One of the problems with blogging is the ‘scrum’ nature of it; ideas circulate, everyone piles on, trying to add their $0.02 before the ball squirts away and you start all over.
It also means that sometimes if you wait a little bit, someone else will write your blog post for you.
In my case, I’ve spent the weekend doing house maintenance and kid stuff, while thinking about a post on MEChA and Bustamante. Then Ted Barlow went and wrote my post for me, posted over at ‘Crooked Timber’. Go take a look…I’ll wait.Now in the traditional political spectrum, the average reader of this blog is more than a wee bit to my right, I’ll hazard. And that makes them quite a bit to Ted’s right. So you’ll forgive me if I make some assumptions about what your reaction might be:
1. It is not a ‘bullshit issue’, Bustamante was a part of a secretive organization which as recently as 2001 reaffirmed it’s intention to pull the Southwest states out of the U.S.!!
First, and foremost, let’s talk about MEChA. It’s a campus organization, formed in the late 60’s, with the express intent of creating a support network and advocacy group for Latino students. It has never done anything else. The rhetoric in which that group was wrapped – and still is wrapped – is rhetoric which I heard day in and day out as a politics student and student politician in California universities in the early 70’s and again as a grad student in the late 70’s.
There’s a funny thing about historical perspective. On one hand, you look at things and say, “Jefferson and Washington owned slaves,” and you agree “yeah, that was wrong, but that’s what gentlemen did back in that era.” Do you judge them – and their era – entirely by today’s values, or do you judge them by the values – however appropriate or inappropriate – that were in force at that time and in that place? Or, better still, do you meld the two and understand them in the context of what was, and judge them both for who they were in that context and outside it?
At every American university in the late 1960’s, radical left politics became the framework within which most issues were viewed, analyzed, and acted upon. Not by everyone, certainly. And not to the same extent in every case. But the language…the metaphors and the means of description…changed.
And language like that of the MEChA constitution became common.
Now part of what’s always been interesting to me about the New Left is how shallow the beliefs really have always been. It was what kept me out of it then and what makes me look on it now more as a kind of affectation. I’ve always felt that the underlying corrosive beliefs were far more dangerous than the actions of the self-styled radicals, who were acting out their adolescent rebellion using the political excuses the ideology gave them. I always felt (and feel I was right) that they would slot neatly into their white-collar career tracks as soon as they got through the “rebellion, sex and drugs” experimentation to which their new liberty entitled them.
And, similarly, in looking at the reality of MEChA – the actual organization and the behavior of its members, it is an ethnic advocacy group, neatly bound within the confines of typical interest group university politics. It’s interesting to me that in all the brouhaha over MEChA, that there are no concrete examples of antiwhite, deeply radical, dangerous behavior on the part of all these MEChA chapters. And that everyone who has direct experience with the organization is dismissive of the claims that it is a subversive or radical organization – or even a racist one, outside the current standard of ‘ethnic correctness’ and minority empowerment. Note that I’m not happy with those standards, and that I tend to share Erin O’Connor’s views of many of them. But to raise an organization which has no existence outside campuses to the level of the KKK – which murdered and lynched people into the 1960’s – is itself rhetorical bullshit of the highest order.
2. Bustamante should have disavowed his membership! Yes, if in fact MEChA was some secretive group of nightriders, he should have. But much of the Latino political leadership of California – as well as other states’ – is a product of MEChA. The problem lies much in the same vein as the problem politicians who are members of exclusive clubs had in the 80’s, in which their clubs tended not to include minorities and women but did tend to include much of your power base – if you repudiate the club, you are by extension isolating yourself from the key players on whom you rely for your power.
And I tend to think that the problem is going to be solved in much the same way. I think that like the University Club and the California Club, MEChA will change because it will otherwise be a liability to the Latinos who are already taking power within the larger institutions.
I think that this “crisis,” as minor as it may be – will force MEChA and the politically ambitious young Latinos who make up it’s membership today to confront the contradiction between their charter documents – which are an empty expression of adolescent ethnic pride – and their desire to succeed on the larger scale.
I have teenage sons, and so I’m used to the exaggerated rhetoric that youth uses to define itself against age; that’s part of the process of standing up for oneself and becoming an adult.
Similarly, I’ve come to the personal conclusion that the kind of rhetoric and exaggerated ethnic nationalism were appropriate for that first crop of Latino kids who got into the universities through affirmative action, and who had a thin field of Latino mentors and role models to look up to.
But in an adult, teenage behavior is both tiresome and counterproductive. And it’s time for MEChA to put aside the things of its youth – to look at them, if they choose, as historical artifacts, and to acknowledge that the Latino experience has moved far past the point where Aztlan – as a place or a state of mind – is worth pursuing. Because it’s not needed any more and because there’s something better out there.
* Porphy comments
* Juan non-Volokh of Volokh Conspiracy comments