Friday, May 12, 2006

A Letter To Paul

I received a comment on one of my previous blog entries that I felt compelled to respond to:

"Hi Alice -

I really enjoy your blog and love your music. I thought this was an excellent post as well, though I do have one relatively minor point:
you state that people have been speaking Spanish on this continent for much longer than they've been speaking English. Firstly, that's not really true (earliest permanent English settlement is 1619). Secondly and more importantly, however, I don't really think it's a terribly germane, persuasive, or productive point.

Allow me to expand on that a little. I should state right up front that I'm Italian/Irish by descent, born & raised in California. I'm very left-wing, but I have always found the "Aztlan" wing of Chicano activism kind of silly, with its barely suppressed fantasies about "reclaiming" parts of the former Mexico "stolen" under the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The point I'm trying to make is that this land, if it truly _belongs_ to anybody, belongs to the native inhabitants, who were initially massacred by the Spanish, then the Mexicans, and then the Americans.

After all, most of what the U.S. took from Mexico had only been "Mexican" for about 80 years at the time anyway (before that, of course, it had been part of the Spanish Empire, and before that, it just belonged to the peopole who lived here, the Native Americans), so it's been "America" for much longer than it was ever "Mexico" by now. I think it's kind of a dead-end argument.

To put it another way, there's plenty of blood on plenty of non-Indian hands and I think that the rights of current Mexican workers in the U.S. are probably best addressed with attention to their extraordinary contributions to America's cultural and economic well-being, not by reference to vaguely retributive notions of historical propriety.

Just my $0.02. Thanks for a passionate and thoughtful (and thought-provoking) post.

- Paul"

Dear Paul,

Just for the record, the first permanent European colony was established by the Spanish in 1565 at St. Augustine, Florida. The colonists spoke Spanish.

I think it is important to establish that the Spanish language predates English in large parts of the United States because to deny it is to deny a part of American history. To deny it is to deny that some Spanish speakers can trace their family’s history on this land further back than the progeny of the signers of the Mayflower Compact.

It is the people who deny America’s heritage who are divisive. I am not afraid of a little diversity. I don’t think the United States will turn into the Tower of Babel if we are allowed to speak more than one language. On the contrary, I think we will understand each other better if we all make an effort to communicate our mutual respect for one another.

So why shouldn’t we speak Spanish? Why shouldn’t we celebrate our cultures and our languages here in Aztlan?

Aztlan is a metaphorical homeland. It is a time, a place, a state of mind where the distinctions of race, creed, and country cease to divide us. If you went to the huge demonstrations supporting immigrant rights, you were in Aztlan.

I not only believe that we will reclaim Aztlan, I am certain of it. In fact it’s happening already. People are reclaiming it by becoming involved in shaping this country into a place that no longer treats immigrants and minorities as second class citizens.

I do agree with you about two things: immigrants do make huge contributions to the cultural and economic well-being of this nation and that the blood of indigenous people is on the hands of many.

Thanks for writing. I leave you with the artwork of Artemio Rodriguez, which pretty much sums up the American Dream as far as immigration is concerned.

"American Dream" - woodcut by Artemio Rodriguez


Paul said...

Alice -

Thanks for taking my comment seriously enough to respond. I think we're actually in heated agreement on most things, though I do still disagree about the political efficacy of the "Aztlan" imagery and rhetoric. There is so frequently a willful divisiveness there that seems like a dead-end to me.

I'm at work so I can't really go into detail right now, but I wanted to quickly acknowledge your (as always) thoughtful and heart-felt response. More later.

Conrad said...

Thanks for the music over the years, the blog, and this. The weird sense of entitlement that Anglos feel about Southern California has always made me feel uncomfortable in my own pale skin.

My own contribution:

Anonymous said...

by the way, "the Aztlan wing of Chicano activism," as you put it, are speaking from the viewpoint that we are indigenous to this continent, meaning that our ties predate the roanoke expedition, cortes, colon (columbus), and stretch back more than 10,000 years....this latest "immigrant" scare is another chapter in a long story of systematic disenfranchisement, alienation (no pun intended) and racism that began with polk's war of empire in 1846 and has continued unabated since. i recommend you read "occupied america" by rodolfo acuña for more insight on the broader picture.

-jimmy tumors

Anonymous said...

Great blog, and a great response to an interesting e-mail.

It's Saturday, May 13, 2006, and the front page news today, is that Bush is considering sending troops to the boarder. Two latino friends of mine are predicting a posslble war in California and Texas!

I can't wait to read your blog on this over the next week.

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Up until recently, my favorite site was Sandie However, for a number of reasons, I like yours a lot more. Alice, you are my guru! I've become your disciple, because I really believe you have the answers!

Valeria said...

I agree with Paul that the idea of reclaiming the land that once belonged to Mexico is just plain silly. Most Chicanos are not so far removed from reality. In fact Aztlan is a myth. As Alice stated in her letter it is more of a concept than a real place.

Anonymous said...

Alice is the best, you don't want to mess with her, she's very smart & since i've known her. So far she's never been wrong about anything or nor have i disagreed with her. she gives the best advise.
Alice Rules posers get lost!!
& for "paulita" if you aint got the time to finsh writting what you start, then why even bother!!

frm..the little one

Joel said...

NOBODY deserves to be told they can't do something simply because someone else doesn't want them to. NOBODY.

Anonymous said...

Dear Alice,

Nice job responding to that letter...To shrug off the Mexican American war and the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo the way he does is to deny the facts. A war was started to protect the rights of Texans (who had renounced their American citizenship and sworn allegiance to Mexico) to own slaves. Additionally there was the idea of Manifest Destiny. The U.S. just had to extend to the Pacific Ocean. When the war was lost by Mexico, the Mexicanos who chose to stay in what was now the U.S. were promised certain things (like the right to their own language, land, and religion), only to find that the U.S. had as much intention of honoring this treaty as it did all other treaties with native Americans. And this is where Paul really misses the point, Mexicanos are native Americans too. This is the very foundation of the movement for reparations, or the reclaiming of Aztlan. Not valid to Paul, but important to indigenous movements nonetheless...

Despite his claims of left leaning thought, America to him (Paul) just means the USA. Spaniards certainly arrived here in the Americas even earlier than the colony that you mention, but he just doesn't get it if it doesn't pertain to the current boundaries of the US. My 4th graders, however, when I asked them today, after reading this letter, "what is the first colony in the Americas you can think of?", they responded quickly with Vera Cruz, established by Cortez, 1519. So at least there is hope in the young ones. They also know the historical context in which to place Aztlan. As the beginning point of a journey of 300 years it is valid, but you championed its validity as a state of mind as well, which was so cool. I guess those who are conditioned to see things in terms of the current boundaries just don't get it, but at least we can reach the young ones.



Alice Bag said...

Thank you to everyone who commented on this blog. Paul, thanks for providing an opposing viewpoint and sparking the discussion.

As for G.W., nothing he does surprises me anymore. I made the mistake of thinking he was stupid, now I know he's just evil.