Tuesday, November 11, 2020 marks one of the saddest days of my life. On this day, we—the Mexican people on both sides of la frontera and our allies—lost a legend: the one and only, Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones (JGQ).
We lost one of the greatest intellectuals not only in the Americas, but also the world. The fact that JGQ was born a Mexican in el sur (Parral, Chihuahua, Mexico) and died a proud Mexican/Chicano in el norte (Los Angeles, California) in a time when the Mexican continues to be otherized, marginalized and pejoratized serves as a grim reminder of this great loss for la raza.
For over 50 years, JGQ dedicated his life to uplift the people of the sun through his superior scholarship, dedicated mentorship, political actions and eloquent words. While his contributions are many, for the sake of space, here go a few: wrote classic books and articles on Chicana/o history, labor, politics and culture; helped establish the theoretical foundations of Chicana and Chicano studies, along with the living legend, Rodolfo “Rudy” Acuña, whom JGQ fondly admired; taught and mentored thousands of students who became leaders in their own right; supported and participated in countless political actions for social, economic and racial justice; lead co-author of El Plan de Santa Bárbara: A Chicano Plan for Higher Education; co-founded UCLA’s Chicano Studies Research Center (CSRC); co-founded CSRC’s Aztlán: A Journal of Chicano Studies; NACCS (National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies) Scholar Recipient, 1990; and wrote eloquent prose—something that escapes most academics.
Did I mention that he also wrote beautiful poetry?
“My father’s land / is crossed / ribbon like / by stone fences / the wither in the sun / White stones that glisten in the sun, / Stones that ballast a sea of brown hills. / My father whip laid them, / My mother’s tribe fed them.”
—Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, 5th and GRANDE VISTA (Poems, 1960-1973), Colección Mensaje, New York, 1973, p. 61.
One word: brilliant!
Like in the case of another brilliant Mexican in el norte, Gloria Anzaldúa, JGQ provided us with a powerful voice against a racist American system that has attempted (and failed!) to erase our history. JGQ took the ashes of our once burnt history by the European colonists (and their inheritors) and created scholarly books, peer-reviewed articles, essays and eloquent poems in elite spaces limited to the best and the brightest Western Civilization has to offer. He has done so—and continues to do so—through his publications, speeches and memories without succumbing to fear or forgetting where he came from.
Dr. Álvaro Huerta and Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones (circa 2015).
As I reflect on JGQ, there are no words that I can conjure to heal the immense pain that I’m feeling. I cried when I first heard the terrible news on Tuesday morning and have been struggling to maintain my East Los Angeles composure ever since. I think I lost my street cred! I’m sad because I won’t be getting random calls from JGQ at odd hours when he has something on his mind. I’m sad because I won’t be receiving mail packets of his latest manuscripts for me to review or help get published.
“No worries, Juan, I’ll make sure that the last two manuscripts you sent me will see the light of day!”
Given all that he has done for me, I’ve always heeded his friendly and warm requests. That’s what familia is all about.
I first met JGQ in 1985, when I started UCLA as a freshman, majoring in mathematics, from East Los Angeles—a place where JGQ also hails from. I must say that I was originally shocked to see a Chicano professor at an elite university. Since most of my K-12 teachers were White, I never knew that Chicana/o professors even existed. I was equally shocked when JGQ assigned us books written by brown scholars. Many moons later, I’m following the example of the great Chicana and Chicano authors that I read in JGQ’s classes, especially his fine works.
Speaking of historians, I’ve always wondered why history professors assign at least 5-6 books—300+ pages per book without pictures!—to read in a quarter or semester? I only read one book—John Steinbeck’s The Pearl—throughout my dysfunctional K-12 education! While JGQ practiced this norm, he made it clear to us that the study of history represents a serious subject. When he walked around North Campus at UCLA, he was always carrying several books on one hand and numerous student papers to grade on his other hand.
Constantly thinking, reading and writing, he was oblivious and impervious of his surroundings. One day, for instance, while taking a small seminar on historiography with JGQ, I, along with my classmates, waited for him to teach and lead us in discussion/dialogue for about 30 minutes after class started. We then formed a posse to rescue him from his office, where we found him in a deep state of writing.
As I’ve said before, while JGQ was stoic, like my late Mexican father, once you scratched beneath the surface, he was a sweet and caring teddy bear. That said, during my initial encounters with JGQ, I was intimidated. Over 30 years later, I can still recall knocking on his office door on the 6th floor of Bunche Hall, where he would gruffly say, “Yes!” My response? “Hello, Mr. Quiñones…I mean, Professor Quiñones, I want to talk to you about my paper. I’ve never written a 10-page paper and don’t know how to start. Heck, I’ve only written one 2-page paper, triple spaced, in my entire life!”
Once I got to know him, I learned to announce myself. “Hello, Quiñones, this is Álvaro. I need to ask you some questions about the readings.” Often, I would go with my fellow student activists or MEChistas, where we minored in “JGQ Studies,” just to hang out and talk about politics or sports. He wasn’t fond of small talk or chisme. Also, he rarely talked about himself or how he grew up, especially as one of the first Chicanas/os to pursue higher education when he first entered the university. He never took credit for all of his accomplishments. Instead, he would always credit the collective efforts of the committed educators, youth, activists and other agents of social change throughout the Chicana/o movement and beyond.
In terms of MEChA (Movimiento Estudiantil Chicana/o de Aztlán) at UCLA during the mid-1980s, whenever we organized a protest on campus or in the community, we could always count on JGQ for his unconditional support. For example, when we organized a hunger strike at UCLA—one of the first, if not the first at UCLA and at any UC campus—in defense of undocumented immigrants (November 11-19, 1987), we knew that JGQ had our back. When we didn’t show up to class, he didn’t scold or hector us. He encouraged us, teaching us a key lesson that I pass on to my students and colleagues: knowledge comes from practice!
Later, when several of us, as former UCLA students, became community activists and organized Latino gardeners against the City of Los Angeles’s draconian leaf blower ban during the mid-1990s. (City penalties for Latino gardeners caught using a leaf blower? Misdemeanor charge, $1,000 fine and up to 6 months in jail). To challenge this racist law, we sought help from JGQ to lobby Council Members—like Mark Ridley Thomas, Jackie Goldberg and others—who voted for the ban on December 3, 1996.
On a more personal level, when I got married to Antonia Montes—fellow MEChista, educator, activist—in 1992, I invited JGQ. To my surprise, he showed up. Since then, we became homeboys (and later colleagues), where he counseled me throughout my graduate studies at UCLA (M.A.) and UC Berkeley (Ph.D.). He supported me without reservations when I was on the academic job market. Whenever I experienced racial micro-aggressions or academic hazing or pinche bullying by senior faculty, I never flinched since I knew that I could count on my academic homeboy, JGQ, like in the case of the late Dr. Leo Estrada.
In short, JGQ was/is my professor, mentor, homeboy, fellow activist and colleague. He taught me/us that we, as Chicanas and Chicanos, also have history—a proud history that must be taught in K-12, higher education and our communities.
“The point of learning about Indigenous past is not to relive past practices, or to propose one essentialization over another, or to be immobilized by history. The first stone to demolish the old presidio is our own consciousness.”
—Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Indigenous Quotient/Stalking Words: American Indian History as Future, Aztlan Libre Press, San Antonio, Texas, 2012, p. 39.
Left to Right: Adrián Álvarez, Juan Gómez-Quiñones, Antonia Montes, Álvaro Huerta, Ruben Lizardo and Leonor Lizardo; wedding of Antonia and Álvaro (March 28, 1992)
Despite our generational divide, we shared many similarities: Mexican roots; native sons of East Los Angeles; doctorates from the University of California; veteran activists; practitioners of respect and confianza (something absent in the academy); lovers of music (e.g., oldies), art (e.g., Mexican/Chicana/o art), food (anything Mexican), drink (e.g., mezcal), culture (our own) and sports (e.g., boxing); readers of poetry; educators and mentors; and, our defense of los de abajo, where he paved the road for me and countless others to emulate…
“Human issues can be resolved with humanistic solutions. Immigrants are not strangers; they are family.” --Dr. Juan Gómez-Quiñones (Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate Towards a Humanistic Paradigm 2013, foreword, p. 14)
Moving forward, while I’ll humbly do my part to maintain and expand his shining legacy through my lectures, writings and musings, I only wish that I was able to tell him in person four magic words before his passing: “I love you, Juan!”
Rebranding Chicanismo into collective thought and a cultural paradigm
By Armando Arias If it is the task of the scholar to truly make an original contribution to the existing scientific knowledge in one’s respective field, Ernesto Mireles has done so in a most eloquent way in his book, Insurgent Aztlán, an elusive quality for most academic writers, but which we can clearly recognize through his own insurgent writing and analyses of selected anti-colonial works. He sheds new light on the other side of American society today, the side we call “Aztlán.”
You may even call what he does a “rebranding” of the Chicano discourse into a new vernacular that causes one literally to think differently. As a metaphor for heaven on earth, Insurgent Aztlán as suggested by Mireles is almost too directive a heavenly place to be for change agents. In short, his book recasts the value of real knowledge through a confident insurgence of its very own.
His forging of ideas only makes for newer ideas thought of before but never quite so articulated. This is what is so essential about this work; perhaps it should have been titled “Essential Writing for an Insurgent Aztlán.”
Mireles’s writings should not be taken lightly as it causes a cognitive shift not only in the manner in which we translate words into new emotions and feelings, but also how it is that we come to new cultural interpretations of what we already know. His work has the capability of causing a revolution, a scientific literary revolution, because his ideas, whether you agree with him or not, are inarguably accurate. During an era in which the truth is attacked as “fake news,” there is nothing fake about his presentation. Mireles’ work, coupled with current efforts to draft a Blueprint for social action for the next 50 years, has already begun to generate progressive thoughts: We want to build a think tank, virtual in nature (for now) to enable a population to organize its cultural and intellectual needs to survive into the next half century—the first cycle of a long dynasty. It is important for this population to survive and flourish, because it holds the future of western civilization, however we define it, in its DNA, that is, as a mestizo people, in it is embedded the necessary genetic elements necessary for survival of the human race and it is also a cultural resource unlike any other (more vibrant than already decaying cultural and genetic populations).
From a social psychological perspective, what Mireles’s work does is cause a fundamentally different consciousness for everyone, not just those with a proclivity for social change. He is a restless thinker that will make you restless, too. Xicano resistance writing is as powerful an idea as the might of the pen; be aware, however, that you run the risk of becoming fixated and lose your objectivity the way newly created knowledge causes us to do. He clearly knows that within a historical context, the different spelling of politically charged words like “Chicano Power” alter reality, and are “…indicative of distinct past and present politico-cultural periods for Meso-Americans in the United States.”
Simply stated, his words will raise the self-esteem and consciousness of those who engage them and may very well also contribute to forming and affirming a national identity that is sorely needed at this time and cause a collective search for Latinos everywhere. We should consciously intend to change the consciousness of Mexicamerica from being virtually frozen in time intellectually to a nation focused on the future as the motivation for change today. One way to interpret the 52 year Azteca cycle of life is that it was intended to compress time for those in that time zone, you might say, and force introspection, creativity, united effort and action. In much the same way, looking forward 50 years impels collective thought; as it may in fact provoke collective action and necessarily, collective searches for identity, as the very nature of the collaboration is itself a means continually to alter the paradigm, to take action with intent, concientizados.
As an insurgent himself, Mireles is asking “How do we preserve a way of life and an outlook on life with those odds facing us?” He refers, of course, to our own culture and history. Another 50 year anniversary celebration was the one commemorating the Chicano Moratorium, which first took place August 29, 1970. Ruben Salazar died that day. Events like these should be held with the future in mind, redirecting our energy and our purpose to prepare for the next 50 years. It’s important to remember people and events after some years have passed—Ruben would have been 90 years old were he still alive, and I truly believe he would be championing the Blueprint intent and writing in its behalf as well.
In this book, Mireles reminds us of the importance to document how we managed to make it this far, but I truly believe that right now we are called to remember the future, that which lies ahead of us and that which only we can engage. Unless we do, whatever it was that the past 50 years accomplished or whatever events marked a turning point in Chicanan consciousness, the impulse—like surges of power which can cause a blackout or sudden spurts of action—must be understood as impelling us forward, not standing still.
Mireles clearly understands as does Paolo Freire that in order to create a pedagogy of the oppressed one must speak the same language as the oppressed, and, he adds, change it by making it stronger. He recognizes the weak form of oppression as weak language and the stronger much more effective form to transform oppression is by improving upon the sparkling interchange of new ideas. He is never lost in time, but he does well in reaching a new theoretical dimension—this is what is essential about his paradigm for looking virtually to the past and future simultaneously.
How do you write such a treatise unless you call it more than a stroke of genius? It is a companion book not only to the Chicano bible by Armando Rendón, Chicano Manifesto, it is more so the combination to unlocking the potency of Rendón’s Blueprint for the Next 50 Years, and beyond into future 50-year cycles. Even idle millennials will get excited about learning new truths in Mireles’s voice; he is one of them, but with a conscious connection to a soul born of social change.
Where did he come from? How did he come to know to design such a tool in this work so as to uplift the under-educated by drawing on their deprivations? It seems we are all under-educated, because we have to learn to think and speak within the new paradigm that Mireles has fashioned. This can lead to a core curriculum for training organizers and organizing trainers, that both provides a new language and new ideas as a product of collective effort, even of thought born from the pain of past Latino/Chicano generations. Through it people are trained as distributors of the new thought; they’re organizers really and will be spread around to create other centers of training of organizers.
That’s kind of the notion embedded in the think-tank being proposed in the Blueprint, a university for creating organizers that can bring people together to infuse them with a sensitivity, even passion, for fashioning the future of the Americas, at the very least. We are envisioning a core which we call organizing (pedagogically) as the stem along which concerns are assigned for mobilizing. Instead of “teachers” we are training (mobilizing) organizers who would use the training to "organize" more people as trainers, and so on. Get it? The paradigm is structured around the re-definition of organizing and mobilizing.
This work will spark new transformative cultural interpretations and will act as a manual for turning all that we thought we knew on its head – by design. We look forward to new incarnations of past Western written works in the form of Tomas Sawyer, Brave New Mundo, Alicia in Wonderland, or a series of Aztlán based books like: The Wizard of Aztlán, Democracy in Aztlán, Ideology and Utopia in Aztlán, Occupied Aztlán. Aztlán may live in people’s heads, but with Mireles’ work we can move it to the center ring and guarantee that the center will hold well into the future, for instance, contributing to new versions of the #MeToo movement.
Let this be a corrective pathway for us all to learn from and apply at all levels of American society today. In this Aztlán we will respect all ideas; we will fall into alignment, that is, Guillermo Bonfil-Batalla’s concept of permanent confrontation, now that is “heaven on earth.” Mireles says “Aztlán has always been an articulation of cultural reinforcement that – by establishing indigenous origins – allows Xicano/as to press colonial oppressors for civil rights and equal treatment under the prevailing laws.”
We must make this book available to all to a point where no one can graduate from high school without full knowledge of this work and its author. It is clear from Mireles’ writing that anti-colonial insurgencies are also capable of organizing, have charismatic characters and can lead a vast and major charge in a symbolic crusade. Lastly, we have to think beyond the present; we have to break the box down, not just think outside it. The sense that many others around the country also feel the impulse to look to the future is shared by the small cohort of Chicanans who have begun meeting regularly to build on the Blueprint concept and evolve a core of ideas and strategies on the organization and mobilization of our gente forward. Yes, let’s celebrate looking ahead 50 years. This is part of our mission, to spread the concept and make Mexican Americans as a people and a nation commit to creating new memories and achievements moving forward.
Armando Arias, Ph.D., is a professor and founding faculty member in the division of Social and Behavioral Sciences and Global Studies at CSU Monterey Bay. He often writes for Somos en escrito Magazine in his column, Chicano Confidential.
President Jimmy Carter congratulates Armando Rodriguez, whom he appointed to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1978. Armando's wife of 71 years, Beatriz, was at his side.
My tocayo, Armando Rodriguez, probably got to know and serve under more U.S. presidents in his lifetime than any other Chicano among us. I met him in 1967 when he and his wife, Beatriz, had newly arrived in Washington, D.C., as my family had. According to his book, From the Barrio to Washington, which I featured in this magazine back in 2008, I learned that both of us and our families had been living in Sacramento, California, at the same time and were recruited in the same year, but had not met as yet.
Lyndon Baines Johnson, then president, had ordered federal agencies to beat the sage bushes throughout the Southwest to recruit Chicanos and Chicanas to join the ranks of federal workers. I got a job at the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as a press officer. Tocayo got a job running the HEW Office of Spanish Speaking American Affairs. Happily, our paths crossed many times during his several stints in the capital. He will always be a dear friend.
His obituary, which appeared in the Associate Press News, follows:
Armando M. Rodriguez, a Mexican immigrant and World War II veteran who served in the administrations of four U.S. presidents while pressing for civil rights and education reforms, has died.
Christy Rodriguez, his daughter, said Wednesday her father died Sunday at their San Diego home from complications of a stroke. He was 97. He had been ailing from a variety of illnesses in recent years, she said. Born in Gomez Palacio, Mexico, Rodriguez came to San Diego with his family as a 6-year-old in 1927. But he was forced to return to Mexico after his father was deported during the mass deportations of the 1930s during the Great Depression. A young Rodriguez lived in Mexico for a year before the family could return.
After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, some of his Mexican immigrant friends fled to Mexico to avoid military service. Rodriguez, however, joined the U.S. Army. “It was not a difficult choice,” Rodriguez told the Voces Oral History Project at the University of Texas in August 2000.
Following the war, Rodriguez graduated from San Diego State University and worked as a teacher and joined the Mexican American civil rights movement after witnessing his fellow Latino veterans being denied house and facing discrimination.
He led Southern California’s Viva Kennedy campaign, the effort to increase Latino voter support for John F. Kennedy’s presidential run in 1960. Rodriguez founded a chapter of the veterans’ American GI Forum civil rights group in San Diego as a junior high school teacher.
President Lyndon Johnson appointed him chief of the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare’s Office of Spanish Speaking American Affairs. President Richard Nixon later named him assistant commissioner of education in the Office of Regional Office Coordination.
Rodriguez returned to California to become the first Latino president of East L.A. College. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter appointed him to serve on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Rodriguez continued to serve on the commission under President Ronald Reagan until stepping down in 1983.
Later in life, Rodriguez continued to advocate for educational opportunities for Latinos. But Rodriguez told the Voces Oral History Project that he had always wished he had been able to do more.
“The legacy you leave is what you were worth while you were here,” Rodriguez said.
Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team.
Final page of Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, showing date and signature (twice) of Nicholas Trist, U.S. negotiator
Introduction to the Draft Blueprint for the Next 50 Years
Distributed on this 170th Anniversary of the Signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo
By Armando Rendón The attached document derives from the panel on Chicanismo in the Americas held November 17, 2018, during the conference commemorating the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing held 50 years ago in San Antonio, Texas. Drafted by Armando Rendón as a working document, it reflects as faithfully as possible the comments and general sense of speakers and participants on the panel* that a blueprint is needed for us to address unresolved issues of the past 50 years, confront new concerns of today, and employ new strategies to deal with evolving changes that are sure to arise over the next 50 years. Fifty years ago, at the height of the Chicano Movement, would have been the ideal period to look ahead to the next 50 years and to establish an oversight committee, so to speak, to lay a framework for addressing issues then current and what might lie ahead. Diverse interests, limited financial and communications resources, and geographic distances among the various parts of the movement made it virtually impossible to organize and develop a long-term plan in the 1970s. However, the communications media we now have at hand facilitate meetings via audio or video conference calling, and the exchange of documents and ideas in moments. We also now have the experience and training of a variety of activists, scholars and experts in pertinent fields to draw upon for practical advice, research skills, writing and communicating capabilities that were unknown 50 years ago. The blueprint is intended to allow for input and enhancement from all parties who commit to serving as part of a drafting committee, working title: The Next 50 Years Committee. How to organize the committee, how it and the various working groups would relate to each other among many other details would be part of the follow up discussion. The draft should eventually evolve into a working document that smaller, focused groups of activists and experts can discuss and convert into action, setting timetables and deadlines as appropriate, maybe in increments of one, five or ten years, culminating at the end of the next half century. In other words, the drafting committee’s task is to improve on the model blueprint and then distribute and promote its use as a plan of action. This latest draft can be shared as widely as anyone wishes. The concept requires that at least one person commit to taking a lead role on a particular issue and recruit/join others of like interest to evolve a more detailed action plan (part of the overall blueprint). Minimally, each group should also commit to aligning with updating the drafting Committee on its progress. The blueprint contains specific issues, but is not exclusive of other concerns which may not be listed or have yet to arise. Suggestions for additional issues should be submitted to the drafting committee as the project in order to incorporate them into a “master” document. Of course, meetings can take place in person or via electronic means. Rendón commits to serving on the drafting committee if it becomes viable and continuing as the editor of the blueprint as long as he’s needed. The draft follows, for your consideration:
BLUEPRINT FOR THE NEXT 50 YEARS (Working Title) DRAFT First Draft November 26, 2018 Revised December 27, 2018 Revised January 31, 2019
A half century has passed since the height of action and attention raised nationally by the Chicano Movement, a social justice activism driven by the realization among Mexican Americans of the racist and discriminatory treatment they had suffered at least since the birth of their ethnicity, their status as a “nationality,” with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo on February, 2, 1848. That document concluded the hostilities brought on by the U.S. invasion of Mexico two years earlier, but the cessation of conflicts quickly evolved into a concerted and relentless campaign to deny to the Mexicans who remained behind the new border any of the rights and privileges otherwise guaranteed by the Treaty. The Treaty is the most important document to the past and the future of Mexican Americans, because not only does it mark the origin of our ethnicity but it remains a living document due to the essential human rights it contains, rights which have been affirmed under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in San Francisco in 1945, and regionally for the Americas in the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man adopted by the Organization of American States in Bogotá in 1948. Important decisions have reaffirmed land grant ownership and common land uses, as well as religious rights asserted by American Indian tribes, using the Treaty as precedent. By these expressions of the rights that pertain to each person because of their nature as human beings, we Mexican Americans assert our right to be recognized as a people under the guidelines of international jurisprudence and the traditions of the world’s nations from time immemorial. With this understanding in mind, we first present our grievances as the Mexican Americans of the United States of America:
Whereas, the government of the United States has failed to ensure and provide the basic protections guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and
Whereas, the private institutions and the political bodies of the States of the Union have historically denied equal protections and equal access to achieving equality of educational, economic and political opportunity, and
Whereas, the existence of individuals and organizations have been allowed to proliferate whose sole purpose, under the banner of white supremacy and white nationalism, is to maintain control of the institutions of government and withhold from us the rights all Americans should be able to exercise, and
Whereas, as a people, we seek to preserve and share certain values which, although they might not make us unique among the community of nations, together they exemplify values which manifest our nature as a people: our respect for elders, our love and dedication to our children, our peculiar facility as a bilingual-speaking community, our cultural traditions in music, the arts, and food, our acceptance of the role as stewards of the earth, and our loyalty to our country shown by the willingness of our men and women to fight side by side with other Americans in defense of the country in conflicts dating back to the Civil War, and
Whereas, we must break free from the present-day dependency on entities of government and strive to overcome the efforts by persons and groups in American society who seek to oppress us as a people, we must avoid the tendencies of human institutions to take on characteristics of the oppressor and to lose sight of our frailties by continually re-examining our motivations and allegiance to the principles of democracy and individual freedom, social justice and fair play throughout our community, and
Whereas, because we recognize the need to commit our lives and resources to addressing and resolving concerns which relate to our identity and essence as an indigenous-hispanic nation of Mexican (mestizo) heritage,
Therefore, We commit ourselves to the following plan of action as a guide and blueprint for the next 50 years to address the inequities and lack of recognition which have suppressed our development as a people and as full-fledged citizens of the United States of America. The timeline for achieving certain goals will differ for each area of concern or interest, but ultimately we Mexican Americans will have perfected our identity, will have forged protections of our cultural values and traditions, and become full-fledged citizens of the Americas.
GENERAL AREAS OF CONCERN The concept driving the blueprint is that we look beyond broad issues such as education, health, human rights, employment, wealth distribution, political involvement, the environment and so on, and look at concerns which affect Mexican Americans (as well as other indigenous-hispanic groups) where we should apply our own worldview and traditions to address, improve, or resolve. With the next 50 years in mind, we should think broadly and long-term, even beyond immediate issues, as we began to do during the anniversary U.S. Civil Rights Commission conference in Novermber 2019. Please review the draft list of issues that follow for an idea of what the blueprint envisions. A recommended format is provided addressing certain issues which pertain to Mexican Americans, for example, advancing our literature and arts, forming alliances with other indigenous tribes in the U.S.A. and the rest of the southern continent, and creating a process for us to name ourselves as an aspect of preserving our identity. The blueprint is open to suggestions and even more specific areas for action.
Education: Creating or applying new pedagogies at the family level emphasizing our cultural values and traditions
Stewardship of the earth: Involvement in addressing climate change
Keeping Alive The Chicano Movement and Chicanismo
Self-Governance: Development of Community Organizations to address concerns specific to Chicanan barrios and our community as a whole
Full political participation: develop programs to increase political awareness and activism from childhood years, reviving “civics” classes
International relations: form a working group on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to study and arrive at applying it to current Chicanan concerns
Alliance with all American Indian tribes: charge a commission to research the indigeneity of Mexican Americans and to recommend ways we can approach other indigenous peoples to join forces in mutual cultural and social action
Building relations with other indigenous-mestizo peoples of the Americas
Forming collaborations with other indigenous-hispanic ethnic groups in the U.S.: create closer bonds through regional and national discussions toward greater interaction and mutual support on common goals
Address the growing social and health concerns due to an aging population: study and recommend culturally relevant approaches to improving the health and means of treating our Chicanan elders
THESE ISSUES ARE ADDRESSED BELOW IN SAMPLE FORMATS, WHICH CAN SERVE AS STARTING POINTS FOR IN-DEPTH DEVELOPMENT AND ADAPTATION OF THESE AND OTHER ISSUES.
PRESERVING OUR IDENTITY AS AN INDIGENOUS-HISPANIC (MESTIZO) PEOPLE Submitted by Armando Rendón Since the 1970s, we have been labeled as “Hispanic” or “Latino” by agencies of the federal government. The only name we have bestowed upon ourselves is Chicano. The word has origins, according to some sources, in the early 1900s as a shortened version of Mechicano—it may have been born in song or on the railroad lines or in the fields. The sense of a unique identity entailed in the name, Chicano, is what gave the Chicano Movement its essence as a radical departure from the past but imbued with the past. It is the reason that the philosophy behind Chicanismo continues to thrive because it is still evolving; it should be renewed continually through a process of small encounters each year leading up to national symposia every five years. The Chicano Movement is still very much alive and can only survive by adapting to evolutionary changes in human understanding. We should adopt a process of concientización, whereby groups made up of community activists, scholars in various disciplines, political leaders and professionals in business, health, philosophy, writers and artists, and so on examine the principles of Chicanismo and revitalize its relevance by reaching out to barrios and enclaves of our people throughout the country. The nature of these encounters should become fields of study in our schools that incorporate elders/teachers of the barrio reaching out to youth/students. We must bring an end to the use of Hispanic or Latino by forging our own name, building on how we perceive our own identity, and how our language and history can guide us in arriving at a name, which proves acceptable to all indigenous-hispanic people regardless of politics, gender or language, as long as it is derived organically and logically from our nature, history and worldview. Step 1: Call to Chicanans (my placeholder for a possible name) willing to commit time and resources to form a planning working group, conduct a series of small conferences around the country dedicated to arriving at the recommendation of a name, or names, within a set timeframe. Step 2: The working group would set a time line for convening a first gathering (including in person and using phone/video facilities) to launch an effort to ensure a diversity of members, set dates for further meetings, and initiate guidelines for a national inquiry. Step 3: The working group would set a deadline for deciding on a name, although it would most likely arrive at two or three optional names for people to consider. The main duty of the group would be to recommend one name and publicize it for broader consideration and, hopefully, acceptance. Step 4: Submit the name by which to identify us indigenous-hispanic Americans to the U.S. Census Bureau for inclusion in the 2030 Census.
(MORE DETAILS TO COME)
FORMING ALLIANCES WITH OTHER INDIAN TRIBES UNDER THE TREATY OF GUADALUPE HIDALGO (Some background: In the 1980s and 1990s, I participated in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo project that was launched by the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), a non-governmental organization (NGO) made up of American Indian tribes, provided legal counsel to an indigenous Xicano organization on human rights and international law issues, have belonged to a men’s Chicano-Indio spiritual group, and witnessed the recognition of Chicanans as American Indians by other Indian tribes, notably the Hopi, the Navajo and the Tohono O’odham. In 1985, as a legal counsel to the IITC, I presented an intervention (statement) at the UN Commission on Human Rights annual conference in Geneva asserting that Proposition 187 that had passed as a referendum on the 1984 California ballot was in violation of international laws and treaties, including the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. At the fifth annual international conference hosted by the International University in Cuernavaca, Mexico, in August 2018, I pointed out to an audience of scholars from various disciplines assembled around the theme: Latin America: Traditions and Globalization, that for Latin America, let alone Mexico, to evolve as a major player in the phenomenon called globalization, it should not ignore, but rather embrace con un gran abrazo, the 40 million indigenrous-hispanic Americans of Mexican heritage who have survived generations of cultural abuse, attempted genocide, and discrimination, stronger than ever.) The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo should be declared a living human rights document, providing human rights protections to persons of indigenous-hispanic (mestizo) background in the United States of America as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, globally by the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted in San Francisco in 1945 and regionally in the Americas by the Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man adopted by the Organization of American States in Bogotá in 1948. The Treaty recognizes the people of indigenous-hispanic origin as an ethnic group authorized by treaty to have international standing with the U.S. Government and the community of nations, and thus serves as a formal link with other treaty based tribes. The Treaty can serve as the basis for seeking a wide variety of reparations to compensate the descendants of the Mexican population of the territories which were annexed by the U.S.A. as a result of this monumental land grab and the subsequent violation of the rights of the Mexican population who are still protected under the Treaty. We shall seek to establish formal alliances with the other Native American peoples in the U.S.A. and beyond into the rest of the Americas. We Mexican Americans/Chicanans are an indigenous-hispanic tribe, that is, of mestizo origin. We number upwards of 40 million persons, another probable 10 million persons of undocumented status, for a total population of 50 million. According to the U.S. Census, theAmerican Indian and Alaska Native population made up about 2.0 percent of the total population in 2016; by 2060, the percentage will rise to 2.4 percent. There were 567 federally recognized Indian tribes in 2016. Over the next few decades, the Chicanans can become one with the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Our goals are mostly the same, respect for and preservation of our culture and language, access to educational opportunities, the full benefits of decent employment and proper health care, and so on. The Chicanans, the Mexica, Mexican Americans, whatever we decide to call ourselves cannot only form these alliances, in unity with our Mexican familiares, but eventually become a contributing force in turning this country of our birth, and of choice for many of us, into a multi-cultural and multi-lingual nation meriting recognition among the community of nations.
(MORE DETAILS TO COME)
FORGING ALLIANCES WITH INDIGENOUS PEOPLES IN THE AMERICAS Submitted by Armando Rendón An indisputable truth that arose from the artistic roots of the Chicano Movement and then became a principle of Chicanismo was our link as indigenous-hispanic people to our ancient native roots in all the the Americas, Aztecan, Mayan, Incan, and specifically the Mexica, the raiz word from which Chicano is derived. However, we failed to recognize and strengthen our blood ties to the indigenous peoples of the Southwest, such as the Comanche, the Apache, the Coahuiltecos, the Kickapoo, etc., who are our relatives, our ancestors, among the very people whose blood we share, in some cases their direct descendants. Some of us reclaimed our descent over the years, either acknowledging tribal lines which had been forgotten or denied, or learning through DNA analysis of our link to specific tribes. Having lost a half century when greater attachments could have been forged with other Indian peoples, we must now formally and actively seek out alliances and working relationships with Indian country, which connotes all of the United States of America. This will entail a long-term process—long lost relatives often take time to make amends for being away so long and to create bonds of culture, language, and traditions where they have not existed for generations. The bonding will need to include learning our common history of resistance as peoples treated as conquered by the Anglo society, exchanging knowledge about our values and beliefs, sharing the sense of guardianship for the Earth Mother that we hold in common, and forging alliances to achieve mutually beneficial goals of social justice, political representation and certain rights under international law such as treaty rights and national sovereignty. This would not be a one-sided venture, because for decades certain individuals and organizations have been collaborating with each other to recognize the fundamental indigeneity of Chicanans and to raise awareness of the need for unity among indigenous peoples in the U.S. We need to bring about a greater realization of our indigeneity and our blood relationship to American Indian tribes through education, social and cultural exchanges and community building. The Mexican Americans, we believe, can become within the next half century full members of the family of indigenous nations within the U.S.A and the Americas. Step 1: Have the Next 50 Years Committee authorize a commission to expand and forge ties with the rest of the indigenous peoples in the U.S. Step 2: Call for others to join the Commission. Step 3: Set a target date for an initial meeting to set out procedures, short-term and long-term goals and objectives, a timetable, and address logistical needs. Step 4: Convene the first meeting using Internet media. Step 5: After one year, report on the initial findings and progress to the Committee. Step 6: Initiate during this first year contacts with indigenous peoples in Mexico as a starting point for stronger relationships. Step 7: Work with existing organizations such as the IITC, AIM-West, and the AIGIN to make initial contacts and lay the groundwork for more specific collaborations through discussion, literature, and the arts.
(MORE DETAILS TO COME) Three additional areas proposed for inclusion in the blueprint: CHICANISMO AS A WORLDVIEW Chicanismo should become a formal area of study in various disciplines including philosophy, history, psychology, sociology among others toward the goal of being officially designated as a distinct culture within the USA. Scholars already working in these fields should devote research and writing to enhance our knowledge and appreciation for Chicanismo, this integral but largely ignored worldview within the broader American society.
EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY AND INNOVATION The cultural, linguistic, economic, political and other contributions of the Chicano people to the U.S.A. should become integral components of public school curricula in all the publicly funded schools nationwide. Scholars, researchers and practitioners focused on the education of Chicanada youth should be recognized for the vital nature of their work in advancing Chicanismo, preserving and imparting cultural and social values, improving scholastic attainment and completion of educational and vocations goals.
CHICANAN LITERATURE AND THE ARTS Chicanan literature should be given its rightful place as an integral part of American literature rather than a sub-genre of U.S. writing or offspring of Latin American writings. Mestizo writers could form an alliance nationwide to bring greater attention to the works of mestizo authors, poets and essayists. We should strive to establish an open access depository for our writings in every genre. Chicanans should encourage, support and promote our community’s writers. We should strive to enhance the literacy levels among our communities and make literature and the arts available in barrios and rural areas as well as in major urban centers. Artists in music, dance, the fine arts should be recognized as vital to the development of the Chicanan culture and celebrated and promoted in every way possible. Submitted by Armando Rendón February 2, 2019
*Panel members included James Barrera, Mario Compean, Martha Cotera, Jose Angel Gutierrez, Carlos Hernandez, Ignacio Perez, Armando Rendón, and Angela Valenzuela. The key questions follow. Attach a copy of this page or copy and paste into an email to Armando Rendón, firstname.lastname@example.org
Do I accept the draft as a working document and commit myself to developing the concept and recruiting others to the effort? Yes ______ No ______ If you have a specific interest among the issues listed, or wish to recommend one or more other issues, please note here: ___________________________________________
Armando Rendón is editor of Somos en escrito Magazine. He was a Public Information Officer with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at the time of its 1968 hearing. The photo shows a couple publications he produced for the Commission that were on exhibit at the conference.
An excerpt from the book,Loaded A Disarming History of the Second Amendment
By Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
In the summer of 1970, while I was living and organizing in New Orleans with a women’s study-action group, we discovered that our group had been infiltrated. One of the volunteers who had come to work with our project six months earlier was secretly making detailed reports of our meetings, but with distortions and outright lies, using terms like “extreme,” “fanatic,” “potentially violent.” We were aware that she was a Social Work graduate student at Brandeis University, but had no idea we were the topic of her dissertation or that she was associated with the government-funded Lamberg Center for the Study of Violence. She had also lied to us about her background, claiming that she came from a single-parent family with a working mother in Mobile, Alabama. We had not checked out her history, but it only took one phone call to learn that she came from a wealthy, social register Mobile family. When confronted, she appeared earnestly sorry and tried to convince us that she had been required to report on us in order to continue receiving her stipend, without which she supposedly could not continue her studies at the university.
After her departure, we became caught up in a current of repression and paranoia. One or two or three pale blue New Orleans police cars parked across the street from our building every day. The cops took pictures, and a suspicious, unmarked car with Illinois plates followed us. Older local activists told us the cars’ occupants were “red squad” detectives from the Chicago Police Department. We installed a heavy lock on the flimsy wooden door to our run-down building, but we did not feel safe.
After a week of heavy police surveillance, we began receiving telephone calls from a man claiming to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The man threatened to burn down our building, and, of course, we didn’t trust the police, so we did not report it. Instead, we decided to arm ourselves. We saw it as a practical step, not a political act, something we needed for self-defense in order to continue working, not at all embracing armed struggle, which our group opposed as a strategy for making change in the United States. We knew that law enforcement authorities would think twice about attacking us if they knew we were armed. In reality, we were joining a trend occurring in movement groups across the country at that time, and once armed, our mindsets changed to match the new reality.
Two of us drove across the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway to a gun show that was held weekly in a large tin shed on the Slidell fairgrounds. The pickups and vans of traveling gun dealers, with license plates from a dozen states, were parked around the site; I had a cousin in Oklahoma who made his living selling guns that way. Inside the shed, the scene was festive, like any ordinary weekend craft fair or flea market. There were children running and playing, older women sitting on folding chairs visiting with each other, younger women clutching infants and staying close to their men, vendors hawking wares and bargaining, Confederate battle flags waving. Everyone was white. We had no trouble finding the used 9mm automatics we sought. We chose three used Brownings for $100 each, clips included, and a case of military surplus ammunition.
“We’re looking for a shotgun, too,” I said to the dealer. “For protection or duck huntin’?” the vendor asked. “Protection.”
He offered us a Mossberg 500 12-gauge police special riot gun, with a short barrel. “Isn’t it illegal to have this weapon?” I asked. “Ain’t a sawed-off, legal as taxes.” We bought it, along with some buckshot shells, all for cash. No paperwork required. The man who sold us the guns also had for sale a number of swastikas in various forms—pins, arm patches, photographs.
We went to the Tulane Law Library to research Louisiana gun laws and found that there were no gun laws in Louisiana. The only restriction was against building an arsenal—defined as more than twenty automatic or semiautomatic weapons—for illegal purposes. Carrying concealed and loaded weapons within the state with no registration was entirely legal. Federal laws prohibited transporting firearms across state lines for sale or to commit a crime, possession of stolen weapons, removal of serial numbers, and various foreign weapons, such as the AK-47.
We kept the loaded shotgun at the door, and we joined an indoor shooting gallery at Lafayette Square. We practiced with the Brownings every day. Shotguns weren’t allowed at the shooting club, but a shotgun took no skill to fire, only nerve and a steady shoulder. Soon after, we acquired rifles and joined a rifle club in the West Bank area. We loaded the bed of our station wagon with four M-1s, a Winchester .22, a .30-30 with a scope, and the riot shotgun, all purchased at the gun shows in Slidell. We paid for membership in the National Rifle Association and affixed their red and black emblem to the back window of the car. Cops were known to not stop vehicles with the stickers, although that probably didn’t work for African Americans.
We acquired more small arms and went daily to the Lafayette Square pistol shooting gallery to practice. In addition to the Brownings, we now owned a snub-nosed Smith & Wesson .357, an S&W long-barrel .38, a Walther PPK 9mm, a Colt .45, and a Beretta .32 automatic. We’d purchased all the weapons legally and anonymously at gun shows. We soon had a closet full of guns, plus our new shotgun reloading equipment and a 100-pound bag of gunpowder.
We spent hours every day breaking down, cleaning, oiling, and polishing our weapons. We took turns loading shotgun shells. We had fallen under the spell of guns. Our relationship to them had become a kind of passion that was inappropriate to our political objectives, and it ended up distorting and determining them.
Knowing that the FBI intercepted our mail, and wanting to inform authorities that we were fully armed, I wrote to my father about my new hobbies—guns and gunsmithing. Ironically, it seemed the first thing I’d done in my life that he really understood and supported. “When you can shoot a squirrel in the eye with a .22 at forty yards on the first shot, you’ll be a shooter,” he wrote.
He must have been pleasantly surprised, because he knew that as a child I was terrified of his Remington .22 rifle and shotgun; I got it from my mother, who hated guns. I never asked her why, but she put the fear and hate in my sister and me. Notwithstanding her objections, my two older brothers followed our father. At adolescence, each one started hunting and brought home game, which was our major meat item. We were poor, and ammunition was expensive, so they all had to be good shots, practicing on bottles and cans with BB guns for years before they handled real firearms. It was all for hunting, practical, but there was that other element I could detect but not explain, until I fell in love with guns.
Gun-love can be akin to non-chemical addictions like gambling or hoarding, either of which can have devastating effects, mainly economic, but murder, suicide, accidental death, and mass shootings result only from guns. Guns are made for killing, and while nearly anything, including human hands, may be used to kill, only the gun is created for the specific purpose of killing a living creature. The sheer numbers of guns in circulation, and the loosening of regulations on handguns especially, facilitate deadly spur of-the-moment reflex acts. The Trace, a nonprofit news organization focused on gun violence found that cases of road rage involving a firearm have more than doubled in two years, from 247 in 2014 to 620 in 2016. Research from Gunwatch suggests that “more guns in more cars may simply equate to more road rage incidents in which a gun was brandished, or fired.”1* At the time of my gun-love, which lasted about two years in the early 1970s, approximately half of all homes in the United States contained a weapon—112 million in total—but nearly a half century later, only a third of households contained firearms, which sounds like progress.2 Yet the number of guns privately owned in the United States had reached more than 300 million, a number equal to the total population. The reality is that in the early twenty-first century, each gun owner possessed an average of eight guns.
It seems that our group, and others, during the years that the Vietnam War was playing out live on our televisions, were in the vanguard of a trend of owning multiple weapons. Army and Navy surplus clothing accompanied the trend, which was soon replaced by sweatshop-produced camouflage garb to meet consumer demand. Something else was also at work, which will be probed in the following chapters.
In 1970, at the time of my own gun phase, the then-celebrated U.S. historian Richard Hofstadter coined the term gun culture. “Many otherwise intelligent Americans cling with pathetic stubbornness to the notion that the people’s right to bear arms is the greatest protection of their individual rights and a firm safeguard of democracy—without being in the slightest perturbed by the fact that no other democracy in the world observes any such ‘right’ and that in some democracies in which citizens’ rights are rather better protected than in ours, such as England and the Scandinavian countries, our arms control policies would be considered laughable.”3
Hofstadter narrates the historical roots that might explain the violence wrought by civilian gun use, but argues that other European countries were surely as violent. In one brief paragraph, he dismisses the Second Amendment as having any validity in constitutional law: “By its inclusion in the Bill of Rights, the right to bear arms thus gained permanent sanction in the nation, but it came to be regarded as an item on the basic list of guarantees of individual liberties. Plainly it was not meant as such. The right to bear arms was a collective, not an individual, right, closely linked to the civic need for ‘a well regulated Militia.’ It was, in effect, a promise that Congress would not be able to bar the states from doing whatever was necessary to maintain well-regulated militias.”4
Did Hofstadter believe that these astute “founding fathers” mistakenly threw in the Second Amendment to a Bill of Rights that was about individual rights? Hofstadter does note, without discussion, that the first draft of the Virginia Constitution of 1776—Thomas Jefferson’s work, which preceded the writing of the U.S. Constitution by nine years—included the individual right to bear arms, stating: “No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms.” Did Jefferson make a mistake in Virginia, and then contribute to another mistake, making the right to bear arms an individual right in the U.S. Constitution? Hofstadter attributes these “flaws” in Jefferson and the other founders to “reverting to one of the genial fictions . . . the ancient Saxon militia.”
Killing, looting, burning, raping, and terrorizing Indians were traditions in each of the colonies long before the Constitutional Convention. “Militias,” as in government-controlled units, were institutionalized by Article I, Section 8, Clause 15 of the U.S. Constitution, and were used to officially invade and occupy Native land. But the Second Amendment (like the other ten amendments) enshrined an individual right. The Second Amendment’s language specifically gave individuals and families the right to form volunteer militias to attack Indians and take their land. Asserting this scattershot guess about the origin of the Second Amendment, Hofstadter offers no tie-in between this genealogy and the astronomical number of guns possessed in this country. So he settles on the National Rifle Association: “American legislators have been inordinately responsive to the tremendous lobby maintained by the National Rifle Association, in tandem with gunmakers and importers, military sympathizers, and far-right organizations. A nation that could not devise a system of gun control after its experiences of the 1960s [referring to the assassinations of President John Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert Kennedy], and at a moment of profound popular revulsion against guns, is not likely to get such a system in the calculable future. One must wonder how grave a domestic gun catastrophe would have to be in order to persuade us. How far must things go?”
Hofstadter’s argument is important, not just because he was an influential liberal historian of the United States who penned the classic 1964 essay “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” but because his arguments about guns in 1970 have been used and repeated, like a mantra, ever since. Then, as now, gun-rights advocates and gun-control advocates have little basis for communicating. The great divide reflects, rather remarkably, the persistence of pro-gun narratives that have morphed as times changed over two centuries, from westward expansion, industrialization, and urbanization, to the advent of movies, television, and the Internet. Gun ownership appears irrational if not insane to gun-control advocates, while gun lovers rely on the Second Amendment, because they have no other argument and don’t wish to admit, perhaps even to themselves, what the Second Amendment signifies. Neither party seems to have any idea what the Second Amendment was originally about, although many who “cling to their guns”5 intuit why.
This blind spot, as well as the racism and erasure of history, can be seen in the following example. After retiring, the late Warren E. Burger, who served as the fifteenth chief justice of the United States from 1969 to 1986, wrote a long and impassioned plea for gun control, arguing that the Second Amendment was dated and no longer valid. Significantly, he published his commentary in Parade magazine, not a law journal. “Let’s look at the history,” Burger wrote. “First, many of the 3.5 million people living in the 13 original Colonies depended on wild game for food, and a good many of them required firearms for their defense from marauding Indians.”6
There is no doubt that the United States is exceptional among wealthy nations—and even many poorer nations—in legal permissiveness about gun ownership, as well as in gun deaths per capita. By 2016, nearly all the states allowed open carry for firearms with various limitations regarding licensing, loaded or unloaded, weapons training or not, gun types, and so on. The holdouts not allowing open carry were California, Illinois, Florida, and the District of Columbia. Massachusetts, Minnesota, and New Jersey allow open carry for handguns but prohibit open carry of long guns, while New York and South Carolina allow open carry for long guns but prohibit open carry for handguns.7
Total gun deaths in the United States average around 37,000 a year, with two-thirds of those deaths being suicides, leaving approximately 12,000 homicides, a thousand of those at the hands of the police.8 Mass shootings—ones that leave four or more people wounded or dead—now occur in the United States, on average, at the pace of one or more per day.9 Disturbing as that fact is, mass shootings currently account for only 2 percent of gun killings annually.10 The number of gun deaths—37,000—is roughly equal to death-by-vehicle incidents in the United States per year. To lawfully drive a vehicle, a person must acquire and maintain a driver’s license and drive a car that is registered and insured. A car owner may be fined for driving with a visible safety flaw on the vehicle, such as a taillight out, and a driver may be stopped at any time by authorities and can easily lose the right to drive, among other restrictions. The high rate of traffic fatalities begs the question of how effective gun restrictions would be. Heavy drinking while driving causes nearly three times as many deaths as guns each year in the United States, despite restrictions on the buying, selling, and public use of alcohol. It is necessary to look elsewhere for what causes firearms proliferation and gun deaths; it is necessary to seek out the historical roots.
With the election of Bill Clinton in 1992, the Democratic Party platform for the first time included gun control, while the Republican Party platform opposed gun control, proclaiming: “We note that those who seek to disarm citizens in their homes are the same liberals who tried to disarm our Nation during the Cold War and are today seeking to cut our national defense below safe levels.”11 In the previous three presidential elections, neither the Republican Party nor Democratic Party platforms had mentioned guns at all. With the Democrats in control of the White House and Congress in 1993, there was no trouble passing a gun-control bill requiring background checks, commonly called the “Brady Bill” after Jim Brady, who was wounded and permanently disabled during the shooting of President Ronald Reagan in 1981. Brady’s wife, Sarah, had campaigned tirelessly for background checks, which did result in a bill that was introduced in Congress in 1987, but the measure lingered without action until it was signed into law in 1993. The following year, Congress passed a ban on assault weapons but in 2004, when the statute was up for renewal, it was allowed to lapse, as it had proved largely ineffectual and unenforceable. Georgetown University law professor David Cole writes: “It is remarkably difficult to define an ‘assault weapon.’ They are semiautomatic, which means they fire a new bullet with each trigger pull, while automatically reloading. But most guns made today are semiautomatic, so the ban on assault weapons focused on the cosmetic military appearance of certain guns, and was easily evaded by alterations in design. Moreover, while gun-rights proponents are hard-pressed to offer a legitimate reason for civilians to own assault weapons, they are used in a very small proportion of gun crimes. Most crimes involve ordinary handguns.”12 Professor Cole finds a common thread of arguments condemning the National Rifle Association and does not question the organization’s powerful role, which relies on a strong electoral base throughout the country, but issues this caution:
Gun control advocates will not make progress until they recognize that the NRA’s power lies in the appeal of its ideas, its political engagement and acumen, and the intense commitments of its members. Until gun control advocates can match these features, they are unlikely to make much progress. That the gun industry may have helped construct modern gun culture does not negate the very real power that culture holds today.13
Indeed, the N.R.A. has around 5 million dues-paying members, and many millions more who support N.R.A. calls for legislative action. The N.R.A. annual budget is $300 million, only 10 percent of which goes to direct lobbying. The N.R.A. does little lobbying, but rather follows and grades every political candidate on gun rights and calls for supporting or campaigning against the candidate accordingly; it focuses on state legislators, who make most gun laws; gun-rights activists tend to focus on Congress. The N.R.A. has active affiliates in many communities in every state, with an average membership of 100,000 per state.
While Cole recommends that we look for the reasons why guns have such strong appeal in the United States in comparison with other societies, he does not explore those reasons. That is the purpose of this book. However, instead of dismissing the Second Amendment as antiquated and irrelevant, or as not actually meaning what it says, I argue that understanding the purpose of the Second Amendment is key to understanding the gun culture of the United States, and possibly the key to a new consciousness about the lingering effects of settler-colonialism and white nationalism. The Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is a simple statement: A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The National Rifle Association and its constituency argue that the Second Amendment guarantees the right for every individual to bear arms, while gun-control advocates maintain, as did Hofstadter, that the Second Amendment is about states continuing to have their own militias—emphasizing the language of “well regulated”—and that this is manifest in the existing National Guard.14
However, the respective state militias were already authorized by the U.S. Constitution when the amendment was added. The Constitution recognized the existing colonial, now state, militias that formed before and during the War for Independence, and mandated to them vital roles to play: “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasion” (Article I, Section 8, Clause 15). The President of the United States is the commander-in-chief of the state militias “when called into the actual Service of the United States” (Article II, Section 2).15
Given that what are now the states’ National Guards are descended from state militias, which themselves were repurposed from colonial militias, why was the Second Amendment added as one of the enumerated rights of man in the Bill of Rights? Unequivocally, the Second Amendment, along with the other nine amendments, constituted individual rights, and the militias referenced are voluntary, not state militias.
One argument that runs through historical accounts of the thinking behind the Second Amendment is the one Hofstadter settled on, that Thomas Jefferson romanticized old English-Saxon rural militias, idealizing his “yeoman” farmers as fiercely independent and rightly fearing Big Brother government, insisting on settlers’ right to overthrow oppressive regimes. But, what colonists considered oppressive was any restriction that British authorities put on them in regard to obtaining land. In the instances of Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676,16 the War of Independence itself, and many cases in between, the settlers’ complaint was the refusal of the British colonial authorities to allow them to seize Native land peripheral to the colonies, which could lead to unnecessary and expensive war. Historian Charles Sellers wrote: “Cheap land, held absolutely under the seaboard market’s capitalist conception of property, swelled patriarchal honor to heroic dimensions in rural America. The father’s authority rested on his legal title to the family land. Where European peasant landholdings were usually encumbered with obligations to some elite, the American farmer held in fee simple. Supreme in his domain, he was beyond interference by any earthly power. Except for a modest tax and an occasional half-day of neighborhood roadwork or carousing militia drill, he owed no obligations of labor, money, service, or (finally) religious fealty to any person or entity. Fee-simple land, the augmenting theater of the patriarchal persona, sustained his honor and untrammeled will. This extraordinary independence inflated American farmers’ conception of their class far above peasantry.”17 ……………..
As a whole, this book attempts to confront fundamental aspects of U.S. history that continue to be too often overlooked or denied, and which can be traced back to the original meaning and intention of the Second Amendment. It aims to confront the violence implicit in U.S. society from the moment of its conception, and the various narratives and forces that have taken shape to deny the consequences of that violence by popularizing and commercializing it. The book also aims to acknowledge the families, traditions, memories, and resistance of Indigenous People and African Americans whose lands and lives the Second Amendment was forged to take.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz grew up in rural Oklahoma, the daughter of a tenant farming family. She is the author of manybooks,includingthe acclaimedAnIndigenousPeoples’ HistoryoftheUnitedStates (featured here in Somos en escrito), RedDirt:GrowingUpOkie,Roots of Resistance: A History of Land Tenure in New Mexico, and Bloodon theBorder:AMemoiroftheContra War. Shelivesin SanFrancisco.
Loaded A Disarming History of the Second Amendment is published by City Lights Books, San Francisco. For copies, go to Loaded_CityLightsBooks.
* All footnotes cited here can be found in the printed book.