“Rekindling our guerrilla tactics and activism to create safe places. As M.E.Ch.istA.s our story is full of activism and a fight for equal rights for all people. It is now time to rekindle some of our tactics of yesterday and reform them for our struggles today. We will take all issues of injustice and form our own guerillas and create safe spaces for those who have been deprived of them.” 18th Annual MEChA National Conference
Although it has been in existence since the late 1960’s many questions continue to surround the controversial Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán or MEChA. Due to the organization’s insistence that words do not mean what they appear to mean, and that their members’ actions and associations do not reflect the character or principles of the organization, the organization remains as much a mystery as the mechistas would like it to be.
Recently MEChA came under scrutiny as a result of the Tucson Unified School District’s appeal of the finding by Superintendent of Public Instruction (SOPI) that TUSD’s Mexican American Studies classes violate state law. The district’s superintendent testified at the appeal hearing as to an email he received from Assistant Superintendent Dr. Lupita Cavazos-Garcia. In the email, Dr. Garcia expressed her concerns regarding MEChA’s efforts to recruit primarily the district’s Mexican American Studies students for an occupied peoples’ conference at which Palestinian and TUSD students would be sharing their experiences living in occupied territories.
Dr. Garcia wrote that she was concerned about the organization’s “anti-Semitic tone and tenor on our campuses.” She went on to state that the some of the district’s students have little emotional support and “our Raza students are ripe for this kind of influence.” Concerns arose about the conference in the district when word went out that Homeland Security would be in attendance. Some of the more responsible adults in the district questioned the wisdom of allowing TUSD students to be put in a situation in which they might innocently come under scrutiny, suspicion, or harm.
Dr. Garcia a long time educator in Texas and Arizona, a Latina herself who worked in predominately Latino districts, was concerned about the un-American leanings of MEChA, the well documented anti-Semitism exercised and expressed by its associates, and the overall sense that most Americans have that identifying kids solely by their ethnicity goes against the very foundation of our public education system’s goals since the 1960’s.
The two reoccurring issues which seem to emerge in every serious discussion, by serious people like Dr. Lupita Garcia about MEChA are Aztlan, and Israel. Questions arise about La Reconquista of Aztlán due to the group’s own choice of words, and the charges of anti-Semitism arise due to the members’ or their associates’ own statements. The statements seem clear, and the explanations are almost always ambiguous.
MEChA in their own words
The theme of the 18th Annual MEChA National Conference is “Rekindling our guerrilla tactics and activism to create safe places.” The program presenter form reads, “As M.E.Ch.istA.s our story is full of activism and a fight for equal rights for all people. It is now time to rekindle some of our tactics of yesterday and reform them for our struggles today. We will take all issues of injustice and form our own guerillas and create safe spaces for those who have been deprived of them. Addressing issues of discrimination across the board and creating dialogues that prepare us to return to our comunidades and work without fear and without reservations.”
According to MEChA’s own website, it is “a Chicana and Chicano student movement directly linked to Aztlán.” As a nationalist movement MEChA seeks “to free our people from the exploitation of an oppressive society that occupies our land.” MEChA states that “Chicanismo involves a personal decision to reject assimilation” and calls on “those interested in developing a total commitment to our movement for self-determination for the people of Aztlán to join Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán.”
On their website, they demand “Adamant rejection of the label “Mexican-American” and reject the “assimilation and accommodationist melting pot ideology that had guided earlier generations of activists. Chicanismo involves a crucial distinction in a political consciousness between a Mexican-American (Hispanic) and a Chicana/o mentality.”
They adopted the name Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan to signal “a new level of political consciousness among student activists. It was the final stage in the transformation of what had been loosely organized, local student groups, into a single structure and a unified student movement,” according to Rudy Acuna in his book Occupied America. In that book, Acuna explains that MEChA was founded on the El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán and El Plan de Santa Barbara.
The plan “speaks to such issues of identity politics by asserting: The Mexican-American (Hispanic) is a person who lacks respect for his/her cultural and ethnic heritage. Unsure of her/himself, she/he seeks assimilation as a way out of her/his “degraded” social status,” according to MEChA’s About Us web page. “Consequently, she/he remains politically ineffective. In contrast, Chicanismo reflects self-respect and pride on one’s ethnic and cultural background. Thus, the Chicana/o acts with confidence and with a range of alternatives in the political world. She/he is capable of developing an effective ideology through action.”
On the About Us web page, MEChA notes that they, “played an important role in the creation and implementation of Chicana/o Studies and support services programs on campus. Chicana/o Studies programs would be a relevant alternative to established curricula. Most important, the Chicana/o Studies program would be the foundation of MEChA’s political power base. Today many Chicana/os Studies Programs would have difficulty operating if it were not for the enthusiasm and dedication of Mechistas to Chicana/o Studies.”
“We, as Mechistas, see the process of Chicanismo as evolutionary. We recognize that no one is born politically Chicana or Chicano. A Chicanismo results from a decision based on a political consciousness for our Raza, to dedicate oneself to building a Chicana/Chicano Nation,” the About Us web page continues.
“Chicanismo involves a personal decision to reject assimilation and work towards the preservation of our cultural heritage. Recognizing that all people are potential Chicanas and Chicanos, we encourage those interested in developing a total commitment to our movement for self-determination for the people of Aztlán to join Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán.”
“Finally, as Mechistas, we vow to work for the liberation of Aztlán, leading to socioeconomic and political justice for our Gente. MEChA then, is more than a name; it is a spirit of unity by comadrismo/carnalismo, and a resolution to undertake a struggle for liberation! Tierra y Libertad!”
The history of MEChA
MEChA began in 1969 at the Chicano National Liberation Youth Conference in Denver. Rodolfo Acuna, the self-described father of Chicano Studies, writes of the conference and the early days of MEChA. “The conference adopted El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, setting the goals of nationalism and self-determination. At this conference the students also adopted the label “Chicano.” He writes that soon after the Denver conference, the Chicano Council of Higher Education drew “up a plan of action for higher education called El Plan de Santa Barbara.
At that conference Mexican American student organizations changed their name to El Moviemento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA: the Chicano Movement of Aztlán). According to their online literature, the Brown Beret National Organization played a large role in the founding of MEChA at the conference. Acuna wrote that “the militancy of the students reinforced attitudes already expressed in the community.”
The Spiritual Plan of Aztlán discusses the “brutal gringo invasion of our territories.” It explains that Aztlán is “from whence came our forefathers,” It is a plan to reclaim “the land of their birth” and that it is their “responsibility, and our inevitable destiny. Aztlán belongs to those who plant the seeds, water the fields, and gather the crops and not to the foreign Europeans.”
The plan does not recognize borders, and calls for the “struggle against the foreigner “gabacho” who exploits our riches and destroys our culture.” The plan requires that “Chicanos (La Raza de Bronze) must use their nationalism as the key or common denominator for mass mobilization and organization.” The plan declares “independence of our mestizo nation. Before the world, before all of North America, before all our brothers in the bronze continent, we are a nation, we are a union of free pueblos, we are Aztlán.”
The Brown Beret National Organization was discussed by Carlos Montes in an interview in 2003. He describes the organization as a “group of young Chicano revolutionaries from the barrios of the Southwest fighting for the self-determination of our people. We evolved from a youth group – from Young Citizens for Community Action, to Young Chicanos for Community Action to the Brown Berets. We evolved from civic participation and assimilation to revolutionary nationalism.”
In the interview with Fight Back! News, Montes says, “We claimed the Southwest as Aztlán, the original homeland of the indigenous Aztec ancestors and founders of Mexico City, Tenochtitlan. We evolved from civic duty, work within the system, to self-determination, revolutionary nationalism and international solidarity with the liberation movements of Latin America, Africa and Asia – like the Vietnamese, the Congolese and Cubans fighting for freedom from U.S. domination.”
In an article by KPBS, the Brown Berets “served as the paramilitary arm of the Chicano Power movement.” In that same article, a 35 year old man identified himself as coming “from the Brown Berets de Aztlán” and that more berets are needed now than ever before.” The Autonomous Chapter of the Watsonville Brown Berets state that their purpose is to “serve as a community defense force acting for the liberation and amelioration of our barrios.”
The Brown Berets acknowledge that they “are NOT a non-profit organization due to our aggressive political nature. Being strictly grassroots enables us to run political campaigns, utilize direct action, and be as radical, outspoken and free as we want to say, do or act however the group believes is right.”
The Brown Berets state that they have changed from their “historical roots in order to meet and incorporate the needs of the revolution.” In the past they were a nationalistic organization. However, they now hold that “In order to be effective, we must all internalize an international perspective.”
The Brown Beret National Organization website posts, “Ideologically, it seemed as if MEChA and the BBNO were growing in different directions though both groups were created based on the principles of Chicano Nationalism and the liberation of Aztlan as outlined in the Plan de Santa Barbara, its founding document.
There is no public record of a split or disavowal of either group from each other. Quite the contrary the groups seem to support each other’s efforts. The Brown Berets are at almost every event in which TUSD’s Mexican American Studies students and MEChA students organize in the recent events surrounding Arizona’s laws. They appear to act as guards at the events. One student TUSD student in an MAS class reported that when she opted out of participation in the Brown Berets she was rejected by her friends that had opted into MEChA or the Brown Berets.
They continue to sponsor activities together as well. An appearance at a college by Ward Churchill was sponsored by the Peninsula Anarchist Collective, South Bay MEChA, SERV, Bay Area MSA (Muslim Student Association), Muslim Student Movement, Watsonville Brown Berets, and Justice for Palestinians organizations. A flier for the event highlighted his work, “The nature of the criminality in which the U.S. engages… translates into piles and piles and piles of rotting, stinking corpses all over the planet… and perpetually.” The promoters wrote, “Labeled “controversial” by politicians and pundits alike, Ward Churchill’s scholarship endures the test of time. Intellectually cogent while remaining accessible to the general reader, Churchill will challenge you to think, and the act, in the fight for justice waged since the Predator came in 1492.”
The Brown Beret National Organization website has a post from a Brown Beret chapter in which the cooperation is discussed; “The MEChA conference gave us an opportunity to connect with MEChA and solidify our alliance with them. It is our goal to invigorate the triumvirate; BBNO, LA RAZA UNIDA Party, and our educational counterpart, MECHA. Overall, it was a very successful event and we hope to attend other MEChA conferences to show support for our students and to remind them of the goals of the Chicano Movement which is to bring the Chicano Movement to where it once was and to propel those ideals into the 21st century.”
MEChA was initially an organization for institutions of higher education. It is currently in at least four high schools, two of which are in the Tucson Unified School District. It has approximately 300 chapters in universities across the U.S., with 100 of them in California alone.
Aztlán, La Reconquista and Chicano Studies
There is much speculation that MEChA along with other Latino nationalist groups intends to decolonize, reconquer, and reclaim the Southwestern portion of the United States known by some as Aztlan. Aztlan is described in MEChA’s literature as “the land that is ours by birthright.”
Whether Aztlan is simply a state of mind, a sort of theoretical construct, or an actual geographic tract and whether La Reconquista means a simple majority of Latinos in our Republic, or a revolution and transformation into a more socialistic system are the most common questions that arise due to the heated rhetoric and speculation on both sides of the issue. There are few credible sources to support definitively any of these claims.
While Rudy Acuna describes Aztlan as a “mythical place,” students in TUSD’s Mexican American/Raza Studies program are taught that Aztlan consisted of the states of parts of Oklahoma, and the entirety of Texas, New Mexico, California, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. MEChA claims that it “played an important role in the creation and implementation of Chicana/o Studies such as those found in TUSD. MEChA’s list of chapters identifies the United States by region, South East Tejaztlan, Mitlampa Cihuatlampa, Este, Centro Califas, Centro Aztlan, Sur Calpulli, Tierra Mid Atl, Montañas de Norte, Alta Califas Sur, and Alta Califas Norte.
Recently Miguel Perez, a MEChA member and student writer for Examiner.com wrote and then removed a highly controversial story about Reconquista.
“Phoenix-based Nuestros Reconquistos claims that there will be a war very similar to the Civil War fought in the next five years. “La Raza and MEChA have already talked to Latinos and Phoenix and explained that Latinos need to arm themselves for war,” says Nuestros Reconquistos President Manuel Longoria.”
“Cecilia Maldonado of Chicanos Unidos Arizona isn’t hoping for any sort of war, but believes it may be unavoidable. “For generations, our people have prepared us to take back the lands of the Southwest that were stolen from our Mexican ancestors. Because of the bad economy and many racist laws, Latinos will be forced to fight sooner than later,” says Mrs. Maldonado.”
“Latino groups believe they have enough people in states such as California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas to successfully wage a war on the United States. Who’s side will you be on?”
According to Roberto “Dr.Cintli Rodriguez, ”one of the collaborators in the development of TUSD’s MAS curriculum, in his work Utah Said to be Historical Location of the Mythical Aztan, “Since the 1960s and ’70s civil rights movement, Chicano activists have used the name Aztlan to describe the American Southwest as a northern homeland for Americans of Mexican heritage. But for much longer, people all over the world have been trying to pinpoint the historical location of the legendary place the Aztecs left to build their civilization in the Valley of Mexico.” Rodriguez says “Aztlan’s literal and figurative meanings are both relevant to his search.”
“People would always tell us to go back to where we came from. Then we came up with this map. Our work is about whether we belong or not. Western scholars, Catholic clergy, Chicano activists and even the Aztecs themselves have been seeking Aztlan for more than 500 years.” This theory of migration would support the claim that Chicanos are an “occupied people” and are simply recapturing their land. In 2002, Armando Navarro an Ethnic Studies professor stated, “A secessionist movement is not something that you can put away and say it is never going to happen in the United States. Time and history change.”
While the dramatic and romantic Reconquista in the form of a nonviolent but revolutionary takeover of Aztlan is an easy sell to passionate students and Brown Beret militants, it also creates the necessary tensions between disparate groups needed by Marxist manipulators. However, population shifts over a relatively short period of time will more likely alter the power structure and control of Aztlan. That being said, there are hints of a violent or blood thirsty side of MECHA. A Raza student newspaper based at the University of California at San Diego, ran a front page article celebrating the death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Luis A. Santiago in May of 1995.
The case involved a MEChA’s publication, Voz Fronteriza. Voz Fronteriza published an editorial on the death of a Latino INS agent, entitled “Death of a Migra Pig.”The editorial called the Immigration and Naturalization Service agent a “traitor…to his race.” It expressed satisfaction with the agent’s death, “We’re glad this pig died, he deserved to die.” It didn’t stop there, “All the Migra pigs should be killed, every single one…the only good one is a dead one…The time to fight back is now.”
We do not know for certain that a revolutionary change will not occur. However, a violent revolution appears to be unlikely for no other reason than it is not necessary. Navarro acknowledged this “These are the critical years for us as a Latino community. We’re in a state of transition. And that transformation is called ‘the browning of America’. Latinos are now becoming the majority. Because I know that time and history is on the side of the Chicano/Latino community. It is changing in the future and in the present the balance of power of this nation. It’s a game – it’s a game of power – who controls it. You (to MEChA students) are like the generals that command armies. We’re in a state of war.”
MEChA and anti-Semitism
An incident in 1998 Cal Poly SLO in which the MEChA club hosted a conference for some 1,200 students has been cited as an example of the anti-Semitic nature of MEChA. In that case, MEChA distributed literature that featured phrases such as “Welcome to San Luis Jewniversity” and “Jew York”.
MEChA has been linked to La Voz de Aztlan, virulently anti-Semitic group identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. There has not been a public disavowal of La Voz by MEChA. However the National Council of La Raza has distanced itself from MEChA. La Voz de Aztlan features videos of their interviews with Rudy Acuna on their website. While Acuna has now disavowed La Voz de Aztlan, he has written that there is “a fine line” between Mandela and Hitler.”
An Israeli news organization Arut Shevar, offers an interesting perspective on MEChA. “MEChA claims to be a national student organization that promotes education and defends the rights of Chicanos/Mexicans and Central and South Americans. That may be true enough, but the rest of the story is far more significant. MEChA’s stated goal is the liberation of Aztlan, a territorial region encompassing all of the southwestern U.S. They are some of the most virulent racist and mind-boggling Jew-haters in the United States today. They, along with the seekers of a Palestinian state, are among the greatest promulgators of lies, myths, fantasies and outright hate throughout the world. From blatant racist beliefs to the denigration of all things Jewish, these groups thrive on imaginary demons manufactured in the degenerate minds of haters throughout history.”
Thearticle continues, “As a byproduct of the contested gubernatorial race in California, the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan or MEChA has come to the attention of many. Democrat challenger for governor, and current lieutenant governor, Cruz Bustamante was an active member of MEChA in the 1970s and has, according to press reports (and web sites associated with MEChA), refused to denounce the goals and purposes of the organization. In fact, Mr. Bustamante considers MEChA a fine association for the development of young leadership.” During that heated race, many Chicanos accused Grey Davis of being the “manjewrian candidate,” who was tool of the Jews. Later Rudy Acuna disavowed the hate speech in the same article in which he wrote that there is “a fine line” between Mandela and Hitler.”
LA Voz frequently publishes stories support of Hamas and against the “treachery of the Jews as they soak the average consumer with a Jewish Tax amounting to hundreds of million of dollars per year.” La Voz often refers to the Jewish domination of the media and its resulting control of commerce, and Israelis as terrorist Zionists. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) notes, “Another essay in La Voz de Aztlan titled “Anthrax Letter Messages Seem Contrived” suggested that anthrax-laced letters addressed to NBC News anchor Tom Brokaw and U.S. Sen. Tom Daschle were possibly sent by “Zionists.” According to the essay, “Zionists have been worried because they perceive that the American public is wavering in their support of Zionist racist polices against the Palestinians. They are desperate and will do anything to manipulate U.S. public opinion. This is one of their favorite tactics.”
Among the headlines found on the La Voz de Aztlan site are, Gov. Perry helped sabotage the “Freedom Flotilla II” to Gaza, Humiliation of Mexican Workers (Jornaleros) by an American Jew, and Jewish landlords accused of “ethnically cleansing” Mexicans from downtown Santa Ana, California.
In 2003 the ADL stated that MEChA was not an anti-Semitic organization. However, in 2011, according to the ADL “In May 2010, the Muslim Student Union (MSU) held its annual anti-Israel event at UC Irvine (UCI), titled “Israeli Apartheid Week: A Call to Boycott, Divest and Sanction,” which featured a variety of anti-Israel presentations and events.”
“MSU selected the May dates to coincide with the “anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba (Catastrophe) and the beginning of the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people,” according to its event announcement. MSU indicated that the event was meant to jump start a campaign to pressure the university to divest from Israel and encourage boycott of Israel in general.” This event was co-sponsored by several groups, including the Asian Pacific Students Association, Black Student Union, MEChA, Pakistani Student Association and Radical Student Union and Worker-Student Alliance.
In the end we have MEChA’s words
It is difficult to sort out the truth from propaganda produced the far right and far left. Crazed right wing activists claim that MEChA is part of a Muslim/Catholic plot to overtake the world. Which is as unlikely as peace in our time. The Daily Kos recently reprinted an article by Denise Oliver Velez, in which the testiphonial, Precious Knowledge is held up as a source for accurate information about MEChA’s hard-fought-for Chicano Studies and student success. That success is as mythological as Aztlan.
We do know that MEChA views Chicana/o Studies programs to be “the foundation of MEChA’s political power base.” What we do know for certain it that Chicano Studies are based on social justice and critical theory. Which in effect means that MEChA, using today’s most common definition of social justice, supports a more socialistic rather than capitalistic system.
In the end all we have are MEChA’s own words and their silence. MEChA has never disavowed La Voz de Aztlan. They have not distanced themselves from the Brown Berets or Nuestros Reconquistos. They stand beside other radical and anti-Semitic student groups.
The Michigan State University MEChA students told us, “we become part of the machinery that enslaves our nation. We must reject this and become a nation within a nation with a national plan of action as new soldiers in our struggle for national independence, and an emerging XICANO nation.”
MEChA tells us, that as a nationalist movement it seeks “to free our people from the exploitation of an oppressive society that occupies our land. MEChA states that “Chicanismo involves a personal decision to reject assimilation” and calls on “those interested in developing a total commitment to our movement for self-determination for the people of Aztlán to join Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán” whatever that means.