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Latino Politics in the U.S.

Latino Politics in the U.S.
Kendall-Hunt, 2012 (2005)

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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Racialization of Chicano Studies: The Genealogy of the Subsuming of Utopia

Michael Soldatenko. Chicano Studies: The Genesis of a Discipline. The University of Arizona Press, 2009.

(In Press CENTRO Journal of Puerto Rican Studies, Fall 2010)

When a member of discipline produces an intellectual project that arises out of a deep introspective process of self-reflection, it signals the maturity of a discipline. In 1980, Alvin Gouldner, wrote the Coming Crisis of Western Sociology a stinging, powerful critique of the conservative encasement of the discipline. Its focus was on structural-functionalism, the dominant theoretical and epistemological paradigm that was the foundation of much work in sociology. But sociology produced that self-reflective assessment of its strengths and weaknesses, two centuries after the discipline already had established itself on the hierarchical shelf of the academic world. Michael Soldatenko's book is a tour de force that critically evaluates the process by which Chicano Studies found a space in academia. He provides a mature and comprehensive self-evaluation of the shifting paradigms, theoretical perspectives, master narratives and power struggles which have shaped and ultimately ensconced the discipline in an almost respected stratum within the academic intellectual ladder. But, as Soldatenko poignantly reveals, in the process, Chicano Studies lost its soul.

This is probably the most comprehensive, and iconoclast treatment of the genealogy of this discipline. In order to achieve this comprehensive assessment and mapping of the tortuous journey of Chicano Studies, he used archival sources, self-studies, and interviews. He also gave a close reading to some of the major works produced by Chicano Studies scholars during this period. He covers a critical, conflictive period in higher education, 1967-1982, and because of the leading role that California=s university systems had in the rise of the discipline, it receives most of the attention.

The first thing that he challenges is the master narrative which functions like a creation myth that many in the discipline have used to introduce the discipline to students and to legitimize its presence in the academic arena. Chicano Studies, just like Black Studies were not the outcome of an epistemological shift in the leaders of white higher educational institutions, they were partially the outcome of the struggles to expand the realm of freedom in the 1960s. But in its evolution the creation myth erased the internal intellectual and contradictory journey transforming the journey to a teleological process into the finished product. Soldatenko, like many other scholars in Chicano Studies departments across the nation, is not trained in Chicano Studies; he is a historian whose training was in European history. As a young discipline, there are still very few programs that provide doctoral education in the discipline. It could be argued that his ability to reconstruct the myth and reveal the historical and intellectual process may lie in his different academic background. This background provides him with the epistemological distance that produces a nuanced and critical description and interpretation of 15 years of scholarship, politics and in the end, the domestication of an oppositional movement that entered the dusty world of academia.

Soldatenko begins describing how a discipline with activists scholars who like Marx did not merely wanted to describe the world but to change it, became subsumed and racialized in one of the most important pillars of the empire, higher education. He carefully describes the role of the mythical Plan de Santa Barbara which laid out the foundation for contemporary Chicano Studies programs, department or research centers. The hidden agenda was to enter the intellectual space of academia and from within provide the knowledge, understanding and ethos to transform the subordinate role of Chicanos in the United States. Unfortunately, the efforts were marked by the fissures that are part of the American social landscape, race, gender, class and sexual orientation. What is unique about this book, in addition to its comprehensiveness, is its well constructed narrative of the marginalization of Chicanas, not only as scholars but also as purveyors of new epistemologies to challenge the dominant male-centered paradigms which emerged within the discipline.

Forgetting the wise warning of Audre Lord about not using the master's tools to dismantle the master=s house, Chicano scholars engaged with every new Eurocentric theoretical or methodological tool in the master=s shed. The first dominant paradigm, nationalism was later transformed into internal colonial model, shaped by Marxist theory (in its various schools). Later, other scholars in search of tools to develop an oppositional discipline latched onto post-modernism, post-structuralism, and more recently post-colonial theory. More recently, Cultural Studies and Transnational Chicana/o Latina/o Studies have become interdisciplinary ways of approaching the subject. The underlying logic was the need to know the Mexican American community, in order to provide the tools to transform it.

The basic trends that early struggled for hegemony within the discipline are described by Soldatenko as the Perspectivist Chicano Studies and the Empiric Chicano Studies. The Perspectivist wanted to challenge the prevailing epistemology with subjectivity and a standpoint epistemology. Many of its adherents we unable to build a strong position in academia and eventually lost ground to the Empiric Chicano Studies, this last became the dominant form of Chicano Studies. It was initially rooted in the Plan it wanted to create knowledge to aid in the liberation of the Chicano people and saw its role as institution builders. It mimicked other disciplines, embraced the methodological tools of the social sciences and the humanities but with the purpose of politicizing and presenting an oppositional discipline to contribute to the struggle. Following the call of the Plan it eventually drifted towards advocacy, public policy research as a way of maintaining a connection with the community as the Plan had called for.

But in order to conquer a space in higher education, the Chicano scholars had to seek legitimacy, in seeking it they were constrained by the rigid bureaucratic structures that exercise control over academic programs. Budgets, systems for tenure and promotion all had pre-ordained strictures that created the path these programs had to follow in order to stabilize their programs. They had to publish, provide service to the institution and were constrained by formal and informal rules that shaped the contours and at times limited contestation and oppositional practices.

In the end, Chicanos Studies had created an infrastructure which included the National Association for Chicano Studies, its own peer-reviewed journals, a diverse canon but canon nonetheless which reified the process of intellectual production. But in the process of gaining relative success, it also failed to engage in a critical self-reflection about the epistemologies and methodologies which it incorporated into its practice in order to gain institutional respectability. Its collection of data on the Chicano community, more progressive than the pseudo-racist research on Mexican Americans still failed to provide the vision for change. The Cartesian foundational epistemology that is at the basis of the positivistic social sciences used by many was not challenged in a fundamental way. While the perspectivistic attempted to transform it based on a standpoint epistemology that was rooted in a Chicano reading of Jose Ortega y Gasset, Samuel Ramos and Octavio Paz, the product was not a structural transformation but as Soldatenko characterizes it was a new “philosophy of life.” It was a way of challenging Anglo materialism with the Chicano values of carnalismo. This project however could not survive in academia and empiric Chicano Studies became entrenched in the ivory towers. The perspectivist failed in their project, most remained outside the academic world and the trend withered away.

Ironically, the existence of Chicano Studies programs inside institutions of higher education softened the radical critique of the academy and led to the racialization of Chicano Studies. Racialization is the social and historical process by which individuals and groups (and institutions) are assigned a racial identity and status. The process by which the racialization of a discipline occurs provides the participants flexibility and a space which leads eventually, not to the transformation of the larger institution, but to a process of negotiation whose end product is accommodation. Racialization fragments, individualizes members of the groups as they strive to climb into positions of more access to power and prestige. Just like the Irish who found that distancing from African Americans gave them leverage in their aspiration to become white, the collective values of Chicanismo became substituted for the individualistic ethos of the Anglo academy. The struggle to transform the Mexican American community became an individual ascent through the hierarchy of institutions of higher education.

Because there was not a fundamental questioning of what the “given” epistemology and methodology were really all about, in the mad race for upward social mobility the ex-movement lost its soul. Social sciences are about control, the educational system, despites its spaces for liberation, are still the pillars of the empire and white supremacy. The scholar-activists were processed by racialization and bureaucraticization--- which are the cornerstone of institutions of higher education---and produced managers. The other potential source of resistance that could have provided a rupture with the structures and limits placed by Eurocentric epistemology and methodology, feminist epistemology, has faced strong resistance within the discipline. The Chicana feminist perspective which challenged ideas dear to the traditional disciplines’ objectivity, universality was too radical and crashed into a wall of skepticism and sexism. While the impact is growing within the discipline this trend is still contesting territory with empiric Chicano Studies. Also, it remains to be seen whether it can avoid the processes of co-optation that plagued the previous generation of Chicano Scholars.

The revolution never took place, except in monographs and conferences, or in the documentaries that have reified the movement and which now have also become part of the creation myth. Just like in traditional politics, Chicano and Latino students are exposed not to real persons but to mythical figures like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huertas (less often) which seem so mythical that they are impossible to emulate. The sense of powerlessness that is pervasive among Chicano and Latino youth is being, ironically reproduced in departments that were to be the spaces to train the catalyst agents for social transformation.

Some important lessons have been incorporated into the Chicano Studies discipline. Soldatenko’s narrative is nuanced, gender and sexuality are explored in the curriculum and unlike some years ago many Chicano Studies departments have reluctantly embraced a pan-Latino perspective. But again, they are part of a curriculum that compartamentalizes knowledge and while it eulogizes its “interdisciplinarity” in practice, students are offered a fragmented vision, not the kind of utopic vision that mobilizes. Taylorism, has entered Chicano Studies and while the original version was about creating domesticated and efficient blue collar workers now we are creating domesticated and efficient Chicana/o/Latina/o white collar professionals.

Soldatenko also briefly addresses in its conclusions the new “fads” of Cultural Studies and Transnational Chicana/o Latina/o studies. He hopes these trends will initiate a broader conversation with Jose Marti’s “Nuestra America” to widen the narrow focus of earlier Chicano Studies focus. He feels it would lead to a better understanding and deconstruction of nationalism because nationalism was also based on racialization and required the homogenization of diverse groups (in this case the nation) and to the erasure, in the case of Mexico of Mexicanos of African descent. The national imagery, out of which Chicano nationalism emerges, is based on a “mestizaje” which is anti-black and at times ambiguously anti-indigenous. Being Ladino is better than being black or “indio.” Also, the barrios are transnational; therefore, the approach to organizing and knowing of the community must also be transnational.

In the end, we are wishing for “the solution” a way out from this totalizing “system” that Chicano/Latino Studies is enmeshed in, but Soldatenko gives us a “Frankly, I am not sure.” There is no utopic visionary way of avoiding the role of gatekeepers for those in Chicano Studies. What he offers leaves the reader wanting. After an intellectually stimulating drive through the genealogy of the discipline we find ourselves at a crossroads with a cul de sac and a call for something that could be characterized as an ethical praxis. While Soldatenko provides a wonderful philosophical argument for the need of a way for those in the discipline not to continue “othering” each other, this ethical turn seems insufficient. Soldatenko says “The Ethical turn questions the centrality we have given to ontological and epistemological issues as well as our battle for institutional spaces.” (p. 184). The ethical call to be responsible for each other, basically a philosophical discourse on the Christian “golden rule,” just seems so distant from the kind of major transformation and rediscovery of what was the “raison d’être” for Chicano Studies. Unfortunately, he respectfully dismisses somewhat Rudy Acuña’s call for challenging epistemologically and politically the dominant paradigm. In Sometimes There Is No Other Side, Acuña explains his struggle with the academy, and clarifies why so many acquiesce “The main reason for this, I believe, is that an essential part of positivistic logic is to evade responsibility for one’s actions and recognition of one’s true motives, in this case, opportunism and a lack of political commitment.” This stance together with an ethical praxis can be the way for realizing the promise of Chicano Studies. Can Chicano Studies now within the “belly of the beast” find its soul?

Victor M. Rodriguez Dominguez
Department of Chicano and Latino Studies
California State University, Long Beach

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Ten Reasons Why Puerto Rico Will Never be a State: Historical and Political

 (Postlude: December 7, 2012. Last November 6, Puerto Ricans, for the fourth time rejected statehood for Puerto Rico. Voters were presented during the regular electoral process with a very confusing referendum. But what was not confusing was the outcome, of the 1,864,186 voters, only 46.46% voted for statehood, all the other voters, 53.64%,  supported anti statehood proposals. Since the 1993 referendum this is the lowest percentage of support for statehood ever registered. National identity trumped assimilation and cultural suicide.)

(This Spring we might hear a buzz around Puerto Rico and its political relationship with the United States, I share some ideas about why the idea of statehood for Puerto Rico is a dream that is also a nightmare for many. In July 2009, the House Natural Resources Committee approved the Puerto Rico Democracy Act, HR 2499 which would establish at least one plebiscite in the Caribbean territory to survey the populace about what status they want for their island. According to the office of House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the bill will come up for a floor vote this year. "It remains a priority," spokeswoman Katie Grant said. This is characterized by some in Puerto Rico as a effort to impose statehood. Resident Commissioner Pedro Pierluisi, the non-voting delegate from Puerto Rico and a Democrat who represents Puerto Rico in Congress (although there is no real Democrat or Republican Party in Puerto Rico), together with Gov. Luis Fortuño, an energetic and rising Republican star (recently Obama placed him in an advisory group on national security and defense), have marshaled 182 House co-sponsors for the legislation, including 58 Republicans. The two say they have commitments from more than 264 House members - 180 Democrats and 84 Republicans - to vote for the bill. In 1998, another similar effort failed in the Senate where this one will also fail, but in the meantime will keep the pro-statehood party collecting donations from those who aspire to the dream/nightmare of statehood.)

UPDATE HR 2000 was submitted in congress by Resident Comissioner Pierluisi, money has been allocated for a survey which will not include the Estado Libre Asociado (status quo) and will certainly, again, not lead to any de-colonization process. 

Ten Reasons Why Puerto Rico Will Never be a State: Historical and Political

Víctor M. Rodríguez Domínguez, Ph.D.

April 2009

1. The United States did not conquer Puerto Rico to convert it into a state of the Union. Don Pedro Albizu Campos said, “The United States is interested in the cage, not the birds.” If it had wanted, it would have happeneda long time ago. Puerto Rico has spent more time as a colonial possession than New Mexico which became a state in 1912 after being conquered in 1848. The reason it took so long is that Hispanic culture was still strong (bilingual schools) and Chicanos were the majority population. After they were conquered economically, statehood arrived.

A. Every other land conquest bought or annexed by the United States became a territory. According to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the United States places every land held, conquered or annexed as a territory. The territorial status is the early state into the road to statehood (From the experience of Arizona, California, Louisiana, Alaska to Hawaii the U.S. has followed this process). Puerto Rico has NEVER been a “territory” of the United States. People use the term colloquially but Puerto Rico's relationship to the U.S. was defined by the Supreme Court in a number of cases called the Insular Cases from 1901-1922, as an “unincorporated territory” of the U.S. (Belongs to, but it is not a part of . . . sounds like a mistress). Further, the court in 1922 said: "[W]e find no features in the Organic Act of Porto Rico of 1917 from which we can infer the purpose of Congress to incorporate Porto Rico into the United States with the consequences which would follow." Balzac V. Porto Rico (1922). (Federal Appeals Court Judge agrees with me in a recent conference "The Insular Cases: A Declaration of their Bankruptcy and my Harvard Pronouncement" Harvard Law School February 19 2014.

2. Puerto Ricans were granted United States citizenship by a statute of congress, which means that congress could legislate and take it away. The Jones Act of 1917 granted citizenship to Puerto Ricans in order to gain loyalty during a period of war. (Puerto Rican federal judge Cabranes’ book explains this whole period in Citizenship and the American Empire: Notes on the Legislative History of the United States Citizenship of Puerto Ricans, 1979)

3. During the debate to grant statutory U.S. citizenship to the United States, the main concern of most congressmen was how “white” Puerto Ricans were, they did not want to allow a “mulatto” population to hold U.S. citizenship. Many were convinced by various means that Puerto Rico was the “whitest of the Antilles” (it was not then or today but then, who cares).

4. The colonial nature of Puerto Rico’s relationship to the United States occurs in violation of the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and to its democratic principles. Democratic countries do not possess colonies. When a country has colonies, it ceases to be a democracy and becomes an empire. During the congressional debates in congress, many members of the Anti-Imperialist league because they felt it would damage U.S. democracy (some were frankly, outright racists but not most). It was a motley crew which included people like Jane Addams (founder of the social work profession and the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize), Samuel Gompers a labor leader, John Dewey a philosopher of education, Grover Cleveland a former president, Mark Twain the writer, etc.).

5. There is no will in congress to go through this process (all other efforts have failed, the most recent one HR 2499 will also fail so will HR 2000) since Puerto Rico would have to be transformed into a territory and then legislation would have to be enacted to frame how Puerto Ricans (if they so choose) would be incorporated into the United States. When Congressman Young R-Alaska sponsored legislation (1998 “Young Bill” HR 856) the whole process collapsed, died in the senate, partially due to the question of imposing the English language on Puerto Rico.

6. Puerto Ricans, in contrast to Alaskans or Hawaiians, already had a clear sense of national identity which has, ironically been reinforced under United States colonial control. When Puerto Rico was conquered and ceded by Spain under the Treaty of Paris, the population was close to a million. It already had two centuries of literature, poets, painters, sociologists, philosophers, political leaders, etc. In fact, under the Autonomous Government granted by Spain to Puerto Rico in 1897, Puerto Rico had more freedom than under the “Estado Libre Asociado” incorrectly translated as “Commonwealth.” Puerto Rico, even under oppressive Spain, at various points in time had representatives in the Spanish Parliament with voice and vote (people like Ramon Power y Giralt).  Puerto Rico today has less sovereignty than under the Autonomic Government granted to Puerto Rico by Spain in 1897. Puerto Rico was able to enter into international trade agreements, pring its own currency, have its own postal system etc. Today Puerto Rico has a “Resident Commissioner” with voice and no vote (except in some minor committees). In Puerto Rico we call that “derecho al berrinche” (the right to scream like children).

7. The metaphorical “mancha de plátano” (this notion that we are always Puerto Ricans first, second and third) is evidenced by the fact that Puerto Ricans, even in the United States are one of the “Latino” groups which are more likely to maintain its language and connection to its nation. In the island, we are “un-assimilable,” English is taught in school from first grade to 12th grade and still Spanish is the vernacular in Puerto Rico. In the 1900s, the United States imposed English as the language of instruction in the public schools and it failed miserably. The colonialists were so desperate that they even sent Puerto Rican students to Carlisle Indian Boarding School founded by Captain Richard Henry Pratt in 1879 whose motto was "kill the indian, save the man" (See pablo Navarro's work on this subject). They brought teachers from New England and some of our best writers wrote great satire about the comedic nature of that process. One of the best is called “Santa Clós Va a la Cuchilla” (Santa Claus Visits Cuchilla) by Abelardo Díaz Alfaro about how Puerto Ricans dealt with U.S. imposed culture. In the 1940s, after decades of student walkouts and strikes the first Puerto Rican Education Commissioner, Jose A Padín returned to the use of Spanish as the medium of instruction in Puerto Rico’s public school system in 1946.

8. The pro-statehood party, all the way back to Luis Ferré in 1968 and Carlos Romero Barceló have talked about a “Jíbaro Statehood.” What they meant by that is that Puerto Rico would be accepted as a state with its Spanish language, customs, some form of international status other states do not have (Olympic Teams, Pan American teams, Central American Team, Miss Universe, Miss World). Whenever I tell my students about this they laugh since they now that if one becomes a state you have to give up all that. Whenever the Puerto Rican Basketball team, or a Puerto Rican boxing fighter defeats an “American” competitor the roar is deafening. Puerto Ricans are very nationalistic, that can not be erased.

9. If Puerto Ricans forgot their history, and decided to commit cultural self-genocide and voted for statehood (congress would never accept less than two thirds because it could find itself with Northern Ireland in the Caribbean) it would mean that because of the island population (close to 4 million right now) Puerto Rico would have more congressmen (actually, close to seven) than twenty-nine states, most of them conservative and from the South or the Midwest. I don’t see two thirds of congress voting to admit a state with seven congresspersons (likely Democrats, but not all). Alaska and Hawaii had very small populations and even today Alaska has one, Hawaii has two.

10. The United States knows that Puerto Ricans have shed their blood to preserve our culture and have struggled against repression and oppression in the island and in the United States’ mainland. Puerto Ricans have endured massacres (Ponce Massacre, March 21, 1937 20 dead, 100 wounded), assassinations, bombings, surveillance, demonization. We have struggled through peaceful means (we defeated the U.S. Navy in Vieques), Puerto Ricans are now struggling against the Republican governor of Puerto Rico’s efforts to impose neo-liberal and anti-working people measures. Most people do not know that during the Vietnam War, the draft in Puerto Rico collapsed. While many poor peasant kids ended up in the United States Armed Forces, thousands of others refused to be drafted, resisted the draft directly (not as conscientious objectors) burned their draft cards and stopped, for all intents and purposes, the drafting of Puerto Ricans to fight in Vietnam. There was no way that thousands of Puerto Rican youth could be sent to jail like it occurred in the United States, since it would have caused an international uproar. In the streets of San Juan and Mayaguez and other places where university and high school youth protested against the war, Puerto Rican and Vietnamese flags were unfurled. We have also fought through armed struggle. From the Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional (FALN) to the Voluntarios Para la Revolución, Comandos Armados Liberación (CAL), Movimiento Independentista Revolucionario Armado (MIRA), to the Ejército Popular Boricua- Machetero, the Nationalist Party, many organizations from the past and some still active today (but not engaging in armed struggle) have reminded the United States government that we cannot be erased, culturally, politically or physically. Don Pedro Albizu Campos said a phrase that we can read in t-shirts among Puerto Ricans across the diaspora, “Para quitarnos la patria, tendrán que quitarnos la vida.” (In order to take our motherland away, they will have to take our lives.)

Harvard Philosopher Santallana said “Those who forget their history are condemned to repeat it.”

Ponce Massacre