Chicano studies in Arizona schools? To be or not to be

By Joe Olvera

©, 2011

Joe Olvera is a long-time journalist whose latest book is - Chicano Sin Fin: Memoirs of a Chicano Journalist

Are we Chicanos and Chicanas ever going to get any peace from Republicans and other politicians? Besides the battle to keep Mexicans from coming to the U.S. legally or illegally, efforts continue to keep us undermined and ignorant of our own history.

I mean, German Americans know their history, don’t they? French Americans know their history, don’t they? Greek Americans know their history, don’t they? And, ad nauseum. So, why the angst that some Arizona politicos feel about us Chicanos knowing who we are, where we came from, what brought us to these shores? It seems that there is a certain hatred brewing against all things Mexican, even against those of us who are here legally, either because we were born here, or because we naturalized to become U.S. citizens.

For example, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal is now saying that because Chicano youths want an Ethnic Studies Program in their school, they are “violating state law” because, according to him, they are advocating ethnic solidarity among Latinos and “promoting resentment against white people.” Why the very idea.

If the Tucson Unified School District does not end its Ethnic (Chicano) Studies Programs in its schools, the district stands to lose some $15 million in state funds. This is because Chicanos and Chicanas are asking questions that are uncomfortable to answer.

What are they afraid of? For one thing, those against the program say that students are wanting to learn about such passages as : “We will now see the real forces behind this so-called ‘manifest destiny.’ We will see how half of Mexico was ripped off by trickery and violence.”

Well, the facts are that the U.S., in those days, did resort to “trickery and violence.” Don’t believe me? Look it up yourself. Study the history if you will, and even if you won’t. Here are some facts about that era that anyone can look up. For one thing, after the war between the U.S. and Mexico that created Texas’ so-called independence, the boundary that was established was, according to the Mexicans, the Nueces River. The Americans, however, said that no, the boundary had actually been the Rio Grande – which meant about 150 miles more of Mexican territory.

Then-U.S. President James K. Polk – a great believer in Manifest Destiny – which trumped the belief that God had meant for the U.S. to own the land from the Atlantic to the Pacific and all points north and south – helped to create the conflict between the two nations by sending a contingency of American troops because, according to him, the Mexican Army had entered U.S. territory north of the Rio Grande and south of the Nueces River. The ensuing war, highly unpopular with such statesmen as Abraham Lincoln and John Quincy Adams, was not to be denied. Even Henry David Thoreau got into the fray when he was jailed for refusing to pay taxes to the war machine. He was jailed for his obstinacy, whence he penned his famous tome “Civil Disobedience.”

Most Whigs in the north and south opposed the war, most southern Democrats supported it, seeing in the potential new territories further opportunities to expand slavery. Whig official Joshua Giddings called the war with Mexico “an aggressive, unholy and unjust war. In the murder of Mexicans upon their own soil, or in robbing them of their country, I can take no part…the guilt of these crimes must rest on others.”

Fellow Whig Abraham Lincoln demanded to see the exact site in which, allegedly, 16 Americans had been killed in a skirmish against Mexican soldiers. Whig leader Robert Toombs of Georgia declared: “This war is non-descript. We charge the President with usurping the war-making power, with seizing a country which had been for centuries, and was then in the possession of the Mexicans. Let us put a check on this lust of dominion. We had territory enough. Heaven knew.”

Perhaps the problem lies in the fact that Huppenthal, his predecessor Arizona State Attorney General Tom Horne, and others, are ignorant of the history between Mexico and the U.S., and of their refusal to see the U.S. as other than a benevolent nation with a squeaky clean image that today is used to cow young Chicanos and Chicanas into not seeking the truth.

The fact of the matter is that it did happen. Manifest Destiny was used as fodder to create the war with Mexico, a war in which the U.S. garnered more than one million square miles of Mexican territory – land that today encompasses the present states of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and other territories. To put things in perspective, only 647 out of 13,000 students are today taking courses in Chicano Studies. What’s to fear? Huppenthal says that such classes cannot be allowed to continue because they promote ethnic solidarity and ethnic resentment. As if it didn’t exist already, albeit, in very mild forms – unlike the sometimes violent efforts to know the truth that colored the 1960s-1970s.

So, if 647 students continue to take these classes, this means that the Tucson Unified School District stands to lose $15 million, a move that would impact on the more than 13,000 students that are not attending these classes. Now, that would be damaging a huge constituency, or doesn’t Huppenthal care? I ask again, What’s to fear? Teach students their history, no matter how painful it may be. After all, the facts are there. My beloved United State of America has not always been a paragon of virtue, and we all know that, albeit some of us won’t admit it. Orale!

Sin Fin






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