The Chicana/o Legacy: Gaining Traction but Still No. 9

Students and community activists don’t appreciate how far we have come since the 1960s as a result of activism. They take for granted that Latinos are getting national attention, taking for granted simple things like being able to go to a swimming pool, attend college or walk into a department store. They rationalize that the attention is because of their hard work, the Democratic Party or that people are getting less racist.

They often fail to understand the significance of numbers erroneously attributing the growth of the Latino population to immigration. While immigration has paid a role it is not the dominant factor; most growth has been internal. During the 1960s, Mexican American women had a high fertility rate that drove the increase of a national Latino population.

Many believe we are beyond racism and that Americans love Mexican Americans and Latinos who are getting better looking as a consequence of less starch in their diet. Some cite the Deferred Action (DACA) as evidence of this change and cite that because of this shift the Dreamers are now eligible for temporary work permits, Social Security numbers and protection from deportation. They ignore that DACA excludes millions of Mexican and Latino youth and their parents. What is more tragic is that the forgotten will never qualify because they lied about their immigration status at a young age.

The truth be told, the Dreamers are the cream of our society, they are the kids that every rational person would want as a daughter or son. They survived all odds, made it to college, and are enduring despite society. For Americans to kick them out at this stage would be more than stupid. Given their scholastic achievement it would be like throwing $100,000 a deportee out the window – a half million of them.

The traction  Mexicans and Latinos are receiving is no accident. When the topic of why Mexicans and Latinos are in vogue, I think of a response by the late Ernesto Galarza to the question of why our Democratic Party friends always failed to pass legislation that benefitted Mexican Americans and farmworkers is appropriate.

Galarza replied that it was not a matter of liking Mexican Americans rather one of priorities. In a normal session of Congress or the state legislature lawmakers passed about a half dozen major laws. Every party has an agenda listing ten or more priorities.  Farmworkers have always been on the Democrat’s list of priorities, but they were usually number 10 on the list. They liked us, according to Galarza, but never got down to number 10. Indeed, they traded Mexican American issues for others. They condoned gerrymandering, for instance, because it kept them in office. During the 1960s California had a critical number of Spanish-speaking people, but that was not enough to stop Democrats from prioritizing their favorite bills.

Just twenty years ago the Democratic Party sold us out on Leticia A, a California case that was filed in the 1980s to deny undocumented youth equal access to higher education. Before Leticia A immigration status was not an issue. Twenty years ago Proposition 187 was also passed by two-thirds of California voters.

What has changed?  Our numbers and more voters. They could gerrymander us in the 60s, 70s and 80s but the courts and militancy changed this. During the 90s because of a change in term limits, the California Chicana/o representation in the legislature was large enough to punish the Democrats. As a consequence, we moved from 10 to ninth or eighth on the agenda depending on whether it was an election year.

Contrary to popular belief not all Mexican Americans are immigrants. Some go back five and six generations, and are veterans and vote regularly.

During the 1960s, Chicana/o and Puerto Rican militancy had widened access to higher education and grew a middle class – something that benefitted succeeding generations of Latinos. Today the Mexican base is at least 35 million – ten times as large as in 1970.

Numbers gave us the only power poor people have which is the power to disrupt.  Undoubtedly the Dreamers’ militancy had a huge impact on the immigration question. But their real power was their story within the Mexican/Latino community. What moved Obama was the large bloc of Mexican American voters. It gave the Dreamers a wedge – they could have seriously set back the Democratic Party agenda. But the truth be told, it was not enough to stop Obama from deporting more undocumented families than any president in recent history.

After all these years, Mexican Americans and Latinos are still not a priority. A barometer to measure their traction is foreign aid from the U.S. In 2012 the top recipients of U.S. foreign aid were:

Top 25 Recipients of U.S. Aid In Millions $

Afghanistan    12,885.50

Israel                 3,100.10

Iraq                    1,940.10

Egypt               1,404.00

Pakistan            1,214.90

Jordan                1,135.30

Ethiopia                870.10

Kenya                    749.20

Colombia              644.30

Haiti                      510.40

West Bank/Gaza   457.40

South Sudan          444.30

Russia                     440.90

Somalia                 419.60

Tanzania               402.00

Congo (Kinshasa) 388.40

Uganda                  352.40

Nigeria                  335.90

Sudan                   298.10

South Africa         274.70

Mozambique         274.00

Ukraine                 273.30

Yemen                  258.50

Bangladesh           256.80

Liberia                  247.10

Note the large number of African countries receiving aid; it is not based on humanitarian grounds, but to protect the interests of American corporations that in turn do not pay taxes. Note that Russia receives a hefty sum of aid – why? It has oil just like the African nations. Not one nation in Middle America aside from Haiti is in the top 25.

This situation will never change based on numbers alone; they will not reprioritize the Democratic Party agenda. The American War on Drugs will continue as well as the American stereotype of Mexico being a big Tijuana.

How people look at us is in great part based on the image Americans have of Mexico. How can anyone respect a country whose leaders sell its patrimony and themselves? There is no reason for the U.S. to give foreign aid to Mexico when its leaders are privatizing its oil (and every other natural resource) and the North American Free Trade Agreement is making Mexican a U.S. swap meet. American corporations are accomplishing what 1848 did not.

The Chicana/o Legacy is clear. Its youth movement widened access to higher education for all Latinos.  Cisneros v. Corpus Christi Independent School District (1970) was the first case extending the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. the Board of Education of Topeka to Mexican Americans and other Latinos.

Yet this was still not enough to shift the priorities of the Democratic Party.  As Galarza pointed out, it is not that Democrats hate us; it is that we are still Number 10 — perhaps 9.  We don’t have the power to shift the paradigm.

Being large is not the same as being respected. Changing the name from Chicana/o to Latino does not move the needle. If we had power we would bring down the U.S border wall that has killed thousands more than the Berlin Wall.

Numbers don’t mean a thing – statistics are fodder for elites to control us. Recently I had a conversation with a prominent Hispanic who proudly told me that they counted Spaniards and Italians as Latinos because it padded the numbers. However, he could not answer how this made us number 1. Look at the above chart of the top 25 recipients of American foreign aid and see where we as Middle Americans stand.

— by Dr. R. Acuña

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