This past Thursday, KPCC-FM 89.3's Take Two program aired a story I had already read before in its original incarnation down in San Diego, a report making the claim that the field of Chicano Studies is dying because students of Mexican heritage are no longer identifying themselves as Chicanos. Besides having an insight that's about 20 years too late–I could've told you that Mexican-American youth don't identify as Chicano back in high school, when most of us wabs thought Cesar Chavez was the legendary Mexican boxer–KPCC's repurposing of the story as its own left it hilariously incomplete. Why pay attention to what's happening in San Diego, when the field of Chicana/o Studies (there's the first hint that KPCC producers didn't know what the hell they were going into–you always put the a/o in there, or the @, sillies!) is booming in
their the station's home market of Orange and Los Angeles counties, and its legacy heavily influencing the rest of the United States?
God, the examples to shred apart
that KPCC's treatment of the story like a good flour tortilla are too many, but I'll list just a couple because I'm in Tucson right now and need to eat more caldo de queso. This is the first year, for instance, that my alma mater of UCLA is offering a doctoral program in Chicana/o studies, and the school's journal, Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies, is more vibrant than ever. The department over at Cal State Northridge is a powerhouse; the one over at Fullerton College (where it's an emphasis in their overall Ethnic Studies program) has students of all ethnicities cramming into the classroom of legendary professor Jerry Padilla.
And then there's Cal State Fullerton, where I teach one class a semester. The Chicana/o students there just held their first-ever academic symposium, an all-day affair featuring 12 presenters and attended by over 50 people–a huge accomplishment for a student-run gig held on a weekend at a commuter school where no one got paid. My boss, Alexandro José Gradilla, just helped push through Chicana/o Studies concentrations for master's degrees in the history and Spanish programs. The tenure-track professor positions have grown by two in the two years I've taught there–is that the death of a discipline, or its emergence?
Of course, all of this is too much nuance for KPCC (full disclosure: I was a longtime contributor and was once in talks to contribute to Take Two), which has millions of dollars in grants to show that public radio can attract a big ol' happy family of "Latinos" and "Hispanics" who don't identify with silly identity politics. Hilariously enough, such a position lines them up with opponents of public radio, who have long targeted ethnic studies because it teaches a truthful narrative that American historians
never bothered with. Meanwhile, the Chicano movement's influence is stronger than ever before with DREAMers, LGBTQ kids, the Librotraficante movement (the creation of community libraries stocking books banned by the Tucson Unified School District), community organizing, Lalo Alcaraz, and so much more. Do the people in these movements call themselves Chicanos? Usually not. Do they identify with their predecessors in the Chicano movement? Damn straight.
To say that a discipline is endangered just because students don't call themselves Chicanos is like saying the American Dream is endangered just because we don't make good cars anymore. Pinche bola de pendejos, I swear…