Chicanos Organize the‘New Raza Left’
Continuous attacks against Latinos over the past several years — particularly in California — have triggered an organizational response across college campuses nationwide. Similar to the Black Radical Congress, the “New Raza Left” — as it has been named — has organized to put forth a political vision, say organizers, many of whom are professors or students and political veterans of the 1960s-1970s political movement. (“Raza” literally means race, though in a political sense, it means people.)Martha Segura, a health educator at the University of California-Los Angeles and a member of the new broad-based organization, says that it is also intended to be a bridge between the activists of the 1990s and the activists of the previous generation.The organization, she says, is not limited to the academic arena, but also comprises labor and community members. That is because, members say, most Chicanos and Latinos are not on college campuses.A national conference is planned for the fall of 1999, although Segura says that the organization is not viewing the conference as the climax to its organizing efforts. Rather, the purpose of the conference is to organize against issues such as the anti-immigration Proposition 187, the anti-affirmative action Proposition 209, and the anti-bilingual education Proposition 227. Those voter initiatives were passed in California in 1994, 1996, and 1998, respectively, and New Raza Left organizers do not see a respite. Already, its members are organizing to defend ethnic studies, which has been specifically targeted for extinction by Ward Connerly, the University of California regent who led the efforts against affirmative action policies in the UC system and the crusade to pass Proposition 209.Members of the organization also have given priority to the right of Latinos/Latinas to attend higher education institutions amid the battle over affirmative action. All these attacks have spawned movements by Chicanos and Latinos, says Segura.“Many of the groups are splintered,” she notes. “Part of the purpose of the New Raza Left is to bring all the groups together.”Professor Rudy Acuña, one of the founders of the discipline of Chicano studies and a professor at California State University-Northridge (CSUN), says that the purpose of the organization has to be centered on community and labor issues. “The organization has to organize around issues important today — issues such as sexism and homophobia,” he says.Acuña fully supports the efforts of the new organization, preferring to allow the younger generation to shape its character. He hopes the group avoids the organizational warfare of the 1970s — when factions sought to find legitimacy for their causes by “being more left than you are.”People have to understand the past, he says, but they also must move forward. A positive relationship and dialogue with the community is the key, he says.“My hope is that the vision is national, similar to the Black Radical Congress,” says Acuña.According to Dr. Bill Flores, dean of the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at CSUN, the attacks on Hispanics and the voter initiatives are “a response to the growing numbers and influence of Latinos in California and in the country as a whole. But, they are also part of a broader conservative social agenda aimed at undermining and restricting the rights of all the forces that want genuine social change.”Flores says that the political right wing has attacked unions and working people, fought universal health care, attacked the right of women to control their bodies and make choices affecting their lives, and launched an assault at multiculturalism. And amid these attacks, Flores says, that the Democratic Party has not defended the rights of the average person.“Groups like the New Raza Left are emerging because the gap between the richest 5 percent of the country and the remaining 95 percent of the country is getting wider, while the American Dream of owning your own house and having a secure job to provide for your family is evaporating,” he says.“I think what the group is doing is tremendously significant because activists from a wide variety of sectors are coming together to develop a distinctly progressive Latino voice and a new and progressive Latino social agenda and movement,” Flores continues. “Latinos are emerging as a growing force in California politics, and having their own agenda will insure that that they can and will reshape the political and social landscape not only of California, but of the entire country.”The recent elections in California, many analysts say, proved the importance of Latinos in any future presidential election. This past year, Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamente became the first Mexican American elected to a statewide office since the previous century. Additionally, both the leader of the state Senate, Richard Polanco, and the state Assembly, Antonio Villaraigoza, are Mexican Americans.Segura says that the group is hoping to become a national voice for Hispanics. But realistically, it is looking to solidify as a Southwest organization. Aside from having organizational meetings in six regions in California, the group has already sponsored a forum in defense of Chicano and Chicana studies, and has planned another in February to examine the roots of radicalism in the Chicano community. “The young student activists want to know the history of the Chicano movement,” says Segura, adding that it will also be a time for the veterans of the 1960s and 1970s to heal the wounds from that era. In addition to bringing the different Chicano/Latino groups together, the organization is already in communication with the Black Radical Congress and the Asian American Left Forum. The three groups have already met to explore a common agenda.Part of the work of the New Raza Left is to determine what the “plan” will be, says Segura. But unlike the literal plans of the 1960s — such as El Plan de Aztlan and El Plan de Santa Barbara — this time, the plans will only be done in consultation with the community.“We have to ask the community. We have to have ‘consultos populares’ [a phrase that is the equivalent to ‘town hall meetings’ and is associated with the Zapatista movement in Chiapas]. Our goals have to be in tune with the community,” she says. “We have to see ourselves not as leaders, but as mobilizers.”
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