During the California recall, Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante was harshly criticized for his refusal to renounce his involvement as a student in the Chicano student group MEChA. Critics frequently called MEChA a hate group, the equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan, or “fascist hatemongers”.
Bustamante handily lost the election, and MEChA as an issue didn’t seem to make much of an impact and many voters. But MEChA as an organization is still a presence on over 300 campuses.
There was much debate here on LoserNet about the truth of the accusations against MEChA. (Lots of background from me, Pejman, and Tacitus. In short, I thought that they were being unfairly accused, and Pejman and Tacitus thought that they really were a racist group.) We spent a fair amount of time going back and forth about the documents we could find using Google. But I thought that the debate suffered from a lack of input from or contact with actual MEChA members. Few people had had any direct contact with MEChA. (A few exceptions: Kevin Drum had a MEChA chapter at his high school, and Sappho had a personal experience at college.)
About a month ago, I thought that I’d try to contact some actual, current members of MEChA to see how they would respond to some of the controversies about their group. I sent out a lot of emails, mostly to dead email addresses culled from infrequently updated chapter web pages. Unfortunately, I’ve only ended up getting two complete responses, but they’re good ones. The first is from the MEChA chapter at New Mexico State University. (UPDATE: Not all responses are from NMSU; the questions were distibuted to other chapters as well.) A representative of the chapter distributed my long list of questions to members and assembled the responses, so it’s not any one person’s response.
The second response is from an individual who started his email by saying:
I want to emphasize that MEChA IS NOT A HATE/SEGREGATIONALIST/SEPARATIST GROUP
I’ve edited these responses slightly for spelling and typos, but I haven’t added or deleted anything. I have no independent ability to fact-check these responses.
1. During the California recall, Cruz Bustamante came under heavy attack from many on the right for his membership as a student in MEChA. MEChA was commonly described by conservative critics as a hate group, the Chicano equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan.
How would you respond to these charges? Since a genuine hate group would presumably deny that it was a hate group, what contrary evidence would you present to these critics in an effort to convince them?
A. MEChA is not a hate group. However, since these conservative critics have access to media such as Fox News or those on radio such as Rush Limbaugh, it is easier for them to get their voices heard.
Also, in the past, one thing that has hurt MEChA is a fear of infiltration. Therefore, for many years, MEChA has been to a certain extent reclusive to many, especially media. I hope that in some of the later questions I can answer the question as to how we are not a hate group, or an exclusionary group.
B. There has never been an incident in which a member of MEChA was charged or indicted for a hate crime. There were those in the 1960s who engaged in radical activities, but any intentions were aimed toward
institutions/establishments, not people.
2. How would you describe the goals of the nationwide MEChA organization? How would you describe the goals of your chapter? Are they different?
A. The goals of both are to educate not only “Chicanas/Chicanos” but everyone else. Promote higher education, while maintaining your roots. Just because you get a college degree, and might have an office doesn’t mean you should forget your history.
Another goal is to rid society of the stereotypes that plague all people, regardless of color or sexual orientation.
B. There is no “nation-wide” MEChA organization. The main goal of MEChA is to promote higher education while promoting and learning cultural history.
3. How tight or loose is the national MEChA organization? Is there a strong central authority, are chapters left alone to do what they want, or is it somewhere in between?
A. It is a tight organization; however, each chapter has its liberties. Because each chapter faces its own problems, it only makes sense to allow them to have their liberties.
B. There is no nationwide organiztion. There is a national conference held each year. Because there are so many chapters, it was agreed to develop “regions.” In order to gain input from chapters across the US, a coordinating council was established to help organize the conference. For the most part MEChA chapters are autonomous and work in the interests of their respective communities.
4. How often are there nationwide MEChA conventions or gatherings? What happens at nationwide MEChA conventions? Could you describe the national leadership- is there a president or a leadership committee, are they current students or alumni, is there a nationwide newsletter, etc.
A. Nationals are held once a year, but there are many meetings both regionally and nationally leading to the preparation of the national conference. Depending on whatever issues are affecting our people/communities, usually are discussed. The leadership is a committee of four current members, two males and two females, each from a different region. There is no national newsletter. However, the hosting chapter is responsible for keeping the chapters updated on the process.
B. As with any organization, there is a need for leaders. The national coordinating council consists of about 10-12 members(two members from each region mentioned above) The chairpersons of the council are one male and one female(to emphasize gender equality.) The national conferences usually consist of workshops on community organizing, leadership and team building, cultural history. At the same time, there are meetings held to discuss and plan national plans of action to address common issues facing communities across the US such as poverty, education, civil rights, etc.
5. If you had to characterize the official attitude of MEChA on racial issues, what would you say? How would you characterize the attitude of the other members of your chapter towards white people?
A. To many MEChistas, race is not an issue. Chicanismo is now more a state of mind rather than a state of being. Skin color, religion, sexuality, none of that is important.
B. There is no “official” attitude. However, MEChA is all inclusive: members are welcome regardless of ethnicity, nationality, gender/gender preference, handicap, age, or color of skin.
6. What sort of activities does your chapter of MEChA put on? For example, what activities are you putting on this semester/quarter?
A. We have many guest speakers from around the country. We have a film festival, have a raza youth mentoring/tutoring service, as well as participating in a campus and city clean up. We have had Aztec Dancers, hosted many conferences, had food, toy, clothing, and blood drives. And many numerous activities, all of which go on year round, in Fall, Spring and Summer semesters.
B. Celebrations of Mexican holidays along with other organizations, food/toy drive for impoverished communities, leadership/teambuilding workshops
7. How would you describe MEChA’s role in campus life? Is it often involved in controversy? If so, what kind of controversies has it been involved in?
A. We are not often involved in controversy; however we are very active in the campus life. A few years ago, MEChA helped the Black Allied Student Association petition the university against a fraternity for flying a confederate flag, at a football game as well as at there on campus house. The fraternity continued to fly the flag, even after BASA had asked them to please take it down. This became a heated debate on campus and MEChA was the only other student organization to come to BASA’s aid.
B. MEChA is welcomed by our academic institution to participate in various activities on and off campus. The only “controversy” was addressing free speech on campus so that free speech areas are not limited to students.
8. Is your chapter of MEChA involved in politics as an organization? (This can be at the campus, local, state or national level.) If so, what political activities do you engage in? If the chapter does not officially engage in politics, do members do so on their own?
A. Although MEChA is a non-partisan organization, we have had a role in local politics. We had a mayoral and city council forum. We are very active politically, we just think that issues are more important than party affiliations.
B. MEChA as a chapter does not engage in politics. Individual members have helped with campaigns for people running for Mayor, state rep/senator, school district
9. How large is your chapter?
A. Currently our membership is 21. However, that fluctuates. It has been as high as 34, and as low as 12.
B. About 20.
10. Do you have any members of your chapter who are not Chicanos? If so, how many? How many members do you have who don’t speak Spanish? Is there any sort of policy or guidelines? As a white person, how would I be greeted if I were to express interest in joining MEChA?
A. We have a two Native Americans as well as Filipino-Americans, an African-American and an Irish-American. As for non-Mexican-Americans, which is typically considered to be Chicano, there are seven from other Latin American countries. Five don’t speak Spanish. Anyone is welcome regardless of race, as long as they are willing to help out with their share of the work we do on and off campus.
B. There are members in the chapter who do not identify as Chicanos, but are in it for various causes. Not all members speak Spanish. The only guideline is to have a 2.0GPA and a $10 membership fee. As mentioned before, members are welcome regardless of ehtnicity, nationality, color of their skin, etc
11. How do you recruit members?
A. We actively recruit at all our functions, and we also set up information booths at different times of the year throughout campus. Also the Chicano Programs allows us to set up at any activities they have and we are also allowed to put information in their offices.
B. Word of mouth, class presentations.
12. If a member of MEChA was dating a person of a different race, would that be controversial among members of your chapter? What if they were to marry a person of a different race?
A. Not at all. A few of our members are involved with people of a different race. It is not looked down upon or controversial.
B. Nobody would find it controversial. We would be happy for them.
13. What proportion of the members of your chapter would you say are politically left of center? What proportion are right of center? What proportion aren’t very interested in politics?
A. Many of our members most often are left of center. However, we feel that the issues are what are important, not the parties. Although given some of the right wing media has been the most critical and vocal against MEChA, it is easier to lean to the left.
B. A great majority are not interested in “left/right wing” politics. However they are interested in the “politicking” that affects our communities (legislation for funding, school district bonds, etc.).
14. Do members of your chapter tend to have any common academic or personal interests, other than Chicano issues? (For example, some campus groups attract a large proportion of pre-law students, some attract education majors, some attract people with an interest in music, and some attract people who just want a social outlet.)
A. All of the other organizations within Chicano Programs are based on academic majors. MEChA is open to students of all different majors, regardless of your college anyone can join. This makes for an interesting mix. It allows us to share our knowledge with one another, and makes it less competitive.
B. There are a wide range of interests outside of MEChA, politics, and civil rights. There members who are also involved in Christian groups, indigenous organizations, musicians, artists.
15. During the recall campaign, Cruz Bustamente was repeatedly called upon to repudiate MEChA, and he refused to do so. If he had repudiated MEChA, how would it have changed your opinion of him? Do you think that it would have affected his standing among Chicano voters, or do you think that it wouldn’t have caused much concern?
A. Well, although we closely followed the recall, I don’t know how it would have changed my opinion of him. Actually, we don’t know to much about Mr. Bustamante here in southern New Mexico. I do think it would have hurt him with “Chicano” voters, but it may have helped him with the “Hispanic” vote.
B. Personally, I think only people from California really cared about Bustamante.
16. What is the symbolism behind the lighted stick of dynamite held by the eagle on the MEChA crest?
A. To my understanding, it means that we as a people are about to “blow up.” Using the term as slang, it means that Chicanos and Chicanas are ready to become active in their community.
B. It symbolizes an explosion of knowledge.
17. Are you familiar with the group “El Voz de Aztlán”? What is your opinion of this group? How would you describe the relationship between MEChA and El Voz de Aztlán?
A. Many organizations are automatically associated with MEChA, because of the term Aztlán. However there is no affiliation. El Voz is one of these many groups. Even though there are some MEChistas that belong to some of these other groups, doesn’t mean that there is a relationship on a national level.
B. We have never heard of them
18. One of the founding documents of MEChA was “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán”. A number of MEChA chapters link to this document from their homepage. Are you familiar with this document? What is the role of this document in your chapter? What is your understanding of the role of this document in the national organization?
A. The documents are embraced differently by different chapters. Some use them as a foundation, other don’t use them at all. I would say the split is 50-50.
Remember that many of those documents were written in the 1960s, a decade of unrest and major civil rights turmoil. I think that if those documents were written today they would be vastly different.
B. As far as most people can come to consensus, it is a POEM. It plays NO role in our chapter.
19. One line from the preface to “El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán” was frequently quoted: “Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada.” Many critics said that this was your motto, and that it was a racially exclusionary statement that was best translated as “For the Race, Everything. For Those Outside the Race, Nothing.” Is this accurate? If not, what is your motto? What is a good English translation of “Por La Raza todo. Fuera de La Raza nada,” and how is the phrase used in your chapter and the nationwide organization?
A. The motto of MEChA is “La Union Hace La Fuerza,” which loosely translated means “Strength in Unity”. I had never heard that other “motto” until the media came out with it during the recall and I have been in MEChA since my freshman year in high school, I am in grad school, finishing in May. That is ten years that I have been involved with MEChA.
B. There is only one race. The human race. Its intended meaning is that we do everything for our communities. We do nothing for those who are against our communities. The phrase is not used by anybody for any reason.
20. What does “Aztlán” mean to you? Are there other meanings?
A. Aztlán is the native homeland of the Aztecs, prior to the migration south to Mexico. A sense of belonging to the United States. Many of us have heard people say go back to where you came from. This is proof that this is where we came from, this is where we belong.
B. Aztlán is not mythical. In indigenous history, Aztlán is the original homeland of a people who migrated south to establish indigenous communities in Mexico. Aztlán can be referred to as the present-day soutwestern US and Northeastern Mexico.
21. Some critics have charged that when MEChA refers to “Aztlán”, it refers to the Southwestern portion of the United States. They charge that MEChA would like to claim this land mass away from the United States. They charge that MEChA would either like to make this area part of Mexico, or make it into a new, exclusionary Chicano state.
They point to the MEChA constitution, which says in the preamble, “Chicano and Chicana students of Aztlán must take upon themselves the responsibilities to promote Chicanismo within the community, politicizing our Raza with an emphasis on indigenous consciousness to continue the struggle for the self-determination of the Chicano people for the purpose of liberating Aztlán.”
What does the MEChA constitution mean when it refers to “liberating Aztlán”?
A. To me it is a state of mind. If we don’t allow people to force assimilation on us, then we remain liberated.
B. There is no wish to take land and establish a “Chicano state.” The liberation of Aztlán refers to the liberation of ideologies so that people can find and realize their own identities and philosophies.
What do you personally think of this idea? What do you think the members of your chapter would think about this idea?
A. I don’t think that anyone is ready to declare war on the U.S. Also, just a bit of historical background. The official map to the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, recognized by both the U.S. and Mexican Governments, shows in what is today modern day Utah, as the “Ancient Homeland of the Aztecs.” This map can be found at the library of congress in Washington D.C., however it may be difficult to find, as it is located in the basement with many other old maps. I have seen it myself and was able to make a black and white copy of it. When I get a chance I will send you the official name of the map.
22. The Sierra Times had a quote from a member of MEChA:
“Asked about his group’s ideology and intentions, Miguel Perez of Cal State-Northridge’s MEChA chapter replied: “The ultimate ideology is the liberation of Aztlán. Communism would be closest [to it].” Once Aztlán is established, continued Perez, ethnic cleansing would commence: “Non-Chicanos would have to be expelled opposition groups would be quashed because you have to keep power.”
What is your reaction to Miguel Perez’s statement? As far as you know, would MEChA officially support the idea of establishing a state anywhere in the world in which Chicanos had legal superiority over Anglos and other ethnicities? Would you or any of the members of your chapter of MEChA support the establishment of such a state?
A. I don’t know of anyone who has ever expressed an interest in ethnic cleansing. I don’t support this, and neither do any of our members.
B. That’s a radical way of THINKING. There is no clandestine movement to establish this “state.” Personally, I think Perez is misguided.
23. Some critics have charged that MEChA is an anti-Semitic organization. They point to an incident at CalPoly in 1998 where a printed MEChA conference program began by welcoming the participants to “Cal Poly State Jewniversity” and including a reference to the city of “Jew York.”
What is your reaction to that? Do you have any Jewish members? Has your chapter had any noteworthy contact, either positive or negative, with Jewish groups, synagogues, etc?
A. Our chapter, to my knowledge, doesn’t have any Jewish members currently. There have been some in the past, but religion has never been an issue. There is not a big Jewish community in our town, so it makes it difficult for us to network with any synagogues.
B. It is obviously another misguided mind blurting out what they might think is “harmless” lingo. I can see where it would be offensive to people whether they are Jewish or not. We do not have Jewish members because there aren’t any Jewish people interested in MEChA.
24. Would you be opposed to an organization which had the same sorts of goals and activities as MEChA, but was centered around Anglos rather than Chicanos? Why or why not?
A. If Anglos had been discriminated upon by other people for as long as Chicanos, Black, and any other minority have, then no, I would have no problem with it. I think the importance of groups like MEChA is to help those who have been oppressed throughout history.
B. There are such organizations. They are called fraternities and sororities. We have also worked with them on various activities.
25. I imagine that when this is posted, conservative critics will say that the answers that you provide are self-serving- that you are concealing the extremist views that are a part of MEChA’s current thinking. What would you say to those critics? Is there any sort of evidence that you can provide outside of your own words?
A. Well, according to that argument, every interview is self-serving. Are they not self-serving when they only present one side of the story?
The only evidence that can be provided is that of the community. The communities know the hard work that MEChA has put in. Going to tutor middle school and high school kids. Helping them fill out college applications, and financial aid papers. Raising food and money for those less fortunate. Taking coats and toys to the kids when it gets cold and the holidays are around the corner. As a proud mechista, I say to those who question my involvement, what I am doing today isn’t to help me, but rather those who come after me. I hope that what I’ve done today helps my children and that they do something to help the generation that follows them.
B. I really don’t care what they think.