In a speech delivered on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol Building on September 16, 1975, Rodolfo “Corky” Gonzales, leader of the Crusade for Justice, declared that the Chicano Movement was “alive and growing.”
Corky’s “Message to Aztlán” was directed to all the gente from the students to the pintos to the professionals and also to the bloodsuckers and parasites who are the capitalists of the world.
The speech outlined the roles every sector of the Chicana/o community must take in order for the movement to be successful.
Corky, for instance, challenged the artists and writers to use their talents for community self-determination:
“To our artists and our writers, we say, paint no murals of disgust and commercial garbage; write of inspiration to all mankind. Influence for progress and truth and not for money and perversion. Your paintings, your words, will influence for better or worse. We urge you to choose for better, speak of growth, of success, tell of tragedy and relate a social message. Its better to say nothing than to misdirect and confuse our youth, who rely on you to interpret life and its true meaning. We urge you to write and paint what we in turn will use as tools to teach our people.”
Corky’s “Message to Aztlán” has never resonated more powerfully and truthfully than in today’s anti-Chicana/o climate. The Chicana/o community continues to be criminalized and stereotyped as if it were 1836. Corky’s message is important as Chicana/o Studies observes its 45th anniversary in the fall of 2013.
In recent years, Chicana/o Studies has come under an intense vicious right-wing legal assault that has seen the discipline be banned in Arizona. Meanwhile, other states craft racist legislation to follow through on their threats to eliminate Chicana/o Studies as well. In California, Chicana/o Studies continues to be relegated to second-class status as a result of so-called budget cutbacks.
In 1996, Dr. Ignacio M. García wrote that in the “next ten years Chicano Studies will either retake its place as an agent of change or simply become another stepchild of the academic ivory tower”
How prophetic those words have become in 2013.
At a time when Chicanas/os are worse off in 2013 than in 1968, the historical question that never gets asked or answered is this: When we need them the most, where are our political and economic “leaders” who benefitted from the Chicano Movement?
A partial answer to that question lies in the fact that those political and economic “leaders” never left the community and are nowhere to be found because they were never for the community in the first place.
Its a bleak picture when looking for Chicana/o political “leadership” to take a genuine stand on issues affecting the community and be responsive to the needs of the people.
As the home of the first Chicana/o Studies program in the nation in 1968, Cal State L.A. would seem as the ideal place to renew the struggle for self-determination in the heart of Aztlán, but in recent years Chicana/o Studies at Cal State L.A. has failed to situate its historical awareness and presence as a legitimate counter-hegemonic discipline.
Cal State L.A.’s failure to even recognize its 45th anniversary as the first Chicana/o Studies program in the country is symbolic of how Chicana/o Studies has slowly lost its focus and betrays the original goals set forth by El Plan de Santa Barbara.
In 1996, Dr. García argued that Chicana/o Studies was receiving into its ranks a growing number of scholars with no ideological connection to the original goals of Chicana/o Studies. Moreover, he wrote that there was a growing renewed interest in Chicana/o Studies on college campuses.
Yet, 17 years later after Dr. García’s original article appeared, many were saying the same thing about Chicana/o Studies, especially because Hollywood actor Eva Longoria found herself graduating with a master’s degree in Chicana/o Studies from, of all places, Cal State Northridge (CSUN).
Eva Longoria’s achievement was applauded and celebrated by many, including former President Bill Clinton, which led many to believe that Chicana/o Studies was on the verge of a comeback.
To the uninitiated Chicana/o, a comeback suggested that Chicana/o Studies was on a long-term hiatus or, worse, extinct, which was further from the truth. Many “Latinos” applauded Eva’s Chicana/o Studies degree, while at the same time secretly pushing for its elimination by supporting the passively generic Ethnic Studies and/or “Latina/o Studies” framework onto high school and college campuses.
A contradiction of sorts, don’t you think? Chicana/o Studies is not and should never be equated pedagogically to Ethnic Studies nor “Latina/o” Studies.
What is certain, however, is that Chicana/o Studies does need a resurrection. And there are many active students and community members who are conscientiously working to jolt Chicana/o Studies to return to its historical roots in the struggle for self-determination. Once again, Chicana/o Studies finds itself in a critical moment of legitimacy in academia and relevancy in the Chicana/o community.
With Eva’s Chicana/o Studies master’s degree in mind, I return to Corky’s original challenge to the artists and writers of our community. By implication, majoring in and receiving a degree in Chicana/o Studies establishes the idea that the individual is committed to challenging existing racist, sexist and classist institutions in whatever field that individual will specialize in after obtaining a Chicana/o Studies degree.
As Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron clearly state: Without an oppositional system of knowledge production, the role of the educational institution is simply to recreate and maintain the status quo.
Thus, a Chicana/o Studies degree is not a stepping stone to INDIVIDUALITY nor for the reproduction of gringo capitalist inequality.
Rather, a Chicana/o Studies degree is by nature a transformation of the self towards COMMUNAL empowerment. As the old adage asserts, “una mano no se lava sola.”
As a Hollywood actor with some degree of influence, decision making abilities, and political, economic, and sociocultural connections, Eva Longoria’s achievement is worthy of praise, however, one cannot disconnect the implications of obtaining a Chicana/o Studies degree with the message she is currently conveying with the racist, sexist, and classist celluloid images of “Latina” women in her new show Devious Maids, where she is listed as executive producer.
It is a contradiction and an insult to our community for Eva to “proudly” proclaim that she holds a Chicana/o Studies degree while knowingly pushing what Corky calls “commercial garbage” onto our community and mainstream America.
Some in the “Latino” community call Devious Maids a “wasted opportunity” but that description insinuates that Eva merely made an “artistic” mistake when in fact this is exactly how Eva Longoria, the Mexican American middle-class petty bourgeois, and the Gringo ruling class see our community: as maids, gardeners, mechanics, gang bangers, prostitutes, welfare recipients, and as recent “immigrants.”
As Corky indicated, “We urge you to write and paint what we in turn will use as tools to teach our people.” Eva is clearly not using the tools of Chicana/o Studies to teach our people to resist injustice.
Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, states: “Part of the criticism is the frustration that Hispanics don’t have more characters on television that represent them as nurses, doctors and lawyers. Nogales says that to imagine Latinos being represented on-screen as successful professionals before telling the immigrant stories of hardship, assimilation and struggle first just won’t work.”
So in one fell swoop, we are Hispanics, then Latinos, then finally “immigrants” waiting our turn to “assimilate” into the capitalist system as consumers.
Isn’t this what this is all about anyway? To market the so-called “Latina/o” community into the next big capitalist consumer group.
That these groups and individuals are more concerned with profits than with human and civil rights should be a wake-up call for all who are truly dedicated to social justice.
Didn’t Corky warn those artists and writers: “Its better to say nothing than to misdirect and confuse our youth, who rely on you to interpret life and its true meaning.”
It is evident that folks like Eva Longoria, Alex Nogales and other vendidos are corrupting the ideals behind Chicana/o Studies and are merely using Eva’s “degree” for “community legitimacy” to portray her as an “advocate” and “community activist” when it is apparent that they are opposed to everything Chicana/o.
Chicana/o Studies is not some fad or hipsterish discipline. Chicana/o Studies is not about profiting from our history, culture, and struggle.
Chicana/o Studies is a revolutionary academic and community discipline of resistance that evolved out of a cultural nationalist struggle to challenge societal racism, sexism, and classism.
Chicana/o Studies was meant for the liberation of our people not for the commercial exploitation of a people whose roots were established centuries before the European invasion.
It is through Chicana/o Studies that our students, educators, pintos, artists, writers, politicos, activists, campesinos, and professionals were to find common ground to ensure that future Chicana/o generations wouldn’t have to suffer segregation, lynchings, exploitation etc.
Corky’s message was simple: “No one has the right to oppress the people, and all oppressed people have the right to revolution.”
Chicana/o Studies was one tool for our right to revolution.