When the great Muhammad Ali was asked how many sit-ups he did, he responded, “I don’t count my sit-ups. I only start counting when it starts hurting. That is when I start counting, because then it really counts. That’s what makes you a champion.”
These words resonate in Tucson, where Latina/o students are fighting for an education by sitting-in in the office of Tucson Unified School District Superintendent of Schools John Pedicone, walking out of classes, demonstrating, and taking to the streets.
Students are dispelling the myth that Mexican Americans do not care about education; they have started counting because it hurts. They know the difference between having subject matter that is relevant and having those books warehoused, between having teachers who believe in what they are teaching and sitting through classes where teachers go through the motions.
At my own campus at California State University Northridge students are mobilizing. Up until now, a small minority protested the rising cost of tuition, which now tops $5,550 a year and is promising to climb another 30 percent next year.
Because of the lack of accessibility to education, they are growing disillusioned with our system of government. They don’t believe the promises of President Barack Obama in his State of the Union. Desperate, many students are dropping out of school
California State University Chancellor Charles Reed recently issued a threat to all state campuses that any institution that exceeded its target enrollment by more than 3 percent would be docked $7 million. The Cal State Northridge administration panicked and froze classes, not allowing needy students to enroll in classes, even when professors agreed to take them as an overload.
The result has been pandemonium. Many students are unable to get the requisite 12 units for financial and other scholarship aid. This action takes money out of needy students’ pockets; the tuition for 12 units and 19 units is the same. Graduation will be deferred by a couple of years. For administrators earning $120,000 - $350,000 annually it is no big deal. But for poor and middle-class students it is a big deal.
The freeze has forced many students to start counting. It has dawned on them that they are being shut out of what the Tucson students are fighting for, a college education. Conservatives have always maintained that everyone has an equal opportunity; tragically many poor people believed that myth.
However, this fairy tale is being debunked by what is happening in California’s community colleges, where students used to be able to attend college almost tuition free and could live close to home and work. But this is no longer the case.
Although the fees are still affordable at the two-year colleges, the campuses have been flooded consequent to the pushdown of students who qualify for the University of California and the California State University systems but can’t afford it. Consequently, the problem for community colleges is not so much tuition but the flood of students that have drowned them.
Filled beyond capacity, their infrastructures have been inundated, and even when students are matriculated they face the impossible task of getting classes. This situation promises to worsen as the UC resorts to the vigorous recruiting of wealthy foreign and out of state students who are displacing residents.
If by this time, we are not counting, we should be because the hurt will worsen.
The challenge for students is to develop a strategy. It is not going to do us any good to say I told you so or to get angry. We have to get even. The reason the system will continue as if the crash never happened is because we did not get even. Very few people have gone to jail, and the gaggle of thieves on Wall Street and government was not stigmatized.
Talk about class warfare, society differentiates between white and blue-collar crime. Pure and simple, we are complicit and let the big ones get away.
In Tucson, the rich benefit directly from the destruction of the Mexican American Studies program. Brutalizing immigrants and Latino students is part of the grand strategy to keep Mexicans in their place.
The assassination of nine-year old Brisenia Flores in her home in 2009 sent a chill through other Mexicans. Shawna Forde, who had ties with the Minutemen and FAIR and the Federation For American Immigration Reform, led the assassins, but the truth be told, the Tucson white elite was complicit, as it is today.
Let me be clear: The purpose behind the destruction of the Mexican American Studies program is to intimidate other minorities. African, Native and other Americans were put on notice that they will suffer a similar fate if they protest too loudly. They heard about Mexican American students being forced to stand by while the banned books were boxed and carted away. Students watched in silence; they sobbed. Books had become important to them.
In the past I have spoken about Adolph Hitler’s “The Big Lie.” In that instance, the Jews and the gypsies were scapegoated. Hitler used hate to rally the German people. In a similar way, the anti-Mexican and anti-foreign hysteria helps conceal the criminality of ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) that owns the Arizona state legislature and SALC (the Southern Arizona Leadership Council) that controls public and private institutions in southern Arizona. Superintendent Pedicone rose through SALC’s ranks and was its vice-president.
Republican politicians have exploited the hatred of Mexicans, using it to their economic and political advantage. The same goes for the Koch Brothers, the Tea Party, the Minutemen, and the prison and gun industries, not to mention the bankers who launder money made from selling arms to the Mexican cartels.
Politicos such as Attorney General Tom Horn and Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal have built their careers by spreading lies and bashing Mexicans. Tolerating them is like speaking respectfully of Hitler. ALEC and SALC leaders are criminals and child abusers. We should not abet their malfeasance by being respectful.
Some readers will say, “Rudy, you are going too far!” But am I going too far? Have they ever seen a 14 year old strung out on drugs, or a teenager that has a difficult time in explaining his or her thoughts? Who has created these conditions? Who is to blame?
I once told my wife when she was getting frustrated tutoring a second grader, “If Jorge does not learn to read, he will end up in jail.” She started to cry. Have you ever met a second grader who was bad?
Because of my early parochial education, I have a strong sense of right and wrong. For me, “sometimes there is no other side.” I have a mind, and as my teachers would tell me, and I need to “use it.” It is idiotic to say we are all equal in this country; it is a myth. In my vernacular, the word “exploitation” is the willful taking advantage of the poor. It is an abomination and cannot be tolerated.
The wonderful quality about students is that many have retained the sense to be outraged at injustice. Reasoned moral outrage corrects the imperfections of society and achieves justice for all. And, that is precisely why the Tucson cabal is banning books. ALEC, SALC, the Tea Party and their gaggle can’t handle the truth; it is subversive.
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest was banned. Why? It is threatening because it talks about colonialism. It is about the Earls of Southampton, investors in the Virginia Company. At court they support a Protestant-expansionist foreign policy. King James opposes it because he does not want trouble with Spain. Eventually this leads James to execute Sir Walter Raleigh.
The Tempest is told through the eyes of Caliban, a native of a colonized island. It is about his accusations against the colonial governor, Prospero.
Prospero is the colonizer; Caliban, the colonized. Prospero looks at Caliban as being genetically inferior. The story betrays Prospero’s colonial mentality; he has little respect for the natives or the environment. His demeanor resembles that of Superintendent Pedicone and leaders of the white establishment of Tucson who regard Mexicans, whether born on this side or the other side of the border, as aliens.
Rather than use history or literature to correct the imperfections of society, Huppenthal and the majority of the Tucson school board chose to censor books. The Tucson cabal believes that it can hide the truth, and thus keep Mexicans in their place. It is similar to the efforts of many former Confederate states to erase any mention of slavery as if it had never existed. According to them, African Americans were happy under slavery. It is similar to the efforts of neo-Nazis to deny the Holocaust or the Turks’ denial of the Armenian genocide.
Their view is if people don’t know about it, it did not happen. Consequently, Mexicans can continue to drop out of school, go to prison, work at minimum wage jobs, and believe in fairy tales. If they learn, they may start counting.
Rodolfo Acuña is a professor at Cal State Northridge. His “Occupied America: A History of Chicanos,” was one of seven books specifically singled out by the authorities in Arizona for banning.