MEChA protest creating necessary tension

Editor:

Re: the recent actions of MEChA. Some of the criticisms of MEChA that have been published and/or otherwise communicated to me are that (1) what occurred (the slur "spic" being directed at MEChA members) was an isolated incident and therefore should not be blown out of proportion; (2) MEChA is being unfair to the Greek system; (3) MEChA is intent on protesting for its own sake and has not tried to mediate the issue or otherwise work it out; (4) MEChA should focus its attention on other, more important issues. Some have even said that what MEChA is doing is embarrassing to the "Hispanic" community. I believe some perspective is needed.

First, it should be known that the situation that MEChA is confronting is not an isolated incident. I am aware of at least 15 incidents, over the past four or five years, in which the slur "spic" and others such as wetback, Why don't you go back to Mexico, etc., have been directed at Chicano/Hispano students. In every single instance, the people uttering the racist epithets were members of or were associated with Greek organizations. Thus, what MEChA is reacting to is not an isolated incident at all. In the specific incident at issue, several people - not just one - associated with Kappa Sigma were overheard making racist comments about Chicanos/Hispanos.

My office has been assisting MEChA in its efforts to resolve this issue "through the system" for over four months. However, every door was being closed in MEChA's face. Dealing with the other incidents referred to above was just as frustrating. Because these issues are uncomfortable to deal with or for some other reason, it seems that people are loathe to confront them.

Exacerbating the frustration that the MEChA leadership has experienced in this respect is the fact that after a frustrating series of events, a mediation meeting was finally arranged in November. Everyone who was supposed to be at this meeting showed up except for the Kappa Sigma member who was directly involved in the incident, making mediation impossible. Last week I witnessed a very civil conversation between the MEChA president and a Kappa Sigma member. The MEChA member spoke earnestly about the situation, expressing the reason why slurs are not taken lightly by our community, etc. When Tomas asked the Kappa Sigma member for his views, the Kappa Sigma member responded by saying that he could not talk about the issue, that he and the other members of the fraternity had been ordered not to discuss the situation. Thus, this conversation was entirely one-sided. Unilateral discussions do not lend themselves to resolution of differences.

That MEChA is being demonized in the press and elsewhere is not surprising to me. When I was president of MEChA over 20 years ago, I and my colleagues also confronted issues of racism and anti-Chicano attitudes openly, and we too were demonized and pilloried in the press. There was a time in the recent history of Arizona and other states when people who considered us spics and wetbacks, etc., did not consider us good enough to eat in the same restaurants, swim in public swimming pools, etc., as they. The reason that those racist policies changed is that courageous people stood up and fought those policies and the attitudes behind them. Those people were also criticized severely and accused of overreacting, of being too sensitive and the like. But they persevered and eventually prevailed.

Thus, MEChA is in excellent historical company, something that they should be proud of. I personally thank MEChA for having the pride to be insulted by such slurs and the integrity to do something about the situation, even in the face of criticism.

What MEChA is doing is making some people uncomfortable. That is good. I believe that many people on this campus share the attitudes that inhere in the term "spic" and that those who utter this epithet can count on many supporters and apologists, as evidenced by the public and private response to MEChA's actions. What MEChA is doing is saying in no uncertain terms that anti-Chicano/Hispano slurs and actions will not go unchallenged, an attitude that I find commendable. Thus, to the extent that anti-Chicano/Hispano attitudes continue to be manifested, I anticipate much more uncomfortableness being generated in the future. However, a much more preferable scenario for the future would be for people who harbor racist notions or who believe that racial slurs and stereotypes are harmless to re-evaluate their beliefs and actions and deal with all people in a dignified and civilized manner.

Salomon R. Baldenegro
assistant dean
Chicano/Hispano Student Affairs

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