Canto LVI: MEChA and Me

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Gentle cabrones:

As a reporter, I loathe to tell the same stories in different publications. It’s lazy, repetitive, and frankly boring — and so, I rarely do it.

But I’m making an exception for MEChA. Again.

Never heard of it? It’s an acronym for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicanos de Aztlán (Chicano Students Movement of Aztlán), a high school and college student group celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Never heard of “Aztlán”? It’s the mythical homeland of the Aztecs, which Chicano activists in the 1960s extrapolated to mean the American Southwest — the formerly Mexican swath of land stolen by American imperialism.

Never heard of “Chicano”? Can’t help you on that one, bruh.

Last weekend, attendees at the group’s national conference decided to change the name. According to its new co-chairs and voted on by a super-majority of present chapters, the terms “Chicano” and “Aztlán” are anti-black, anti-Central American, anti-LGBT, colonialist, and erases other indigenous groups.

Even wackier, their official statement on the name change announced, “MEChistx members who are not Mexican-American are often victims of xenophobia from Chicanx MEChistxs, and Indigenous and Black MEChistxs are often subjected to anti-Indigenous and anti-Black violence by Mestizx Chicanx MEChistxs.”

Ah, the evil Mestizo. Did the co-chairs steal that line from greaser-hating dime-store novels of the 1890s?

Paging Mister Mxyzptlk: We’re now officially in Barrio Bizarro World.

Because I’m going to defend the terms “Chicano” “and Aztlán,” terms that never meant much to me.

But MEChA does. And so does the Truth.

 

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I’ve written about MEChA twice in the past, both in times where its name was being dragged by hilarious haters.

The first time was in 2002, when former Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante had to fend off accusations of radicalism because he once belonged to MEChA. Years later, when the Right tried to smear an activist for his MEChA past, I spoke up again.

Both times, I told my personal experience with MEChA at Chapman University: About how I was initially put off by the Chicano rhetoric, as the child of Mexican immigrants. How the focus on Aztecs meant nothing to me (my zacatecano indigenous ancestors would’ve been Chichimecas, whom the Aztecs deemed uncivilized).

And how I still joined. And never regretted it.

Anti-black? We had African-American members, and joined the Black Student Union in protesting Clarence Thomas when the school dedicated a bust to him (ah, Chapman). Anti-gay? More than a few LGBT members. Anti-anyone Chicano? Other Mechistas included Central Americans, South Americans, gabachos, and even a Kazakh student.

Fuck, we even had Republican members.

Was our MEChA an anomaly? Maybe, but not really. In the late 1990s, MEChA was evolving yet again. There was already a Jotería caucus to address LGBT issues, and the hip suffix at the time wasn’t -x but -@, to eliminate the machismo supposedly engendered by -o.

By the mid-2000s, high school conferences that most college chapters held taught their young wards in workshops about the corroding effects of homophobia and misogyny embedded in Mexican culture. As undocumented students became a bigger issue, MEChA’s focus changed yet again. The internationalist-looking groups focused on Cuba and Venezuela, just as their predecessors lent support to Central American countries and Palestine in the 1980s.

I know all of this, because I was a guest speaker at MEChAs across Southern California and beyond through most this past last decade.

And because I know my MEChA history.

**

Cover for my pro-MEChA article from 2003. I remember this newspaper…

Was MEChA perfect? Never. Some groups did have more than a few armchair Aztecs who ridiculed prospective members whose skin was too light, whose Spanish wasn’t perfect, who weren’t “radical” enough. Indeed, members of whatever follows MEChA are currently ridiculing MEChA de UCLA, the hosting group for the national conference that walked out and voted against the name change.

So much for expunging the group of its supposed toxicity.

But nothing will ever be perfect — that’s life. Most things are worth saving, if there’s one speck of good in it — shit, even Yahweh got it when he let Lot escape Sodom and Gomorrah.

And that’s the thing about MEChA. It was good. It was great.

It was created specifically to teach a historically maligned group — Mexican-Americans — about self-pride in a society that thought of them as little better than nopales.

In the macro view, MEChA’s biggest legacy was getting kids into colleges, keeping them there, and making them successful in life. On social media, I saw numerous elegies by former members. None of them are radicals anymore, but nearly all credited MEChA with their good fortune.

If the current membership wants to change the MEChA name, good for them. They’re actually following in the footsteps of past young Latino activists, who found their elders problematic and did everything possible to tear them down.

Until learning later in life that they were wrong, and that there was value in what the supposed vendidos did.

GRÍTALE A GUTI

This is the newish feature where I take your questions about ANYTHING. And away we go…

As a pochito, I remember growing up hearing all kinds of head-scratching old wives tales from the Motherland. A few of my favorites:

*Don’t get a haircut after a meal, or else you’ll die.
*Burn a lemon half over an open flame and apply it to your spider bite—it’ll cure it.
*Don’t stretch after your meal, or else you’ll burst one of your intestines.

I’m curious to know what are some of your favorite old wives tales.

Never heard of any of the above. But have you heard this one: That pregnant women are supposed to wear red underwear during an eclipse? What the hell is THAT about?

That said, the evil eye is hella real…

Got a caliente question? Grítale a Guti here.

**

Enough ranting. This was the semana that was:

LISTENING: “Orange Blossom Special,” Johnny Cash. What we don’t have enough of in American song nowadays is musicians covering the classics. This remains one of my favorite covers EVER — the Man in Black doing a legendary railroad song. Best version remains the one by Chubby Wise, tho.

READING: “The Clockwork Condition”: Anthony Burgess starts with a reminiscence on his A Clockwork Orange, then pivots into a beautiful essay on the evils of trying to stamp out free will.

Gustavo in the News

“Favorites List (3.24.19)”: Kitchen 101 shouts out my New Yorker article about vegan pozole verde.

“Burrito royalty: how the Ruiz family built a frozen Mexican food empire”: I think this is a repeat episode of The Splendid Table, because I recorded my interview for this at least a year ago, if not more.

“How the VW Bus Went from Hippie Van to High-Demand Collector’s Item”: I come out in Gen Z news sensation Cheddar TV to talk my Volkswagen Bus piece for the Los Angeles Times from last week.

“Take Comfort in the Fact That Guy Fieri and Smash Mouth’s Steve Harwell Are Friends”: Eater.com highlights my reprimand of AOC, who claims pastrami tacos are an NYC original.

“Hey, You! Twenty Years of Anonymous Thanks, Confessions & Accusations”: My former paper shouts me out in their cover story this week.

“Día del burrito: 5 cosas que quizás no sabías del plato surgido en la frontera culinaria de México y EE.UU.”: BBC en Español was supposed to interview me for this story, but I couldn’t make it happen — instead, they just cited me!

Gustavo’s Stories

“Orange County Jail to End Contract with ICE”: My latest KCRW “Orange County Line” tackles new OC Sheriff Don Barnes trying to save face

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