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Accountability: Why History Matters

The biggest obstacle to furthering a Chicano, Latino, or anything you want to call it agenda is a lack of accountability

By Rodolfo F. Acuña
Published on LatinoLA: November 8, 2012


Accountability: Why History Matters


What is so frustrating about politics is that there is so little accountability. We can continually screw up as my students would say and are not accountable. Because we as a society are ahistorical, we are unable to sort out the lies that our leaders tell us or correct our own errors. Millions of dollars are spent to distort reality making elections a sham.

Let's take a minute and review this thesis in light of California Propositions 30 and 32. Proponents made every effort to sway voters through emotional appeals rarely putting their arguments in a historical context. Up to the last day I had people calling me and asking me for advice.

The truth be told, neither side was honest about the propositions, and very few people know the historical context for Props 30 and 32. Their geneses begin before most Americans were born, reaching back to the post World War II era when American corporations tried to regain the political and economic hegemony they had lost during the Great Depression. The nation's plutocracy wanted to continue tapping into the national treasury while returning to the laissez faire of the 1920s. In order to accomplish this goal, the economic royalists as President Franklin Roosevelt used to call them had to neuter labor, which they did with the passage of Taft Hartley Act of 1948 and a purging of militants from labor.

This war was about power and the transference of wealth. Organized labor, however, continued to be a thorn in the side of the plutocracy that resented the high taxes necessary to educate Americans. During the 1960s, a war broke out over the funding of public education, which has lasted to the present and has led to the transference of the cost of social production from the plutocracy to working and middle classes.

The economic royalists in recent times have had major victories. They seized control of the state of Arizona by neutralizing labor, and it has tried to do the same in Wisconsin and Ohio. The big prize is California where teacher and public sector unions are still a factor. This is where Prop 32 comes in.

Proposition 30 is 32's cousin. It is a sibling of Prop 13 (1978). It was 13 that underfunded K-12 and higher education in California and dismantled a premier educational system, making our schools competitive with Mississippi and Arizona.

Ironically in 1978 Jerry Brown was governor of California. He opposed Prop 13, but once it passed he presided over a massive transference of wealth. The cost of funding schools was transferred from wealthy homeowners and owners of commercial property to the poor. No longer did municipalities fund education; this responsibility was shifted to the state's General Fund.

Presently, Brown successfully supported 30 that would partially repair the devastation caused by 13. However, this is only a temporary reprieve, and it is doubtful that Brown will do much to level funding, and force the plutocracy to pay for the cost of social production. Brown rarely fights for unpopular change.

The forces that opposed 30 are very much alive; they are the people who supported Prop 32. They are the plutocrats who have a more draconian vision. They want to convert California into another Arizona.

During this last election money poured into California from Arizona to support 32. People like the Koch Brothers joined California privatizers such as former LA City Mayor Richard Riordan and billionaire Charles Munger Jr. The only thing that stood and stands in the way of a corporate takeover of California is the trade unions.

This is where history comes in. It would be naïve to believe that the plutocrats will be dissuaded by this loss. They have the money to buy off and divide progressives as in the case of this past election. Because we do not have a historical sense, the memories of betrayals will end up in the waste basket of forgotten perfidies.

Because there is no accountability we will continue to be manipulated. So let's briefly review some of these so-called compromises that have led us to this state of mind.

Bilingual-bicultural education was neutralized by the compromises of often well-meaning Chicano educators, who were desperate to hang on to any bone given to them by Lyndon Johnson, and they agreed to frame bilingual education as a strategy to learn English -- it was more palatable to xenophobes. This led to a series of compromises leading to an underfunding of bilingual-bicultural education. Dr. Ernesto Galarza was one of the few educators to write about the betrayal.

Similarly, Chicano Studies was compromised by Chicano educators who wanted to be accepted by the academy, and they embraced models such as ethnic studies, which were in turn sold down the river.

I am told that my book, The Making of Chicana/o Studies is too harsh on the early directors of many early programs. No one forced us to take jobs in Chicano Studies, and if programs fail someone should be held accountable. Accountability is the only way to correct the past and prevent them from happening again.

In the case of the Tucson Unified School District's Mexican American Studies program, which has been dismantled, and is now being resurrected under a new label, what is the truth and who is accountable?

Is there any difference between the xenophobes and the corporate thieves that put millions of people out of work and wrecked the economy? Not much, neither has been held accountable, and until they are held accountable, the suffering of the people cannot be corrected.

The biggest obstacle to furthering a Chicano, Latino, or anything you want to call it agenda is a lack of accountability. At CSUN, we have given up courses that we fought for to other departments. In one case, a past chair did not challenge Religious Studies petition to be accepted as a studies program; they needed enrollment, and they tried to cure it by adopting our model and getting courses approved across the board in General Education. However, they do not have an interdisciplinary faculty, courses or course of study. According to some of my colleagues, we have to form alliances, and after all they are our friends.

We approved courses on Chicano subject matter to be taught by other departments to meet the Liberal Arts requirement. Why? Because the coordinator of LS at the time was a Chicana; this set a dangerous precedent. Currently, Education wants to teach a course on Latinos. The Trojan horse is a one-unit class that will carry an S Factor. If this is alright why doesn't Education allow us to offer a credential program in Chicana/o education?

Who when we make decisions holds us accountable? Failure is not acceptable when it affects others and future generations have a right to know.

Chicano support for Props 30 and 32 should not have been a surprise.

There is a direct link between 32 and the Latino California Caucus' betrayal of the community in 2001. Latinos make up to fifty percent of the San Fernando Valley, which today has a population of almost 2 million people. Latino elected officials bartered this seat away, and went along with a deal with the California Democratic Caucus that protected incumbents.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund objected; it brought an unsuccessful suit. No one was held accountable for the disenfranchisement of Latinos. Many of the same actors again switched sides and supported Prop 32. Surprise?

During the past election, I did not jump on the Obama Bandwagon. The stakes were too high to publicly criticize him because of Mitt Romney and his gaggle of Republican xenophobes. But I could not forget that his compromise on health care cost us the single payer option, and that his not prioritizing immigration reform ensured the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Latinos.

If people would be held accountable, this would put people on notice. It would have been another outcome if those who were responsible for the Wall Street Crash would have gone to jail. It would not have gotten people's homes back, but it would have restored their faith in government and slowed down the tea party and the xenophobes takeover of Arizona.

By our selling ourselves short and going along with compromises we have hurt the credibility of our cause. Chicana/o Studies at CSUN was once strong because people knew that they would pay a price if they tried to short change us. This is no longer true. We are accepted as colleagues in academe and that means collegiality. Like senators in the U.S. Senate we are members of the club; we no longer hold people accountable.

History matters. It matters if people trust you. Upon achieving victory in 1959, Fidel Castro turned to history for his reasons as to why he would not compromise as Cuban leaders had done in 1898 and let the U.S. dictate the terms of the peace with Spain. This time, Castro said, there would be no compromise – ending with the words, "The Revolution Begins Now."

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