Press Release -- For Immediate Release
Contact: Zeke Hernandez, District Director
714-835-9585 / firstname.lastname@example.org
LULAC Orange County Defends California Lt. Governor
Cruz Bustamante and MECHA Student Organizations
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) Orange County
District #1 is appalled that conservative talk radio hosts and Tom
McClintock have targeted California Lt. Governor Cruz Bustamante for
his campus student activities while a student at California State
University at Fresno in the 1970s.
Recent polls have shown that Lt. Governor Bustamante is the leader
among the Big Five of the gubernatorial candidates which includes
Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom McClintock, Peter Ueberroth, and Arianna
Huffington on Question #2 of the California Recall Election to be
held October 7, 2003.
Conservative Senator Tom McClintock has called on Lt. Governor
Bustamante to denounce the student organization MECHA because it
advocates the creation of a separate homeland.
Zeke Hernandez, LULAC Orange County District #1 Director states,
"I find it ironic that Senator McClintock is going this way and that
way, trying to "two-step" his way to Sacramento. Step #1: He calls
on Lt. Governor Bustamante to denounce MECHA because it supports the
concept of a homeland for Native-Americans; Step #2: McClintock seeks
the support of the California Nations Indian Gaming Association because
they in fact have a homeland for Native Americans and status as
LULAC stands in defense of the many Latino students who have studied
in high school, achieved high academic standards and have received
their educational degrees from the colleges and universities in
California and in our country."
"These MECHA students today are at the helm of many corporations,
own businesses themselves, and are also teaching at these same
institutions of learning and other prestigious educational centers.
They are among the policy makers, office holders, public employees,
homeowners, parents, and the average working man and woman who is
contributing every single day in today's society, " stressed
Hernandez continued, "LULAC is proud of the leadership skills that
Cruz Bustamante learned as a young student and his tenacious personal
efforts to obtain his college degree. He has excelled in his public
life as a State Assemblymember, Assembly Speaker, and currently as
LULAC's 2003 National Woman of the Year and Placentia LULAC member
Margie Aguirre states, "MECHA is on the same level of any student
organization or club or fraternity or sorority as any other campus
approved student group. Any discrimination towards students who are
members or former members of this group should be deterred. If MECHA
is singled out amongst the various groups based on its cultural or
ideological foundation than all members of all student groups will
equally suffer the same discrimination based on their own particular
Greek symbolism or gender symbolism or African American or Asian or
whatever historical reason why they exist."
Aguirre emphasized, "MECHA stands for equal access of all
Latinos/Chicanos to a higher education and for better jobs. The fact
that Cruz Bustamante is an outstanding leader in California attests
to MECHA's positive support for positions of leadership for the underrepresented. Lt. Gov. Bustamante, should he be
his campaign would be on a list of the few who have been in
such a noteworthy capacity to serve the people of the great state
The League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) is the oldest
(founded in 1929) and largest Latino civil rights organization in
the United States. LULAC advances the economic condition, educational attainment, public policy influence, health, and
civil rights of Latinos through community-based programs and projects with more
than 700 LULAC local councils nationwide. LULAC Orange County
District #1 includes councils in Santa Ana, Placentia, Stanton,
Garden Grove, Orange County, Anaheim, and Westminster in California.
Politicians defend Chicano student group
- Bustamante's link with MEChA is 'nothing to be
ashamed of,' says one.
By CHELSEA J. CARTER - The Associated Press
Friday, September 5, 2003 - Orange County Register
In 1975, a young Cruz Bustamante joined a student group at
Fresno State College that advocated bold moves to empower
Nearly 30 years later, with Bustamante a candidate for governor,
he has come under fire from critics who say the organization
agitated for a separate Chicano homeland in the United States.
State Sen. Tom McClintock, a conservative Republican rival,
recently likened the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, also
known as MEChA, to the Ku Klux Klan.
"It's like saying, 'Oh, I was a moderate member of the Klan,'"
McClintock said last month. "It's incumbent on Cruz Bustamante
to clearly and completely renounce the organization and its
tactics and its views."
Bustamante, 50, has refused to back away from his past.
"The students who are MEChA today are just like the students
when I was there," he said. "Pretty much, they are trying to
get an education. Most of the friends I went to school with are
now either graduates from college or raising families."
Unlike other radical groups of the 1960s, such as the Black
Panthers and the American Indian Movement, MEChA was never
associated with violence. It supported Cesar Chavez and the
farmworkers' movement, and its founding members received
support from then-presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy.
"Right before he was assassinated, he sat down with Chicano
students who walked out of classes," said Susan Green, a
Mexican-American studies professor and MEChA faculty adviser
at California State University, Chico.
But the group also had a revolutionary spirit, embodied in one
of its 1960s slogans, "For the race, everything. For those
outside the race, nothing."
Critics, including immigration officials, have pointed to
language in MEChA documents that calls for the liberation of
the Southwest. The plan - written at the National Chicano
Youth Conference in 1969, a month before MEChA was created -
calls for Mexican-Americans to reclaim or liberate Aztlan,
the mythical lands of their birth.
MEChA members say it is an ideological rather than a literal
"When we use the term 'liberation,' we are talking about the
liberation of one's mind," said Edward Gomez, a former member
who is now a faculty adviser for MEChA at San Bernardino Valley
Tom Rivera, an associate professor at California State
University, San Bernardino and MEChA faculty adviser since
1970, said the language was a reflection of the times.
"I see this as lofty language. It was not meant to be taken
literally," he said.
Today, MEChA has about 300 student clubs nationwide and is known
more for trying to help poor Hispanics get a college education
than for radical politics. Using the motto "Unity creates power,"
the group promotes tutoring, community outreach and political
In recent days, many of California's leading Hispanic elected
officials have acknowledged their membership in MEChA or voiced
support for the group.
"Most of us attended a meeting or more. Nearly everybody was
involved with it some way," said Los Angeles City Councilman
Antonio Villa raigosa, a former state Assembly speaker who
was a member of MEChA from 1972 to 1975 at the University of
California, Los Angeles.
Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., said she was never a member
but supported the organization. "I can understand why nobody
is stepping away," she said. "There's nothing to be ashamed of.
To do that would be to deny MEChA is doing a good job."
- Cruz Bustamante, along with many other California
Latino politicians, belonged to a Chicano student
organization in college. And conservatives are livid.
by Gustavo Arellano - OC Weekly,
Orange County, CA
September 5-11, 2003
In the Aug. 22 Orange County Register, longtime local Republican
gadfly Art Pedroza Jr. used the better part of a 655-word guest
editorial to argue from stereotypes that Cruz Bustamante would be
very, very bad for Latino Californians.
Bustamante, remember, is our lieutenant governor, a Democrat and
one of 135 gubernatorial candidates in the Oct. 7 recall election.
He is also, if you believe Pedroza's take on Latinos, a dangerous
man. Bustamante's proposal to raise taxes on cars valued at more
than $20,000 "hurts Latino families, which tend to be large, as
they need minivans and SUVs more than the rest of the California
public," Pedroza wrote. Latinos "will be more enticed by the
machismo and fame of Arnold Schwarzenegger" and turned off by
the appearance of "the pudgy and unimpressive Bustamante" —a
particularly ironic prediction, given Pedroza's roly-poly
physique. Latinos will identify with Schwarzenegger because "he
continues to have an accent as thick as his muscles"; meanwhile,
Bustamante will lose respect among Latinos when it is revealed
that he "actually had to take Spanish lessons in order for him
to more fully pander to Latino voters."
Pedroza saved his most forceful swipe for the end: "Bustamante
is known best for his indecision, his affiliation with labor
unions and Indian gambling tribes, and his loyalty to MEChA,
a college student organization that advocates the recovery of
the U.S. Southwest by Chicanos."
"I was trying to dig Cruz a deep hole and throw him in it with
that last comment," Pedroza told me with unmistakable
satisfaction. "And I did."
As the recall nears, Republicans are whittling down their anti-
Bustamante talking points: he's a Democrat, he's fat and
mustachioed, and he was once a member of MEChA. Opposite
Pedroza's attack, the Register's readers page that same day
featured a letter by Westminster resident Marvin Tuomala.
"I want the Register to investigate and report on the alleged
connection of Lt. Gov. Bustamante to Movimiento Estudiantil
Chicano de Aztlan, or MEChA," Tuomala wrote. "It is time to
expose him for the imposter that he is."
Bustamante joined MEChA—a Chicano college student organization
notable for ethnic pride and activism—while a student at Fresno
State in the 1970s. Until now, such an association was an
obsession only of fringe conservative groups. During the 1990s,
they warned anyone who would listen that former MEChA members—
some of them, like Bustamante, now elected officials—were
"rabid reconquistas" working to return California to Mexican
rule by any means necessary.
Now the major media want in on the game. It's not just Fox News
asserting on Aug. 28 that "Bustamante's membership in MEChA is
certainly more relevant than Arnold Schwarzenegger's father being
a Nazi." It's also KTTV-TV 11 running an Aug. 27 newscast
purportedly "exposing" Bustamante's membership in MEChA. Local
conservative radio broadcasters John and Ken on KFI-AM and Larry
Elder on KABC-AM no longer hold a monopoly on castigating
Bustamante as a Mechista, as members of MEChA refer to
themselves. Now there's KLSX-FM entertainment reporter Sam
Rubin, whose Aug. 28 program featured callers demanding that
Rubin speak out on Bustamante's connection with what one caller
identified as "the brown Klan." While guest-hosting for a talk
show on San Diego radio station KOGO-AM, Republican gubernatorial
candidate Tom McClintock claimed Bustamante belonged to "a radical
and racist organization," and that membership in MEChA is like
saying "you're a member of the Klan." Register editorial writer
Steven Greenhut weighed in with an Aug. 30 contribution for the
libertarian website LewRockwell.com (www.lewrockwell.com) that
"there is incredible hypocrisy in the way Bustamante gets a free
pass on his past association with [MEChA}, and the way Republicans
get treated for their past associations." In an Aug. 20 editorial,
the respected financial paper Investor's Business Daily warned
against Bustamante's candidacy because of "his links to the
radical group MEChA, the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan…
Members of MEChA are committed, according to their group's
constitution, to the `liberation' of Aztlan—whatever that
What is MEChA? And why are Republicans betting it's their H-bomb
in the coming governor's race?
In 1969, the student and ethnic-pride movements of the 1960s had
enraptured young Mexican Americans, who now proudly labeled
themselves as Chicanos and left their hometowns in search of the
activist life. Some traveled to California's Central Valley and
joined the United Farm Workers to organize migrant laborers.
Others protested against the Vietnam War because the draft
disproportionately selected Chicanos. Regardless of specific
cause, nearly everyone in the nascent movimiento agreed on the
necessity of an overarching vision. In the spring of 1969, about
1,000 Chicanos from across the country attended the National
Chicano Youth Liberation Conference in Denver for that purpose.
A month later, a larger conference took place at UC Santa Barbara.
>From these conferences emerged two documents—El Plan Espiritual
de Aztlán and El Plan de Santa Barbara. Together amounting to a
sort of Port Huron Statement for the Chicano movement, el Plan
Espiritual explicitly laid out a call for Chicano empowerment:
"In the spirit of a new people that is conscious not only of its
proud historical heritage but also of the brutal `gringo' invasion
of our territories, we [emphasis in the original], the Chicano
inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztlán from
whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their birth
and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun,
declare [emphasis in the original] that the call of our blood
is our power, our responsibility, and our inevitable destiny."
The Plan de Santa Barbara contained similar rhetoric, and both
documents went on to delineate what conference attendees thought
important to rally the marginalized Chicano masses toward a
better life: control of political and economic institutions, a
love of one's raza (literally "race," but here taken to mean
cultural heritage), even the formation of a national political
party "since the two-party system is the same animal with two
heads that feed from the same trough."
The national party, La Raza Unida Party, fizzled out after a
couple of victories in Texas during the early 1970s, but the
other result of the Denver and Santa Barbara conferences was
the formation of MEChA.
There had been other Chicano student organizations during the
late 1960s—UMAS (United Mexican American Students) and MAYO
(Mexican American Youth Organization) among them—but the
explicitly activist message of the plans and the need for a
common group led to the rise of MEChA. Almost all existing
Chicano student associations eventually transformed into MEChA
chapters, still running on hundreds of college and high school
campuses across the United States. There's no overarching
central body, however—no MEChA national headquarters, no budget,
no supreme leader. The Plans called for each MEChA club to be
an autonomous group that interacts with other factions only in
monthly regional and yearly national conferences. It is, in
essence, the very model of self-governing local control that
Republicans dream about.
Since MEChA was set up as a student organization, its clubs
tended to concentrate on recruiting Chicano students to higher
education and asking for Chicano Studies programs at universities,
rather than implementing the economic or political visions of
the plans. This isn't surprising: the Plan de Santa Barbara made
sure to state that education was the primary goal of all Chicanos:
"Chicanos recognize the central importance of institutions of
higher learning to modern progress, in this case, to the
development of our community. But we go further: we believe
that higher education must contribute to the formation of a
complete person who truly values life and freedom."
"MEChA walks in concert with the same goals of any other student
academic organization—good citizenship, values, and promotion of
scholarship," says Paul Apodaca, professor of sociology at Chapman
University and advisor to the college's MEChA chapter since
1995. "Our goal is to strengthen colleges in their effectiveness
to create global citizens by increasing the number of Chicanos
on campus. We see students arrive at Chapman from high schools
that never sent a student to college. We use the collective of
MEChA to promote the students in their desire to better their
lives and communities."
He uses me as an example. I had been apprehensive about joining
MEChA when I attended Chapman University in the 1990s. I had
heard about the obsession with protests, the vitriolic speeches
bashing everyone who wasn't brown, the infamous MEChA clap that
ends every meeting by having members clap in unison,
progressively faster, until someone shouts out "¡Qué viva
la raza!" (Long live the raza!)
But then I actually attended a meeting. I encountered some
extremist rhetoric—but it was aimed at increasing Latino
enrollment on our minority-deficient campus. It was about
mentoring high school students and about creating a support
network for those of us who were the first in our families to
graduate from high school, let alone college. And it wasn't
just Latinos involved in this radical clique. We had African
Americans, Asians, gabachos, even a Kazakh student named Amir
who proudly wore his MEChA shirt emblazoned with the MEChA logo,
an eagle gripping a stick of dynamite. We cared about bettering
the world, and MEChA allowed us to do something about it.
We protested Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas when he
appeared on campus; we supported striking janitors and held
events for all the major Mexican holidays. Mostly, we spent our
free time recruiting high school students to Chapman and tutoring
Chapman administrators loved our dedication, holding us up as
models of what others could aspire to. My fellow Mechistas went
on to work for nonprofit organizations, scored consultant
positions with the Democratic Party, became bankers, turned
into psychologists, made it in Hollywood, interned at the Cato
Institute, were hired by Chapman to recruit students—and this
Mechista went on to graduate summa cum laude from UCLA. Not a
single Mechista dropped out.
The academic portion of MEChA is always lost, however, in
mainstream media depictions of the organization. To most
non-Latinos at colleges and beyond, MEChA is that noisy Mexican
club that protests every grievance imaginable and stages
disruptive classroom walkouts, always waving the Mexican flag.
"UC Irvine wraps the MEChicans with love and affection to
protect them from the rough and tumble world of racists and
bigots," went a typical criticism of MEChA, this one in the
June issue of the UC Irvine conservative newsletter The Irvine
Review. "In honor of Cinco de Mayo, the Sigma Pi fraternity
threw a `Drinko for Cinco' party and held a few events that
made light of the Mexican culture. This was so offensive that
MEChA complained and UC Irvine rushed to rescue the powerless
MEChicans. Of course, it mattered little to MEChA that there
were a bunch of raging drunk Chicanos walking around campus
housing after their little fiestas, doing much more harm to
the Mexican culture in general than a few white kids could
ever do dressing up in sarapés [sic] and drinking crappy Corona
beer with that stupid lime wedged on top."
Apodaca doesn't deny that MEChA agitates, but stresses that
the confrontation of racism or exploitation is of secondary
importance to educating students. "MEChA is not a political
organization," he said. "We never endorse political candidates.
But MEChA does take up causes that match its goals of empowering
students and letting others know of injustices. The politics
of the times creates MEChA's actions, not the other way
around. . . . We don't promote an agenda—we promote the student.
And MEChA has put more Chicanos through college than any other
Even Art Pedroza Jr. gave MEChA a chance during his time at
UCLA. "I tried attending a meeting once, but I immediately heard
the whisperings that I didn't look very Latino," he told me.
"I was put off immediately." He says "belonging to MEChA isn't
particularly negative. What MEChA has done the most is support
Chicanos as they go to college. To me, it's a fraternity more
than anything else."
Nevertheless, think tanks like the California Coalition for
Immigration Reform (CCIR, authors of Proposition 187), the
Hoover Institute and the American Enterprise Institute have
ranted against MEChA in policy papers for years, warning that
its spread signifies nothing less than a conspiracy aimed at
destroying the United States. Most of the attacks focus on
the language of the plans and the name of MEChA itself.
The "A" in MEChA stands for "Aztlán," the mythical birthplace
of the Aztecs that supposedly existed in the Southwestern
United States. During the 1960s, Chicanos took up the Aztlán
legend as a spiritual solidarity point. The writers of the
Plan de Aztlán incorporated the origin myth into the document,
albeit in a rather militaristic tone:
"We are free and sovereign to determine those tasks which are
justly called for by our house, our land, the sweat of our brows,
and by our hearts. Aztlán belongs to those who plant the seeds,
water the fields, and gather the crops and not to the foreign
Europeans. We do not recognize capricious frontiers on the
"Brotherhood unites us, and love for our brothers makes us a
people whose time has come and who struggle against the
foreigner `gabacho' who exploits our riches and destroys our
culture. With our heart in our hands and our hands in the soil,
we declare the independence of our mestizo nation. We are a
bronze people with a bronze culture. Before the world, before
all of North America, before all our brothers in the bronze
continent, we are a nation, we are a union of free pueblos,
we are Aztlán [emphasis in the original]."
"Substitute `Aryan' for `mestizo' and `white' for `bronze,'"
wrote syndicated columnist Michelle Malkin on Aug. 20. "Not
much difference between the nutty philosophy of Bustamante's
MEChA and Papa Schwarzenegger's evil Nazi Party."
Almost all the attacks against Bustamante and other former
MEChA members operate under the assumption that Mechistas
faithfully follow such inflammatory guidelines. But Apodaca
points out that such language was never meant to be taken
"The language reflects the period in which MEChA was created,"
he said. "The repudiation of `gabacho' and `European' in the
statements is a call for rejecting dominance and intolerance
by mainstream society. These statements were never against
whites or American society any more than anti-Nazi statements
are anti-German. They're not talking about white people,
they're talking about gringoism—the oppression of the era
against Chicanos and Mexicans."
Even Pedroza agrees with Apodaca on this. "I knew this Cuban
student at UCLA during the 1970s—rich, full-on Republican type,"
he said. "I remember vividly this guy trying to join a fraternity.
They ended up leaving him passed out drunk in the middle of a
road one night far away. They had no intentions of letting him
into the frat. If you wanted to get into a club, for many
Latinos, MEChA was it.
"The stuff talked about in the documents are legitimate
grievances that are out there held by Chicanos," Pedroza
continues. "They're family stories.
"But rhetoric about brown pride and love for Chicanismo drives
people crazy," he adds. "If Bustamante and other politicians
don't repudiate language like that, they'll hurt their
When asked about his involvement with MEChA during the 1970s
at Fresno State at an Aug. 28 press conference, Bustamante
was unapologetic. "The students who are in MEChA today are just
like the students when I was there: pretty much they are trying
to get an education," Bustamante said. "The actuality of what
takes place in these organizations is to provide student
But in a 1999 interview, Bustamante tried to distance himself
from being seen as too revolutionary during his stay at Fresno
State. "I wasn't the most radical Mechista," he told a Latino
wire service. "At the same time, there were a lot of Vietnam
veteranos attending school. They were like big brothers, and
they taught me a lot."
"If he has any intentions of winning, he has to deal directly
with MEChA and be upfront. He can't have it both ways,"
Pedroza said. "The great unknown in this election is the
middle—and the middle doesn't like hearing things like
Pedroza is right, which is why the MEChA card easily jumped
from the far-right fringe to the mainstream. Take the case of
Los Angeles city council member Antonio Villaraigosa. Most
pundits figured the former Assembly speaker was certain to
become Los Angeles' first Latino mayor in over a century during
the 2001 mayoral race. Villaraigosa had secured the backing of
various unions, progressive activists, Westside millionaires
and other community leaders, and was favored by a majority-
Latino city aching for one of its own to assume the mayor's
But to the surprise of many, Villaraigosa lost. A host of
reasons factored in the result—a vicious campaign by Jim Hahn
supporters associating Villaraigosa with a former crack dealer
and the overwhelming African American support for Hahn were two
crucial aspects. But perhaps just as critical was the media's
focus on Villaraigosa's MEChA past. The media followed the lead
of anti-immigrant activist Hal Netkin, who devoted an entire
website (www.mayorno.com) to depicting Villaraigosa as
anti-American and even conducted an automated voter campaign
to thousands of Valley residents telling voters of
Villaraigosa's MEChA past.
"Those guys did an all-out attack against me," said Villaraigosa,
who headed the UCLA MEChA chapter during the 1970s. "They tried
to take out a giant ad in the Los Angeles Times and Los Angeles
Daily News painting me as a rabid Chicano activist, and then
sued both papers when each refused to run it. They would show
up at mayoral debates and say that I was the leader of the
reconquista while passing out info about MEChA and Aztlán. It
But it worked. The 2001 election results showed that
Villaraigosa lost thanks to an unlikely coalition of
conservative white San Fernando Valley voters and otherwise-
liberal African Americans voters. The only other time such a
coalition occurred was in 1994, when each constituency
overwhelmingly voted for Prop. 187. Not coincidentally,
this is also the last time MEChA received such prominent
coverage in the press.
Villaraigosa isn't the only politician to suffer from the
MEChA paintbrush. Former Santa Ana school board member Nativo
Lopez was reviled by his opponents because of his close MEChA
ties, and similar accusations now plague Arizona freshman
congressman Raúl Grijalva. Now, it's Bustamante's turn.
"It's reprehensible what they're doing to Bustamante and
other Latino candidates," Villaraigosa said. "I think these
people that attempt to portray Latino candidates as out of
the mainstream are doing so for the purpose of injecting race
or ethnicity in a campaign where it's clearly not relevant."
Apodaca says accusing Latinos of subversive leanings because
of their MEChA links is like Herbert Hoover's supporters
speculating that 1928 Democratic presidential candidate Al
Smith, a Catholic, would take orders from the pope.
"Smith's Catholicism really functioned as anti-immigrant
rhetoric," he said. "Politics is all about the code talk.
Anti-MEChA statements are simple code for anti-Mexican
sentiments by resentful whites."
And resentment grows as Latinos, already the largest minority
group in the United States, gain increasing political clout.
Pedroza—the man who purposefully used the MEChA smear against
Bustamante because he knew it would turn Register readers
against the candidate—believes it's useless to think something
so effective will ever go away.
"Until these [Latino politicians] disavow the more disturbing
portions of MEChA, until they put the fire out, it's going to
keep on smoldering," Pedroza said. "And a bit of gas will set