Ethnic Studies Smear: Wingnuts Slime Corky Gonzales, Civil Rights Hero

A nativist nutcase sticks Corky Gonzales quotes into the cheap blender of her brain and makes mush of it all

It's always amazing to me the way ignorance spreads like a vicious rash through the Internet. One idiot spouts some bull that the confirms the prejudices of the far right, it makes it onto YouTube, and the wingnut echo chamber goes to town, completely oblivious to the error. The vaunted Fourth Estate often just repeats what it hears.

Case in point is this video of a Tucson teabagger-type reading passages from a book used by the Mexican American Studies program at a recent board meeting of the Tucson Unified School District.

The woman doesn't identify her source in the video, she just plucks quotes from the text, and if you're not paying close attention to what she says, you might think that it all came from one passage. This is how many of the right wing blogs, which seem befuddled by the difficulties of Google, have regurgitated it.

The tome she's quoting from is Message to Aztlan: Selected Writings, by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales, one of the most important leaders of the Chicano movement of the 1960s and '70s. Some have characterized him as the Chicano Malcom X to Cesar Chavez's Martin Luther King, Jr.

Granted the word "Aztlan" in the title will inflame nativists from jump, but the idea of Aztlan as a homeland for indigenous and Chicano peoples was a powerful one at the time. Indeed, it still is. And if you're going to teach students about the struggle for Chicano rights, you cannot ignore the word "Aztlan" or a figure such as Gonzales, any more than you could ignore the Black Panthers or the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in an African-American studies course.

Many of the quotes this nativist nudnik uses come from a famous poem of Gonzales' entitled "I Am Joaquin," which, read in its entirety, is a beautiful, moving evocation of hundreds of years of Mexican and Mexican-American history.

The narrator's voice in the poem identifies with many facets of this history, the bloody, the nefarious, the righteous and the brave. Essentially, it is saying that Chicanos embody all of these things, that Chicanos are a mix of different races, different nations, different religions, and so forth. It preaches an ethnic unity that appealed to many in 1967, when it was first published. And that appeal endures.

The poem's message is overwhelmingly positive, but this teabaguette chops it up, makes it sound suspicious and furthermore claims that it is read to third-graders. 

I talked to MAS director Sean Arce. He told me MAS teachers use the text, but not in the third grade. (Not that I'd find anything "wrong" in doing so.) After all, if you read it, you can tell that a third grader wouldn't understand it. Arce said junior-high and high-school kids read selected passages from Gonzales' work. 

Gonzales has an icon-like status in the Chicano community. A former boxer, he was certainly a radical. But so was Malcolm X. And if you ask me, The Autobiography of Malcolm X should be required reading in ALL American high-schools.

To give you a sense of how this hater twists things, check this segment from "I Am Joaquin." The woman only reads the first line of this passage:

I shed tears of sorrow. I sow seeds of hate.
I withdraw to the safety within the circle of life --
MY OWN PEOPLE
I am Cuauhtémoc, proud and noble, 
leader of men, king of an empire civilized 
beyond the dreams of the gachupín Cortés, 
who also is the blood, the image of myself. 
I am the Maya prince. 
I am Nezahualcóyotl, great leader of the Chichimecas. 
I am the sword and flame of Cortes the despot 
And I am the eagle and serpent of the Aztec civilization. 
I owned the land as far as the eye 
could see under the Crown of Spain, 
and I toiled on my Earth and gave my Indian sweat and blood 
for the Spanish master who ruled with tyranny over man and 
beast and all that he could trample 
But...THE GROUND WAS MINE.
I was both tyrant and slave.

Either this chick flunked reading comprehension in school, or she's intentionally deceiving people. She is someone who should be ignored and/or reviled.

Here's another passage, one she only reads the first six lines from:

In a country that has wiped out
All my history,
Stifled all my pride,
In a country that has placed a
Different weight of indignity upon my age-old burdened back.
Inferiority is the new load . . . .
The Indian has endured and still
Emerged the winner,
The Mestizo must yet overcome,
And the gachupín will just ignore.
I look at myself
And see part of me
Who rejects my father and my mother
And dissolves into the melting pot
To disappear in shame.
I sometimes
Sell my brother out
And reclaim him
For my own when society gives me
Token leadership
In society's own name.
I am Joaquín,
Who bleeds in many ways.
The altars of Moctezuma
I stained a bloody red.
My back of Indian slavery
Was stripped crimson
From the whips of masters
Who would lose their blood so pure
When revolution made them pay,
Standing against the walls of retribution.
Blood has flowed from me on every battlefield between
campesino, hacendado,
slave and master and revolution.

The poem is layered, and no one is spared. Gonzales' work describes Chicano culture, warts and all.

It would not surprise me one bit if ethnic-studies haters, such as the Arizona Republic's Doug MacEachern, use such misinformation to further demonize the MAS program. This is blatant McCarthyism, cheap race and red-baiting. And completely disgusting.

The woman also repeats lines from speeches Gonzales made, making it sound as if it was part of the same passage, when it was not.

"Poverty and city living under the colonial system of the Anglo has castrated our people's culture," she reads, offering no context.

This line is taken from El Plan del Barrio, a list of demands Gonzales issued during the Poor People's Campaign, organized by MLK, though King was assassinated before the campaign, which set up camp in Washington, D.C. for two weeks, could take place.

The Barrio Plan called for communal housing, Spanish-language first education, community-owned businesses, land reform, job development, the redistribution of wealth, and legal reforms.

Radical stuff? By today's standards, yes. But not by the standards of the late 1960s.

The line stating that the Declaration of Independence insists on a "right to revolution"? Well, it does. The idea is straight out of John Locke, people.

The expletives she repeats? As my colleague Dennis Gilman has already noted, Huckleberry Finn is more shocking in its language than anything offered in the video.

Finally, the speaker makes a big deal of this statement, "any country based on capitalism is based on greed." Um, duh. Hasn't this twit ever heard of Gordon Gekko?

Why are nitwits, bigots and wackadoodles like this given a penny's worth of our attention? Because they are driving an agenda advocated by MacEachern and Attorney General and former state School's Superintendent Tom Horne, who dreamed up the ethnic studies' ban to begin with.

I should note that according to David Abie Morales' Three Sonorans blog, TUSD governing board president Mark Stegeman basically broke the rules to allow this nutbar to speak. Morales has been unrelenting in his coverage of this issue. I encourage you to read his blog, here.


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