Embracing Our Rich Ethnic Diversity (Thoughts Stemming from Viewing “Precious Knowledge”)
by Ernie McCray on March 31, 2011
Lately, I’ve been thinking about the range of ethnicities in our country, of how all human beings innately identify with racial and cultural ties that go back ages and ages in our personal histories. Who we are was set in place in ancient times. It’s natural, the way it’s supposed to be.
But somehow in the mix some human beings decide that their ethnicity is the ultimate of ethnicities and looks at others fearfully and fitfully.
Sadly for me, my home state, Arizona, is the poster child for the thoughts circulating throughout my mind. I mean there’s an anti-Latino vibe going on in the Grand Canyon State that one can feel to the bone, to the depths of the soul, and it’s not a pleasant feeling at all. It’s like a cancer that has metastasized into something grossly frightening.
Such thinking came to me, oddly enough, during an incredibly pleasant evening at a place where I’ve had many such evenings, the Centro Cultural de la Raza in Balboa Park, one of San Diego’s natural treasures. I was in a mellow mood as I walked up the path leading into the main entrance and that laid back attitude was kept alive when I stepped into the room as a couple of sunny smiling young Chicano friends of mine greeted me with “Hey, what’s happenin’?” kinds of hugs and handshakes that warmed my heart.
Feeling nice and comfy, weaving my way through spirited friendly toned conversations, I eased my old bones into an aisle seat just as Bob Marley sang one of his most profound refrains: “One love, one heart, let’s get together and feel all right.” Hey! Why not?
I was there to view “Precious Knowledge,” a video featuring Tucson High’s Mexican American Studies Program, a program that I would sum up, based on all I’ve heard about it over the years, as spectacularly wonderful. I expect such from my old alma mater, a place I love dearly. But instead of praising the program the state legislature has maliciously maligned and cruelly banned the curriculum. My goodness, how evil is the racist mind?
I mean Latino students have been dropping out of school in alarming rates, and then along comes some classes that spur them to want to learn and go to college and entertain ideas of turning their world around and nurturing positive self and ethnic images that let them know that they belong.
And at the very heart of these studies, they’re gifted with learning strategies that enable them to embrace the dignity of all cultures and histories – and politicians and every day citizens, like war tanks in enemy territory, trample over such a positive and hope inspiring enterprise. Oh, it brings tears to my eyes.
But before my very eyes, Precious Knowledge went right to the heart of the students’ studies, capturing ever so naturally and explicitly classes of students passionately engaged in creative critical thinking activities with teachers who treat them respectfully as the brilliant human beings they are. There they were participating, like citizens should in a democracy, in frank and open conversations about their country’s history and analyzing their place in that history and how they can conduct their lives in ways that might best prevent some of the non-life affirming aspects of that history from continuing and/or happening again. What more can one ask of a learning environment than for it to be dynamic and relevant to a student’s reality?
The documentary featured three Chicanas who are just as bright and turned on to learning as they can be, attending college yet very actively involved in bettering their communities. Exemplary Sonorans. Pillars of society if you ask me.
But a couple of politicians were filmed who couldn’t care less about what these young women have accomplished and can offer the world. Not minding at all that cameras were in their faces, these men, shamelessly, let their lips form sheer unadulterated nonsense about how these classes are geared to: overthrowing the government and making the kids Marxists and promoting ethnic solidarity with one race being touted over another.
Que? Overthrowing the government? How? Neat trick, in Arizona, wouldn’t you say, taking over the USA? You, know, here you’ve got brown skinned folks who are about a snap of a finger away from, at a cop’s whim, having to show their ID as they go about their day – and then they are going to somehow have the wherewithal to steal the key to the White House in DC and bring the government to its knees? How freaking insulting is that? I address this ridiculousness nonsensically to match its sheer absurdity.
Marxists? Please. Ethnic solidarity? Hmmm. Anybody thinking like me? Huh? Well, believe me, here’s the deal: who one is or isn’t has always been a factor in our society and these hateful people threw in a lot of BS to take the stress off of their fears surrounding recent statistics regarding ethnicity. What else could it be? Nothing scares racists more than hearing that their numbers are in decline. There will soon be more brown people than them and they see that as meaning they will be left behind. In their twisted minds they think being outnumbered means that Latinos will someday treat them as they have treated Latinos.
What they don’t realize, however, is that they don’t have to worry about that. Fortunately for them struggles for freedom by people of color in our country have been carried out in a spirit of love. Martin and Cesar were disciples of Mahatma Gandhi. They don’t see that the courses they fear fulfill a basic social need. If we as a country, like the students at Tucson High, had access to precious knowledge about our collective pasts we wouldn’t likely make the same mistakes and proceed in life without trying to build a better tomorrow for everybody as so many before us, our ancestors, failed to do.
But there are no such notions in racist minds. They don’t want to acknowledge ideals that promote feelings of togetherness. They have illustrated clearly, through how much time they’ve spent trying to deny a particular ethnic group the kind of learning experiences that will serve them and their country well, that they would rather destroy hopes and dreams than promote goodwill. How sad is that?
It’s wishful thinking to even imagine them doing so but Arizona’s politicians should sit in on some kind of Chicano Studies class and take an active part. Join the fun. If they approached it with open hearts and open minds they’d encounter concepts of pursuing a better world they’ve, obviously, never considered. For one, they’d learn a few things about their own ethnicities. They’d, if they thought about it hard enough, realize that we human beings can’t survive as a species if we don’t, somewhere down the line, learn to embrace our rich ethnic diversity. It’s what makes us special.