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The Identity Crisis of Mexican Americans » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

The debate as to what to name Chicana/o Studies will have future repercussions. The proposals are not new; they are not innovative; and they are symptomatic of the historical struggle of Mexican origin people in the United States to identify themselves.

The Identity Crisis of Mexican Americans » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names

The problem is that the group has grown so large and the stakes so high that the consequences will hurt everyone. Unfortunately, the level of the discourse lacks logic, and it prolongs a resolution to the identity crisis of Mexican Americans.

Admittedly, Latinos have a lot in common, but we also have a lot of differences, e.g., in social class, population size, where we live, and our history to name a few dissimilarities. These differences strew the landscape with landmines especially for those who already believe that all Latinas/os look alike. It makes it easier for them to lump us into one generic brand.

The constant name changes are wrongheaded and ahistorical. Identity takes a long time to form, e.g., it took Mexico over two hundred years to get over their regional differences and become Mexicans. If you would have asked my mother what she was, she would have answered, “Sonorense,” my father would have said “tapatio.”

Today, the children of immigrants usually identify with their parents’ country of origin. Some, depending on where they live, will say Hispanic or Latino, despite the fact that there is no such thing as a Hispanic or Latino nationality.

The result is an arrested development that carries over into the popular media where it is not uncommon to see an Argentinian playing a Mexican on the screen with an Argentinian accent. To movie directors, all Latinos look and sound alike.

Chicana/o Studies is supposed to be staffed by intellectuals, and you would think that they would bring about a resolution. However, I have been disappointed by the inconsistencies in their epistemological stances. Instead, they follow the latest fad or what is convenient for them. The result is that they confuse students and the public, thus creating an identity crisis that arrests the development of the disparate Latino sub-groups.

Some self-described sages, a minority I hope, even want to change the names of the few Chicana/o Studies departments that have survived the wars in academe to Chicana/o-Latino or vice versa. The pretexts are: it is a progressive move; it promotes unity; and it is strategically the right move — it makes us Number 1.

Even on my own campus where Chicana/o Studies offers over 172 sections per semester, a minority of Chicana/faculty members want to change the department’s name. They believe this change will enable them to teach courses on Latin America and thus increase their individual prestige.

Having worked in academe for nearly fifty years, this is a naïve! In the past, we tried to establish an interdisciplinary program but we were torpedoed by the Spanish Department. In academe, you don’t just wish changes. They are the result of political confrontation and negotiation.

It is beyond me how some Chicana/o Studies faculty members can be so naïve. Do they think that the history, political science or Spanish departments will roll over and concede CHS the right to teach classes that they think belong to them? Do they think that these departments are so stupid that they will stand by and let us to take student enrollment away from them?

What is to be gained by creating a pseudo identity?

You would think that Chicana/o professors would have developed a sense of what a discipline is. Chicana/o studies were developed as pedagogy; their mission is to motivate and teach students’ skills. CHS were not created to give employment opportunities for Chicana/o professors or to create a safe haven for them to be tenured.

The reality is that most Latino programs are clustered east of Chicago whereas most programs west of the Windy City are called Chicana/o Studies. As of late, however, there has been a breakdown, and CHS programs out west have begun to change their names to a hybrid Latino-Chicana/o studies model.

Tellingly, although the Mexican origin population is rapidly spreading east of Chicago, there is no reciprocal trend to change the names of programs to include Chicana/o or Mexican American.

What is the message for Mexican Americans?

As a kid, many of my acquaintances preferred calling themselves Latin American. Unlike hot jalapeños Latino did not offend the sensitive taste buds of gringos.

What it boils down to is opportunism and an arrested development. These frequent changes have led to a collective identity crisis as well as short circuiting the community’s historical memory.

READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: The Identity Crisis of Mexican Americans » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.

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