MEDIA ROOTS — As the Occupy Movement coalesced globally, tents and bodies were brutalized by the state and press credentials were swept aside with sweeping arrests of journalists, we may have taken comfort in the thought that they couldn’t jail an idea—the idea of the 99% resisting the tyranny of the 1%.
Yet, under Obama, powers that be are trying to do just that—imprison ideas, as key books of the Chicano literary cannon have been, essentially, arrested and taken into indefinite detention at some Book Depository. Not only are scores of innocent immigrants profiled and held arbitrarily to bolster a bogus war on imaginary enemies, but books, too, are imprisoned in the info wars of propaganda for corporate imperialism and tyranny, what Dr. Carlos Muñoz calls the colonisation of the mind. Dr. Muñoz spoke with Flashpoints earlier this week about this blatant display of racism and state repression in Arizona as well as the historical underpinnings of the Brown and Black struggle for equality in the U.S.
FLASHPOINTS — [17 Jan 2012] “Today on Flashpoints, the Tucson School District bans key books by Chicano and Native American authors. That’s right. That’s what I said. Bans the books. They box them up, ban them, and put them in the Book Depository. We ain’t gonna see ‘em.”
FLASHPOINTS — [18 Jan 2012] “You’re listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. My name is Dennis Bernstein. The outrage and disgust continues over the decision by the Tucson School system to ban books by Chicano and Native American authors, such as Leslie Marmon Silko, Buffy Sainte-Marie, and Winona LaDuke. The decisions to ban the books followed a 4 to 1 vote on Tuesday by the Tucson Unified School District, the Board, to succumb to the State of Arizona and forbid Mexican American Studies, rather than fight the State decision.
“Students said the banned books were seized from their classrooms and out of their hands after the vote came. And they are troubled. They are saying that it’s sort of like Nazi Germany. And they were unable to sleep after it happened. Some of the books also include Suzan Shown Harjo We Have No Reason to Celebrate and many others.
“Joining us to talk about this very important and troubling situation is Dr. Carlos Muñoz. He’s one of the key pioneers in ethnic studies and Chicano studies in the country. Dr. Muñoz was the founding Chair of the first Chicano Studies Department in the nation in 1968 at the California State University at Los Angeles and the founding Chair of National Association of Chicana/o Studies. He is a pioneer in the creation of undergraduate and graduate curricula in the disciplines of ethnic studies. He’s the author of numerous pioneering works on the Mexican-American political experience and on African-American and Latino political coalitions. His book Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement won the Gustavus Myers Book Award for outstanding scholarship in the study of human rights in the United States.
“Dr. Carlos Muñoz, welcome back to Flashpoints.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 2:59): “Thank you for inviting me.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 3:01): “Well, it’s good to have you with us, although it’s a terrible situation. And this thing, believe it or not, started to unfold on Martin Luther King’s birthday celebrations. Let me get your initial response to what happened here. What were you thinking? What went through your mind?”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 3:17): “Well, you know, I don’t have the words to express my anger at what’s taking place in Tucson, Arizona. It’s just simply unbelievable. I mean never did I expect, at this point in time in history, after 40 years of scholarship that has been generated and published and being taught in universities around the country, specifically on the Chicano experience in the United States. For scholars of Mexican-American background and other people of colour, scholars of colour have collectively made a profound contribution to the body of knowledge of people of colour in this country and have rectified and documented a history that speaks the truth of what this country has been historically as an empire, a promoter of imperialism throughout the world, as a racist, White-supremacist nation, as witnessed by the so-called founding fathers, who were, for the exception of one, all slave owners.
“This kind of truth doesn’t speak well to what’s going on in Arizona because I think that the people that are there responsible for this particular tragedy in public education are, either, ignorant and never attended the university, never were educated, and/or are members of the Tea Party or some other extreme racist organisations that are promoting anti-Mexican, racist, hysteria.
“So, I think what we see here, as I see it anyway, a situation where right-wingers have collectively organised and made this an issue because it’s a manifestation of the perceived threat of, what I call the, quote ‘Brown Invasion,’ as has been encapsulated by a lot of the right-wing politicians in this country. Increasing what are called demographic  that we are witnessing right now has become a threat to many people in power and, of course, especially in Arizona, as you know. That [either] once they [started] this whole process of criminalizing Mexican undocumented workers and have set the tone for other states to follow that are under the tutelage of right-wing political folks. So, I think, it’s something that needs to be protested, people have to take to the streets and say [don’t end] in Tucson. It’s an issue that has become very, very critical and deserves the support of all Americans, regardless of race or ethnic background. It’s just ridiculous.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 6:10): “One of the things that people who work within the system, we were speaking with teachers and students, is that it was an incredibly effective programme, in which students were succeeding, students who were dropping out before were staying in school, going on to higher education.
“Could you talk about how that happens, why it was so important for these students—and the school system there is 61% Mexican-American—why it’s so important? Say a little bit more about that.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 6:45): “Well, you know, in any places of education, if you’re a student and you don’t hear about people like yourself in the making of history in this nation, you’re bound to feel somewhat inferior. You know what I mean? I’ve gone through that when I was a kid. I mean, my god, all this White history. You know? And all the heroes were White. And you never hear about the good things that were done by folks of colour in this society and during the building of this nation.
“And, so, it’s been. Before, prior to the emergence of ethnic studies and Chicano studies in universities, there were no books about the Chicano experience. And the consequence of that, as I witnessed it, as I experienced it, was an inferiority complex.
“You know, my god, all we hear about Mexicans, for example: they’re criminals, they’re drunkards, their women are whores, they. There come all these racist, negative stereotypes that are promoted in the movies and television, newspapers. So, the consequence of that was, historically, what I call the colonisation of the mind where the young people of Mexican descent were pushed into thinking that they were inferior, that their culture was inferior.
“Now, what’s happened in Tucson has been a remarkable, remarkable process of [deep colonisation]. You know? Where the issues that have been presented there in public schooling have been taken on by teachers, by staff members in the school district, who have had the courage to develop a programme of Mexican-American studies, the first, by the way, and the only one in the whole country at the public school level, a remarkable feat that ought to be celebrated and be set up, you might say, as an example of what other public school systems, including those of us here in California, those systems here, ought to pursue.
“And the consequence has been remarkable, as you mentioned. In fact, that particular Tucson Mexican-American Studies programme has resulted in the radical turnabout in terms of many people taking pride, becoming proud of the fact that they learn that they come from ancestors who have made contributions, profound contributions to civilisations throughout the Americas—that fact alone is incredible, a tangible contribution to boosting the feeling of being worthy as human beings. And that kind of feeling is very, very important to have in order for young people to succeed in life beyond public school.
“So, I think what has been done in Arizona by these White politicians has been an effort to return to the days of the 1950s, previous to the Chicano Movement and other Civil Rights Movements in this country. They try to ‘Americanise,’ quote-unquote, and ‘re-colonise’ the minds of young people in the State of Arizona.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 9:56): “You’re listening to Flashpoints on Pacifica Radio. My name is Dennis Bernstein. We are speaking with Dr. Carlos Muñoz.
“You know, banning this programme in Tucson is almost like banning the speaking of Spanish in Mexico. Anybody who has spent time in Tucson or Nogales, Arizona understands how prevalent—”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz: “Right.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 10:14): “—I mean it’s Mexico, but it’s called the United States. Now, they did this in front of the students. The decision was made for the teachers to be boxing the books up in front of the students, shipping them out for storage.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz: “Right.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 10:29): “Kids were crying. I remember when I was down there in Tucson and we were broadcasting from there. One young student told me that she was really thinking about suicide and had actually tried to take her own life once until she got into a programme like this and began to feel alive.
“Could you comment on that?”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 10:50): “Right. Well, this is an example of what I was referring to is when young people are awakened by educators to who they really are and where they come from and why it’s a source of pride, or should be a source of pride, I mean it’s incredible. You cannot put the value on that kind of intellectual discovery and awakening of a young mind. It makes a world of difference to a young person to find meaning in their lives that carries them forth toward a positive direction in society to become good citizens and critical-thinking people that are going to make contributions to the betterment of the society as a whole.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 11:45): “You know, one has to believe or gets the strong feeling that they really don’t want the students to succeed because the programme was so successful, the amount, the percentage of students who ended up going to college as a result of this kind of study was overwhelming. And one has think that this is an attempt to cripple, undermine, and keep these kids down, rather than to cheerlead the fact that they’re getting better, things are getting better, and they’re really succeeding.
“It’s racism at the core, wouldn’t you say?”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 12:25): “I agree. I wholeheartedly agree. And I think, to add to that, what I see here is that with regard to the demographic is becoming more Mexican than ever. They envision that out of all these young people developing a critical thinking capacity and proud identity that they are going to become the future politicians of Arizona. And that is a scary thing; that is a scary thing for these guys. They say, ‘my god, we’re not just going to have undocumented workers who are poor and are a cheap labour source. We’re gonna have people now getting into powerful positions in this country that are going to take away from what belongs to us,’ unquote.
“And, so, I think that’s the bottom line here that they want to put a stop to this process of producing young leaders that are going to be speaking truth to power and that are going to make a difference in the future of in terms of turning the tide against racism and other things that are negative out there in Arizona for Mexican people as a whole.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 13:43): “Some of the people who have been banned are labelling this, sort of, an inquisition. We thought, maybe, that was an overstatement. But maybe now I’m thinking it’s an understatement. I’m thinking about books that were banned. Can you imagine The Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire, Occupy America: A History of Chicanos by Rodolfo Acuña, a good friend of yours. We actually had the both of you on the show not too long ago.
“Talk about what the White people might be afraid of that’s inside these beautiful books.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 14:20): “You know, they’re afraid of the truth. You know? The truth hurts.
“And I think that as I said earlier, the fact that the scholarship  Acuña  really incredible, back-breaking book. It was the first one to put out a history, a true history of America, in the sense that he documents, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the nature of our society and how, in fact, Mexican-Americans, in particular, have struggled for social justice throughout the history here in this country.
“And it’s just remarkable that all this knowledge that Occupied America represents, they don’t want to acknowledge it. They have problems with it because Rudy Acuña speaks the truth, as do all scholars.
“And Shakespeare speaks the truth. You know? Talk about this gets really absurd when even people like Shakespeare, an English White guy, you know, who had the audacity, for his time, to speak truth to power, of the British Empire and put out the issue of colonisation and oppression in that regard. Even there, they can’t tolerate that particular scholarship.
“So, basically, it’s an ideological struggle. It’s a cultural war that is what’s happening in Arizona between those who espouse the racist framework of analysis that White Eurocentric thought should be predominant in public education and those of us who have struggled against that and have created, and have been teaching now, a more truthful history of our society. And who had gone out of their way collectively to put forth a more, you might say, visionary process of education that is inclusive of not just Mexican-Americans, but all people. We don’t do what we are accused of doing, of being divisive, un-American. On the contrary, we have been most American in the context of continuing the process of creativity and intellectual thought that our ancestors started here in the Americas long before the White man arrived to conquer and engage in conquest.
“We have ancestors that generated civilisation way back when and are people as a whole have continued that process. And I think that we are remarkable in the context of what we represent as a people, not just being indigenous people, but also inclusive of all the other dimensions of the reality that we represent, as a multiracial, multiethnic people in our society. And this is what is not acknowledged by these people. They don’t want to acknowledge that. It’s scary to them. And rightly so. It should be scary to them. And, so, that’s the whole issue now.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 18:03): “We are speaking with Dr. Carlos Muñoz, one of the key pioneers in ethnic studies and Chicano studies in this country.
“I’m wondering, Dr. Muñoz, I don’t see your book on the list yet  Power: The Chicano Movement. But I guess it’s gonna become sort of a diploma that you put on the wall alongside all the other ones that you have.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz: “Yeah.”
Dennis Bernstein: “I was banned in Tucson and I’m proud of it.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz: “Well, you know, this is the thing that I tell people that all these people, all these banned books represent quite an honourable group of people. It’s incredible. I feel kind of bad; I want that honour of being identified by this right-wing. I hope I do get that honour down the road.
“But in the meantime, I’m very proud of Acuña and Rodriguez and all these folks down there who have gone and supported in defence of ethnic studies in Tucson.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 19:08): “And it is troubling that this comes in the context of, really, what is the new Civil Rights Movement, which is the rights of migrant workers, immigrant workers, the workers who do the hardest work in this country, that we all depend on, it’s a way to sort of build the borders higher, even those who are citizens in this country, it’s building walls around their lives, and condemning their kids of a life less than they deserve.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 19:41): “Yeah. No, I agree. I think what’s happening is this effort to get the put down of Mexican-Americans in Arizona, to criminalise them, to put them as social outcasts and not worthy of being ‘American,’ in quotes. Unless, of course, they take the path of assimilation into the dominant culture, which by the way won’t be so dominant pretty soon down the road. I made reference to this earlier. The demographic revolution is a reality, whether some White people like it or not. We are going to be the majority in this country.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 20:18): “Well, here in California, Whites are already the minority, right?”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 20:22): “Exactly. Right. In Hawai’i and here. And, so, it’s happening. Now, mind you, we don’t want to romanticise this fact because I always provide my critical analysis of the demographic revolution in the context that unfortunately that is not gonna be cause the consequence of profound change. And I cite President Obama as an example; big deal, we have a Black President. But where are we? We’re worse off than we were during the Bush Presidency.
“So, the point here is not so much to romanticise that people of colour are going to ‘take power,’ in quotes. It’s a question of looking at the reality that indeed there is that potential that out of this diversity there will come about a more humanistic society that is going to place its emphasis on social justice and peace and not war and violence throughout the world.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 21:26): “And, finally, I want to get back to the revenge aspect of this action that we’re taking in Tucson, what it looks like, what may need to happen in terms of fight-back.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 21:00): “Right.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 21:00): “We understand that White politicians took this action starting with the fact that Dolores Huerta was in Tucson and talked about how White people hate Brown people. And White politicians there hate Brown people. And those politicians never forgot it. They are in positions of power now and they are punishing the people. Now, that’s horrible.
“Respond to the fight-back that you’d like to see. What should it look like?”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 22:11): “Well, I think there should be a revolution. I mean this is the time for the revolution to really emerge in the context of Dr. King’s call for a revolution of values. I’m not talking here about a Hollywood version of a revolution or whatever with violence and all that, but rather a non-violent revolution as Dr. King called for that’s going to transform the value system that we have now in our society, away from the process of individualisation or what’s best for the individual or what’s best for the 1%, but rather what is best for the 99% of our society, that includes the majority of people of Colour and poor Whites and, even, the White middle class. Right? ‘Cos we know. I think this is what I’d like to see happening there.
“And I think also we have to definitely make clear that it’s not all White politicians there are some good allies. But it’s a kind of White politician that we need to address this issue toward. And that is the right-wing, Tea Party, White politician type of person that is out there that’s doing the evil deeds that are taking place in Tucson, Arizona.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 23:44): “Alright, we have been speaking with Dr. Carlos Muñoz. He is one of the key pioneers in ethnic studies in this country. Dr. Muñoz was the founding Chair of the first Chicano Studies Department in the nation in 1968 at the California State University at Los Angeles. And he is the founding Chair of the National Association of Chicana/o Studies.
“We thank you very much, sir, for taking the time out, very informative, and we’d love to talk to you again some time soon.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 24:11): “You’re welcome and have a nice day.”
Dennis Bernstein (c. 24:13): “Thank you so much, bye-bye, now.”
Dr. Carlos Muñoz (c. 24:15): “Bye-bye.”
Transcript by Felipe Messina
Click to listen (or download)