Most recently, I was reminded by a good friend about the story of Sisyphus who was condemned by the Greek gods to push an immense rock up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and be forced to repeat this endeavor for eternity.
Similarly, it seems that for every imaginary step forward we take as a Chicana/o community, in reality we end up taking three steps back. We are forced to repeat this endeavor for eternity.
In recent years, Chicanas/os have had an uncanny habit of declaring and celebrating political “victories,” such as in the current Mexican American Studies struggle in Tucson, only to see those community “victories” quickly evaporate for lack of actual implementation of said programs or right-wing legal challenges to those “victories.”
In the case of the Mexican American Studies program in Tucson, many unwittingly celebrated their own defeat by declaring “victory” over the creation of court-ordered “culturally-relevant courses,” which in actuality meant that Mexican American Studies would remain banned in Arizona.
In a twist of irony, Chicanas/os never fail to return and support the very system they challenged in the first place, and thus nullifying those political “victories.”
For a number of years now, I’ve been in active political organizing campaigns and conversations with many Chicana and Chicano community activists in order to better understand the political and sociocultural condition of the state of Chicanismo in our community.
Most often, we are encouraged and inspired by the many young Chicana/o activists who despite the odds continue the struggle for self-determination from the classrooms of Tucson to the barrios of East L.A. to the congressional offices of those politicians who craft racist laws that deny dignity and justice to our gente.
Yet there is an aura of cynicism that clouds our conversations from time to time. How could it be that we can celebrate and pinpoint great individual “success” in our community yet as a whole our community can still lag behind in every quantifiable measure of society from education to employment?
It doesn’t help either that actor Eva Longoria, rather than using her position for community self-determination, is in cahoots with the Hispanic and Euroamerican elite that is opposed to the very Chicanismo, which Eva purports to represent with her highly publicized and recently obtained Chicana/o Studies degree from Cal State University, Northridge (CSUN) in May 2013.
Dr. Rudy Acuña perceptively observed that the 1970s restored to the middle class its hegemony over the Chicano movement. The politics of self-determination were replaced by a return to the politics of assimilation.
Some forty years after the Chicano Movement, the politics of assimilation, consumerism, and profit being promoted by a number of Hispanic organizations and individuals at the expense of our community’s human and civil rights borders on neo-colonialism.
Most of the social gains made as a result of the Chicano Movement have been lost. It should be evident by now that Chicana/o political representation has not equated to Chicana/o Power.
The end of the Chicano Movement intensified the disempowerment of our families and youth, for instance, through the expansion of the school-to-prison pipeline, which has negatively impacted the Chicana/o community at rates higher than any other ethnic group in the United States.
This one fact alone does not occur in isolation. Rather, it is amplified by external and internal forces that are intent on keeping the Chicana/o community under social control for political and economic reasons.
In Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression, Hussein Abdillahi Bulhan details the existence of factors in the African coast that led to the enslavement of Africans. Factors were the middlemen who bought and delivered slaves for the journey to the Americas.
The factors represented large firms who dealt with slavers who were willing to pay high prices for “human merchandise.” Some African factors adopted European customs with an avarice for wealth.
As slavery expanded in the American colonies and later in the United States, African factors remade themselves fiercely determined to continue profiting from the business of slavery.
Bulhan revealed that in the American slave plantations, the factors emerged as the “house slaves” attending to the master’s needs while betraying the “field slaves” at every opportunity possible.
In other colonial settings around the world, factors were the “domestic boys,” “petty civil servants,” and “agents of colonial administrators.”
Bulhan asserts that factorship is alive and well in today’s society as a “pervasive psychosocial phenomenon among the Black intelligentsia and many Black leaders.”
In applying the framework of the colonial African factorship to contemporary Chicana/o politics, it should be noted that the factorship is also alive and well in present-day Hispanic political organizations through the “leadership” of so-called community “advocates.”
The Chicana/o community has historically used the term “poverty pimp” to refer to the factors who exploit our community for profit and self-aggrandizement.
There is no doubt that the Hispanic factorship destroyed the Chicano Movement. The Hispanic factorship is not a new phenomenon and its roots date back to 1492.
In the early 1970s, the Richard Nixon Administration, with the help of the Hispanic factorship, waged a political and cultural war on the Chicano Movement. This low-intensity assault is still being waged today against Chicanas/os through the work of many right-wing politicians, think tanks and news organizations.
The Nixon Administration and the Hispanic factorship were committed to containing the radicalism of self-determination embedded in the word Chicano, which unified barrios throughout Aztlán into a movement, through the bureaucratic creation of the Eurocentric label “Hispanic.”
The label “Hispanic” neatly packaged the Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Central American into a Pan-Hispanic consumer group ready to be swallowed by the bottom feeders of Madison Avenue and its Euroamerican and Hispanic corporate allies.
The label “Hispanic” diluted the historical legacy of existence (i.e. original inhabitants), dignity, identity and space (i.e. land ownership) of Chicanas/os as Indigenous peoples to the land.
The Pan-Hispanic melting-pot movement attempted to erase our history and identity, while neutralizing the Chicano movement.
Just as Blacks would refuse to be called “English or British” for their connection to the English language and British culture, Chicanas/os refused to accept the Hispanic label that associated them with the genocidal hallmarks of the Spaniards. Chicanas/os have fought back every step of the way.
The main purpose of the Hispanic factorship was to neutralize Chicana/o grass-roots organizations and community leaders who might threaten the hegemony of the Establishment.
No longer were Chicana/o Movement activists highlighted as leaders or heroes. The Chicano Movement activists were no longer called “militants” or “radicals” by the mainstream media, they were simply erased from the historical record.
The new leaders that emerged in the new narrative of the mainstream media were the Hispanic intermediaries who had no connection to the community yet were closely connected to the monied interests and the dominant power structure.
Since no longer was it politically and economically convenient to classify all Mexicans as “Frito Banditos,” the “good” and “bad” immigrant narrative was created to foment the age old “divide and conquer” strategy. After all, most people want to be accepted and no one wants to be identified as not being a team player so the “good” and “bad” narrative fit well in the new post-Movement American society, especially in the context of the John Wayne, Archie Bunker, and Ronald Reagan “truth” and “objective” paradigm.
The Hispanic factorship rationalized “progress” in economic terms. For the Hispanic factorship this meant building up a Hispanic middle-class, while at the same time offering the appearance of opportunity and upward mobility for Chicanas/os by celebrating individual political and economic “success.”
If Chicanas/os couldn’t make it in the new Pan-Hispanic era, it was not because of the continuance of a century of institutional racism, rather it had to do with the racist right-wing fabricated doctrine that Mexicans were “lazy,” “ignorant,” or were genetically pre-disposed to a life of criminality or indolence.
While Chicana/o community activists and Chicana/o Studies scholars refuted those right-wing eugenicists claims, the Hispanic factorship remained silent and were complicit in the drafting of many of those racist narratives that co-opted the Chicano Movement, such as the creation of the “good” and “bad” immigrant.
To better understand the Hispanic factorship that arose in the 1970s, it is necessary to understand the founding and political evolution of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) in Corpus Christi, Texas on February 17, 1929.
As early as 1819, Euroamerican and Mexican relations had been entangled in a web of hostility and misunderstanding. Through the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, Euroamericans invaded Tejas (1835) then México (1846).
Practically overnight, Mexicans were made strangers in their own land. The wealthy Tejano elite, most of whom were staunch supporters of so-called independence, such as Juan Seguin were driven off their land.
Through Euroamerican racism, segregation, Jim Crow laws, and the vigilantism of the Mexican-hating Texas Rangers “police-force,” the vast majority of Mexicans in Tejas lived in a state of fear. Of course, Mexicans did resist racist injustices, such as the hero Juan Cortina.
As Carey Mcwilliams, however, documents in his classic work, North from Mexico, “more Mexicans were lynched in the Southwest between 1865 and 1920 than blacks in other parts of the south.”
Mexicans in Tejas were shaped by these racial experiences. Consequently, in the early 1920s, a small but growing U.S.-born Mexican American middle-class began objecting to being dismissed as merely “Mexican” by Euroamericans. To the Mexican American middle-class, being labeled “Mexican” evoked cultural inferiority and shame. The Mexican American middle-class wanted to be anything but Mexican.
As such, the U.S.-born Mexican American middle-class felt compelled to take a stand against large-scale Mexican immigration because they concluded that this would be the only way to stop Euroamerican racism since U.S.-born Mexicans were indiscriminately lumped together with recent Mexican arrivals.
At the end of World War I, many returning servicemen refused to be treated as second-class citizens. In early 1922, former Mexican American servicemen formed civic groups, such as El Orden Hijos de América, El Orden Caballeros de América, and the League of Latin American Citizens.
Politically and ideologically, these groups were a departure from the earlier Mexican mutual aid societies, which promoted cooperation and unity among all Mexicans.
These new Mexican American civic groups excluded non-American citizens. As such, the civic groups promoted assimilation and integration into the American political and cultural landscape.
After a series of meetings between the various Texas Mexican civic groups, LULAC was officially formed by Manuel C. Gonzáles, Alonso S. Perales, Benjamin Garza, J.T. Canales, and others. The group drafted the LULAC Code, which defined the group’s objectives as promoting and developing the “best and purest” form of Americanism among Mexican Americans.
LULAC epitomized the integrationist politics that developed among the new Mexican American middle-class. LULAC made every attempt to not espouse radical politics.
Although LULAC was instrumental in challenging discrimination in public facilities and registering Mexican Americans to vote, LULAC still encouraged Mexicans to pay the Jim Crow poll taxes, while at the same time abandoning the non-U.S. citizen Mexican community.
LULAC believed that racism and economic exploitation of the Mexican community was not an historical legacy of the Euroamerican invasion of Tejas, rather they saw it merely as an “adverse reaction” by Euroamericans to the Mexican immigrants who had recently entered the United States. LULAC did everything it could to distinguish itself from the Mexican “immigrant.”
In its 84 years of existence, LULAC’s policy of assimilation has remained a hallmark of the group. In the modern era of Chicana/o politics, the roots of Hispanic factorship begin with LULAC and are further promoted by, among others, the American G.I. Forum, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC), the Latino Rebels Foundation (LRF), and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR).
The “Hispanic Strategy” begun by the Nixon Administration has been a success. It has falsely homogenized communities for the sole purpose of creating a capitalist consumer base while ignoring human and civil rights.
The Hispanic factorship has discredited outright protest and resistance as being un-American, unproductive and contrary to the Chicana/o community’s needs.
In 1968, Chicana/o activists initiated a boycott of the ultra-right wing Coors company to bring attention to their discriminatory hiring policies. The Crusade for Justice highlighted Coors’ monetary contributions to several right-wing groups as well as providing helicopters to the Denver police, who in turn used them in order to confront legitimate Chicana/o protests.
In October 1984, LULAC, the American G.I. Forum, the Cuban National Planning Committee, NCLR, the National Puerto Rican Coalition, and the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce ended the Coors boycott as if they had any power and legitimacy in the community to do so.
In one fell swoop, however, they sold-out the working-class Chicana/o community and declared the Chicano Movement dead.
Coors pledged $350 million in contributions to the Hispanic community. As Dr. Rudy Acuña states, “how much Coors returned depended on how much beer the Hispanic community drank.”
As the largest group of the Pan-Hispanic community, Chicanas/os were expected to drink the most beer. Alcoholism is serious problem in our community today. Nonetheless, the Hispanic factorship could care less about it as long as it continues to receive its financial check.
Ironically, Coors made monetary contributions to the right-wing Heritage Foundation yet it did not insist on a beer-drinking clause for its grant.
Chicana/o activists have continued the Coors boycott to this day. Nonetheless, the Chicana/o community was sold-out by the Hispanic factorship and the movement co-opted as the Decade of the Hispanic became a reality.
The NCLR is in the midst of its annual conference in New Orleans. The anti-union and low-wage exploiter Walmart is one of many sponsors of the conference. Meanwhile Miller-Coors is slated to sponsor the “President’s Reception.”
In addition, one of its “featured” speakers is Al Cardenas, Chairman of the American Conservative Union (ACU). The ACU was founded by William F. Buckley in 1964, and is one of the nation’s oldest lobbying groups on the far Right.
It should be evident by now that the NCLR and other Hispanic factorships sleep with the enemy. The Hispanic factorship opposes true genuine self-determination.
Like Sisyphus, the Chicana/o community pushes the rock up the hill, doing all the necessary work to open doors that were once closed, while making change possible in an unjust system.
However, the Hispanic factorship interferes and allows the rock to roll down needlessly and the process starts all over. The Hispanic factorship purposely piggybacks off the struggle of the Chicano Movement while doing absolutely nothing other than to parade a fantasy of “progress” and “community” under the umbrella of the pseudo Pan-Hispanic narrative.
Its time to fight back. Ya Basta! This commentary is just one fight. Hasta La Victoria Siempre.
– part of an ongoing series of essays on the Chicano Movement, the Brown Berets, and Chicano Studies as part of my thesis/dissertation.