Racism and the California recall

Jeremy Ryan’s article “Texas Redistricting Plan Threatens Equality” (PWW 9/20-26) is a significant contribution towards the unification of people’s forces, by laying bare the racist content of the Republican leadership’s offensive against our electoral democracy.

Ryan notes that, while casting the Texas plot “as part of a national right-wing power grab ... is absolutely true, what is often overlooked or underplayed is [its] racist nature.” The same could also be said of the California recall election, and, in retrospect, the Los Angeles secession vote last year.

What is clearer and clearer in California’s barrios is that the recall election is also the occasion of an anti-Mexican, anti-Chicano propaganda campaign reminiscent of the repatriations, anti-zootsuit riots, Operation Wetback, repression of the Chicano Moratoriums against the Vietnam War, English-only campaign, and Proposition 187 of past decades. But there is something chillingly new to this latest attack: It is explicitly political and is aimed at activist citizens.

The attack started with Republican State Senator and gubernatorial recall candidate Tom McClintock demanding that Democratic Lieutenant Governor and gubernatorial recall candidate Cruz Bustamante renounce his college days’ membership in MECHA –Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan). Aztlan is the Aztec term for the lands to the north from which the Aztecs migrated to what is now Mexico City. For Chicano students, it signified an identification with the movement for equality and justice by a bilingual group proud of its indigenous hemispheric roots. This is one of the major underpinnings of the movement for Mexican American equality.

McClintock alleged that the organization was a separatist group that aimed to return the southwest U.S.A. to Mexico, and he asserted that Bustamante should disavow any connection to it. The issue was picked up by Fox News, radio talk shows, and major and minor newspapers. Most major news outlets characterized McClintock’s charge as an overstated negative campaign tactic but they gave it play, opening the doors for bigoted ultra-right vitriol.

This is not just negative campaigning or dirty tricksterism. The MECHA/Aztlan issue has been developed for over a decade by far right fringe hate groups in marginal internet and media venues, but now McClintock and Fox News are injecting it into the mainstream.

A very large percentage of progressive Mexican American activists in California were members of a MECHA chapter in high school or college. In some ways, attacking a Chicano for being a MECHA alumnus is like attacking an African American for being a member of the NAACP. The founding documents of MECHA, which grew out of a conference of students and educators held at the University of California, Santa Barbara, in 1969, are called the Plan de Santa Barbara – the Santa Barbara Plan. The far right has blatantly mischaracterized them into something like the infamous Protocols of Zion fabrication. That seems too preposterous to be effective, but most Americans are ignorant of the Spanish language and even more so of Nahuatl, the Aztec language.

There are widespread efforts to suggest that increasing Latino political power has negative implications for non-Latinos. This was a significant undercurrent in the secession movement in Los Angeles, where right-wing forces used the slogan that the San Fernando Valley was not getting its fair share. The non-Valley areas are overwhelmingly Latino, African American and Asian. At the same time, the president of the City Council was, and is, a Mexican American representing a San Fernando Valley district.

Bustamante has proudly stood by his MECHA past as well as his stands opposing the recall and for taxing the wealthy and corporations to fund social programs, and for controlling gasoline prices.

The racist and nationalist attack on Bustamante and MECHA ties in with the Republican effort to recall Gov. Gray Davis. It reinforces the Republican line that Davis is overspending and wasting the state budget with unnecessary expenditures (i.e., education, health care and other measures that benefit Mexican Americans). This wedge of bigotry has opened the way for TV ad attacks on Bustamante for donations from Native American tribes, and on Davis for signing the law providing drivers’ licenses to undocumented immigrants.

I have no doubt that the MECHA/Aztlan issue, and other anti-Mexicano variants, will be used in next year’s national elections and beyond. It is time for all progressives to join with Mexican Americans and Latinos in taking on this new variation of racial and national stereotyping. The first step is for Californians to vote against the recall and support Bustamante as well.

Rosalio Muñoz is a former staff writer for the PWW and an activist in Los Angeles. He can be reached at rosalio_munoz@sbcglobal.net