Is MEChA Racist?

by Douglas Dunn

Copyright (c) 2003 Douglas Dunn / Word Wizards communications -- all rights reserved

During the recent California gubernatorial campaign to successfully recall Governor Gray Davis, questions about candidate and Lieutenant Governor Cruz Bustamante and his affiliation with MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan) raised challenges as to whether that organization is racist or not. We saw people writing letters to the editor or haranguing on extremist radio talk shows making claims to equate MEChA with racist organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan. Such comparisons are absurd and reflect the racist hatred or simplistic dittohead ignorance of the writers.

MEChA was founded in 1969, a time of turbulence and campus radicalism, and is one of the few such organizations surviving. Some beliefs of its founders were somewhat extreme, and reflect views I don't support along with many members of MEChA itself who reject specific views but are proud of their affiliation with it. MEChA is a loosely confederated organization, with full autonomy to local campus chapters. For example, where I went to school (California State University, Northridge), the MEChA chapter was quite radical (I was not a member of MEChA, however I took a Chicano studies course 30+ years ago, and was pleased to see that my old professor was recently interviewed by the Los Angeles Times for their very balanced coverage of this organization); where Cruz Bustamante went to school (California State University, Fresno), the MEChA chapter was relatively conservative, and even there he was gently chided for being too conservative! MEChA's founding documents can easily be found online. They recommend members becoming familiar with such documents, but don't require it; in fact many MEChA members have never read such documents. Nothing about MEChA, however, is remotely racist. It is a campus organization to assist college students.

The KKK singles out people and groups (usually those of African or Jewish heritage) for targeted acts of intimidation and violence, including murder. MEChA has never engaged in anything remotely similar.

The allegation of racism arises from one of their many slogans: "Por La Raza todo; fuera de La Raza nada," often translated as: "for the race, everything; outside the race, nothing." On the surface this seems to be race-based, but in context actually it is not. MEChA does not represent the European Spanish who conquered the indigenous peoples of the former Mexican colony. MEChA represents the vast majority of Chicanos of mixed ancestry, descended from the pre-Colombian inhabitants of the North America lands conquered by Spain. They believe the land of these descendants of indigenous peoples was wrongly taken, first by the European Spanish, then the European Anglos. Their claim is not based on race, rather it is a land claim. But it just so happens that all the claimants are descendants of these indigenous peoples, and can thus be identified by ethnicity. This is similar to the claims by some African Americans for raparations for slavery. Their claim is based on a historical wrong, but because all the claimants have a common racial heritage, they can be identified by ethnicity. Whether one agrees with such claims or not (I don't, along with many MEChistas), such claims are not based on racial superiority, but rather on a claim for the redress of wrongs in which there is a shared ethnic identity among all the claimants.

Despite its origins in the turbulent 60s, MEChA today, on most campuses, is primarily concerned with tutoring, recruitment, job placement, and helping students for whom English is often their second language, find the tools for successful assimilation. There is no similarity whatsoever to the KKK or any racist group.

Copyright (c) 2003 Douglas Dunn / Word Wizards communications

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