Happy New Year!

Today is the start of another year for me–an academic year, that is.

It is an oddity and privilege but the pace of my life has been set by academic calendars for so long it’s now my default position. It’s how I keep my time. I’m a creature of educational institutions, after all. I went straight from kindergarten to 12th grade to college (4 years) to grad school (8 years) to my first (3.5 years) and second (8.5 years) tenure-track jobs. From that perspective, not counting the 2 semesters I was on sabbatical, this is the start of my 73rd semester in education. Put another way, it’s the start of my 37th year of life in educational institutions.

This year I get to teach another semester of my favorite class–Chicana/o~Latina/o Histories. A class that serves as an introduction to Chicano/Latino history, Chicano/Latino Studies, historical inquiry, and being a person of color in college, it’s my lifeblood in so many ways. I’m never more connected to the student I was than when I am teaching this class. It feels like a new year when I do.

I also get to teach one of Pomona College’s first-year seminars this fall. I called mine Race Rebels, and I’m looking forward to it immensely. At a small college like mine, students usually choose my courses after knowing me or hearing a lot about me from others who do. These seminars are unique for the fact that the students haven’t really chosen me as much as having been assigned. That’s a welcome difference, a chance for me to sit with them where we all are equally unknown to each other.

I often say that teaching is my vocation. I still think that and, maybe more importantly, I feel it. But, like any good and meaningful commitment in life, teaching has become an evolving process for me. For me, it’s been about intentional recommitment, constant discovery, and continual learning.

That’s especially true for me right now, as I find myself searching for ways to make what we do in the classroom pertinent to the lives we lead when we leave them. It leaves me feeling simultaneously like my job has never been more needed and, yet, never more irrelevant.

The tension between those two sides isn’t a debate as much as its a window into the struggle of the job. It’s a good struggle. A worthy struggle. A struggle that’s made so much easier by the privilege of getting to work with such smart, passionate, and creative young minds.

So here’s to another year!

A New School Year

Today I begin my 30th semester as a teacher in higher education.  With any luck, it will also be my last as an untenured, assistant professor.

A new school year always brings with it a mix of emotions and stresses.  One consistent for me for the better part of the last decade is the very specific excitement that comes with the fall semester’s beginning and the fresh crop of students enrolled in my intro-level Chicano/Latino history course.

As a class, it is the very reason I chose my vocation.  The power and meaning that comes with being able to create an academic space that is collaborative, critical, and focused on narrating the diverse experiences of people of Latin American descent in the US is an overtly political act, and a very necessary one.  So much so is this the case in our present moment that it is a point I need only casually make for my students this morning.  As Chicanas/os and Latinas/os living in the US at this time, they are brutally aware of the consequences of “not knowing” and the stark lack of human compassion that is nurtured by this.

When we put it in those terms, however, that politics is inherently about people.  And that is perhaps what sustains me most throughout the year.  What we are going to do today and throughout the semester is not just learn, but build the greater likelihood of a more just, more humane, and more decent future for us all…

one mind at a time.

The NY Times nos da Asco

I can’t tell you what a sublime and historic moment it is for the NY Times to have a full-length article on the Chicano artistic troupe “Asco.”

Founded in 1972, in the era of the Chicano Youth Movement, Asco were pioneers in the Chicano arts movement, founders (with others) of an evolving collective aesthetic and sensibility which is still young in its lifespan.  As this article explains, and their upcoming show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art demonstrates, they were also important players in the late-20th century urban arts movement in the US.

You can read the NY Times article here.  Their retrospective show–“Asco: Elite of the Obscure, a Retrospective, 1972-1987″–opens at LACMA on September 4th.

A Chicano and his Books

Every once in awhile, a young student will walk into my office and immediately be struck by the number of books s/he sees on my shelves.

“Have you read all of these books?,” they’ll ask.

“Yes,” I’ll say.  “It’s what they pay me to do.”

In actuality, I really haven’t.  As a historian, many of the books I have are for reference while working on a  lecture for a class, or a book or an article.  I have “covered” almost every book I have on my shelves, that is, I have read substantial parts of it to identify the argument, sources, perspective, and various elements of the proof.

It might seem odd, but I’m actually not a voracious reader.  I don’t love books they way other academics do.  I love History.  I LOVE Chicano/Latino histories.  I am obsessed with the evolving, scholarly understanding of us and our collective past.  I am also obsessed with California history, the history of social movements for change, and the history of racial inequality in the US.

When you put it all together, I’m not much for a novel, but I intellectually salivate over a new book on the the history of the Chicano Movement, or the UFW, or some other kindred topic.

In any event, every once in awhile I think it is important for those of us who read and write in these fields to remind others that we exist.  What’s better, we know and have books.  Whoever you are, if you’re ever interested in learning more about the varied pasts of the Chicano/a and Latina/o people, I’d be more than willing to point you in the direction of a great book.

Pictured above are some of my shelves of books in the office related to: California history (closest section, all shelves), Chicana Feminism (farthest section, top two shelves), and Chicano/Latino History (the whole middle section, and bottom shelves of farthest section).

The Future of Chicano/Latino Studies

We’ve reached the end of Latino Heritage Month 2009.  Hope you had a good one.  I live every month like its Latino Heritage Month, so for me it’s been as good as life…

I thought I’d leave you with an excerpt of a historical primary source that helps us connect the past and the present in a meaningful way.  I work in the fields of Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies.  Founded some four decades ago, as a direct result of student and community efforts to remake the university and create an institution which could better serve the poor communities from which they came, these academic fields began with a political charge in mind.  As the years progressed, that charge often confronted an opposition.  Today, from efforts in Arizona to make Chicano Studies classes illegal to efforts in the Cal State system to begin eliminating the programs for financial reasons, the existence of Chicano/Latino Studies is anything but certain.

Our source comes from Ernesto Galarza, one of the first ethnic Mexicans to receive a PhD in History in the U.S.  Dr. Galarza was the Mexican and Mexican American specialist in the U.S. for much of his professional career, one that spanned academia and work in community service organizations.  He lived what he preached and, near the end of his life, as he spoke to Chicano students at UC Berkeley, preach he did…


SOURCE: Ernesto Galarza, “Student’s Responsibilities to the Chicano Community,” address delivered at the University of California, April 20, 1977, Berkeley, California.

You Chicano scholars who are here now today must recognize this drastic change on the American campus, and begin to ask yourselves, must we abandon what’s here for us?  This campus contains immeasurable treasures for all of us.  Here is an accumulation of experience that should be open to us for each one of us to analyze and evaluate and put to our own uses.

And you can’t get it off campus—these magnificent libraries and research facilities.  These are public facilities. This is public wealth organized and set up here for your use. Please think very carefully before you abandon this place because of certain difficulties that you’re having.  The thing to remember is that the training, the capability in the law, in sociology, in whatever these disciplines may be called, is available only here. Unfortunately, it is under the control, under the vigilance of people who don’t share your motivation. But that is no reason why you should abandon your claim to these resources.

You do have a claim to them. The point of view that I’m asking you to consider, of course, is not an easy one to carry out.  One of the difficulties that we as Chicanos and Mexicans have always faced is that our universe in the university is so unfamiliar and so distant from the community from which we come.  It’s awfully hard to explain to your families and to your neighbors—neighborhoods that are constantly in turmoil and in the process of change—what it is you’re up to, what you’re doing, what your difficulties are. There’s a gradual alienation between us on campuses and those in the community.

I contend that the solution or the effort to overcome that alienation is ours and not the community’s.  We understand what causes it.  We know why we are victimized by it.  We know why the community itself is victimized.  But you cannot ask a person who has not had your opportunities to become mentally critical and professionally competent to dig at, to go at the fact that you need to establish a thesis.

The Struggle We Share: A Love Letter

I delivered this address in 2007, to celebrate the impending senior year of a very special high school student, as well as the college graduation of students I had known since their first year.   I offer it now in honor of that same student–who is about to finish his first year of college–as well as the thousands of other Chicanas and Chicanos celebrating educational achievements in the upcoming months. To you all, ¡Felicitaciones!

The Struggle We Share:
A Love Letter to Chicana and Chicano Students

An address by Tomás F. Summers Sandoval Jr.
Delivered at the First Annual Raza Day
California State University, Monterey Bay
Seaside, California

May 6, 2007

We are now living in a time of profound crisis. The more I study the past the more I think that is all there ever is but, clearly, at this moment in the history of the United States, even in the history of our world, we—you and I and all of them—we are all trapped in a crisis. This is a crisis that affects you and I very personally, but you and I can also affect it.

This crisis has many faces. Right now, people of all colors and faiths, some who call themselves “American” and many more who do not, are dying in war. This is war being fought in our name, even though you and I don’t agree with it and don’t support it. However gross and incomprehensible it may seem, this is also war being fought in the name of “freedom.” Despite what politicians will tell you, wars do not make people free; they make them afraid, they make them hurt. Wars make people dead. Freedom is what comes when there is no war, the precious moments in the human past when there is peace and the possibility of more peace. Only then are people free.

Right now, much closer to the place we call home, other people, brown people, are also dying in another kind of war. People whose lives began in Mexico, just like yours, people whose lives have been filled with struggle—the struggle to eat, to love, to live—right now some of these people are dying. They die in a war many people over here don’t even recognize is being fought, but what else can we call something that takes peoples lives or fills them with violence? This war, too, is being waged in our name. This war is taking place in the desert that spills over both sides of an imaginary line called “the border.” A long time ago, men drew this line as a result of war. This line they created in a treaty of peace has, ironically, become an “open wound,”1 a home of pain, of war, and of death. Their efforts to define it, to maintain it, to turn the imaginary into a reality people can see and feel, these efforts have produced and reproduced the violence taking peoples’ lives right now. This is war. This isn’t war fought only with guns, but guns are a part. It is war waged through laws, through ideas. It is war felt in the lives of these people who struggle to live, everyday.

This crisis I need to tell you about today has another face. Like these other examples, this face is marked by violence, too. But this is a violence of silence. This violence also hurts, and even kills, as all violence does. Through it, lives are indirectly taken, slowly, for it is a silence that never lets them speak who they are or who they can be. This violence silences our humanity.

You see, silence is sometimes devastating. When it is something that denies who we are, what we have survived, what we have struggled to achieve, then silence is erasure, it is forgetting. The Chicana writer Cherríe Moraga writes: “Silence is like starvation.”2 The tragedy of this starvation, of this crisis of silence, is that there are thousands upon thousands of young people, just like you, who are struggling in it right now. The outrage of this crisis is that little is being done to stop it.

• • • •

I often try to remind myself that I am where I am in my life as a result of struggle. By this I don’t mean just the struggle it took for me to get my degree, to get a job, and to have and maintain a family. I mean, more, the struggles that have made those a possibility for me. In part, this includes my family and the other people who cared for and about me, but it is bigger than them, too.

I am also who I am because of the struggles carried by people whose names I don’t know and whose faces I have never seen. I am the recipient of other peoples’ fights for a more just world. I benefit from the efforts of people who tried to destroy a society based on fear, and on hate, one that limited who we could be. Their struggles to change a system that said Mexicans “are lower than animals,”3 that Mexicans are good for nothing but labor in the fields, were struggles waged for me, and for you. My life is the result of other people’s struggles for equality and equity, even their imperfect struggles for social justice.

In the 1940s, just after the end of World War Two, a Mexican family who lived in Southern California thought that it was wrong for their daughter to have to go all the way across town to what was called the “Mexican school” when a brand new (but all “white”) school was right in their neighborhood. This family—the Mendez family—went to court and sued the school district to end the segregation of Mexican children. When they won their court case in 1946, it didn’t just change the lives of their children, but of all Mexican children who were then learning in segregated schools in California. Their struggle for equality also changed the lives of us, of those who were not yet even born, but who could now enter a world where this kind of exclusion would be illegal.

In 1968, more than 10,000 Chicana and Chicano high school students walked out of their classes in protest. These students, who attended school in East Los Angeles, protested what they said was a school system that didn’t care about their education. In East L.A. at the time, more than half of the students dropped out of high school. Few went on to college. Counselors treated them like criminals, and encouraged them to aspire to be manual laborers. Their protest drew attention to the ways the education system was failing them. Though they were not successful at changing much in the school system immediately, that generation of students would inspire change for years to come. Classes in Mexican American history, counselors who spoke Spanish and understood Latino cultures, bilingual education, and much more resulted from their struggles.

In the early 1970s, throughout the entire state, all students were regularly given an IQ test to determine their mental capacity. Based on their test scores, students were placed into what are called “educational tracks.” Back then, as a result of these tests, most students were placed in regular classes, some were placed in gifted programs, and others—those who scored below a certain level—were placed in classes for the so-called “mentally retarded.” Thirty years ago over 55,000 students in the state were in these special education classes.

But in Soledad, California, not far from here, a group of Mexican parents, whose children were classified as “retarded,” complained. They said even though their school district gave their children the same test given to all the other students, treating them equally, they still weren’t being treated fairly. You see, these children were not fully fluent in English. Some were immigrants, others the children of immigrants, but few of them were competent enough in English to take an IQ test in it. These parents knew that their children were as smart as any, but the school district said they were “retarded.”

These parents also went to court, arguing the schools did not treat their children equitably, that is, each according to their needs. When the court ordered all children in the state to be tested in a language in which they were fluent, some 20,000 students found themselves no longer classified into “mentally retarded” classes.4

We are both products of these struggles and many, many more. Every person who suffered deportation, segregation in the workplace, or the humility and poverty of being imported as a worker into this country, we are even the products of their struggles. You and I live in a time when we can see the results of the years of toil, of effort, of struggle for change, of the fight for a decent life.

• • • •

“But what does this have to do with a crisis,” you might ask. “How is this silence?”

We live in a time of crisis, in part, because we have been robbed of our opportunity to know what equality, equity, and social justice mean, how they have changed over time, and how people have struggled to make them real. Our struggles of the past have been silenced. They have been silenced for a reason.

In the United States, people think of all rights as being based on equality. But equality—treating people the same—is only one part, an important part, of a healthy, human life or society. It must exist, but its existence does not assure us of justice. If we are all equally starving, then none of us is truly happy or free. Equity—treating people fairly and in recognition of their rights—this joined with equality is something much more powerful. But even that does not assure us of true justice. The struggles of the past often created some kinds of equality and equity for us in the present to enjoy, but they did not wipe out inequality and inequity.

This brings us to another kind of silence, the silence of our present struggle. To explain this, I have to explain how I understand “social justice.” However odd it might sound, social justice is, to me, about love. The writer M. Scott Peck defined love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.” Social justice can only exist with this kind of love, with this kind of nurturing. Social justice is a society where each of us can be as fully human as we can be, where our human spirit can thrive. It is one where our needs are met, not only equally, but equitably, fully, and completely.

At a basic level, education is one of those needs. Though people have struggled to provide us with what we have, what we have is not enough. Based on the figures from the last census, only 46 out of every 100 Mexican American high school students will graduate high school. That means most—54% who start in elementary school—will never finish high school. Of the 46 who do graduate, only 26 will attend some kind of college. Of those, only 8 will earn a baccalaureate degree—the college degree granted by a four-year college or university. Of those 8, only 2 will go on to earn an advanced degree.5 Eight out of every 100. That means out of every 100 Mexican American voices, 92 voices, 92 sets of hope for a better life, 92 opportunities to make this a more just world, are silenced.

In comparison, for every 100 “white” elementary school students in California, 84 will go on to graduate high school, 26 will graduate college with a baccalaureate degree, and 10 will earn an advanced degree.

This is not justice. Why this happens is for many reasons, but each of them are a reflection of how we continue to live in a society that is characterized by much inequality and inequity. What is worse, is the silence. We live in a society largely silent about this tragedy. We are in a crisis of education because we silence the needs of Latino students, because we are silent about our anger, and because too many of us are silent about our need for change. For every student who is pushed out of the system, that silence is compounded. That is a voice we will never hear speak for change, for hope, for justice.

• • • •

I worry now that I may be sounding dramatic, but issues that so meaningfully affect people’s lives are dramatic. I must not, however, sound pessimistic. Even in the midst of this crisis, of this violence, I am hopeful. Though I do not want you to think that the burden of change and progress is on your shoulders (that is too heavy a weight to bear and, anyways, there are others who must lift the lion’s share before you), you are the hope of a better future. I want you—I need you—to know this: I know the future before you is scary, but you will be alright.

All these crises, all of them, flow from a society and a world that has made a commitment to the opposite of love. We are not nurturing each others’ humanity. The violence of an unequal and inequitable education system is the way it destroys the spirit and the potential of a human spirit. The society that does this so easily, so seemingly unconsciously, does not have the right to claim innocence because they did not know. When silencing voices is the crime, not hearing is no kind of defense. But you must also know that even these tragic goals are imperfect. In you, right now, is the living, breathing symbol of their failure. When someday you graduate college, your very existence will help shatter this crisis. You are an explosion of success that can fight back against this violence as you do nothing else other than just get your education. Our struggle, now, is to make sure we are not the only ones.

• • • •

Let me close with a few parting words for you to take to heart. We must know that the 92% of Chicana and Chicano young lives who do not go to and finish college are not failures. The vast majority of them want to. They have been failed by a system that does not care whether they succeed or not. They have not been given the tools, or the valuable information, on how to move forward and achieve. Just like them, your own progress will be based on more than just the desire to succeed (but that is so important).

So, first, you must know that you are beautiful. Beauty marked your birth into this world. The fires and possibilities of a new life are powerful matters. They are mysteries to our present ways of knowing, mysteries growing evermore elusive. But somewhere deep in the recesses of our memories we know that one’s entry into the community of the living is beauty itself. When you entered this world, a force of endless potential was born. Yes, beauty marked your birth; of this be sure.

(I pray this is not a revelation to you. I hope that everyday of your life there is at least a moment when you realize that you are beautiful and good. Even if this is only a fleeting moment, one that passes as quickly as it seemed to have arrived. At the same time, you deserve so much more.) You deserve a life where at every turn and with every breath all of creation reminds you of the beautiful creature you are. But I know this is not the case. I know that for many of your days, here in this life, your beauty has been hidden from you. So I tell you—you are beautiful! If I can leave you with only one thing, this is it.

If you do not see your endless beauty, it is not your fault. We all have our moments and our phases of life where this is our struggle. To be a young person can be hard, I know. To become aware of the world around you as confusing, unknown, as limitless, and at the same time to actively forge your own sense of your individuality—to define who you are and who you will be—yes, these are frightening matters. . .

Second, I also know the fear of going to college, of succeeding in education when many of those around us continue to struggle in their own ways. College will change you, and it must. That change doesn’t have to mean losing the language—the tongue or the heart—to relate to where you came from, or to speak to the people you love. Even if they do not come with you, they do not have to become foreigners. Your sacrifice in choosing and attending a college will not have to include giving up who you are or want to be. But it will change you. What that means (for both you and them) will be for you to decide.

Finally, do not give up. Life will be filled with difficulty, and you know this already far too well. But you must also know life is filled with joy, with happiness, with love, and with community. Whenever times get difficult, whenever your struggle seems like too much to bear, remember that you are not alone. You never will be and, if you remember those who came before us, you never were.

The original was edited for factual information, as reflected below in note 4.

1. Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera (Aunt Lute Books, 1987), 3.
2. Cherríe Moraga, “La Güera,” in This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa (Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1981, 1983), 29.
3. Gerald Chargin, Superior Court Judge, from transcript of 1969 trial. As quoted in Ian F. Haney-López, Racism on Trial: The Chicano Fight for Justice (Belknap Press, 2003), 85.
4. This figure includes those formally decertified due to testing and those otherwise not classified into EMR classes due to fears of litigation.  See Richard R. Valencia, The Mexican American Legal Struggle for Educational Equality (New York University Press, 135-36.
5. Tara J. Yasso and Daniel G. Solórzano, “Leaks in the Chicana and Chicano Educational Pipeline,” Latino Policy & Issues Brief, no. 13 (March 2006).

What is the difference between a “legal” and “illegal” immigrant?

Let me offer an answer to the above question in two versions, one short and direct and the other much longer but more explanatory.

The difference is “race.”

In the most literal of senses, with respect to race, the United States is an ignorant nation. We lack accurate, complex, and meaningful knowledge of race, as it relates to both our past and present. Put more directly, we don’t understand race. And we don’t understand how to dismantle its negative effects on everyday life.

Indeed, our ignorance nurtures a condition in which any collective ability to create a more equitable and humane society along these lines is almost instantly derailed. This is not for lack of good intentions, but for lack of deep understanding. Those united in some form of struggle against racism often do not know what it is they fight against and, accordingly, find themselves unable make true progress. Others, ignorant of the myriad ways they cling to and feed the very monster they hope to kill, end up serving their foe more than the cause of freedom.

[You may be thinking here, “What about the Civil Rights movement?” For the sake of time, I defer to Shirley Chisholm’s bold words on the subject, published in her 1971 biography, Unbought and Unbossed. Find it in a library somewhere and all will become clear.]

As a teacher, and as a historian, I view the alteration of this condition as difficult but by no means impossible. All ignorance is curable; it is the most curable of all social ills. The great healer—education—is not as accessible as it should be, nor as enriching as it must, but that, too, is changeable. Our biggest collective advantage, I hope, is that most of “us” thirst for enlightenment, for experiences helping each to better understand their self and others.

Unfortunately, that thirst is often at the heart of our ignorance. Absent exposure to and training in critical analysis, we turn to what we can find, the “truth” sold to us from politicians, pundits, and the status quo. We reiterate the things we hear from others that sound good to us (often what seems “new” or “unique”), that help us bolster what it is we want to think, that help us defend who we think we are. Instead of truth, we unwittingly become purveyors of fear, of desire, of ignorance.

I am not speaking here of “the uneducated.” Academics, scholars, and the so-called “educated” populate “the army of the ignorant” as frequently as any. They even occupy a disproportionate share of its “four-star generals.” But some, a growing number I’d like to think, are also the embodiment of the ideas and practices that will liberate us all. These scholars join the larger body of people from almost all walks of life, many without a “traditional education,” who provide flesh to the bone of idealism—movement.

I don’t pretend to wield all the weapons in the fight against this ignorance, but I know I can work a few. As a historian, one of the reliable tools I can turn to is context. A sense of how what we know of our present is part of a given time and place, both of which are connected to a time before, is, itself, a form of critical analysis. Such a position helps us to question what we may “naturally” think, to investigate it anew—hold it suspended and apart as well as fluid and interconnected. In the end, we don’t question to question, but to better understand. Even if you end up at the same position, it will never be the same conclusion.

So how does this relate to our question?

In the early part of the twentieth century, Mexican nationals began entering the United States in growing numbers as they fled the economic and political dislocation of the Mexican Revolution. Newspapers of the Southwest described this movement as an “invasion,” with one describing the migrants as “a horde of the copper-colored natives of the war-torn republic.” Such accounts are not hard to locate in the historical record, forming as they do the majority of the printed responses to the historical phenomenon.

Despite this clear racialized fear, these “invaders” entered the U.S. legally. The condition of this legality had little to do with them but everything to do with the United States. In this period, the U.S. erected no meaningful barriers to the entrance of immigrants—the one great exception being Chinese, who were formally banned from migration beginning in 1882, bestowing upon those who managed to circumvent this law the distinction of being this nation’s first “illegal immigrant.” Irish, Italian, English, German, and, yes, even Mexican migrants found little impediment to their movement and integration into the national economy. They fulfilled an economic need, and were often believed to be biologically suited to the kinds of labor asked of them.

(In fact, regional business interests often facilitated the migrants’ movement and integration. These interests created mechanisms to advertise lucrative job opportunities to populations of prospective migrant workers. They often paid or provided for their transportation, and met them at the depot with promises of employment or a contractor who would connect them to the need.)

All this would change in the 1920s, as the U.S. moved to create a bureaucratic structure to implement the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, also known as the “Quota Act.” The crowning jewel in a crown of racist fear, the law sought to advantage northern European immigrants (English, Scandinavians) at the expense of the “swarthy” immigrant (Italian, Jewish, Greek, etc.). Ideas of racial fitness dictated that the very same migrant from a year or two before must now be considered “illegal.”

However, yet again, Mexicans did not find themselves part of this racist legislation. Migrants in the western hemisphere were exempted from quota in the 1924 act. Though the new bureaucracy of the Border Patrol did create a mechanism for “legal” passage (payment of a fee, proof of literacy and good health), accounts of border enforcement in the era often reveal regulation to entail nothing more than acquiescence to the demand “Show me your hands Mex.” Western capitalism both “protected” Mexican migrants and took advantage of them, securing their exemption from the law to assure their steady movement into the fields, rail yards, and factories of the region.

This “protection” would not survive the Great Depression, though the integration of Mexican labor into the regional economy did not alter course much over the century as a whole. Mexicans found themselves increasingly targeted by both legislation and regulatory practice, exemplified by such postwar round up efforts as “Operation Wetback.”

History and an understanding of context shatters our collective ability to view the distinction of “legal” and “illegal” immigrant as something contained within the actions of the immigrants themselves. These terms carry weight as they are given bureaucratic form—by the receiving nation of the United States. Even in the modern context, it is the U.S. who determines the context of “legal” crossing, creating numerical barriers delineating the “legal” from the “illegal” while massaging an economic system into continuing to find ways to seek their employment, in either case.

This is not to say people do not make their decision to cross the border in a context of awareness of the legality (or illegality) of their actions. But it is to say that is a context not, largely, of their making.

Our ignorance of these realities does more than obscure understanding. Every time we complain about the high cost of lettuce or a tomato, when we expect low service costs in hotels or janitorial work, when we become indifferent to the obliteration of union jobs, we actually help nurture the context.

Indeed, as James Baldwin once wrote of this nation’s majority, “It is their innocence which constitutes the crime.”

Alfred Arteaga (1950-2008)

Poet, teacher, advocate, and friend Alfred Arteaga passed away on July 4th. Loved ones celebrated his life and work at a memorial service this past Saturday. Those of you who had the pleasure of crossing his path at UC Berkeley know what a humorous and caring person he was. He will most certainly be missed.

Here is the obituary released by the campus.

Poet Alfred Arteaga, professor of Chicano and ethnic studies, dies at 58

By Rachel Tompa, Media Relations; 11 July 2008

BERKELEY – Alfred Arteaga, renowned poet and professor of Chicano and ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, died on July 4 of a heart attack at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Clara. He was 58.

Arteaga was a pioneer in post-colonial and ethnic minority literature studies and an important early Chicano movement poet. He was an expert on the works of Shakespeare and the Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Arteaga originally joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1990 as an assistant professor of English and was tenured in the Department of Ethnic Studies in 1998.

Arteaga was interested in the collisions of different cultures and the resulting mixtures. His early focus on the Renaissance eventually merged with his later work on Chicano literature, particularly the merging of Western and indigenous influences in the Americas after European colonization as reflected in language and literature. His studies and teaching focused on the contributions of contemporary Chicano literature and music to American culture. He drew attention to the hybrid culture of Chicano writers by focusing on their hybrid use of language.

“He was really a renaissance man,” said Laura Pérez, associate professor of Chicano and ethnic studies at UC Berkeley. “But in contrast to most people, he not only mastered a European education, but he had a profound knowledge of indigenous traditions, philosophies and aesthetics of the pre-Columbian world.”

Arteaga’s most recent book of poetry, “Frøzen Accident” (2006), “is absolutely brilliant and his masterpiece,” Pérez said. “It’s very bold, daring and successful.” In the book, Pérez said, Arteaga stages a conversation between Western and pre-Columbian schools of thought around the meaning of life, the possibility of truth and the uncertainty of the afterlife, concluding that art and poetry triumph over nihilist philosophy and are the closest we can come to obtaining truth. “I feel that his work is an embodiment of that,” she said. “He infused his insights as an artist into his studies as a scholar.”

On a personal level, Arteaga was a warm man, Pérez said. “He was a very beautiful, very large- hearted, generous human being. He was loved and respected by his students as a caring mentor and by his colleagues as a collegial man with an easy laugh.”

Beatriz Manz, chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, agreed. “He always seemed to have a permanent smile on his face,” Manz wrote in an e-mail. “His students loved him. His office was a few doors away from mine, and I always had to contend with students sitting on the floor outside his office and maneuver walking over a dozen stretched-out legs.”

Arteaga won several awards, including the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence in 1998 for his book of essays, “House with the Blue Bed” (1997). He also received a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship in poetry in 1995.

Besides “Frøzen Accident,” Arteaga published four other collections of poetry, “Zero Act” (2006), “Red” (2000), “Love in the Time of Aftershocks” (1998) and “Cantos” (1991). His poem “Corrido Blanco” from “Cantos” was memorialized as part of the Berkeley Poetry Walk, a collection of poems set in cast-iron panels in the sidewalk on Addison Street in the city of Berkeley. A sixth collection of Arteaga’s poetry will be published posthumously, Pérez said. Arteaga also published a book on literary theory, “Chicano Poetics: Heterotexts and Hybridities” (1997) and edited “An Other Tongue: Nation and Ethnicity in the Linguistic Borderlands” (1994), a collection of essays.

Arteaga began writing poetry at the age of 8, said his daughter, Mireya Arteaga. His love of music and his passion for the written word were always entwined, she said.

Pérez said Arteaga had many interests outside of poetry – he loved to travel and spoke and read many languages, including Spanish, English, French, Portuguese and Latin. His daughter said he was well-versed in every topic she could think of. “There wasn’t a question I could ask him that he didn’t know the answer to, from cars to language to travel to food to foreign language to science to geography to current events to movie trivia,” she said. “Not once in my 29 years of life, or my sisters’ 30-plus years, did we ever stump him.”

Alfred Arteaga was born in 1950 in Los Angeles. He received a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Columbia University in 1974, and a master’s degree and doctorate in literature from UC Santa Cruz in 1984 and 1987, respectively. Before coming to UC Berkeley in 1990, he was an assistant professor of English at the University of Houston for three years.

In 1999, Arteaga suffered a massive heart attack and spent six weeks in a coma. He recovered, but had another heart attack in 2005. In 2006, he traveled to Thailand, where doctors cultivated Arteaga’s stem cells from his blood and injected them into his heart in an experimental procedure that was an alternative to a heart transplant. His family and friends organized several poetry reading benefits for this procedure.

Arteaga is survived by his daughters, Marisol Arteaga and Xochitl Arteaga of Los Angeles and Mireya Arteaga of Aptos; sisters, Tisa Reeves and Rebecca Olsen of San Jose; mother, Lillian Wilding of San Jose; and two grandchildren.

A campus memorial service is being planned for the early fall.

The “Border Beat” (June 13, 2008)

It’s Friday the 13th, and you want to know what scares me? Ignorance. The simple condition of not knowing or understanding scares me. Well, maybe that’s not it. It’s that condition placed in our particular context that I find scary. You see, not knowing is part of the human condition. We are learning animals, born not knowing or understanding but with the capacity to alter that status.

Here, in the context of the United States, we are a little too defensive about our human condition. From my perspective, we try to hide it more than we try to confront it and embrace the possibilities if has for us. We try to think we know all there is to know and, worse, that we know more than others. We also approach the process of learning not as we should–empathically and critically.

This condition is a prominent theme in my thinking lately, especially after spending the last day and a half reading blogs and news about Obama, race, immigration and deportation, and the emerging war against Chicano Studies that is taking place in Arizona. What we don’t understand is each other. We lack any true and useful shared language to have a meaningful dialogue on race in the U.S. We do not know how to think outside of ourselves or, perhaps even more usefully, how to engage ourselves in analyses of self-criticism. We have no humility of thought.

Here’s the “Border Beat” for the end of the week with some examples:

  • DC area Latinos hold a meeting to begin the process of teaching their local police departments what they don’t know–namely, Latinos and their negative experiences with the law (Washington Post);
  • Ruben Navarrette Jr. tells us about the “benefit of not being Mexican” (San Diego Union-Tribune);
  • PBS’s NewsHour reports on Arizona’s various and recent anti-immigration efforts in this audio file (NewsHour);
  • Controversy erupts when a community suggests naming a street after Cesar Chavez (CBS affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth);
  • Ted Rall analyzes how Obama is a “token” as he congratulates Democrats for not being racists (Yahoo News); and
  • Too many people with too much power to gain platforms to speak are, quite simply and horrifically, afraid of Chicano Studies (Arizona Republic).