Latino movement: a target for harassment? – student movement charges school administrations for deliberate harassment - Higher Education


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Latino movement: a target for harassment? – student movement charges school administrations for deliberate harassment

by Roberto Rodriguez

Albuquerque–Members of Movimiento
Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan
(MEChA)–which translates to Chicano
Student Movement of Aztlan– say their
organization is being unfairly targeted by
school administrations across the country.
The harassment they are facing, says one
student, “is like the 1960s, but with a 1990s
twist.”

The types of problems MEChA has
been subjected to in the
past few months include:
the suspension of a
MEChA newspaper;
threats to fire a MEChA
faculty sponsor; the arrest
of a student for
non-protest activities; and
harassment by a
conservative organization.
At St. Mary’s
University in San
Antonio, Texas, the
editor of the MEChA
newspaper Espiritu de
Aztlan (Spirit of Aztlan),
received a memo saying
that the periodical was
not a publication
approved by the Student
Publications Board.

The
memo also instructed the paper to cease
publication until approval is acquired.
Christina Ramirez, the newspaper’s
editor, says that Espiritu de Aztlan has been
an approved publication since 1993 and that
it has a letter from the dean which recognizes
that assertion. The newspaper also has
work-study positions, which show that the
publication is approved and recognized, says
Ramirez, who adds that community support
forced the board to reconsider its position.
“We felt very threatened. We felt they
wanted to stifle our voices. Our first reaction
was that we had been caught in a
1960s time warp and that we were dealing
with people with tiny minds who were closed
off to reality,” Ramirez says.

Across the country, MEChA has held
rallies to demand Chicano/Latino studies
departments and to protest anti-immigrant or
anti-affirmative action movements, among
other things. And although members have
been arrested for such things as
“failure to disperse”
and “disturbing the
peace,” the current
opposition that MEChA
encounters is, according to
Ramirez, not always done
in the confrontational way of
the 1960s.

Current opposition
to MECha activities
comes in the form of
red tape, says Ramirez,
adding that students are
now forced to contend
with cumbersome
regulations which have the
same stifling effect as
outright banishment,
censorship, or law
enforcement action against
the organization.

Ruth Rodgers, vice
president for student
development, says that the newspaper was
not banned but simply told to conform to
university regulations. The situation arose as
a result of the MEChA newsletter converting
into a newspaper.

“It wasn’t intended to be a punitive
measure,” says Rodgers, adding that the
situation was resolved within a week. “We’re
very pleased with the work they’re doing.”
Rodgers says that the letter sent to
MEChA was to clear up misunderstandings,
“not an order to cease publication.”
The Demand for Chicano Studies
Recently, St. Mary’s MEChA and other
Chicano/Latino organizations succeeded in
getting a Chicano culture
on campus. However, it only has room for
twenty students, according to Ramirez, who
notes, “And we [Chicanos] are 50 percent of
the campus.”

Because of the high percentage of
Chicanos on campus, MEChA is struggling to
expand the Mexican American studies
program. While other institutions have had
Chicano studies departments for close to
thirty years, St. Mary’s students are only
now able to minor in Chicano studies. By next
fall, according to Ramirez, they will be able to
declare it as a major.

In support of St Mary’s MEChA,
University of Texas at San Antonio
professor, Ismael Dovalina, recently wrote in
the September issue of Espiritu de Aztlan:
“Course titles should reflect course content so
students interested in women’s history,
Mexican American history, etc. can take such
courses.

“Furthermore, courses should be offered
during popular class periods. An informal
survey suggested that there is a minuscule
[amount] of such courses at local colleges….
Students would find more courses in Chicano
studies at the University of Wisconsin than at
colleges with a predominantly Chicano
student body.”

Part of MEChA’s work is to do
recruitment at high schools–where they also
encounter opposition, says Ramirez.
Attempts to create MEChA chapters on high
school campuses are routinely met with
cumbersome procedures which make them
difficult to establish.
“We have to go through the school board.
Many of those who are opposed to MEChA
are stuck in a time warp,” she says. “They
think MEChA is simply about walkouts.”

Recently, St Mary’s MEChA
participated in a college fair at a barrio school
near the university. The university did not
show up, says Ramirez, “but we did.”
MEChA also encounters hostilities from
campus police. At Palo Alto College in San
Antonio, student Miguel Rosales was arrested
for posting campus-approved MEChA
recruitment flyers, says Gabriel Rosales, a
long-time MEChA member and brother of the
arrested student.

According to Gabriel Rosales, the officer
insulted both the student and the
organization, and arrested his brother for
posting “Chicano hate literature.”
Gabriel Rosales says that there’s a
perception of racism on campus–not simply
as a result of the arrest, but because of the
failure of the campus to have a Chicano
studies department.

Ginger Hall Carnes, a representative for
Palo Alto College, says that Miguel Rosales
was not arrested, but detained as
a result of a mix-up. An investigation revealed
that MEChA did have permission to post the
flyers and the temporary questioning of
Rosales was due to a misunderstanding. “No
formal charges were filed against the student,”
Carnes claims.

Regarding Mexican American studies
classes, she says the school is now offering
interdisciplinary courses and “is moving
forward.”

Philosophical Differences

At a New Mexico high school, a teacher
is fighting for her job over MEChA-related
activities. The teacher has been directed to
cease teaching the “MEChA philosophy” in
class. The teacher, who did not want her
name revealed because of possible action,
says the administration has not explained
what it is they object to about the MEChA
philosophy.

Daniel Sosa of Movimiento Estudiantil
Xicano de Aztlan at Michigan State
University says that if the organization has a
philosophy, “it’s the liberation of the mind.
It’s teaching people that we have a
responsibility to our communities.”

MEChA is not a violent organization,
says Sosa, but it does fight for its beliefs. At
MSU, students in support of the United
Farm Worker’s Union boycott of grapes have
struggled to keep the fruit off of campus and
to educate the community about the rights of
farm workers and the dangers that pesticides
pose to troth workers and consumers.
A couple of years ago, says Sosa,
MEChA held a meeting with the president of
the university over the issue. During the
meeting, a Chicana student jumped on top of
the table and started doing the Mexican hat
dance, smashing grapes in the process. Other
students hurled grapes at the president, says
Sosa. Eventually, the students gained a partial
triumph when the student dormitories agreed
not to serve grapes in the cafeteria.

One campus in which opposition to
MEChA has escalated to new heights is
California State University at Northridge.
Rudolfo Acuna, co-founder of Chicano
Studies, says an off-campus conservative
group has been monitoring activities and
harassing MEChA–going so far as placing a
full-page ad in a major daily which attacked
the student organization. The conservative
group has also accused the president of that
chapter of MEChA of attacking its members.

During a recent statewide MEChA
conference held at Cal State-Northridge,
campus police attempted to arrest the
MEChA president, Filiberto Gonzalez, for
allegedly throwing a journalist out of the
conference. Acuna and Gonzalez maintain
that the person was actually a member of the
conservative organization,
posing as a journalist. Gonzalez says that
the incident was featured on the
conservations web page the day after the:
coherence. Although charges were filed
against Gonzalez, the district attorney did
not prosecute.

At the Universities of California at
Riverside and at Berkeley, police recently
arrested demonstrators — mostly Latinos and
many of them MEChA members–who
protested against the recently passed
Proposition 209. Unless the charges of
“Failure to disperse” against the students are
dropped at UC-Riverside, Chicano/Latino students are
contemplating a consumer boycott of a
proposed university village, according to
Zarina Zanipatin.

Aztlan was the original homeland of the
Mexica–more commonly known as the
Aztecs. It is also the name Chicano
activists gave to the southwest United
States–the land that formerly belonged to
Mexico. MEChA was founded in California in
1969 and since its inception, has been at
the forefront of virtually all of the major
human rights struggles of Mexican
Americans.

COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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