The National Question


don’t you think if you had become part of the academic community   instead of remaining as  an outsider you could have been instrumental in    increasing the percentage  of faculty of Mexican extraction beyond three percent? 

Take care


No, I don’t; the program, would have never succeeded if I was an insider. We have 26 tenure track and 40 part timers offer 166 courses a semester. This is part of the problem; History says we are taking “their” students (we are over twice as large as History). They haven’t hired Mexican faculty members because they are racist.


What distinguish people of Mexican extraction in the United States from those in Mexico are their life experiences in this country that have, for better or for worse, shaped them. That is why many sociologists pay so much attention to the questions of race and cultural conflict. Their experiences have grown more complex over the years as the numbers of Mexican American and other Latino groups have escalated. The total Latino population has zoomed for 5 million in 1970 to 53 million in 2010, with two-thirds of them of Mexican extraction.

Latino organizations have also changed as their constituent population has grown. Most non-Mexican immigrants have arrived in recent years, distinguishing them from Mexican Americans who have a much older history in the United States, and who have consequently suffered the brunt of rural segregation as well as the harsh racism of the pre-1960s.  Indeed, Mexican American organizations are rooted in civil rights issues and the protection of the foreign born.

During the 1960s and early 70s, local Chicana/o organizations changed, dropping the fiction of “other white” that was at the core of its earlier civil rights cases.  Influenced by radical and civil rights organizations, more of them began to think about what long range strategies should they use? Were they part of the Mexican or American working class?

Some Mexican American organizations looked to Karl Marx’s definition of the National Question, which they discussed in study circles.  They repeated Josef Stalin’s definition that “A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.” In doing this, they challenged the myth of the American melting pot.

They recognized that only by a collective identification could they achieve liberation.  Mexican Americans did not invent the National question. It had been raised since the 18th century and later debated by Marxists and anarchists. The basic premise of the National Question was the Right of Nations to Self-Determination of oppressed minorities.  By extension, it referred to nations with multi-nationalities.

The question took on new meanings for Mexican Americans and Latinos as they have achieved a critical mass. Meanwhile, many national organizations and leaders adopted assimilationist strategies supposed to solve the problem of inequality that replaced the more radical end self-determination.

It is important to reiterate that the discussion of the National Question is not a product of the 20th Century.  Karl Marx and his followers, for instance, wrote about National liberation, the Irish and the Jewish question and imperialism.

Today, the National Question has become much more complex as national liberation has shifted to stop the Third World’s subservience. neoliberalism and to curtail the influence of the World Bank and IMF, austerity programs and national debts.

My involvement in Arizona forced me to focus on the privatization of public schools and higher education, as well as driving home the importance of micro-history in answering the question of whether assimilation is a viable strategy in achieving liberation for Mexican Americans and others. The thesis of my blogs in recent years has been that the ruling elite achieves its dominance over the minority through a strategy of pseudo assimilation and the erasure of memory.

The other day, I read an article In These Times by John Collins titled “For the Activists in the New Economy Movement, All Revolution Is Local.” It is a spinoff of the feminist saying that all politics are local. It notes “the collateral damage unlimited economic growth” has caused harm to society, as “the mainstream media works to fit the debate about economic inequality into a bootstrap-capitalist versus freeloader-socialist box, here are some of the realities fueling the skepticism.” Collins solution is local democracy though “co-op and consumer ownership ideas.”

While I agree with much of what Collins writes, my take is different. Mexican Americans and Latinos are going to have to take another look at the National Question and learn to say “no” to assimilation policies. This includes “No” to political parties, Democratic part candidates and trade unions.  This can only be accomplished through a collective discussion of the National Question and a dialogue on what is to be done.

These collective discussions are absent today in Arizona and efforts to roll back the privatization of public schools and higher education.

The rhetoric of assimilation is to isolate minorities. There is an over concentration on culture that plays a huge role among oppressed minorities who over identify as members of a national culture rather than on thanr inequality.  By assimilating, the minorities inequality is not changed, and their political emancipation is delayed.

The debate on strategy is not new. In the decades surrounding 1900, when most working-class families were on the brink of financial ruin, mutual aid societies (mutualists) were formed to provide health insurance and a space for workers — they were combinations of social clubs and financial institutions.

Mutualistas were invaluable to minorities who were often excluded from trade unions. Socialists, however, criticized them as relieving capitalists of their duty to provide for essentials such as health care.  It weakened the struggle against capital and delayed revolution.

My criticism of assimilation is not so much based on separatism as much as a strategy to achieve collective goals. My discussion with Mike that introduces the blog is a counter-argument to those who maintain that my tactics and those of others should have been more cooperative. Assimilation and the call for civility are strategies by the ruling elite to keep us in our place and subvert the preservation of memory and community.

— by Rodolfo F. Acuña

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