Questioning Why It Has Taken Me 24 Years To Be Exposed to Chicana/o Studies
In my U.S. Women of Colors class last week we were assigned a couple of Gloria Anzaldua readings and it changed my entire world. Never in my life have I felt as moved by a piece of literature. I literally felt that she was speaking everything my heart has always wanted to say but could not put into words. Her thoughts on identity politics, language and her Chicana experiences related to me more than anything I have ever read in my entire life.
After being blown away, I had a major revelation that ninety percent of everything I have ever been taught in school has been from the white perspective. As a Latina woman, this realization that I already knew but hadn’t fully grasped was really disturbing and made me feel that most everything I have learned in my entire life has been based on racist and sexist ideologies. When I was an English major (as an undergraduate student) we hardly read any work by people of color and this was considered normal and okay. Only in taking an African-American Literature class was I exposed to some but looking back I am really disappointed at the lack of multicultural perspective that was given even at a university level.
It all begins in grade school when history is almost entirely taught from a white male perspective and any racial issues are completely sugarcoated (i.e. “The slaves were treated like members of the family.” “The Native Americans and Pilgrims got along” etc.) We are completely lied to and then even in college literature classes (at least in my experience) white male text are chosen to represent the pinnacle of American Literature and the voices of people of color are not brought to the forefront in literature, history and other disciplines.
Ethnic Studies, along with Women’s Studies are two fields trying to fight this dominating white male trend in academia. In one of her readings, Anzaldua addresses the fact that she was forbidden from teaching Chicana/o literature when she was teaching High School in 1971 because the principal said that she was supposed to teach “American and English Literature”. Being the badass that she was, she threw in a few Chicano stories anyway.
This disregard of implementing Ethnic Studies into curriculum continues today with the “Anti Ethnic Studies Law” SB 2281 that was passed in Arizona in May of 2010. The law prohibits schools to include any programs or courses that would “promote the overthrow of the US government” “promote resentment towards any race or class” “advocate ethnic solidarity instead of being individuals” and “are designed for a certain ethnicity”. After this passed, The Tuscan Unified School District cut Mexican-American Studies. They were basically afraid that Chicanas/os would want revenge if they knew their history.
When I first heard about this I was completely outraged and still am but one thing that is interesting to me is the activism that has sprang out of this the past two years. The documentary Precious Knowledge directed by Ari Palos “illustrates an epic civil rights battle as brave students and teachers battle with lawmakers and public opinion in an effort to keep their classes alive”. It explores the student and teacher protests occurring after Mexican-American studies was banned from the Tuscan Unified School District. Here is the trailer of the powerful film.
Another very interesting form of activism in response to the bill is “El Librotraficante Movement”. They use the Latino stereotype of being a drug trafficker “traficante” to convey their message in a satirical way. The group started out with “smuggling” banned books back to Tucson and it has grown into a movement since. In March of this year they have “smuggled over 1,000 books donated from all over the country, and opened 4 Under Ground Libraries”. They also use performance art and other methods when they tour. Here is a hilarious video clip with author Tony Diaz who is one of the founders of the movement. “Wet Books: Smuggling Banned Literature Back Into Arizona” Other forms of activism against this inhumane law have been growing and receiving more and more attention.
All in all, the stories of people of color NEED to be implemented into public education and university level curriculum or our children and future generations will continuously be fed the same web of lies we have. We must not give up the fight against laws such as the “Anti Ethnic Studies Law”. If we want to reach equality and have a better world we must tell every story, not just the heterosexual white male story. A couple of days after I read Anzaldua for the first time my friend told me that that same day was her (Anzaldua’s) birthday (September 26th). I could not believe this and genuinely felt that it was more than a coincidence. In response we held a healing circle that weekend in her memory meditating, reading her work out loud, lighting candles and praying to Madre Tierra that Anzaldua’s spirit and courage will live on through us. As Anzaldua said, “I change myself, I change the world.” Her writing and activism has changed the world for thousands of women and people of color. As a Latina, I can only hope that I can carry on her beautiful message in some way and try to bring an intersectional perspective to the world, which is the only real perspective.