Faced with Bustamante’s edge over libertarian wonder boy Schwarzenegger, Bustamante’s potential to mobilize Latino voters as the first Latino to lead the nation’s largest state, and the nagging problem of Arnold’s coziness with Nazis, some on the right have been grasping for their reverse Kurt Waldheim scandal. What they’ve come up with is Bustamante’s membership as a college student in MEChA, Movimiento Estudantil Chicana/o de Aztlan. And they’ve had the audacity to suggest that membership in the national Latino student organization occupies the same moral space as close friendship with Nazis, and that the media only displays more concern about the latter than about the former because of – you guessed it – liberal bias. This argument rests on an idea that the right has spent significant effort trying to infiltrate into the American consciousness: that the nationalism and solidarity of the oppressed and the minority is morally equivalent to the nationalism and solidarity of the oppressor and the majority. This idea is a keystone of the far (and not so far) right and far left argument that identification with an in-group is always an obstacle to identification with a larger group and never a path towards it. I think I stand with the majority of Americans in maintaining unequivocally and without contradiction both that blind nationalism, uncompromising sectarianism, and subtle racism pose and have historically been dangerous threats to the construction of a human community and that identification with a small group – be it a neighborhood or one of Anderson’s “Imagined Communities” – can serve both the advancement of marginalized groups and the building of human empathy. But an intentionally divisive fringe, with much of the mainstream media in tow, is steadilly working to build in the minds of Americans a conception of the NAACP as the KKK. This, ironically, echoes the apologia of the hate groups themselves: ” has their organizations looking out for their interests, so shouldn’t have one looking out for ours?”
Michelle Malkin, in her attack on MEChA, quotes an early document of the organization from several decades ago, which reads in part:
“We do not recognize capricious frontiers on the bronze continent. Brotherhood unites us, and love for our brothers makes us a people whose time has come and who struggles against the foreigner ‘gabacho’ who exploits our riches and destroys our culture. With our heart in our hands and our hands in the soil, we declare the independence of our mestizo nation. We are a bronze people with a bronze culture.”
In other words, Latinos have been oppressed and persecuted by an illegitimate campaign of white violence, and should work together to beat back a continuing assault on the opportunities, communities, and culture of Latinos. And the homeland of Latinos belongs to them, and not to the United States that used war to occupy it.
Malkin says of the piece she quotes:
Substitute “Aryan” for “mestizo” and “white” for “bronze.” Not much difference between the nutty philosophy of Bustamante’s MEChA and Papa Schwarzenegger’s evil Nazi Party.
One difference would be that to be Aryan is to be racially “pure,” whereas to be mestizo is, by definition, to share a mixed heritage. The other major difference would be that the Nazi party engaged in a campaign of systematic genocide against oppressed minorities on the grounds that ensuring the purity of the Aryan nation by eliminating the groups secretly responsible for the decline of Germany was a historical imperative. MEChA engages in political and educational work directed towards improving the role of an oppressed minority within a dominant society that incorporated it through violence. That’s the difference.
Nathan Newman explores the issue here:
So what this statement says is that celebration of race mixing is the same as racial purity. Yes, Orwell rides high in the saddle when the rightwing guns for MEChA.
Well, what about the “bronze nation” nationalism? What a shock– an exploited group talking about its ethnic solidarity. The Irish never engaged in such rhetoric or engaged in political cronyism based on ethnic ties — or if they did, they were all Nazis? The Jews never speak of international solidarity with other Jews in say a small country in the Middle East?
The only difference between MEChA-style ethnic nationalism and most historic white ethnic groups, is that the latinos have a clearer grievance by historical standards. It was racist white nationalism that fueled “Manifest Destiny” to take over the whole southwest in a series of wars. Sorry– the only thing that looks like Nazism is the “white mans burden” conceit of America backed by military invasion that allowed it to attack Mexico and annex its land to the United States.
David Neiwert debunks the associations made between Bustamante and a few real racists who are also connected to MEChA here.
And I don’t think Colorado Luis is off the mark when he suggests that
…in a significant way, white Democrats are the target audience for these attacks. Not necessarily just to make them think twice about voting for Bustamante on the recall, but in the longer term, to promote the fear that when Democrats run minority candidates, they will lose…Meanwhile, Republicans gear up to run their own candidates of color — Condi Rice for California governor is a popular one I’ve seen mentioned. Republicans would love it if Democrats were too afraid to nominate people of color for important jobs, while Republicans go ahead and do it. So it is important for the GOP not only that Bustamante lose, but that white Democrats see race as part of the reason for his defeat. That’s why we’re seeing the MEChA smear instead of, oh, say, an examination of Bustamante’s voting record in the California legislature.
The most important site to check out, however, for anyone interested in making a thoughtful informed evaluation of MEChA, is its own website – funny how none of the conservative bloggers I’ve run across touting this counter-Waldheim discovery have bothered to link there (I would be dangerously remiss if I didn’t also link here to MECha de Yale). As MEChA’s current philosophy reads:
The Chicano and Chicana student movement has been plagued by opportunists that have sought to rechannel the energies of our people and divert us from our struggle for self-determination. The educational plight of Chicana and Chicano students continues to be ignored by insensitive administrators. Overall, Chicano and Chicana junior high, high school and college push-out rates have risen since 1969, forcing many Chicanos and Chicanas to a life of poverty. These factors along with a growing right wing trend in the nation are combing to work greater hardships on Chicanos and Chicanas. New repressive and racist immigration laws are continuously directed at our Gente. The Federal government is campaigning to pacify and assimilate our Gente by labeling us “Hispanic.” The term “Hispanic” seeks to anglicize and deny our indigenous heritage by ignoring our unique socioeconomic and historical aspect of our Gente. These factors have made it necessary for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán to affirm our philosophy of liberation (i.e. educational, socioeconomic, and political empowerment) for our Chicano and Chicana nation.
Joining with other community-based Chicano and Chicana nationalist organizations, M.E.Ch.A. is committed to ending the cultural tyranny suffered at the hands of institutional and systematic discrimination that holds our Gente captive. We seek an end to oppression and exploitation of the Chicano and Chicana Community