Seems I’ve come full circle. I recently retired from the University of Arizona, where I began my activist career.
As a student activist, one of the first major victories of the Chicano Movement in which I was involved was establishing a Mexican-American studies program at UA in 1969.
In 1970, in an essay on the Chicano Movement for a political science course, I wrote:
“We are involved in a historical moment of our evolution as a people. I firmly believe that in 20-30 years, a new generation of Chicanos and Chicanas will study El Movimiento – in the Chicano Studies classes we are creating even as I write this – and have cause to be proud of their parents’ generation.”
Thus, it is fitting that my last UA position was teaching Chicano history for the Mexican American Studies and Research Center.
Since I have some time on my hands, I’m thinking of writing my political memoirs. There’s lots to say, some of which I’ve touched on in previous columns:
I am of the Chicano Generation. We grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s, when American society viewed Americans of Mexican descent as foreigners and there was a concerted campaign by society, particularly the schools, to make us feel inferior and treat us as interlopers in our own land.
We had two choices. We could acquiesce and shuffle through life, hat in hand, picking up society’s crumbs. Or we could resist and assert our humanity. We resisted.
In coalition with barrio activists and some Mexican-American professionals, we fundamentally changed the educational, political, cultural and social landscape of Tucson and Arizona.
People of Mexican descent are today routinely elected to office, at all levels. Teachers, counselors and administrators of Mexican heritage abound in our school systems, as well as in universities and colleges.
Today, we count our college and university enrollments in multiples of thousands rather than tens.
Barrio streets are paved and have sidewalks and streetlights. There are neighborhood centers and parks in our barrios. Hiring practices were opened in the public and private sectors. Instead of rejecting Spanish-speakers, employers seek out bilingual applicants.
And, our children are not beaten for speaking Spanish.
The Chicano Generation achieved these things and others directly – or we created the atmosphere in which they could occur.
But our generation’s greatest contribution was that we instilled a deep and irrevocable sense of pride in our community, especially in our youth. We beat back the Mexican haters.
Indeed, Tucson and Arizona are improved versions of their old selves due to the Chicano Movement.
But history is cyclical, and the Mexican haters have resurfaced. We again find ourselves having to prove our legitimacy in our own country – for Proposition 200 and its ugly cousins target people on the basis of looks, surname and accent.
I look forward to detailing all this in readable form. If any of you have reminiscences, documents, photos, news articles, etc., that can help me, please contact me. I’d appreciate it. c/s
Political historian Salomón R. Baldenegro is a lifelong Tucsonan and longtime civil-rights activist. The “c/s” at the end of his column is a Chicano barrio term that stands for con safos, which denotes closure, along the lines of “that’s all I got to say.” Contact him at 884-0070 or SalomonRB@msn.com.