Never Trust a Gringo

Like my mother said, "Ni les pido agua." However, this is wrong

By Rodofo F. Acu??a
Published on LatinoLA: March 25, 2009

Never Trust a Gringo

Dr. Julian Nava, who was almost always polite, once pointed out that a Mexican American would never be appointed as president of a large metropolitan California State University; most large Mexican American and Latino populations. Administrators and faculty members feared that the president would build their own constituency.

Witness Nava's bid for the California State Los Angeles presidency and Tom?s Arciniega's 21-year stint as president of California State University Bakersfield. Arciniega was passed over in favor of a vice-president with much less experience when he applied for the Cal State Fullerton job. In Nava's case, he had recently been an ambassador to Mexico, and he was promised support from the Chancellor as well as individual Trustees.

I have come to the conclusion that fear of a large Mexican American population is just part of the explanation as to why Latinos and Mexicans in particular are feared but respected. When growing up in Los Angeles after World War II, anti-Semitism was rampant and more than one Jewish friend warned me to "Never trust a goy." (Never trust a non-Jew or white person). Jews were still ethnic then, and were not considered white. An oppressed people always display ethnic pride it is a way to survive. However, the case of Mexicans has always differed from other racial and ethnic minorities; Euro-Americans no matter how uneducated or pinche their existence feel at liberty to judge and tell Mexican Americans how to act.

This ranges from throwing tantrums over their displaying the Mexican flag at rallies, to their speaking Spanish or their presence at institutions of higher learning. I have been admonished by colleagues for warning "Never trust a gringo," it is racist, according to them, although they use the term illegal alien with impunity.

At California State University where I teach, 4.9 percent of the faculty are Spanish surnamed and over here-quarters of the departments don't have a single Mexican American tenured professor. When we approached the provost and the Department of Human Resources to verify these statistics, we were told that CSUN did not breakdown Hispanic groups by country of origin it was guess work at best. Even the provost who is sympathetic tried to divert our probe which reached a dead end without institutional support. "Mexicans don't count!"

Further there is no institutional loyalty. Because I am constantly questioning, the administration has made me pay the price. One year when I was up for merit pay increase everyone thought I was a sure thing for the maximum increase of five steps. I had two books and five articles that year. As it came out, I received a one step increase. When I asked around I was told in confidence that the president had told the provost that she would never give me the maximum increase because she did not like me. The Chicano students had jammed her and that I stood by. That I had told her controlling students was not part of my job description. Instead she supported one of her lackeys for the five steps; he did not have the equivalent of a book review to his credit he knew how to kiss you know what.

The treatment of the department has been similar. CSUN is first in line to trumpet that it has the largest Chicana/o Studies department in the nation. It is a Spanish-speaking serving Institution which logo it attaches to every grant proposal. CSUN got over a million dollars for a library grant based on the Chicano student population, the Chicana/o studies department, and the Chicano collections that it has yet to process.

The institution ignores that it has curtailed the Educational Opportunities Program splintering it in parts. It has systematically used Chicana/o Studies to subsidize the growth of other departments that are hurting for enrollment. It has cut the department's prime time classes to give other departments a better chance to draw students. When Chicano Studies asked for support from the dean and the provost for development of online classes it was refused. When we laid out a plan to extend Chicano Studies classes to high school students, we were discouraged; our ideas were then given to engineering. Simply, we wanted to offer via the internet college level course credit to Chicano high school students.

Without belaboring the theme and laying out documentation, I submit the following memo of March 18, 2009 to the provost:

Rudy Saves wrote:

I do not want to complain, whine, or for you to mention it to your publicity unit. However, in Mexican society -- in my generation of Mexican Americans -- words like honor and respect had meaning. I previously mentioned the slight over the Choice Award. I did not mind the slight but the sleight of hand I resent that functionaries with half my IQ would think that I would believe that it was unintentional and that they could get away with it.*

Another incident happened a year ago when I was invited by the history department to be the Whitsett Scholar Lecturer. My first inclination was to turn down the invitation -- there is been bad blood between me and the history department since 1968 when it turned me down for a job. The then-chair stated as reasons 1) I could not objectively teach Latin American history because my parents were Mexican, 2) that I would vote with the radical faction of history, and 3) that it already had a Mexican (Julian Nava) in the department.

So be it, the next year I came in as a full professor with my own department.

Over the years there were turf battles and affirmative action issues. Last year, history proposed -- with Jorge acting as an intermediary -- if I would be willing to give the lecture. [They did not want to be turned down]. Jorge spoke to me and convinced me to say OK the rationale was that there were younger historians who wanted relations and perhaps it was time that we let bygones be bygones. Moreover, we had a common cause with history in re: the move to blur the disciplines by Religious Studies, and Beth Say's inane proposal to label everything "studies" so humanities could raid the social science's general education offerings.

The event went off well.

However, about two weeks later I noticed that there were other Whitsett Scholar lectures -- it seemed odd since to my knowledge this was not so in the past and this was not what the agreement had been. I brought it to Jorge's attention who spoke to his friends in Behavioral Science, they assured him that this was not the case.

This week the issue was resurrected and the announcements came out for this year's honoree. My very good friend George Sanchez was chosen. (I won't be able to attend, it is my daughter's birthday). They listed the past honorees, I was not among them. So far the answer that we have gotten is that I was not "the" Whitsett Scholar but "a" Whitsett Scholar.

Come on Harry, we are talking about an academic award -- not a blow job. My feeling is that you cannot expect more of gringos; Jorge feels as if he was lied to. The truth is that it is an issue of respect -- the institution /nos ven la cara de pendejo/ (it sees in us the face of a fool (collectively). Again, this is not to complain, I have enough going with my new website, getting my history of Chicano studies ready and the rewrite of the seventh edition of "Occupied America". I don't whine but I have never been anyone's punk.

Rudy Acu??a
*It is customary for professors who receive awards to be mentioned in the website newsletter. It amounts to kudos for the department. This past year I had a book and a three volume anthology published -- they were not mentioned. I also received the Outstanding Academic Title by CHOICE Magazine, "Corridors of Migration: The Odyssey of Mexican Laborers, 1600-1933, (2009), the National Hispanic Institute, Lifetime Achievement Award, Austin, Texas, 2008; keynoted, Texas Foco, National Association for Chicana Chicano Studies, 2008; an award from the Community Coalition South Central Los Angeles, 9th Annual Gala Dinner, Activist-scholar award, 2008; The Labor/Community Strategy Center Lifetime Achievement Award, May 2007 (a major labor organization); the Center for the Study of Political Graphics (CSPG), Historian of the Lions Award at our 18th Anniversary Dinner in Los Angeles on Saturday, October 13, 2007.

None of them were mentioned although the university was informed. At least three requests have come in to involve me in minor community events; however, they were dissuaded by the director of alumni affairs. The truth be told, the head of the alumni division has been confronted for calling me a communist in public.

The truth be told, I like Blazing Saddles misquote of Gold Hat in the 1948 film The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). "Badges? We don't need no stinking badges!" I really don't care if they recognize me. I don't need their badges! However, I know that this plays into the habit of society of dismissing Mexicans they can get away with it. When I was teaching at San Fernando Junior High the teachers were told, "If a Jewish parent complains, take care of it right away. If a white parent complains, take care of it. Negro parents rarely complain, and don't worry about Mexican parents, they never complain." In order to break this culture of Mexicans don't count, we have to fight back.

Like my mother said, "Ni les pido agua." However, this is wrong. I worked damn hard for a doctorate, working sixty hours a week and carrying a full load. They gave whites scholarships but dismissed me. Yet I have contributed more than 99 percent of the professors at CSUN and demand to be treated the same. We have to speak up!

The same standard applied to us has to be applied to Jewish-Americans, Armenians, Italian-American and Irish-Americans. If they don't want us to wave Mexican flags then abolish St. Patrick's Day and Columbus Day marches. If they call us illegal, remind them that they stole half Mexico's land and the lack of arable land and water is one of the reasons people come here. Remind them that Central Americans did not come here en masse until we blew up their countries. And remind Glen Spencer of Citizens Together, the ranting David Horowitz, and Dick Cheney that their patriotism is predicated on other people losing their lives they never went. Remind them that Mexico has drug cartels because the U.S. market for drugs. Remember treat others like they treat you.

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