Redundancy and Chicana/o Studies: El Tesonero

Words often clash with each other or interfere with an understanding of different concepts. For example, “redundancy” is a noun — it means, according to the dictionary “the state of being not or no longer needed or useful.” It comes down to superfluous repetition or overlapping.  However, when is something really redundant?

Redundancy, the noun, is similar to repetition — a lowly adjective that depends on the noun for its existence, although for redundancy to exist, “it is characterized by repetition, especially when unnecessary or tiresome.” Its synonyms are monotonous, tedious, boring, humdrum, and mundane.

Meanings change according to the language you are speaking. The definitions of redundant and repetition fit the Spanish word “tesonero,” which I was often accused of when growing up. However, the adjective here includes “tenacious” and “persistent” that explain repetitiveness.

In the past two decades I have found that accusations of “redundancy” and being “repetitive” are mostly been used to keep the critic quiet, to make the critic seem like a bore when in reality all learning is based on repetition.  However, society dismisses them as monotonous instead of persistent. The English meaning has rubbed off on the beautiful sounding word tesonero.

It seems as if repetition is today permissible only in education or the political arena. Witness the anti-immigrant debate where monotonous, tedious, boring, humdrum, and mundane assertions are repeated redundantly – never completing the circle. The only accepted redundancy is the approved information. It is doubtful whether communist propaganda would be tolerated although fascist reasoning is said to be free speech.

This spills over into the Latino and other minority communities where people are more interested in Dodger dogs or getting nose bleeds at Lakers’ games.  I could see this at the university where every time I mentioned privatization or Chicana/o studies curriculum eyes roll.

Taking into account that mathematics cannot be mastered without reciting the times tables or Latin without declining verbs, I am going to once more be redundant or better still a tesonero.

I am obsessed with the topic of Chicana/o Studies because not even professors and students of the area of studies understand it – no matter how much people such as me lecture about it they don’t get it. The other day I was talking to an instructor at another institution who said he was in Chicana/o studies – he taught the only class on Chicanas/os at the college – a History of the Chicana/o.  I patiently explained that he was not teaching ChS but history – there is a difference.

ChS is not a discipline, it is an area studies with disciplines within the program.  Area Studies did not become popular in the American academies until after World War II. Prior to this the curriculum revolved around Euro-American Studies. Indeed, the required general Education course was Western Civilization not World History that is a product of the post 1960s.

WWII made it clear that although the U.S. was a world power, it was not prepared to assume a leadership role. Its ignorance of other nations and competition with the Soviet Union exposed a glaring weakness in its education system. Few educated Americans knew a foreign language or even a tourist’s knowledge of countries outside the northern part of Europe.

Even before the United States entered the war in November 1941, the Defense Language Institute Foreign Language Center (DLIFLC) was established by the U.S. Army. It was a secret school near the Presidio of San Francisco to teach the Japanese language. The number of languages grew where a person could become conversant in a foreign language in eight weeks. A cluster of private language schools evolved around this school.

The greatest need to train personnel in a foreign culture came from business and the State Department. The Monterey Institute for Foreign Studies was established in 1955 and later renamed the Monterey Institute of International Studies.

Meanwhile, American educational reformers moved to modify the curriculum. 1945 made it evident that the single discipline-Eurocentric model could not meet the needs of the truly educated American. Language was just one component in learning about another people. It was a struggle even when reformers wanted to substitute a course in World History for Western Civilization. It is controversy that rages to this day with many Americans believing knowing one language enhances their Americanism.

Educators advocated a veering away from the single discipline model of learning about foreign cultures to Area studies, which involve interdisciplinary fields of research and scholarship pertaining to particular geographical, national/federal, or cultural regions. The scholarship and teaching involves many heterogeneous fields of the social sciences and the humanities. Geography like languages was a lynchpin.

Simply it was a holistic and more efficient way to teach about corpus of knowledge of countries that were vitally involved with. Instead of just learning their language were would take courses on the total society. The learner would become an expert on China, the language, the history and the culture. Foundations such as Ford, Carnegie and the other gaggle of funders poured hundreds of millions of dollars in grants to perfect the model and also entice academe into reforming its infrastructure.

There were proposals to eliminate Schools of Education and to integrate pedagogical courses within the disparate Areas of studies. These discussions influenced Chicana/o educators such as George I. Sanchez and others advocating bilingual education. Many Mexican American educators followed and added the label bilingual-bicultural. Just learning the language was not enough for teachers to learn about Mexican American children.

When I put together the curriculum for ChS at San Fernando Valley State I became obsessed with the idea of reforming education credential component, and I believed that it was the best way was to incorporate pedagogy into the course of study.  If the State Department and the military believed it was the most efficient and total approach, wasn’t it dumb to dismiss this research and not to educate teachers about Mexican American children instead of teaching them about American culture and expecting them to educate their students in a foreign environment.  The result was an ugly American scenario.

This concept was further elaborated by a study of history. The Jesuit missionaries, although for perverted reasons, learned the language of the Indians and their ways. In contrast, American teachers teaching Mexican Americans knew nothing about their students beyond Hola Paco! This is ridiculous when over 80 percent of the Los Angeles Unified School District and the majority of numerous other districts are Latino.

Chicana/o studies are therefore about pedagogy. It deals with teaching about geography, education, literature, history, language etc. It is based on the latest innovations in curricular reform. It sorely needed in a failed educational system where over fifty percent of the students are pushed out of school.

I am a tesonero, and proud of it. Learning takes repetition. I am a promoter of Chicana/o Studies because I am an educator and it represents the best and most proven method to teach teachers about Chicana/o children and to educate them.

— by Rodolfo F. Acuña

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