As a result of several recent draconian laws, Arizona’s image has taken a drubbing internationally. And yet, Arizona is but the spear. In reality, its politics are not dramatically different from those of other states, or from Washington’s. More than a dozen states are waiting in the wings with copycat legislation, and the Obama administration continues to view migration through the prisms of law enforcement and military might.
Fueled by hateful and cowardly politicians and the hate-radio universe, these new and emerging laws are undeniably anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant, but most of all, they are anti-indigenous. In effect, they are an extension of Manifest Destiny. Its modern expression is Manifest Insanity – an attempt to maintain, amid the “browning” of the nation, the myth of America as the pristine home God promised to English-speaking, white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
The new Arizona laws are part of a spasmodic reaction to the demographic shift that immigration sets in motion; they are an attempt to maintain a political and cultural dominance over indigenous peoples, who are seen as nonhumans from defeated nations. The laws seek to maintain the narrative of conquest, an archetype dictating that the deaths of some 5,000 primarily indigenous Mexicans and Central Americans in the Arizona/Sonora desert in the past dozen years mean little in this clash. It is the same narrative used to rationalize the recent killings of two Mexicans by US agents along the US/Mexico border.
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For those who are attempting to uphold this dominance, the browning of America represents a time reversal – a cultural and political turnabout of the so-called triumph of Western civilization. This is what Arizona represents: a civilizational clash, and a clash of narratives over the myth of America itself – nothing less.
Rodolfo Acuña, author of “Occupied America,” came to Arizona last week offering a stark reminder about this clash. His book – along with Paulo Freire’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” – has been at the center of the anti-ethnic-studies firestorm that culminated when Gov. Jan Brewer signed HB 2281 last month. (She had signed SB 1070 – the racial profiling law – the previous month.)
The controversy surrounding Acuña’s book has been fueled by an extreme Eurocentric ignorance. For several years, State Superintendent Tom Horne has been pushing an “Americanization” agenda, insisting that Arizona students be exposed only to “Greco-Roman” knowledge. Knowledge centered elsewhere, including the Mesoamerican, or Maize, knowledge that is indigenous to this continent, is generally considered subversive and un-American. This knowledge is at the philosophical heart of Mexican American, or Raza, studies. Arizona is not alone in this insanity; Texas education officials recently banned the inclusion of labor leader Dolores Huerta in the state’s school curricula.
Horne has long claimed that Raza studies preach hate, result in segregation, and promote anti-Americanism and the violent overthrow of the US government. Truth is, he has had a vendetta against Raza studies since Dolores Huerta proclaimed at Tucson High in 2006 that Republicans “hate Latinos.” Horne (who constantly denigrates Huerta as “Cesar Chavez’s former girlfriend”) and his allies have spent the past several years trying to prove her right.
As Acuña found out in Arizona, the mere act of embracing a different philosophical center constitutes a threat to those invested in the cultural and political domination that would negate inclusive worldviews in education. More than that, it threatens the national narrative of taming a wild, savage and empty continent and conquering, exterminating and civilizing “the Indians.”
Occupied America upsets the carefully crafted myth of the United States as the land of freedom and democracy or Paradise on Earth.
Raza studies’ critics in Arizona – including media professionals – are barely familiar with Acuña’s book. (He matter-of-factly tells them to read his book before attacking him.) At best, they spar over its title and a few catch phrases (mistranslating “La Raza” to mean “The Race” as opposed to “The People”) and attempt to denigrate an entire discipline on the basis of their ignorance. Yet, at the core of their argument, the critics are correct. Ethnic studies is indeed a threat to the mythical America where the genocide, land theft, slavery and dehumanization that are the foundation of this nation are denied, or are mere footnotes. (Unchallenged, this glossed-over view permits US citizens to view permanent war as a God-given birthright.) Such complete denial – accompanied by the complementary myth of an empty continent – renders the concept of occupied America completely unfathomable.
Raza studies’ critics attempt to dehumanize Mexicans/Chicanos. In the critics’ conjured narrative, Mexicans/Chicanos are neither legitimate Americans nor legitimate human beings, neither are they afforded the status of indigenous peoples. At best, they are mongrels, undeserving of full human rights. The survival of this narrative is dependent upon the process of deindigenization and dehumanization. Those of us that cannot be deported (it remains to be seen what’s in store during next year’s battle in Arizona over the 14th Amendment and birthright citizenship) are welcome here – as long as we participate in our own assimilation – or ethnic cleansing – and accept this nation’s mythologized narrative.
That’s the definition of Manifest Insanity.