Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Sunbelt Strategy

What do California State University Professor Rodolfo F. Acuña, Henry David Thoreau, and Abraham Lincoln have in common? Before I tell you, you need to know that the narratives of Acuña (a founder of Chicano Studies and author of the seminal text in this field, Occupied America), Thoreau, Sandra Cisneros, William Shakespeare, and others have been banned from the classrooms of the Tucson Unified School District as part of the state of Arizona’s dismantling of a Mexican American Studies (MAS) program.

The MAS program once taught 1500 students. Its approach of integrating the heritage of Native Americans, Asian Americans, and Mexican Americans increased the graduation rates of students of Mexican origins while preparing them for college.

Tom Horne, Arizona’s former superintendent of public Instruction and now the state’s attorney general, spearheaded the attack on MAS by way of the passage of HB 2281. This campaign was so effective in tapping into the anxieties of Arizonans concerned with the rising presence of people of Mexican origins that a host of Republican politicians jumped on the Republican Sunbelt Strategy. “The Sunbelt Strategy?” you may think.

This is a version of Richard Nixon’s 1968 Southern Strategy refined by his campaign strategist Kevin Phillips. This plan appealed to the predominantly Democratic white electorate of the South disaffected by the civil rights gains of African Americans. This played out in President Nixon’s equivocations on Affirmative Action and school desegregation. The Southern and Sunbelt states of Arizona and Texas being a Red region today illustrates the efficacy of this Machiavellian ploy.

This history helps us understand why Horne, his successor at the office of the superintendent of public instruction, John Huppenthal, and other Arizona Republican pols, including Governor Jan Brewer, have jumped on the band wagons of anti-MAS and anti-immigration. No matter that MAS has been proven to be pedagogically effective and the entrance of immigrants from Mexico has plummeted in recent years (according to the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton and the Pew Hispanic Center).

To justify his canard on MAS, Horne contends that the program promotes the overthrow of the United States government and advocates ethnic solidarity. But a curriculum audit by the Cambium Learning Corporation, paid for by Huppenthal’s office, found that the MAS program did neither.

The audit also recognized how MAS students outperformed their peers not in the program in regards to test scores and graduation. It did this by making learning culturally relevant to students of all backgrounds.

So the real reason why Horne has attacked the MAS program is to create yet another wedge issue to provoke Republican voters to go to the polls.

In the history of the United States, the use of xenophobia by politicians of the likes of Horne and Huppenthal has been politically expedient. In the late 19th century, Denis Kearney, who himself was an Irish immigrant, scapegoated Chinese immigrants for the demise of the economic status of white workingman, among other things such as the lurid notion that they seduced white women with the use of opium.

Successive financial panics and depressions of the 1870s to the 1890s stoked the distress of people. Across the nation politicians of both the Democratic and Republican parties attempted to outdo each other in their anti-Chinese rhetoric, despite the fact that less than 1 percent of the population was Chinese in the US. This hysteria led to the passage of a series of Chinese Exclusion Acts and ultimately the exclusion of all Asian immigration by 1924.

Even before the popular understanding of the Southern Strategy, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights bill of 1964, it is purported that he stated to his aides that with a stroke of his pen he ostensibly delivered the white electorate of the South to the Republican Party.

Now vast parts of the South, the Midwest, and the Sunbelt states are controlled by the Republican Party by its manipulation of wedge issues around Affirmative Action, bi-lingual education, contraception, gay marriage, immigration, and now Mexican American Studies in Arizona.

So what do Acuña, Thoreau, and Lincoln have in common? All three looked closely at the start of the Mexican American War of 1846-48 and came to the conclusion that it was an invasion of Mexico’s sovereignty to conquer the Southwest. Second to the exploitation of yet another wedge issue for political advantage, perhaps this is exactly the sort of history that Horne and the Arizona Republican party leadership do not want Mexican American Studies students of the Tucson Unified School District to learn.

Con Safos

Ventura County Star