The Inconvenient Truth
Erasure of Memory
Rodolfo F. Acuña
Every profession has canons that their members must adhere to in order to be considered ethical. For example, among the original canons for journalists were sincerity, truthfulness and accuracy: “Good faith with the reader is the foundation of all journalism worthy of the name.” The Code of Ethics elaborated that professional journalists should be impartial, tell the truth, differentiate between fact and the author’s conclusions and interpretations, and finally that they use common decency.
These canons are similar to those of other professions, and like other professionals good journalists attempt to meet these standards. Indeed, I have heard reporters criticize their own papers and the failure of their newspapers to differentiate between news reports and opinion pieces.
I remember conversations with the late Frank Del Olmo, an associate editor, columnist and reporter for The Los Angeles Times who spent a lifetime trying to change the culture of the newspaper from within. Frank and other Chicana/o journalist took these canons to heart, and they would vet my versions and the accounts of others as to what happened in order to arrive at the Truth. However, in recent years this has increasingly changed especially in small media markets where reporters of both genders have become “hit men.”
An obvious reason for this deterioration is the growth in information sources, with newspapers and media outlets hiring their reporters on the cheap. It has become the age of the blogger where everyone considers his or herself a journalist – no matter what their credentials or background. Unfortunately, they have no special training or a sense of the history of the profession – in other words there is no historical memory.
Another contributing factor is what Eric Hoffer coined in his book The True Believer. In it Hoffer discusses the psychological causes of fanaticism. He analyzes the motives of the various types of personalities in mass movements.
Some overzealous admirers of the term, however, try to limit his criticisms to Communism and the left, ignoring that he also discusses Fascism, National Socialism, Christianity, Protestantism, and Islam.
Hoffer was a conservative longshoreman, but his descriptions would incorporate the flag lapel wearers, the xenophobes, and the English Only crowd. Also to be fair, in previous conservations, I have criticized Chicana/o excesses in this area – the true believer comes in disparate packages.
With this said, the right wing always tries to generalize this label as exclusive to the left. For example since George Orwell’s masterpiece 1984 was published, they have claimed that big brother refers to the evils of communism and socialism, forgetting that Orwell was a lifetime socialist, and that his criticism was of Stalin, which makes little difference to people who don’t know the difference between Sunnis and Shiites.
Orwell’s sympathies are clear in his book Homage to Catalonia that described the ideological conflicts in the Spanish Civil War in 1936. We can only imagine what Orwell would say about the USA in 2013, and the growth of the government surveillance state.
The truth be told, it is difficult not to become a true believer in a world of believers. However, we have an obligation to corny words such as the Truth and Objectivity. When you write history, for example, you have to strive toward the Truth, which is a canon of the history profession that members do not always adhered to. In our postmodern world, the Truth is found through the writer’s reality.
No matter how hard you try, you will never get the perfect narrative, but you try. When I wrote the second edition of Occupied America I knew there was a void in my coverage of the 1950s when students asked me questions that I could not answer. So I photocopied the Eastside Sun, synthesizing articles on Chicanas/os, and did the same with the Belvedere Citizen. The outcome was a more nuanced chapter on the 50s as well as the book, A Community Under Siege.
This is why I am impatient with the sophistry of some self-described Chicana/o scholars. I recently read a website that threw an indirecta at me saying that oral interviews told history whereas photographs did not. I could not believe it, knowing that the uses of oral interviews as well as photos both are problematic without extensive checking.
Photos and oral history are not mutually exclusive; it is not a popularity contest. It took me almost forty years to wind-down the research on Corridors of Migration. I consulted every major archive in Mexico City, Chihuahua, Sonora, Arizona, California, Mexico and consulted U.S. and Mexican consular papers. At the same time, I studied the digitized archives at the Bancroft, newspapers, the Library of Congress, and others. Along with this I interviewed communist organizers of the 1933 Cotton Strike as well as rank and file members. This was not enough, I travelled to the San Joaquin Valley and Clifton- Morenci where I interviewed Mexicans and whites.
Some of these interviews were contentious. Driving into the large plantations in the San Joaquin Valley, places with a half dozen snarling guard dogs and men with shotguns was an experience. Most of these interviews are in my papers at CSUN.
Chicana/history is not a fantasy or a group of opinions. There is Truth, and it often takes work to learn it, and it should never be based on the testimony of a single disaffected person. The latter is a flaw of a lot of scholarly research.
I know people who have written about the 1970s at CSUN who have never stepped foot on the campus. Lazy or do they already have their minds made up?
Why is the Truth so important? Partially it is because only through the exercise in finding it will we find what reality is. During the Civil Rights movement, "The truth shall make you free" was repeated over and over. It comes from the Gospel of John which says "And Ye Shall Know the Truth and the Truth Shall Make You Free." (There is no lack of irony to find this quote carved in stone in the Original Headquarters Building of the Central Intelligence Agency.)
But the Truth has very little relevance to the true believers -- the ones that suffer from a lack of vigorous standards. How can you correct the past with knowing it? My fiend Devon Peña likes to quote French Philosopher Jacques Derrida “Memory is a moral obligation, all the time."
But how then can you correct injustices or know the Truth without distinguishing between fact and fiction? I would hate to base this reality on the word of Cheney or Obama’s advisers.
In no way do I want to disparage the blogger who brings to the table issues and information that the media ignores. There is also a difference between the hot rhetoric (hyperbole) that is used to mobilize people and the distortion of the Truth. Most people can handle the truth, what they cannot handle is personal vendettas.
Illustrations Google images
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For those who have an extra $5 a month for scholarship, the For Chicana/o Studies Foundation was started with money awarded to Rudy Acuña as a result of his successful lawsuit against the University of California at Santa Barbara. The Foundation has given over $60,000 to plaintiffs filing discrimination suits against other universities. However, in the last half dozen years it has shifted its focus, and it has awarded 7-10 scholarships for $750 per award on an annual basis to Chicana/o and Latina/o students at California State University-Northridge (CSUN). The For Chicana/o Studies Foundation is a 501(c) (3) Foundation and all donations are deductible. Although many of its board members are associated with Chicana/o Studies, it is not part of the department. All monies generated go to fund these scholarships.
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