assistant for a migrant educational program at UC Riverside.
The focus of my activism had to do with Chicanos/as gaining access to higher education. I was also inspired and helped to promote events for the United Farm Workers and the Zapatista movement.
Like most Chicanos and Chicanas, I have had my share of personal setbacks and struggles. I am still struggling to break free from old ideas and attitudes. However, I have been steadfast in my defense and promotion of Chicano Studies in all of its manifestations.
Like Frank said there are different areas of Chicano and Chicana Studies. I have disagreed with other Chicanos and Chicanas, but the one thing that it has done for me is that I have grown to love and respect my cultura. I believe that there is a spiritual component that we experience as we embrace the Chicana/o philosophy.
What sets Chicano Studies apart from other fields of study is our personal connection to our history that we get to research and write from our own unique perspective.
Ever since Frank planted those little seeds of knowledge into my head in that first Chicano Studies class, I have strived to do my small part to nurture that knowledge so that it may flourish and have a positive affect on others. That is why I continue to study the discipline.
“In fond Memory Of Frank Gutierrez”
– by David Casillas
The following were the Opportunities for Building a Better Foundation with Chicana/o Studies that MEChA de CSULA presented to the Department of Chicana/o Studies at a meeting in early March. We are awaiting for resolution of the first four basic concerns, which Chicana/o Studies can easily implement.
MEChA de CSULA is planning a Community Platica on Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 6:30pm in the Los Angeles Room in the University Student Union at Cal State LA. A flyer is posted here and at aztlanreads.com
MEChA de CSULA requests your support.
MEChA de CSULA
Opportunities for Building a Better Foundation with Chicana/o Studies
April 2, 2013
1). Chicana/o Studies must have student(s) representation at its faculty meetings.
2). Chicana/o Studies must create a Wall of Resources (Bulletin Board) near the department office to facilitate communication with students and community.
3). Chicana/o Studies must send out weekly announcements of CHS department news, scholarships, and events to its students. Communication is essential to restoring the academic legitimacy and communal spirit of CHS. There have been many events that are announced in class, but it’s not sufficient to maintain communication with current and former students of CHS.
4). Chicana/o Studies must update its department website weekly. Chicana/o Studies must have a strong web presence in order to recruit students to its program as well as to keep current students informed of scholarship opportunities, campus and community events, etc. Facebook is not a professional tool nor sufficient means to attract students to CHS.
5). Chicana/o Studies must provide a statistical chart of Raza graduation rates on campus and of Chicana/o Studies Department students (major and minor).
6). Chicana/o Studies Department must have an Open Door policy for students, parents, and community and work towards establishing an Open House in the Fall & Spring of each academic year.
7). Chicana/o Studies must provide an itemized budget of its operations to ensure that our resources are being properly utilized.
8). Chicana/o Studies Department must survey students (majors & minors) once a year at least about academic needs.
9). Chicana/o Studies must create a research library for Chicana/o Studies students (majors and minors) for academic research purposes. CHS needs a study center for students. Chicana/o Student Resource Center is not sufficient to meet the needs of students.
10). Chicana/o Studies must facilitate the (re) establishment of the Chicana/o Studies Alumni Association to help facilitate the establishment of sister-schools, such as UNAM to help build study abroad programs to connect the educational struggles of Aztlán with those of our sisters and brothers in Tenochtitlán.
11). Chicana/o Studies classes must be offered throughout the day. CHS classes should not be heavily loaded in the morning or evening, but classes should be spread out throughout the day to give all students the opportunity to take a course offering. CHS classes must be for the benefit of students not for the convenience of the professor.
12). Chicana/o Studies classes must not be offered simultaneously. There must be no two classes at the same hour in order to avoid having working-class students wait unnecessarily until next quarter or next academic year. CHS classes must be for the benefit of students not for the convenience of the professor.
13). Chicana/o Studies classes must be offered more than once an academic year to assist students in graduating a timely manner. CHS classes must be for the benefit of students not for the convenience of the professor.
14). Chicana/o Studies must make every effort to ensure that it retains autonomy in cross-listed courses to maintain its legitimacy in classes that are obviously Chicana/o oriented course offerings.
15). Chicana/o Studies professors must extend faculty office hours to help support the academic needs of students. Faculty office hours must be for the benefit of students not for the convenience of the professor.
16). Chicana/o Studies must facilitate the creation of a graduate student taught class to ensure that the theoretical foundations learned in CHS may be applied to real-life classroom situations under the guidance of a professor. CHS graduates must have the opportunity to apply their knowledge so that employment opportunities within CHS go to actual graduates of CHS.
17). Chicana/o Studies must work towards securing funds to hire Chicana/o Studies students as paid and non-paid interns within the department. The legitimacy and longevity of CHS is dependent upon those students who are passionate about CHS and have demonstrated a skill level necessary to positively produce results for the benefit of CHS.