Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Book Titles: From the Curious to Those with Moxie

 


A year ago, last week, I received author copies of Mexican Americans with Moxie: A Transgenerational History of El Movimiento Chicano in Ventura County, California, 1945-1975A month later, newly released paperback editions of my first oeuvre on mi tierra natal arrived, Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961. Between then and now, I have given several book lectures. Most remotely and not as many I would have wished largely due to Covid-19 restrictions…I like to think. If I am invited to talk at an institution (e.g., a college, library, or museum), I now customarily request an honorarium when it is not offered, depending on my relationship with the folk at a given venue. When I am asked how much, I respond that I am happy with an amount extended to previously invited authors of a similar caliber as myself. I know that I am no MacArthur “Genius” grant winner. But I also don’t want to be lowballed because I am a Chicano academic. Simply. It’s not about the money. It’s about respect.

 

For civic groups and classroom visits, I don’t require remuneration, especially if they are nearby. Years ago, a friend who led a non-profit that encouraged Chicanx youth to go to college presented me with a small box of chocolates after my presentation. Recently, after a visit with AVID[1] students, the teacher, a 1983 classmate, gifted me a smart, yellow Oxnard High alumni t-shirt. Both gestures made me feel appreciated.


After I am introduced on showtime, I cover the scholarly provenance of both my books since Mexican Americans with Moxie is a follow-up to Curious Unions. I explain how I converted my doctoral dissertation into the latter as this is the case of the first book for many, if not most, university historians. A good number of community studies in Chicana/o history were published in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some are titled The Mexican Outsiders (Santa Paula), Labor and Community (Orange County), Making Lemonade Out Lemons (Corona)and The Devil in Silicon Valley (San Jose). Then there was Michele Serros’ fiercely witty Chicana Falsa and Other Stories of Death and Identity in Oxnard published in 1998Although not a work of history, when Chicana Falsa debuted, it inspired me to document my hometown’s ethnic Mexican past with similar righteousness. 

As my advisor at the Claremont Graduate University expressed her imprimatur for the project, I soon discovered a 1984 Labor History journal article by sociologist Tomás Almaguer titled “Racial Domination and Class Conflict in Capitalist Agriculture: The Oxnard Sugar Beet Workers’ Strike of 1903.”[2] In addition to its interesting, not so crypto, material analysis, a major takeaway from this social history is how a rare inter-racial union of Japanese and Mexican sugar beet workers and labor contractors—an even more exceptional partnership—successfully battled a fifty percent wage cut instituted by a rapacious cartel of white landowners. Later I learned that Carey McWilliams, a Colorado transplant and doyenne of California studies, titled a section of a chapter in his 1948 book, North From Mexico, “Los Betabeleros.” 

As I further researched and transformed my dissertation into a book manuscript, I wrestled with its eventual title. In the process, I found that other historians of my academic cohort had adopted catchphrases from McWilliams’ Southern California: An Island on the Land (1946) to headline their own books. For example, Matt García, a classmate of mine at the Claremont Graduate University, titled his first book on the ethnic Mexican community A World of Its Own: Race, Labor, and Citrus in the Making of Greater Los Angeles, 1900-1970 (2001). Four years later, Douglas Sackman completed Orange Empire: California and the Fruits of Eden (2005)Here are two excerpts from Southern California, respectively, that not only illustrate my point but also exhibit McWilliams’ trenchant prose: 

Throughout Southern California are many similar belts…This citrus belt complex of peoples, institutions, and relationships has no parallel in rural life in America…It is neither town nor country, neither rural nor urban. It is a world of its own.[3] 

 

Today “the orange empire” extends from Pasadena to San Bernardino through a series of evenly spaced communities, with the whole area being almost as densely populated as a city.[4] 

 

Hence, I decided that McWilliams’ nimble use of two specific words in the following account within North From Mexico would define my first book: “The growing of sugar beets is unique in that it represents ‘a curious union of family farms and million dollar corporations.’”[5] Therefore the title of my first book as the ethnic Mexican community of Oxnard developed many “curious unions,” in the form of collaborations with other ethnic and racial groups as well as civic and labor organizations making them assertive historical agents. 

Beyond the distinctive inter-racial formation of the betabelero Japanese Mexican Labor Association in 1903, ethnic Mexicans, for example, worked with whites and other communities of color in combatting police violence, the demand for equitable municipal services (e.g., streetlights, sanitation, and paved streets), youth programming, recognition, and the temporary cessation of the exploitation of braceros. Hence, the Curious Unions heading nicely alluded to a central premise of my book—that the ethnic Mexican community of Oxnard was central to the city’s cultural life as they were in no way outsiders in an “us against them” narrative. 

As I was finishing with the copy edits and gathering of permissions for Curious Unions’ eventual 2012 release, a collection of unused newspaper articles, documents, and interview material compelled me to write a follow-up book on the Chicana/o movement in Ventura County. As was the case in book one, for the second I wanted to further complicate peoples’ understanding of the Chicana/o Movement, particularly as it expressed itself outside of greater Los Angeles. After all, the ethnic Mexican communities of Fillmore, Moorpark, Oxnard, and Santa Paula had their own challenges with police brutality, protested the United States’ war in Vietnam, organized agricultural strikes, and struggled for educational justice not only like in East Los Angeles but also Delano in the San Joaquin Valley. 

Thus, I took advantage of the thrill in my completion of book one. I studied, yet again, the edition I had of Rodolfo Acuna’s Occupied America—the encyclopedic Before the Mayflower and Custer Died for Your Sins book of historians of Chicana/o history—to refamiliarize myself with the touchstone events and unaddressed questions of el movimiento. I also examined Acuna’s 2011 book The Making of Chicana/o Studies: In the Trenches which detailed how a significant number of San Fernando Valley State College (now named California State University, Northridge) students and faculty came from or ended up living in Ventura County. One alum of Valley State was Diana Borrego Martinez who I came to know through her father, Robert Borrego, who was civically engaged primarily, but not solely, in Santa Paula for decades. Each year, Robert and Diana visited a class I co-taught with a colleague in English on the youth movements of the 1960s and ’70s. 

As a result, I met with Diana at a Ventura coffeehouse in July of 2012. As we chitchatted before I pressed the record button of my mp3 device, I referenced a passage in The Making of Chicana/o Studies that detailed how United Mexican American Students (UMAS) at Valley State “consisted of about thirty students, and a dozen or so were hard core.” In the next sentence, Diana’s name was listed as one of those students. I asked her about her college experiences and what made her and her peers hard core activists. Diana looked down at the table to reflect upon the question. After a moment, she raised her head with a grin and replied, “You know, we had moxie.” 

Moxie. That word. It captivated me since I first heard college basketball play-by-play announcer Dick Vitale belllow it to describe frosh UCLA ballers in the 1990s: “They got moxie BABEEE!”

COURAGE, DETERMINATION. AGGRESSIVE ENERGY. INITIATIVE. That was the radical style of Chicanas and Chicanos. 

Consequently, as I considered the critical feedback of peer reviewers that recommended my second book manuscript for publication again with the University of Nebraska Press, I spent time thinking about its prospective title. Then, being that ethnic Mexican youth and young adults of the 1960s and ’70s were carrying on a tradition of resistance of leaders in their community of the Mexican American Generation, I realized that they, too, were Mexican Americans but with a moxie all their own. In other words, where many, but certainly not all, of the Mexican American Generation advocated on behalf of their community from an aspirational politics of middle-class respectability, comportment, and acceptance (sartorially imagine suits), the Chicana/o Generation carried themselves with a counter-culture savoir-faire. At the same time, however, this bearing, flare, mien, anger, if you will, was an adaptation of what their parents and elders role modeled but in a more measured manner, predominantly. It was part of a historical dialectic. So much so that a good number of ethnic Mexicans, consisting of US-born and naturalized citizens as well as long-term and recent immigrant Mexican nationals, embraced the Chicana/Chicano epithet. This was particularly true as working-class families with mixed citizenship and residency status demanded to be treated with dignity in terms of just wages and conditions in the fields, orchards, plants, and nurseries of Ventura County.

That is our history.

C/S fpb


[1] Advancement Via Individual Determination  

[2] The article was incorporated into Alamaquer’s germinal 1994 book Racial Fault Lines: The Historical Origins of White Supremacy. 

[3]Southern California, 207. 

[4]Southern California, 216. 

[5]North From Mexico, 166. 


Monday, June 13, 2022

El Calor de Otro Sol Or: Giant-A La SoCal, Part 1

Based on Edna Ferber’s 1952 novel, the film GIANT depicted mid-twentieth century life and society in Texas four years later. Although much of the Lone Star state’s cultural landscape applied to the rest of the nation. This entailed the quotidian oppression of ethnic Mexicans and Blacks, a bespoke racial regionalism, and thorny socio-economic transformation draped in a normalized veil of White Supremacy. A diner slugfest between freshly woke cattle baron Jordan “Bick” Benedict, played by Rock Hudson, and the bigoted proprietor who would not serve Bick’s ethnic Mexican daughter-in-law Juana, played by Elsa Cardenas, and his mixed-race grandchildren functioned as the tale’s climax. Racial capitalism won the pleito, btw. But the significance of the scene was not in the win or loss but in the fight itself.

The movie’s central take was the South’s racial capitalism as Anglos monopolized land, cattle, oil, and racialized labor. For example, in Bick’s Texas ethnic Mexican ranch hands of Reata obsequiously attended to the crows of Whites like Luz Benedict, Bick’s sister who enjoyed cattle rustling over making love. And in Virginia—the home state of Leslie Benedict, Bick’s wife played by Elizabeth Taylor—well-mannered Black servants answered the commands of plantation bosses from a more genteel tradition. The opportunity for upward mobility in this caste system existed only for working-class whites of ambiguous lineage. The hardscrabble alcoholic, Jett Rink, played by James Dean, mythically symbolized this trope. Nonetheless, in both the film and novel, no hint of resistance exists to the house of White supremacy on the part of Brown and Black agents. Vexingly, in the film only Whites could demand social justice—and only when racism demeaned new Brown family members, wearily accepted, such as Juana and her children.

The inhumanity of White supremacy in housing, healthcare, public facilities, and work (i.e., structural racism) conveyed in GIANT is also wrenchingly detailed in Isabel Wilkerson’s magisterial Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration (2010). Through the harrowing migrant family stories of Ida Mae Brandon Gladney who relocated from Chickasaw County, Mississippi eventually to Chicago, Dr. Robert Joseph Pershing Foster from Monroe, Louisiana to Los Angeles, and George Watson Starling from Eustis, Florida to Harlem, Wilkerson narrates an in-your-face-racism that humiliated, subordinated, and disciplined southern refugees in multifaceted ways. Any Black person who contravened racist mores risked White public rituals of lynching that entailed gang rapes and beatings, torture (e.g., victims chained to cars and dragged through streets by the genitals), bodily mutilations, people burned alive, and hangings in town squares while White families entertained themselves in their Sunday’s best. Such acts of collective terrorism were not limited to the South as they took also place in the Midwest, North, and West against families who attempted to reside in uncrowded working-class neighborhoods such as the Chicago suburb of Cicero.

The dialectic of migration detailed by Wilkerson rhymed similarly with those of ethnic Mexicans from different parts of the US and Mexico. For example, the terrorist violence of outfits such as the Texas Rangers and Ku Klux Klan also compelled the migration of Black and Brown refugees to el calor de otro sols. Indeed, Wilkerson stated, “The people of the Great Migration had farther to climb because they started off at the lowest rung wherever they went. They incited greater fear and resentment in part because there was no ocean between them and the North…Thus, blacks confronted hostilities more severe than most any other group (except perhaps Mexicans, who could also cross over by land)….” Then there was the economic opportunity in the shipyards, auto plants, and meatpacking factories of places like Oakland, Detroit, and Chicago that recruited Black and Brown migrants before the Second World War. And once at a terminal point of their chain migration from one city and town to another over time, the transplanted set up socially supportive and protective migrant clubs and mutualistas, as did Whites from places such as Iowa, and held culturally restorative reunions.

I often reflect upon the Great Migration stories, Brown and Black, of my community while coming of age in Ventura County. Growing up I eavesdropped and listened to the accounts of my paternal and maternal great-grandparents and grandparents. On my mom’s side, my Abuelita guided her four young daughters from Chihuahua, Mexico as a single mother. My dad’s father migrated earlier in the century from Michoacan; from McAllen, Texas his mother’s family traveled back and forth from Chihuahua, Kansas, and Texas before settling in Rancho Sespe. I also often ponder the migrant, working-class narratives of families that lived in my Bartolo Square neighborhood of south Oxnard composed of a fairly balanced mix of ethnic Mexicans, Filipinos, Japanese, Blacks, and Whites. I periodically chuckle to myself when I remember my Black schoolmate, Steve, who lived down the street when he boasted one day on the playground that his family originated from Paris. “Wow,” I incredulously said to myself, “Steve’s family is from France?” After a brief pause, Steve clarified his assertion with a smile, “We’re from Paris, Texas!” Other Black families in my Bartolo Square neighborhood in south Oxnard, like Curtis’s, came from Mississippi and other states of the South. We got all got along—for the most part. Then there was the story of my paternal grandmother, Josephine, who shared with me how a Black farmer in McAllen, Texas had taught my great-grandfather, Santos Hernandez, how to read. Wow. Heavy.

From these accounts, I feel a certain connection to Texas and its people.

After my return to Ventura County in 2001 to begin my teaching career at California State University Channel Islands, I interviewed my first-grade teacher, Ms. Lillie Watkins, after some thirty years since being her student, for my first book Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1998-1961. In this conversation, I learned that she was originally from Indiana. Upon facing graduation from Ball State University in the late 1950s, Ms. Watkin’s sister was recruited to work at the Oxnard Elementary School District. Following her sister’s lead, Ms. Watkins accepted a position to teach first grade in the OESD. When Ms. Watkins and her husband arrived in Ventura County they searched for an apartment. And like many Black and Brown migrants in search of the warmth of different suns, they experienced how units open during a phone conversation suddenly became rented once they arrived to view them. Discouraged and angry, Ms. Watkins decided to return to the Midwest with her husband but was convinced to stay when supportive White colleagues helped find them a home. But not all co-workers were so kind as she discussed how one White teacher uttered the n-word under her breath in 1965 as she walked past her in the hallway. Oxnard not being the South, Ms. Watkins challenged this racist educator who denied saying anything.

As I presently read Wilkerson’s book, I wish I would have asked Ms. Watkins if her parents’ family migrated to Indiana from the South. I also would have asked what stories her parents shared with her and her siblings as they grew. Nonetheless, I am privileged to have had Ms. Watkins as one of my early teachers. As a Black educator, she not only taught me, patiently, how to read but also complicated my understanding of race in Ventura. Along with other Black teachers named Bloodworth, Calhoun, Datcher, Thrasher, Wilson, and White—as well as classmates with similar last names—I learned to value all people as people while recognizing, not denying, their race and cultural heritage. This is not to say that racial tensions did not manifest in Ventura County. But they were nowhere near the White-heat violence documented in places such as New York, Chicago, and many parts of the South…as far as I know at this moment.

C/S fpb

Sunday, October 10, 2021

Hispanic Heritage Month: A Perspective

Hispanic Heritage Month officially ends this fall on October 15 after a month of events commemorating the contributions of people from this demographic. It all started in June of 1968 when Southern California house of representative George E. Brown nobly spearheaded a resolution to right the omission of the contributions of a significant part of his constituency, ethnic Mexicans. The decree garnered 19 western cosponsors for a week-long acknowledgment. Subsequently, the administrations of presidents Lyndon Johnson to Ronald Reagan extended this fete to a month-long tribute as the electoral power of Spanish surnamed citizens swelled in our nation’s politics.


The yearly launch of this homage aligns with the independence anniversaries of Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Costa Rica from the Spanish empire in 1821.

(A girl works on a craft project at a Hispanic Heritage Festival at the Somerset (N.J.) Public Library in October 2015)


But I don’t pay much attention to Hispanic Heritage month even though I stand in fellowship with the people of continental America who continue a 500-year struggle against new forms of settler colonialism.


Why?


Because I and most ethnic Mexican compas, colleagues, and gente in communities of my ilk do not identify with Spain’s legacy of violence and exploitation in the Americas. Oh sure, I have known people, family even, who exalt their Iberian lineage at the expense of their indigenous ancestry. But I do not.


Ethnic Mexicans (citizens and migrants, the documented and undocumented) are people with a long history in America. In addition, self-identified Chicanas/os like me are conscious of our culture being historically rooted in sexual violence that encompasses many ethnicities and races: indigenous first Americans of the Western Hemisphere, Iberians (a good number expelled Sephardic Jews), Africans, Asians, and a range of European nationalities.


The early twentieth-century Mexican philosopher-politician Jose Vasconcelos conferred upon his people the cognomen La Raza Cosmica. Many outsiders of my culture gauchely translate raza to mean race. Most Chicanas/os don’t as it suggests a yeasty cross-cultural community of working-class people.


Other ethnic Mexicans adopt the Chicano epithet similarly. I recall how my politically moderate dad referenced with a gentle pride feisty ethnic Mexican crowds at Oxnard’s placita as la chicanada, the hoi polloi of which we belonged, as they enjoyed Cinco de Mayo and Mexican Independence fiestas or the city’s Salsa Festival.


As legendary journalist Ruben Salazar rhetorically asked in a February 6, 1970, Los Angeles Times op-ed titled, “Who Is a Chicano? And What Is It the Chicanos Want?, I aver that I am a Mexican American, with a “non-Anglo image…who resents being told Columbus ‘discovered’ America when…Mayans and the Aztecs, founded highly sophisticated civilizations centuries before Spain financed the Italian explorer's trip to the ‘New World.’”


Conscious of the cultural labyrinth of ethnic Mexicans, I also reject the “Hispanic” label, fabricated by strangers, as it eradicates the historical presence of my people in the Southwest.


The attorney turned historian Carey McWilliams aptly coined fairy-tale functions like Hispanic Heritage Month a fantasy heritage by which early twentieth century Anglo American boosters glorified the Iberian as a hegemonic ploy in the form of Santa Barbara Fiesta Days, the Ramona Pageant, Columbus Day, and real estate promotion such as the multimillion-dollar development of Spanish Hills in the Ventura County city of Camarillo when it was the Mexican that settled California.


(Granted branding exclusive neighborhoods in historical fact did not promise retailers the attainment of their California dream of hand-over-fist profits as they understood that a Mexican Hills designation would not appeal to prospective deep-pockets buyers)


McWilliams also recognized the Spanish fantasy heritage as a lie that erased the reality that ethnic Mexicans in the U.S. were here before the Anglo. Hence, they are not foreigners. When he published ostensibly the first Chicano studies book in 1948 North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People in the United States, he argued that our nation’s European origins was first conceived in the Spanish colony in New Mexico in 1598 not the English Jamestown nine years later.


So, when ethnic Mexicans trek north from Mexico today, they follow a centuries-long migrant stream predating the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 that concluded a war instigated by the U.S. to acquire what are now the states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, and California.


And from different parts of Latin America and Haiti, refugees often flee repressive authoritarian regimes backed by our government to cross a synthetic U.S.-Mexico border born in nativism and brutality secured by guards on horseback, respectively, in the Johnson-Reed Immigration Act of 1924 and the Texas Rangers before the creation of the border patrol. Historian Monica Muñoz Martinez magisterially documents these truths in The Injustice Never Leaves You: Anti-Mexican Violence in Texas (2018).


During the Chicano Movement in Ventura County, intrepid activists such as Yvonne De Los Santos, Rachel Murguia Wong, and Roberto Flores teamed up with allies and peers in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara to insist that an inclusive curriculum that centered the history and culture of people of color be adopted in schools to make such a heritage month unnecessary. To publicize this demand along with others to redress the exploitation of farmworkers, challenge police brutality, dismantle school segregation, and end the war in Vietnam which Mexican American military troops experienced a casualty rate disproportionate to their numbers in the Southwest, Chicanas/os embarked upon the La Marcha de la Reconquista in the spring of 1971 from Calexico to Sacramento.


With self-determination, they marched northward six hundred miles from town to town not as Hispanics but as Chicanas and Chicanos. And that I can celebrate.


C/S fpb Meta of History, History News Network, Ventura County Star, Vida (Spanish), Vida (English)

Sunday, September 5, 2021

The Making of a Logophile

 

As a nescient logophile and non-accustomed reader (but open to the idea) as a young Chicano, I was intrigued by the 1980s tv sitcom ALF (Alien Life Form) and listening to the respective commentary and play-by-play of sports announcers Howard Cosell, in his oft glum mien, and Dick Vitale with his hyper bombast. These three expressed themselves with an erudition that fascinated me. For example, I remember in one episode the snarky Alf debated Willy, the always haggard head of the household, with the riposte, "Willy, let's not embark on syllogisms….” “Syllogisms? What does that mean?” I thought. So, after the show I arose from laying on the living room chase, that was the floor, to search the tattered, coverless, dictionary in my parents’ Levittown-era house, probably bought at a secunda for $1 or left behind as we moved in the late 1960s (that I still have, btw. See pic), to learn its definition as I have repeatedly since then because my brain just doesn’t encode the meaning of certain words—another is the awkward “a priori.”


While I intensely studied Carey McWilliams’ North From Mexico: The Spanish-Speaking People of the United States (1948) as part of my course prep as an assistant professor at Cypress College in the early 1990s, words like “filigree,” “garroted,” “tatterdemalion,” “ultramontane,” and others, in a numinous way, made me self-conscious of my scholastic illiteracy. This, along with my interaction with academics and managers, I regularly listened to lectures and speeches embedded with words I did not know the meaning of. My lexiconic shortcomings made this working-class, ethnic Mexican person uneasy. To the point of having a complex.


But I worked on this imposter syndrome. Before the age of mobile phones, I memorized arcane words at commencement and convocation-like ceremonies to define when I returned to my study. In one instance, my boss, CI President Richard Rush, now retired, tied in the word “euphonious” into one of his campus addresses. As a Jesuit-trained scholar, he regularly integrated such words into his syncopated Catholic-Mass-inflected disquisitions. In this instance, his wife Jane shunted him aside to brashly take over the mic to say in her ethnic, northeast borough insouciance, “‘Euphonious’ means it sounds nice!” Thanks, Jane, and R.I.P.


Now to further improve my command of language, I am a subscriber to The New Yorker. But television continues to inspire me. The latest being Schitt’s Creek. For each episode, I sat ready to press the pause button of the remote to define Moira Rose’s melodramatic introduction of words like “callipygian,” “epistle inamorata,” and “nocturnal enuresis.”


Well, that’s the end of my laconic reverie on how I became a word buff. My next dispatch will account how I came up with the titles of my two books: Curious Unions: Mexican American Workers and Resistance in Oxnard, California, 1898-1961 and Mexican Americans with Moxie: A Transgenerational History of El Movimiento Chicano in Ventura County, California, 1945-1975.


C/S


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Saturday, August 28, 2021

Mexican Americans with Moxie

This week journalist Gustavo Arellano, with his emblematic Promethean-flair, featured


in the Los Angeles Times' Essential California newsletter. He trenchantly nailed my bio and the book's essence. To read his investigative reporting and prose, subscribe to the LA Times and sign up for GUSTAVO ARELLANO'S WEEKLY. And don't forget to buy him tacos.

#respect

C/S

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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Nuts, Not Bananas: US Rebellions Past n Present

Horrorstruck by last week’s terrorist attack on our nation’s capital by Trump’s willing executioners, former president George W. Bush; Republican, Wisconsin congressman Mike Gallagher; and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo demurred the idea that the United States resembled a Latin American “banana republic.”


Image: Los Angeles Times.2021.01.12


Their reactions exhibited a white supremacist hubris in and of itself. For them, only the brown people of Latin America revolted in such a way.


Alzheimer’s may explain the three forgetting the extremism of this past May and October in Michigan where Trump loyalists stormed the state’s capital with assault rifles in the first instance and plotted to kidnap Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the second. Nor did they recall other racists rebelling with tiki torches through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia in the summer of 2017 chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”


Then there is our nation’s granddaddy of rebellions: the American Civil War that started in 1861 as secessionist forces attacked the US base that was Fort Sumter. Why did southern Confederates secede? Because president Abraham Lincoln would not allow the further expansion of slavery. 


I will give non-students of history a pass on not considering Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion. The former involved insurrectionists, many armed revolutionary war veterans, attacking Massachusetts’s courts, to stop the foreclosures of farms, and a federal arsenal in 1786. The latter entailed a federal excise tax on whiskey that prompted western Pennsylvania distillers to assault tax collectors in 1791.


In 1794, President George Washington led 13,000 federalized soldiers into Pennsylvania’s backcountry to quash the rebellion. Later that year in an address to Congress, he characterized the whiskey insurrection as "fomented by combinations of men who...have disseminated, from an ignorance or perversion of facts, suspicions, jealousies, and accusations of the whole Government."


My point is that the "banana republic" appellation signifies the notion that the US is beyond socio-political upheaval. This is grounded in the portrayal of brown “other” nations as culturally, if not racially, prone to political violence. Indeed, that is how media conditioned me in my youth.


As I came of age in the 1980s, I did not read much but viewed a lot of television. As a latchkey kid, I watched reruns after school: Hogan’s Heroes, MASH, and Baa Baa Black Sheep. Living in Greater Los Angeles, I also pass the time with Channel 7’s KABC Eyewitness News that featured debates between Bruce Herschensohn and John Tunney.


Herschensohn was a conservative commentator who served in the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. Tunney was a one-term California U.S. Senator connected to the Kennedys who championed the liberal perspective.


In covering US foreign policy, the two regularly argued about the incessant wars and golpes in the Caribbean and Central America, particularly the revolutions of Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and El Salvador.


Back then these governments were popularly labeled “banana republics.” The origin of the epithet stemmed from the region’s economic dependency on the export of this fruit and other commodities such as coffee and sugar as dictated by US financiers and corporations such as Chiquita (formerly United Fruit) and Dole dating back to the early twentieth century.


The cognomen is also drenched with racist assumptions of American exceptionalism. As the City Upon the Hill, the US felt obligated to mentor such nations. Ostensibly, Latin Americans, as a race, were too unstable and corrupt to govern themselves without its tutelage.


This is in addition to their protection from European interference as declared in the Monroe Doctrine of 1823. Tacitly, only the US could.


As I watched Herschensohn and Tunney reprise a nightmare of death squads, strongmen, assassins, “freedom fighters,” and insurgencies, I ignorantly bought into this epistemology and thought to myself, “Why can’t these countries just get their act together like the USA?”


Then in college, I was assigned Walter Lefeber’s Inevitable Revolutions: The United States in Central America (1983). It detailed a long history of US interventionism, both overt and covert, to instate vicious rulers throughout the region by way of cunning regime change that entailed coups, military advisors, naval and marine invasion, and contrived elections.


If a nationalist government with ambitions of self-determination emerged, the US systematically attempted to destabilize it. Think Cuba historically and Valenzuela in the present.


Further reading revealed the Central Intelligence Agency’s sponsorship of the murderous coups of the democratically elected presidencies of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954 and Salvador Allende in Chile in 1973. Their crime, the pursuit of their citizens having greater control of their lands’ resources at some expense of US conglomerates.


Hence, the respective installation of the merciless military dictatorships of Carlos Castillo Armas and Augusto Pinochet. To paraphrase President Franklin Roosevelt’s alleged description of the US-supported Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza, the two were sons of bitches, but they were our sons of bitches.


Although the ideological pretext for US interventionism was to combat the spread of communism in the Western Hemisphere, the material motive was to maintain commercial hegemony while smothering alternative autochthonous economic models that privileged the social needs of Latin Americans over US business interests.


In sum, the history of the US is anything but one of continuity. So, while we may not be bananas, history and the pro-Trump sedition of last week reminds us that we have a fair share of nuts.

C/S

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Thursday, September 10, 2020

Twenty-one Days Later: A Ventura County Perspective on the Chicano Moratorium of 1970

 Last month hundreds of people marked with moxie the 50th anniversary of the August 29th, 1970 Chicano Moratorium in East Los Angeles. To protest our nation’s war in Vietnam, racism, and police brutality, starting at 9 am that day nearly 30,000 ethnic Mexicans and their allies from all over the Southwest took to the streets in a 3-mile peace march through the boulevards of Atlantic and Wilshire.

                                                      (Sal Castro / Los Angeles Public Library)

Among many slogans, they chanted and held signs expressing, “¡Raza Si! ¡Guerra No!,” “Our Fight Is Not in Vietnam,  “Chicano Power,” and “Stop Chicano Genocide!”


In the spirit of the Black Lives Matter movement since George Floyd’s killing by, now, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin this May, the protests of Chicanos today concentrate on law enforcement’s abuse of power as marchers have crooned, “¡La migra, la policia, la misma porqueria!” As well as “¡Chinga tu frontera!,” and the classic “¡El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido!

                                   50th Chicano Moratorium Education Website Facebook

All chants, then and now, denounced state violence against Black and Brown people in one form or another.


Ethnic Mexican veterans are among the valiant dating back to the Civil War. But in 1970 Chicanos protested how US casualties in Vietnam disproportionately consisted of young men from their communities in the Southwest as Dr. Ralph Guzmán documented that from 1961 to 1967 their brothers and friends made up 19.4 percent of those who died when this group consisted of 10 to 12 percent of the population.


Today, Chicanos protest the killings of Latina and Latino soldiers. Army Private First Class Vanessa Guillen stationed at Fort Hood being one and Specialist Enrique Roman-Martinez of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg another. Roman-Martinez’s sister and mother delivered impassioned speeches at Atlantic Park in East L.A. before the commencement of the 50th-anniversary march this past August 29th. They criticized the Army for its less than transparent investigation and decried only having received Enrique Roman-Martinez’s partial remains.


In 1970, the Brown Berets of Los Angeles, along with UCLA student Rosalio Muñoz and others formed the National Chicano Moratorium Committee that organized demonstrations in Southern California previously and afterward. But the August 29th march and rally at the then-named Laguna park was the granddaddy of them all.


                            Rosalio Urias Munoz Facebook photos

Once at Laguna park, families and friends celebrated the occasion’s success as they listened to heartfelt speeches, poetry, and admired children in rainbow-colored outfits dance to the music of mariachis. Home movie footage captured the pride and delight of the audience on that toasty August day.


Then tragedy struck. With the pretext of a robbery at a nearby liquor store, Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies and police stormed the peaceful assembly with batons and teargas. The law enforcement instigated riot resulted in three deaths and hundreds arrested and abused. Ruben Salazar, a former Los Angeles Times reporter turned KMEX-TV news director, considered the voice of the Chicano community, was one of the slain as he stopped at the Silver Dollar Bar far away from the melee, on Whittier Blvd, to decompress from law enforcement’s merciless assault.


After several contradictory official explanations, it was found that Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy Thomas Wilson killed Salazar with a 10-inch teargas projectile designed to pierce walls. Many in the community contended then, and believe now, that the powers that be in Los Angeles conspired to assassinate Salazar due to his refusal to temper his reportage of law enforcement misconduct.


In adjacent Ventura County, the Chicano community also viewed Salazar’s homicide as the system’s culling of its leadership. In a September 3, 1970 letter to the Ventura County Star-Free Press titled, “Siesta Is Over!” Arthur Gómez of Santa Paula addressed Governor Ronald Reagan and local elected officials when he stated, “Yes, the siesta is over! The siesta was broken by the murder of two innocent Mexican nationals in a Los Angeles hotel and the 10-inch projectile that shattered Ruben Salazar’s head… One day we shall not have our leaders murdered. One day we shall not have our children made ashamed of being part Mexican. One day we shall have justice and dignity.”


Intrepidly, Chicano men and women conducted a peace march twenty-one days after law enforcement’s rampage in East Los Angeles. This time in the City of Oxnard on September 19th. Approximately, 1,000 marchers from all walks of life, different communities, and a span of generations again took to the streets.


As a former Brown Beret, Peggy Larios recalled how the participatory support of elderly ethnic Mexican men and women made her feel safe as a young teenager.


In their planning that started weeks, if not months, in advance of the August 29th tragedy, the organizers declared the community’s goal of liberation as well as the end of Chicano genocide in Vietnam and police brutality.


Leading up to the “La Raza” (the People’s) peace march, men and women of the Brown Berets leafleted neighborhoods to promote the demonstration and, to further ensure amity at the event, disseminated a code of conduct to the public, the Oxnard Police Department, and media.

            Oxnard Press-Courier. September 20, 1970 photo by Ted Nauman

From La Virgin de Guadalupe Church, demonstrators paraded boldly through the streets of La Colonia barrio (Oxnard’s version of East LA) and the downtown district with a coffin that symbolized 8,000 ethnic Mexican servicemen killed in Vietnam. The procession ended at the city’s Community Center. There, as national chairman for the Chicano Moratorium Committee, Muñoz characterized the Vietnam War as the “systematic murder” of Chicanos.


Muñoz also linked US militarism abroad with domestic state violence when he stated that the, “Police instill more fear and harass the Chicanos more than the Viet Cong through their prejudices.”


To avoid an August 29th-like catastrophe, the Brown Berets of Oxnard, the Ventura County chapter of the Mexican American Political Association, and MEChA representatives from local colleges and high schools met in advance with law enforcement.


La Raza Moratorium Committee’s communication with law enforcement and the press garnered the community’s goodwill for the event’s achievement. Indeed, the Oxnard Press-Courier commended the organizers in an editorial as it acknowledged the disproportionate ethnic Mexican casualty rate in the Vietnam War. It also complimented in a backhanded manner law enforcement in general, for its “diplomacy and restraint.”


Fifty years later, Chicanos are proud of being ethnic Mexicans. But with the controversial homicides of Latino soldiers and civilians such as PFCs Guillen and Roman-Martinez on the one hand and Andres Guadardo, shot in the back by a LA County sheriff’s deputy, on the other, we, Chicanas and Chicanos, still await justice.

C/S

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