The Road to Chicano Identity

I was very young when I first heard the word Chicano. I asked my mother what the word meant and she explained it as a term for militants. Apparently this explanation was sufficient because I didn’t question it even though I was far too young to understand what a militant is.

It did not come until several years later when I was a teenager in high school. That was then when I first read Hunter S. Thompson’s book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. The book is a recounting of a drug addled weekend Thompson spent in Las Vegas with his attorney Dr. Gonzo. I was fascinated by this book and wanted to learn everything I could about it.

One thing I did learn was that Dr. Gonzo was a stand-in for Oscar Z. Acosta, a Los Angeles based civil rights attorney who was investigating the death of journalist Ruben Salazar with Thompson. Then I read Acosta’s books Autobiography of a Brown Buffalo and The Revolt of the Cockroach People. These books introduced me to Chicano activism without necessarily motivating me to involve myself in that activism.

I then joined the army where I went into a militaristic phase and forgot all about the idea of Chicano activism. The idea of activism did come back to me after I left the service. This next phase of interest was more encompassing. I read Rodolfo Acuna’s Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, though instead of going deeper into the Chicano literature I turned to books like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I read authors like Victor Villasenor, Ilan Stavans, and Luis Rodriguez, but I was also fascinated by the work of Joseph Campbell and the translations of Thomas Cleary.

When my eldest daughter Annette was born I became more pragmatic (I did read William James). Activism was then more of an interest than an activity. I again forgot about the idea of the Chicano for many years. Then, while I was in grad school, I learned about identity theory. Identity politics plays a very definite role in identity theory. Though I did not yet apply identity theory to the idea of being a Chicano, those theories were available to me when the Chicano concept came back to me.

After I earned my master’s degree I took some Chicano studies classes at East Los Angeles College. I was looking to learn enough to generalize my graduate thesis to Hispanic, mainly Mexican, communities. I found something that was not quite what I was looking for.

I found that many of the young people I encountered were trying to establish their own identity. Though I am not sure that they saw what they were doing this way, I recognized it because of my studies of identity theory. They were attending these classes to get a degree in order earn themselves a better income and position in life. They are also, generally speaking, still trying to learn how to learn. I saw a lot of my younger self in those faces. I found much I could identify with in their yearning to better themselves.

I have since learned that Chicano identity is not simply tied to demographics. Technically speaking, as the American born child of American born parents of Mexican descent, I am by definition a Chicano. However, the adoption of a Chicano identity also relates to political militantism as my mother described to me.

I learned from these classes is that I am a Chicano regardless of whether I claim it as my identity or not. I grew up not interested in claiming Chicano as a factor in my identity; that I am Mexican has always been sufficient to explain my origins to anybody who had an interest. The truth is that I am not really a Mexican except, perhaps, in an atavistic sense.

I am an American citizen. I watched American TV growing up. I listened to the Beatles and The Rolling Stones and heavy metal music growing up. I loved Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I served in the US Army.

Physiognomy, however, betrays my fundamental Americanness, at least in the context of United States citizenship. My brown skin invites the question, “Where are you from?” In certain circumstances my command of the English language draws confusion and inquires into how I learned to speak so well. Some people are incredulous when I detail my educational accomplishments. I have never really been the type of person who can abide this kind of contempt. I fight back.

This is where the identity politics comes into play. The color of my skin, my belligerent nature, my interest in politics, and my education all suggest that in American (US) society I do not know my place. That I participate in politics and can stand up for myself when necessary mark me as a militant. I never thought so, I just thought I was exercising my rights as a citizen.

I do know I am stepping out of my place because I have been told so by political rivals. I have been told what is appropriate to discuss and what is inappropriate to civil political discourse. What amuses me about these conversations is that my heritage, that which makes me what I am, is always inappropriate to civil discourse. I have been told time after time that we do not have race or class in the United States. To bring these issues up makes me sound like a militant. Even without trying, it seems that I am a Chicano.

Trump World

My dislike of Donald Trump is no secret. I have been openly railing against him for over a year and a half. I have disliked him far longer, though I cannot recall the origins of my spite for him.

So yesterday this buffoon was elected President of the United States. His running mate is a blithering right-wing moron. In my estimation, maybe the best thing that happens is Trump goes down in infamy (which seems likely) and Pence runs the country over the next four years.

In either case, whether Trump continues to rule or Pence does so in his stead, they got to this office because of their overtly racist attitudes. I will not make any claim that they won the election despite their racism because I am not an apologist for the system; I am a political pragmatist and it is my job to view the political system in the light of reality and acknowledge its ugliness when I see it.

Trump has attacked many constituencies: the disabled, African-Americans, and women come immediately to mind. I am sure there are more that I can speak to, but my big concern is his attacks on Mexicans and Americans of Mexican descent. This is not to imply that I think Mexican identity is more important than anything else, though I have no trouble admitting this concern comes down to self-interest. I am an American citizen of Mexican descent.

Trump began his campaign by villainizing Mexican immigrants. Though his rhetoric has since grown to encompass immigrants in general, he started out specifically targeting Mexicans. When Scott and Steve Leader assaulted a homeless Hispanic man in Boston on August 19, 2015, Trump stated “the people that are following me are very passionate.” He later issued a perfunctory disavowal of the incident on Twitter (21 August 2015).

Trump’s attacks on Judge Gonzalo Curiel earlier this year are what I find most repulsive. In his statements Trump implied that Curiel’s heritage (born in Indiana to Mexican immigrant parents) made him unqualified to be a judge. Trump actually stated that dispite Curiel’s “Spanish” and “Hispanic” heritage he had not asked the judge to be recused.

The promise to “Make America Great Again” means what? It harkens to the days when minority populations in the United States were second class citizens.When minorities were attacked and beaten by groups of white men and then arrested for disturbing the peace. The rhetoric against immigrants, Mexicans, African-Americans, has energized the overly racist thorughout the nation.

At this point we can only wait and see what happens next. I will pour my energy into making sure that any attempts to remake second class citizenship are met with stiff and effective resistance. I want to make one particular point explicit: do not think your citizenship or ideological perspective will save you from the racism that Trump and his cronies promote. White supremacy means that if you are not white, you belong to the underclass.

I am back

I like writing. I suppose that one must write occasionally to become a successful writer. For my part I have not been writing on any of my blogs for a long time now. Part of this can be attributed to laziness, part of it to life getting in the way of things, and the largest part to thinking about what I want to do with my life and my writing. I still do not have a definitive answer to what I want to do with my life. However, I do know about a few things I am interested in pursuing. Writing is one of those things.

I have this blog, Leo’s World, that I will use to comment on things generally. My views on conflict resolution and public policy will greatly influence the things I write about. I suppose my love of movies will play a part as well, though I have not been to a theater to watch a movie in a very long time; there is very little that interests me in the theaters these days. That still leaves DVDs, or Blue Ray discs. I guess we will all see what interests me at any given moment. I also have my other blogs, The Digital Guerrilla Project, The NCR 594 Projectand my Photoblog. I will be attempting to add to each of those over the next many years.

The point of this is to get into the habit of writing. Hopefully I will write things that people like, though I do not mind if they don’t like it. Indifference is what I would like to avoid. Wish me luck.

The Story up to now …

I have been thinking about how I got to this point. I discovered the idea of information asymmetries while I was  working on my blog The Digital Guerrilla Project. I thought it was a perfect way to describe the situations I was trying to write about: where one party is able to take advantage of another party due to a lack of information on the part of the latter party. This worked for a while.

Then I started working on a master’s degree. There I discovered structural violence, which is a system with information asymmetries built in so as to protect a particular interest. The study of structural violence worked out for me because it is in line with my idea that I would like to help people learn how to overcome power asymmetries and, as I later found out, structural violence as well.

As it stands, this is a thoroughly academic interest as far as I know. When I say academic interest I do not mean to imply that there is much interest in my chosen subjects in academia; I mean only to say that there seems to be zero interest in these subjects outside of academia as far as I know. I am studying obscure subjects hoping to unlock some secret that might help someone overcome power asymmetries and structural violence, or in other terms, oppressive and/or dictatorial powers. I feel very much like I am alone in this interest, but not really sure about that solitude either.

I know the work I do has academic merit. One of these days I will get published. Later, I will be used as a reference in the work of some other academic, and we will all be able to pat each other on the back. This is not my interest, however.

I want to write something that will inspire people to fight back, overcome, change the world. I want to write something that people can use to get them through tough times, to make decisions that help them toward their goals. I do not want to write some self-help crap urging people to believe in themselves, I want to write the self-help book that urges people to stand up and fight for themselves. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask for, does it?

The point of all this is that I think I finally see a way forward that could be useful to people outside of the world of academia. I am trying to figure out how to make it come together in a coherent fashion. I am enthusiastic about the possibilities, in a way that I haven’t been before.

I will keep you posted.

Sandra Bland and Arbitrary Tyranny

As you are probably aware, Sandra Bland is a young woman who was found dead in her cell in Waller County, Texas on July 13. I have been giving no small amount of thought to this senseless series of events. I have watched as people in both mainstream and social media take sides to assign culpability in this sad, sad death.  I know I am coming late to the argument, but as details have arisen I have been reminded of the idea of arbitrary tyranny.

Whether or not the police officers who arrested and detained Sandra Bland actively participated in her death or merely stood by helplessly as she suicidally hung herself in her cell is really beside the point. She was in a cell to begin with because she was pulled over by Texas state trooper Brian Encinia for failing to signal while changing lanes. This woman is dead as a result of a minor traffic infraction.

Perhaps there have been several major tragedies happen as a result of improper lane changes by motorists in Waller County, Texas. I am willing to give the police officer the benefit of the doubt on that count. I will concede that he had a legal reason to pull Sandra Bland over; however minor this particular traffic violation may have been, it was still an illegal act. Therefore, trooper Encinia was well within his rights and obligations in pulling her over.

What concerns me most is that Sandra Bland went to jail for a minor traffic violation. Her behavior, however poorly it might be judged by the police officer involved, and secondary observers after the fact, did not provide the grounds for this woman to be denied her freedom and agency. People have a right not to be happy about being pulled over by the police. People have a right to record their treatment by the police. Whatever legal justification was given for her arrest, Sandra Bland’s real crime was contempt of cop.

Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate writes about the concept of contempt of cop here. On the matter of Sandra Bland he writes:

…it seems clear from the video that Encinia’s actions, not to mention his initial verbal escalation of the situation, happened in large part because he took offense at what he perceived as Bland’s disrespectful attitude—what is known in legal circles as “contempt of cop”—rather than any belief that she presented an imminent threat to anyone’s safety.

Contempt of cop is important because it complements the idea of arbitrary tyranny. Arbitrary tyranny is the idea that there are things most people do on a daily basis that are illegal. Most of the time these technically illegal but common activities are ignored. However, because these things are illegal they consequently provide authorities with a rationale to detain or arrest people at will. The point being that, under a system of arbitrary tyranny, the only thing the state, usually in the form of a police officer, needs to arrest you is the desire to do so.

Time to be a proper blogger

I know that I am an intermittent writer at  best. Over the next few weeks I am going to attempt to resolve that. I am going to try to write two or three posts a week on this blog and on TDGP.

It may be cheating a bit, but I am going to count this post as my first one of the week.

At this point, it seems like it will be pretty daunting. I have a lot of ideas through the week, but for whatever reason rarely get around to writing about them. I hope to make a habit out of writing.

Please, wish me luck.

Introducing Jasper

My wife and I recently added a new member to our family. Jasper is a Labrador Retriever puppy. He was born on November 29, 2014, so he is about 11 weeks old. We got Jasper as a mutual valentine’s day gift, and he finally got to come to his new home yesterday, on Feb 21.

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Jasper seems to be adjusting well. He slept through the night on his first night home, not waking up until after 5:00 A.M. when he had to use the restroom. I wouldn’t call it a full nights sleep, but it was better than we expected.

Jasper is playful, like all puppies are. He is ready to run at any time, but is still learning how to do things like fetch. He seems to love running through the yard. I imagine it is a huge space for him considering that he has been in a kennel the last couple of weeks.

Not everything is perfect. He is more comfortable with his own feces than I would like, but some research shows that this is normal with dogs. He is semi-house trained, only a few accidents. But it is not completely his fault as it has been rainy today and he didn’t get much outside time. I am impressed that I can take him outside and he knows to pee. He is doing very well.

Jasper is a friendly and happy puppy and a welcome addition to our home.