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Defying the Census

For the year 2000 Census, here's a potentially radical idea: U.S. residents of Mexican or Central American-origin, as well as most other Latinos should declare themselves "Native American" on the Census questionnaire.

The way it is now, most Latinos are virtually obliged to put themselves in the "white" racial category, even though they are the descendants of indigenous people who have lived in the Americas for thousands of years.

In Mexico and Central America, the people there do not consider themselves white, but rather indigenous-based "mestizos," or simply indigenous. In fact, most Latinos are a mixture of Indian, African and European lineage. Only a minute percentage--primarily the ruling elites--are considered white (or Spanish).

Stanford anthropologist Renato Rosaldo says that mestizos, because of their red-brown skin, are treated as "Indian" by our racialized society once they cross into the United States. The discrimination they are confronted with stirs within mestizos or Hispanicized Indians a newfound awareness of their Indian heritage that many had long ago discarded in their homelands.

Incidentally, virtually all Americans are of mixed ancestry, yet the bureau has traditionally opted for "one-drop" rules which result in "pure" categories.

The Census Bureau has long known that for racial purposes, its forms produce completely flawed results when tallying Latinos in the United States, but it has failed to act. So we have decided to do its work for it. After all, the Census Bureau should not be in the business of determining people's identities. As it well knows, its categories are not biological or scientific, but political.

When Census bureaucrats imposed the term "Hispanic" as an ethnic (not racial category in the 1970s, they stated that "Hispanics may be of any race." Yet when compiling statistics, the Census has tended to count the vast majority of Latinos into the "white" category, and only a few into the "black" category.

This practice belies reality and reveals either ineptitude, or shame, on the part of the Latino bureaucrats who have historically advised the Census. Nearly half of Latinos traditionally select the "other" race category. However, because the bureau believes they are confused (98 percent of all those who chose "other" in the 1990 Census were Latinos), it has traditionally counted most Latino "others" as white by default. Lacking viable options, in the 1990 Census, about half of the Latino population selected the "white" category.

Many Latinos check the "white" category because the bureau does not offer a mestizo (or mulatto) option, or because they have been told that they can not designate themselves as Native Americans.

If, for example, Rigoberta Menchu, the 1992 Nobel Prize winner from Guatemala, were to move to the United States, according to the bureau, she should not check off the "Native American" box on the questionnaire. Only members of U.S. federally registered tribes are supposed to exercise this option, even though the majority of Native Americans originate south of the U.S./Mexico border.

Additionally, the historical anti-Mexican/Indian attitudes of this society have convinced many people--particularly Mexicans themselves--that there's something wrong with being Mexican, thus many identify as white.

Today, Mexicans/Latinos are generally no longer ashamed of their ancestry. Yet we are still waiting for institutional recognition from the Census Bureau that it is OK for Latinos to acknowledge their indigenous roots.

Perhaps its bureaucrats incorrectly believe that "Native Americans" are a race of people particular to the United States. Consequently, the Census confuses nationality with race.

The option we suggest doesn't require government approval, nor does it require a 10-year study by government Hispanics. All it requires is for Mexicans/Latinos to check the "Native American" box and do it proudly. Many have long personally identified themselves in this manner already.

If the bureau respects self-identity as it says it does, this simple act should not confound it.

As for those who might oppose this idea because it might cause a decrease in the number of people who choose the ethnic category of "Hispanic," the fears are groundless. One is a racial category and the other is an ethnic one. This fear is predicated on the idea that less "Hispanics" means less federa dollars and that there is a connection between an accurate census count and the proper enforcement of civil rights laws. This fear reveals an entitlement mentality and also a naivete in believing that civil rights laws are enforced as a result of census counts rather than political pressure.

For those who might be concerned that this group may then qualify for benefits not entitled to them--not to worry. It wouldn't entitle them to anything that is due members of U.S. federally recognized tribes--other than dignity.

Chile's Democracy in Question as
It Contemplates Joining NAFTA

President Clinton has recently indicated that Chile's entry into NAFTA is a top priority for his administration and he is seeking speedy congressional approval for its inclusion into the trade pact. Chile, which is still subject to the whims of its ex-dictator, General Augusto Pinochet, would become the fourth member of the North American Free Trade Agreement, joining Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Not waiting for the formalities of NAFTA, Canada and Chile already signed a free trade agreement last month.

Chile may be but the first country to join what may become a hemispheric trading bloc involving all the countries of the Americas. Proponents of this plan even envision Cuba joining this bloc, post-Castro and post-communism.

The prerequisites for joining the exclusive NAFTA club is a democratic form of government and a healthy economy. As far as the United States is concerned, a country is deemed to be democratic if it has held free elections.

Chile unquestionably has a healthy economy, but many of its citizens, despite its "free and fair" elections, question the democracy of its form of government.

The democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was deposed in 197 by the CIA-backed forces of Pinochet. The ruthless dictator oversaw a military junta responsible for the death and disappearances of thousands of civilians.

Pinochet formally relinquished power in 1990 as a result of a plebiscite in which the citizens of Chile cast a vote of no-confidence. Despite the vote, Pinochet remains "commander of the army for life." A 1978 amnesty law, which pardoned anyone (read, members of the military) involved in the excesses of the time, has made today's fragile democracy possible.

Despite a democratically elected president, Eduardo Frei, many consider Pinochet--generalissimo for life--the true power in Chile.

In the past few months, the ongoing press censorship and the detention of those who have criticized Pinochet have caused a nationwide uproar. Most recently, Gladys Marin, the widow of one of the "disappeared," was jailed for three days. Her crime was speaking at a rally commemorating Chile's "disappeared citizens." At the rally, she denounced Pinochet as a blackmailer and a psychopath. The former dictator had Marin arrested for violating the nation's censorship laws, alleging that she had libeled him.

There is good reason why Pinochet engineered his new lifetime position. If he were to be removed from his post--assuming the armed forces would support President Frei--Pinochet probably would face charges as a war criminal. Eve if he did not face charges, chances are likely that he could meet the same fate as his comrade, the late General Anastasio Somoza. The Nicaraguan dictator was gunned down in Paraguay in the 1980s, where he fled after he had been deposed by the Sandinistas in 1979.

Pinochet still has lots of enemies, particularly family members of those who were "disappeared," including many guerrillas. Yet the truth is, most of the victims were not guerrillas, but simply oppositional voices.

Today, oppositional voices are not disappearing, but are subject to censorship. As novelist Isabel Allende, niece of the former president, recently stated, freedom of expression does not exist in Chile.

That lack of freedom is well known to the Clinton administration, but it will not deter the United States from allowing Chile into the NAFTA club. Human rights abuses in China have never deterred our country from awarding it "most favored nation" trade status.

That's the nature of free trade--the objective is to increase markets and profit, without concern for human rights. Mexico's mass violation of human rights of its indigenous populations did not prevent Mexico from joining NAFTA either.

It's been almost three years since NAFTA went into effect and the Zapatistas rose up in defiance. Today, at best, NAFTA gets questionable marks for its economic results. As we all know, Mexico's economy has been in shambles eve since it devaluated the peso three years ago. On the human rights front, the military campaign by the Mexican Army in Chiapas has led to charges of widespread abuses--by both the armed forces and right-wing land owners and their hired thugs.

Interestingly, law enforcement agencies within the United States, too, have been accused by international human rights organizations of participating in a continual mass violation of human rights--police brutality against its black and brown populations.

But it's not likely that Chile will hold that against the United States--especially if the less than exemplar Pinochet is still somewhere lurking in the shadows.

Students Vow to Oppose Proposition 209

The weekend after the presidential elections, approximately 1600 Chicano/Chicana students met at California State University at Northridge fo the regularly scheduled fall statewide MEChA conference. But what began as conference turned into a huge protest and rally against the recently passed Proposition 209, otherwise known as the California Civil Rights Initiative (CCRI).

Students at the MEChA or Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan) conference resolved to counter CCRI -- which outlaws the use of race, ethnicity or gender in state hiring, contracting an college admissions -- through a campaign of resistance and organized civil disobedience.

While the conference dealt with many issues relevant to the Mexican/Chicano community, the freshness of the election served to focus the attention of th students on Proposition 209.

On the other hand, the California State University system, on the other hand has decided on a course of generally continuing to operate in the same manne until told to do otherwise by the courts. The University of California announced earlier in the week that it has decided to comply with Proposition 209.

As expected, a number of groups have already challenged the legality of the proposition in court. Both proponents and opponents of Proposition 209 expec that similar to Proposition 187 -- which restricts services to immigrants -- CCRI will be tied up in the courts for several years.

Prior to the MEChA conference, students at UC Berkeley had already staged a rally and protest, including 28 students taking over the tower on campus, i response to actions by the University of California. In a Nov. 6 memo sent out by the UC system, UC President Richard Atkinson stated: "We are well along in this process as a result of the Regents action last year eliminatin race, gender, and ethnicity as factors in admission, hiring, and contracting."

In an accompanying letter from the University of California system, C. Judso King, UC provost and senior vice president of academic affairs sent out guidelines which generally state that "No further action need be taken."

In reference to hiring and contracting programs, he states: "Since Regent's resolution SP-2 went into effect on Jan. 1, 1998, and contains the same prohibitions regarding preferences as does Proposition 209, there is no need to take further action in these areas at this time." In reference to graduat and professional admissions, King states that that UC is already in compliance with 209. However, for undergraduate admissions, the same prohibitions were to go into effect in 1998, but as a result of 209, said King: "effective immediately, campuses may no longer use race, ethnicity or national origin as one of the supplemental criteria used to select admitted students from the pool of eligible students."

Additionally, unless directed by the courts to do otherwise, state financial aid on the basis of race, ethnicity or gender will be eliminated for 1998. Other programs will be reviewed by the UC Outreach Task Force, which is scheduled to make recommendations in February.

Jennie Luna, co-chair of UC Berkeley MEChA and one of the students arrested said that students from throughout the UC are especially upset that the Regents are complying even prior to a court order.

Prior to the passage of 209, "students were actually unaware of the severity of the issue, of the repercussions," said Luna. Aside from recruitment, financial aid and retention programs, one of the other big fears is that the university may move to eliminate ethnic studies. "Anything that is ethnic-based will be against the law. For the next few weeks, you will see lots of civil disobedience," she predicted.

Jesus Mena, public information officer for UC Berkeley said that fears regarding the elimination of ethnic studies or women studies centers are unwarranted. "There should be no impact," he said. The university is still studying its options regarding Proposition 209, but in reference to ethnic studies centers, they are protected under academic freedom and the First Amendment he said. As long as they are open to all students, which they are, he said, they will not be affected.

Regarding the MEChA conference, Feliberto Gonzalez, chairman of CSUN MEChA says that "students came looking for answers -- as to what do we do now?" He too predicts a series of statewide protests in the coming weeks.

"The David Dukes of the world have now taken off their "mascaras" (masks)," he said, adding that rather than chaos, the protests will be well organized.

Whereas some might expect people of color to be down as a result of the passage of Proposition 187 and now Proposition 209, Gonzalez said that it ha actually served to unite and reinvigorate students. The conference attracted more than 50 college chapters and several high school MEChA chapters. MEChA, he said is also preparing itself for non-recognition. In fact, he said he welcomes it. MEChA should not be in the position of seeking approval to exist or function, he said.

Gonzalez said that MEChA is prepared to wage a long struggle to counter Propositions 187 and 209. "We know this struggle will not be won in a couple of months." He predicts that the next MEChA statewide conference this spring in Santa Barbara will be a crossroads.

Rudy Acuna, one of the co-founders of Chicano Studies at CSUN said that he saw the conference as very positive in terms of how students are responding. "Students feel the pressure. They're under attack."

In addition to the generalized polarization and racism that is part of California politics, Acuna said that certain hate groups have focused their attacks against MEChA. One such group, he noted, is the San Fernando-based Voices for Concerned Citizens. "They's out to destroy MEChA, he says, noting that they have placed full page ads in local newspapers against the organization and are stalking its leaders.

Acuna's assessment of Proposition 209 is that "it is disastrous." It is an attempt to push people of color out of the educational system, he said.

He said that Spanish-language press had not been as vocal as they had been i the campaign against Proposition 187. Additionally, he said white women overwhelmingly voted in the interests of their husbands. "Many are racists and they overrode their own interests. However, he said, "If [many] white women hadn't voted against proposition 209, it would passed 80 percent to 20 percent instead of 59 percent," he said.

Rocky Ortiz, director of the National Xicano Human Rights Council and one of the keynote speakers reiterated that the passage of 209 is a blessing in disguise. "It's a kick in the rear." She noted that the current form of affirmative action is not what's needed. People of color have always had their own affirmative action, she said. "It's called decolonization."

Meanwhile, in response to the passage of Proposition 209, Tirso de Junco, chairman of the Board of Regents of the University of California reassured the university community that: "With the passage of Proposition 209, the citizens of California have affirmed the Board of Regent's July 1995 decision."

"When the Regents made their decision over a year ago, they underscored thei strong and enduring commitment t diversity."

Del Junco further stated that "My colleagues and I on the Board of Regents are convinced that we can create a future for California in which all of our students are given the educational opportunity and preparation they must hav to succeed. We will work with President Atkinson, the Chancellors, and everyone who cares about education in our state to see that this future arrives as soon as possible."

by Patrisia Gonzales & Roberto Rodriguez

These Articles are Reproduced with Permission from the Authors.

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