Suffering from the "benign neglect" of others
Amid the Tucson Unified School District's recent attempts to remove Mexican American Studies and works by Latino American authors from its schools' curricula, Wordstrike has been providing invaluable coverage and ongoing commentary by several activists, journalists and community members for its "Saving Ethnic Studies" series. In a recent installment, scholar and activist Rodolfo F. Acuña offers readers a reflection on the longstanding and deep-seated disavowals of America's Latino heritage by American culture at large. Touching on both its larger manifestations—especially within the broader context of public education—as well as his own personal experiences, he poignantly recounts the various forms of resistance he has battled throughout his life. In particular, he mentions the difficulties he had to overcome as a graduate student and faculty member in the face of what he terms the "benign neglect" of others, and the palpable feeling of invisibility that worked to marginalize Latino Americans in general.
As he writes,
When I arrived at Valley State in the spring of 1969 to set up a Mexican American Studies Department there was resistance. Some faculty members could understand that African Americans had a corpus of knowledge and a history of oppression. However, they did not have the same awareness about Mexicans in the United States. I would venture to say that most did not even have a Cliff Note level background on the Mexican American War, remembering only the movie versions of the Alamo. I soon found that you could not equate their ignorance to ideology. Many were good liberals -against the Vietnam War and in support of civil rights for blacks. These people were color blind to the extreme. They failed to see a lack of equality in having an institution with 18,000 students with only fifty students Mexican Americas. They had a harder time with demands for a Mexican American Studies program. The ignorance was systemic. For example, when I was doing my teacher training at Los Angeles State College very few of my education professors were from the southwest; fewer had taught in Mexican American schools; but they were there to teach us how to teach Mexican students.
This, for Acuña, resulted in the kind of structural exclusion of Mexican Americans and the reproduction of "intellectual incest" that can still be seen today. As his article correctly notes, it can be seen in everything from general trends in hiring practices across the country to, well, some of the recent decisions being made by such institutional bodies as the Tucson Unified School District.
Visit Wordstrike to read Acuña's article in full.