About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Shot in the Arm for Chicano Studies?

Last night while doing dishes I heard that Eva Longoria Parker enrolled at Cal State Northridge for an MA in Chicano Studies. Well, I guess if CSUN needed a shot in the arm to raise enrollment, that might do it for me (though Mrs. Parker is taking the class on line).

There is an interesting discussion at the ForChicanoStudies Wiki about CSUN and Chicano studies, particularly an interesting discussion by a very famous Chicano Studies professor about the relationship at CSUN between Chicano Studies and history.

I've always had a tenuous relationship with Chicano Studies and the CS students. As a TA I often heard complaints from CS students about the history professors (three "Latino" and two "Anglos") and how they didn't teach the REAL history: Japanese envoys to the Aztec empire, Aztlan in south Texas or San Diego, Emiliano Zapata's power to speak with animals, unbroken lineages of Mexica shamans, etc. Living in family student housing we hung out with lots of CS students who refused to take history courses on Latin America because they felt history lacked a sense "struggle" or sympathy with the Chicano power movement. I suppose what really got my attention most was a young woman born in Honduras that was in one of my sections I was a TA for. She figuratively hit the wall during the section on early twentieth-century race and how she was tired of being (her words) "run over" by Chicano Studies students because she refused to self-identify as Chicano. She even recounted an ugly incident when she told another student she was "no damn Aztec and neither was he" since his last name was Pech and his family came from Merida. He did not take that well.

On the other hand, now that I am teaching my own courses in a place with no Chicano Studies, I really wish it was here so that the students would come with a stronger sense of identity.

Anyway, my experience is completely anecdotal and most certainly over-reaches, but my particular experience has left me with a couple thoughts. I think all-in-all history departments need to take Chicano history far more serious than they do - even the Latin Americanists. Teachers of US history most certainly need to, and World Historians could certainly find a fruitful area of comparison. On the other hand, CS needs to take Latin American history more seriously than they do at times, and broaden horizons beyond Mexico (and maybe Guatemala) and embrace study of the region as a whole - even beyond the more popular areas of art, literature, and music.

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