“Hope for Change”:
The Slogan of the Established Opposition to the Establishment
August 29, 2010
Around 1971 in an autobiographical essay, The Brown Buffalo -Oscar Zeta Acosta- our famous militant Chicano lawyer who used key cases as a platform to put the entire system on trial, and who defended among others the East Los 13, the Biltmore Six, and Corky Gonzales, put it succinctly regarding why as Mexicans we can’t or won’t ever realize our goals of freedom when he stated, “We don’t kid ourselves anymore. We know we’re headed for a head-on collision with the rest of society. We’re absolutely convinced of it and we’re not being paranoid or nothing. We know that the main thing we want now is not better education or better jobs or better housing, because we know that they are not possible to achieve.” “You can’t be a class or a nation without land. Without it, it doesn’t have any meaning. It’s that simple. So we are beginning to see that what we’re talking about is getting land and having our own government, period. It is that clear-cut. As to what land, that is still in the future. We have to develop the consciousness of land as the principal issue, just as three years ago we had to develop the consciousness of identity as the principal issue.”
We arrive 40 yrs. later preparing this month to memorialize the attacks of rioting police, Ruben Salazar’s assassination, and to celebrate the August 29, 1970 Chicano moratorium against the war in Vietnam. What we are facing today as indigenous people is no different from when Oscar spoke these prophetic words four decades ago. Land is still the number one issue at hand in which all else, class, race, and social-political standing falls under. Was Acosta correct? Let us look at history.
Ask yourself: was it not land that was at the heart of the issue in 1498 when the pirate Columbus and his invader henchmen touched down on our shores? Land was at the heart of the matter in 1519 when Columbus’ homeboy the European boat person Cortez illegally immigrated here. Land was at the heart of the issue in 1776 when those European alien Pilgrims declared their independence from their British oppressors and began, step-by-step, from the east coast all the way to the west to dispossess our ancestors of Native tribal land. Land was at the heart of the matter on September 16, 1810 when Father Miguel Hidalgo’s “Grito de Dolores” summoned all Mexicans to pick up arms and fight for our independence from Spain. Land was likewise at stake in 1863 when the French invaders tried to install the imperial government of Maximilian. In response, President Benito Juarez, defender of land and independence, resisted against the foreign occupiers and put Maximilian and his wife in front of a firing squad, killing them for violating Mexican sovereignty and trying to continue to propagate the enslavement of our race. After Juarez died, land was still at the heart of the matter in 1848 when the descendents of the Spanish ownership class in the government of Mexico sold us out and allowed the U.S. to use military force to steal all of the Southwest and occupy it. When the early 1900’s rolled around we witnessed the Mexican Liberal Party jump on the scene whose war cry was, “Tierra y Libertad!” or “Land & Liberty!” Its leaders included courageous men like Ricardo and Enrique Flores-Magón, Librado Rivera, and Práxedis Guerrero - one of the most developed Mexican writers and military strategists who coined the slogan, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”. His contemporary was Emiliano Zapata who used this slogan successfully to continue to rally the people to realize that land and the control of it was at the heart of the matter and would be the only way that the Mexican Revolution of 1910 would be won. In 1994 the Zapatista’s (EZLN) in Chiapas did not forget their history.
Flash forward to 2010. The Chicano Moratorium and its organizers use the number 40 to denote the continuation in the struggle for justice. But, have we in the Chicano movement always been faithful to our predecessors land based struggles? It goes without saying that every aspect of the Chicano Movement plays a very important role and saying that it failed in certain respects does not make the entire struggle irrelevant. Unquestionably the Moratorium was the beginning of a more serious anti-war/anti-police brutality stance in L.A. and at the same time Chicano’s everywhere were addressing education, housing, drugs, jobs, and civil rights. But I will venture to say that outside Reies Lopez Tijerina, Corky Gonzales, and maybe even the Brown Berets to a certain extent, the Chicano movement by and large has failed to develop a sustained consciousness of land as our principal issue. The consequences and repercussions associated with land acquisition or repossession which is one of the gravest threats to an occupier, a homesteader, or a squatter may have prevented this. But today, it is imperative for us to resurrect the idea that land held in common is the only path to peace and justice. It is the only way to feed and clothe ourselves which in turn will provide us with the opportunity to benefit entirely from our labor, employ our creative talents, and create the opportunities to further develop our intellectual capacity that will make us free human beings and not slaves in bondage to private land owners and corporate profiteers who pimp us.
Whether working as wage slaves or on land that we don’t own or organizing ourselves around a cause that is intimately connected to property, all of our struggles have in on way shape or form originated from land dispossession. It has been this way ever since the first thief appeared and said, “This piece of earth is mine”. Today, as it always stands, the most critical issues we face such as education, housing, employment, imprisonment, health-care, and so-called immigration reform are deeply connected to our lack of land. This cannot continue to be overlooked or left out of the equation because it has everything to do with self-determination. The Brown Buffalo was right. Until we come to accept and rally around this historical reality we cannot begin any meaningful discussion or debate or much less get to the root of our problems if the issue of land is not taken into consideration and at the forefront of our thoughts and organizational strategies.
Will our leaders agree? Unfortunately not once since Obama has been (s)elected have I heard any of the Chicano/a political establishment and their religious and academic counterparts mention land with regard to immigration and our lack of control thereof in Mexico or in the Americas. Could it be that they have been made afraid to say anything about land by those who scare everyone into thinking that we supposedly want Aztlán back? Or that we absurdly hate and want to expel all white people? Every one of their internal discussions and public debates is always framed around asking the ownership class for permission for us to either stay here and absurdly be licensed, made legal, be given a pardon (amnesty), or a pinche green card to be allowed freedom of movement in occupied America. We have the numbers and power to demand and receive everything and anything we want but why is the opposite happening? Because the Chicano establishment, who are no different from that heavily entrenched Spanish/Mexican establishment south of the boarder, have continuously allowed the discussion of our presence here to be framed around us as visitors which allows our very long and distinct history and relationship to the earth/land in the so-called Americas to be overlooked and outright hidden.
This is behavior that can best be identified as cultivating submission and begging for acceptance. For example, their relationship and faith in the Democratic Party has turned us into nothing but political chumps who invest our hopes and dreams in Obama as a fraud. Through buying into false hope the Chicano elite has nicely adopted and allowed words of mass appeal to be used such as immigrants, reform, the Dream-Act (American Dream), and amnesty (a pardon) to frame our demands. And, as if it is possible, they even go so far as to plead with our tormentors for us to be treated fairly and humanely. This is a very non-confrontational response to lethal attacks on our children, families and community. The Chicano elite commits a severe disservice to all of the people of the world fighting for their humanity when they behave this way. But it is not without reason. The words adopted for our demands by most of our leaders express their aspirations and it’s safe to say can do nothing but lead to actions that sell us out and secure their own careers. These words speak volumes about their goals and intentions for our lives. When they materialize it will only keep us in a tight straight jacket on display as good little Mexicans and continue to pull us head first by the chains around our necks into one category: INTEGRATION. The kind of integration that causes Mexicanos by the thousands to become Border Patrol Agents, police officers, lawyers to prosecute us, judges to give out life sentences to our youth, doctors who push poison for profit, and Scabs that cross picket lines and kill the union. It’s the type of poisonous integration that causes immigrant college graduates to become blindly loyal to their host nation and use their degrees as a springboard out of the community to never return and help the Barrio but to go on to help international capital consolidate its power for trade-offs such as nice cars, expensive homes, thousand dollar purses, and all the other trappings of a society that should not be emulated any place on a sane earth. We’re talking about the type of wretched integration that gives our people debt, diabetes, shopping sickness, dyed hair, fake breasts, alcoholism, and war fever. Thus, when speaking of our future and freedom and the kind of change we are seeking, anything connected to integrating in any way whatsoever into the American nightmare will only continue to destructively feed us to Capitalism and bring us full circle right back to the same problems over and over again chasing our tails and pausing only long enough to lick our masters feet and ask for more scraps to eat from his table.
For centuries during any and all of our upheavals the Mexican political establishment on both sides of the imposed border have worked closely hand in hand with our oppressors to guide and steer any grassroots working class movement towards the clutch of the hairy hand of the beast that, when all is said and done, is lifted up to his bloody insatiable mouth where he hungrily puts all of us whole to be chewed up, swallowed and sent down the same old tunnel of conformity where we’re digested and assimilated and then evacuated devoid of any revolutionary substance. At his dinner table, which is the world and everything in it, the bloody beast sinks his fangs in and severs our spine effectively putting out any rebellious fire through the ages that keeps us standing on our own two feet to challenge him. Again and again it happens and always with the unwavering help of his favorite little faithful children and messengers….The Mexicano/Chicano elite, the House Negroes of the Barrios…those whose strategy throughout all time has been self-preservation and placing no real demands on the power structure.
They represent and uphold its power and inequality while faking progress by calling on us in the present day to believe in the hope for change served up and embodied in a black president whose bloodlines are the same that course through his slave masters veins. In this way we infinitely shuffle forward in a stupor paralyzed so that we may never be able to leave the realm of that ring of formal and electoral prison politics where the creators of slavery and its perpetuators eternally defend their heavyweight accomplice titles as Mayors, Priests, CEO’s, Senators, Governors, Congressmen/women, and Presidents whose names on the floor of the House and Senate and in the halls of all government are co-operation, compromise, moderation, patience, reform, respect, submission, non-violence and hesitation in the face of exploitation by rapacious bankers and bosses, terror by tyrants, bloody pursuits by La Migra, occupation by war mongering invaders, mass murder by malignantly wicked bomb droppers, hunger because of gluttonous hoarders, and imprisonment by sadistic men in a suit who wear the symbol of the noose in the form of a tie around their necks who consult with men in robes with gavels falsifying and misrepresenting their power over our souls in this earthly prison they build to house our bodies in. But, the Mexican soul cannot be imprisoned! Ya Basta! We are not naïve. We have a long tradition of resistance. We do not want your standards! Our ancient indigenous hearts are not self-serving and we do not seek any longer to trade our long term visions and goals for short term gains. Our children are too important to us, our mother earth and the entire universe as human beings means too much to us. Everything is on the line.
Do you think you can outwit the underdogs? Our strength as Mexicans in the face of prejudice, alienation, and being used as scapegoats has always been in precisely the fact that we do not fit in and don’t want to. From the underground, no papers or fingerprints to track us, illegal, with no choice but to rebel, we squeeze our trigger fingers and push forward with pride in our brown griminess, our sweat, our dirt, our gutters, our partaking in food we harvest and eat with our hands, and all the while embodying absolutely the greatest expressions of beauty the world has ever seen. Deport us? We are the ultimate desert guerrillas who flower when there is no water and like our ancestors when banished can survive on frogs, snakes, bugs, and mosquito larvae long enough to return and build a cosmic society. We are master improvisers and can adapt to any and all of the worst and most inhospitable conditions you can throw at us. We can survive alone on empty stomachs with only the spiritual food our protector Tonatzin can provide. We labor passionately with pride and Beavers are put to shame with the massive amount of work we do.
Under attack, our survival as a species, as artists, as a group will never be above ground, in the spotlight, in the malls, in the voting booths, on tell-a-lie-vision, on Facebook, or in the halls of any government built with the materials and on the foundation of authority that shelters all of the vultures, shacklers, and bloodsuckers of humankind. Our future victories, like the Vietnamese, will be won from the underground sown together with the threads of poverty that has kept us humble before God for centuries. Call us pagans if you will but our spiritual reality is grounded and connected to that which can be our only provider – the land -La Tierra. And we will defend it to the death.
“Bloodthirsty radical Chicano communists” is what they hurl at us for talk like this. For wanting nothing less than what America’s “founding fathers” killed everyone for, land to empower ourselves. For this we are counseled to have respect, to be non-violent, and given speeches, warnings, and chastisements about our being murderous for calling upon our connection to land and the need for independence. But we are not and never have been the initiators of violence because violence begins with poverty and today we are poorer and dying faster than the time when the Chicano Moratorium was founded. Are we evolving as a people? Maybe Oscar Acosta was right on point when he wrote about progress and the Chicano establishment, identity, and integration when he said:
“I don’t think you’re going to see too much more of demonstrations against education or things of that sort. I think that has petered itself out. A lot of kids have gotten into OEO projects and school projects as a result of the movement, so they’ve been in college for a few years now and they are as hip to what’s being taught in the colleges as the white radicals have been for some years now. They think it is a waste of time, that it takes away what little you have of your identity.
A perfect example is the National La Raza Law Students Association, here in Los Angeles, which I am pretty much associated with. The very first day they started school here on some OEO project I went in and spoke and told them, ‘Half of you will never be lawyers. Those of you that do are going to become so only because of your race. You got into these programs because you’re Chicano. So you owe something to your Raza. Yet, I predict that in three years I’m going to be fighting fifty percent of you guys. You’re going to be my enemies.’ They laughed. But it is a fact. This past year I’ve been working on these major cases of importance to Chicanos not only organizationally but legally, and often I’ve been unable to get the assistance of the Chicano law students. My prophecy to them has come true, except I was wrong in one respect. It is not fifty percent I’m fighting. It is about seventy-five percent. This is why I’m no longer pushing for more school programs, more handouts, and more welfare. I think that will destroy the movement.”
On the 40th anniversary of the Chicano Moratorium let us not become so nostalgic that we romanticize our prior actions and confrontations with Capital and the military industrial complex. Let us continue to evolve in our political and social movements for justice with nothing less than land in mind. I implore you to remember our prior struggles with a sober sense of militancy, what worked and what didn’t, and most of all to defend yourselves and stop asking the creator of your punishing and impoverished co-dependent existence for your freedom or for anything that will hold you in bondage to them. In many ways we can’t blame the system anymore. We have to stand up in mass together and create our independence. One of our most effective weapons for accomplishing this when they stand in our way is to push the idea that their “American Revolution” continues. And why can’t we call upon their historical fight for liberation? Every one of us should carry a copy of the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights with us and commit it to memory. Our struggle is of the same cloth and like other people who have used the American Revolution to inspire their struggles for freedom and independence the entire world is watching to see what the Mexican is going to do.
Today, they have you believing that Arizona is where the fight is. And while this happens and they have the entire nation focused on one southern state, Obama and his henchmen receive another $33.5 billion for a total of $321 billion dollars in their colonial war to consolidate power and the monopoly over the land, resources, and drugs in the Middle East. They put Arizona in the spotlight and quietly send over 46 U.S. warships and 7000 Marines to Costa Rica to prevent any liberation movement from taking control away from their CIA arms and drug money in Colombia. And while they have you believing that Obama is a benevolent black man who inherited a bad situation that is causing him to leave his promises to us unfulfilled, you are peacefully marching in Arizona while they pass a bill on the floor of the House for $600 million in border militarization dollars on top of all of the million dollar spy-drones, surveillance cameras, radar technology, ground sensors, National Guard soldiers, and more fencing. And all of this in fear of the Mexican! Wake up Raza! Arizona is a microcosm of the entire country and like all U.S. citizens who can be deported under the Patriot Act, Mexicans are under siege! No more apathy. We are indigenous to this entire continent and have a psychological advantage because of it. You are not a visitor much less an immigrant. Act like this is your home!
Follow the example of among others, Unión del Barrio, the South Central Farmers, Mujeres de Maíz, and the gente at El Proyecto Jardín. These are our current day heroes who exemplify courageous acts of independence: that of challenging big developers who stop at nothing to keep land away from impoverished communities and who bulldoze and clear-cut, killing trees and destroying food to keep us poor and in a dependent state. The brothers and sisters from the collectives above hit after hit continue organizing around life returning full-circle back to our roots and gathering what resources we have and improvising, organizing, creating, planting, sharing, building, growing, cultivating, tending, and helping every human being from every race produce our freedom in the form of carefully fed soil and tenderly picked food. Gardens are our present day political parties and independence is our harvest. Multiply these sacred spaces by the millions and our future will be in our hands. Communities like this are not hoping for change. They are creating it by teaching and turning out youth whose loyalty is being invested not in political figures or lies but in the earth, art, music, eachother, and plants for knowledge, medicine, balance, understanding, and healing. As we acquire knowledge in this way we revolutionize and learn that it’s in our best interest to reject what the devil offers up in the form of energy sucking cancer causing cell phones, vaccinations, oil dependence, chemically laden foods, drugs, cosmetics, poisoned water, or obesity and laziness causing reservation and mission foods like beef, pork, milk, soda, alcohol, and fast food. Our indigenous selves have stepped forward and arrived on the scene with pride and solutions to our preservation as a species. We are here…the original “organic” gardeners whose traditions will save the planet and the human race from the destruction set upon it by the emissaries of Babylon. Adelante! Tierra y Libertad!
Your Local Field Chicano,
Hueteotl Lopez -
(Nephew of Mangas – Chief of the Brown Buffalo Party – East Los 13)
*Immediately following this essay on my blog you will find Union del Barrio's essay on the 2008 U.S. Presidential election. Please read it. It is one of the most engaging and forward thinking essays written immediately after Obama was elected.