In this blog the term “political graffiti” is used in the context of a Harry Gamboa interview. Harry, an influential Chicano essayist, photographer, director and performance artist, once said that some art has strong form or style but has a poor message while other art has a weak technique but a strong message. This statement recalls the importance of graffiti art that, for me, has a strong message rather than adhering to the accepted form.
Political blogs resemble graffiti; they are not always pretty but have strong messages. I have never adhered to saying of art for art’s sake. If what you are writing has a political purpose the message is what is important. That is why I try to concentrate on the message, which I consider more important than commas and semi-colons.
This time around my piece focuses on the state of Chicana/o politics that we often confuse with the Chicana/o movement. It is my belief that Chicana/o politics today are based more on form than substance. Today’s Chicana/o politics do not want to transform society but to relate to the American illusion. In other words, selfies and social forms have replaced the politics of change.
I choose to call this phenomenon the time of political groupie. The word initially referred to a musical group but in the 1960s it was used in a more general sense. It came to refer to a particular kind of female fan who was presumably more interested in relationships with rock stars than in their music. In other words, the rock stars fame rubbed off on them.
The definition, however, becomes sexist if we make it gender specific. The truth be told, there is a thin line between a fan and a groupie. During my youth we would go to boxing matches at the Olympic and often get into arguments and even altercations over a fighter we were following. Like the groupie we belied that the boxer’s fame rubbed off on us.
This phenomenon can be expanded to sports teams. The World Cup reached ridiculous levels as has baseball. I have a former student who feels betrayed by the Dodgers, not because they stole Chavez Ravine, but because they let him down and did not win. He acts as if he were on the field catching the balls and batting .400.
Some political groupies claim to be down with the movement and often living recalling past glories.
Groupies are prominent in the political scene. Some of my good friends have become political groupies. I never fail to be amazed by the number of selfies they take with politicians and old activists such as me. They don’t seem to grasp the fact that just because you take a selfie with someone it does not mean that you participated in their history. Their accomplishments are not theirs but merely building blocks for today.
The truth be told this Chicana/o-Latino Groupie stage makes us all cheerleaders in the Twilight zone. We become groupies because we are living through someone else and taking on their personality and point of view. We become boosters instead of participants. We become spectators instead of agents of change.
We can see this change through our own lives and the changes that have taken place in our faculty, friends and students. Students often ask me how students today differ from those of forty years ago. In any time period those joining MECHA are the most political.
However, there is no denying that the idealism of MECHA has been compromised by a social mission. The group has always partied but that was not its focal point. Today there is more emphasis on getting along with others no matter what their politics.
The age of the political groupie is best typified in what is called Latino or Hispanic politics that do not promote issues but individuals and ourselves. Latino politics thrives on selfies. The truth be told, there has always been an element of this, but it was different.
You may have disagreed with LA City Councilman Richard Alatorre on a particular issue but you always knew if you scratched deep enough you got Garfield High School. He was an eastside kid and remained so through all the storms. That sense of place is missing in those running for office and their cheerleaders today.
A former student of mine Filiberto Gonzalez told me that he was one of the few Latinos active in the political scene that was involved with MECHA. Most had graduated from college without having taken a Chicana/o Studies class or participated in a demonstration. The significance of this is that the politics of change is not part of their epistemology.
The only Mexican/Latino issue that appears to have any traction is immigration – and even there not everyone is on the same page. Latino politics appears to boil down to pro and anti- Obama.
What distinguishes the groupies or selfies from others is self-interest. But I don’t want to get caught up in hyperbole. There are group and individual efforts to change society. Another former student of mine Raquel Roman, the Director at Proyecto Pastoral, is a prime example and represents the best in our community. Her life is one of activism and trying to transform society.
Just like Raquel there are thousands of activists who are altruistic. The Association of Raza Educators (ARE) is at the forefront of educational reform. The struggles in Tucson to defend Mexican American Studies and the work there in defense of the undocumented are other examples.
This Saturday there will be a conference at California State University Long Beach. There is a movement to make Chicana/o studies mandatory in California Public Schools. The leadership is a combination of old timers and grassroots activists who are not part of the selfie generation.
Organizers and supporters point out that the dropout problem is still at an epidemic stage in barrio schools and because of tuition and recruitment priorities the poor are being squeezed out. They also want to reverse the trend toward groupie politics by educating students through a process of identity, skill development and critical thinking.
The movement for CHS in the public schools has been picking up steam as of late. Led by people such as Elías Serna, Johny Ramírez, Selina Rodríguez and others from the Westside, the Santa Monica/ Malibu Unified School District recently created a small Ethnic Studies course/program. In East LA, the Semillas is an alternative K-12 school founded by the leaders of the UCLA Hunger Strike.
In the Pico-Rivera El Rancho School District Jose Lara (José del Barrio) has led the drive to make Mexican American Studies mandatory. And just recently California Latino legislators introduced a bill to make CHS mandatory in the public schools. Sadly they did not fight for it and withdrew the bill.
Attendance at the Long Beach conference could be historic. History tells us that our advances in the 70s and access to higher education were a product of the Chicana/o Movement and the drive for CHS. Perhaps these programs would reverse the trend toward the politics of the selfies and give us a sense of place and pride. So try to go but leave your cellphones at home.
— by Dr. R. Acuña