Precious Knowledge and Assimilation

I went to go see Precious Knowledge this last Sunday night. I know I saw some people from the class and if you didn’t get to go, you should definitely try to watch it, it’s worth the watch!

Here’s the trailer:

Something that stood out to me and something that was infuriating to many was the argument that Tom Horn and his supporters were making that Ethnic Studies encourages separation and hate towards others. They called for the Chicanos that were in these classes to assimilate. Assimilation sounds nice and all to some, but to me it seems that these people want others who do not fall into that “American” cookie cutter shape to give up their culture in order to do so. I did a project my freshman year when this topic came up and this is a video I found of a congressman addressing assimilation:

This is frightening because he is asking all people who come from different backgrounds to assimilate by giving up their culture, their heritage, their language. This enforces the idea that if you don’t act correctly “American” or “speak American,” you are refusing to be part of this country. This is very similar to the accusations being made against these Ethnic Studies classes. There was the assumption that just because they were learning history differently (some officials were very disturbed that teachers were insinuating that the Founding Fathers were racist -___-), because they were reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed, because of the Che Guevera picture in the classroom, because Spanglish and Chicano culture were given their due, that these students were being taught to hate the United States and be un-American. What is it to be American though? These officials, many of them older white men, decided that they were the ones who get to decide what being American is to young Chicano high schoolers. People who offer a different view of Americanism were wrong and were not being patriotic because they mentioned that Benjamin Franklin might have been racist. It seems that rather than appreciate Chicano culture that seems to be very prevalent in Arizona, the officials wanted to be rid of it and enforce a culture that these students did not identify with.

Part of the reason I wanted to do this post, aside from the movie, was that on Being Latino, there was a post about Latino assimilation by Daniel Cubais called What Does It Mean for Latinos to “Blend In”? , where he talks about someone who mentioned “My in-laws came from Mexico, and now just a generation later, they are fully assimilated and blend in. Except for being a little darker, you would never know where they were from” and this of course enforces that Latinos should be aiming to be able to “pass for white” (Cubais). Mejorando la raza anyone? For those who don’t know, mejorando la raza, literally means “bettering the race” AKA marry someone with light skin so your children will have lighter skin and will be “better.” This made me realize that, yes, there are Latinos out there who do not value their culture and skin color and want to “fully assimilate.”

Of course for me this brings to mind the Anzaldua and Rodriguez readings that we did at the very beginning of the year. I feel like for the most part, our class agreed more with Anzaldua’s reading of things. Rodriguez however spoke to me in another weird way. I seriously went through school the same way he did, even though I obviously have a different view of the experience because I am in strong support of bilingual education and affirmative action. Watching this film, he seemed to have opinions similar to those of Tom Horn, all this “unnecessary” stuff like Ethnic Studies, etc. He seems to be a product of this type of thinking that is now threatening the Ethnic Studies in Tucson. Anzaldua on the other hand seems to have been/be in a similar place to these students, trying to discover her Chicana identity and navigating through life as displaced and confused, the way many of these students must feel. Her different works capture the struggle she undergoes when she is not fully accepted as American or Mexican, therefore she is a Chicana.

And lastly, there is a petition that Ajua Campos and other groups have begun circulating in support of keeping Ethnic Studies in the Tucson Unified School District.

Please sign it if you haven’t already!


One thought on “Precious Knowledge and Assimilation

  1. I was there with you Gaby watching the movie and I was also upset many times with what Tom Horn was saying about ethnic studies. It troubles me that people like him think that Ethnic Studies produces anti-American feelings to these students. That because we acknowledge the fact that Benjamin Franklin and the other founding fathers were slave owners we are being anti- American. I would like to know what American means to him. Leaving this to the side, I also have a problem with the Mejorando la Raza. I’ve heard this from my own family members, “Mija, don’t get married with a moreno porque I don’t know how to braid hair” Like really? I shouldn’t marry a person with hair that isn’t like mine because they can’t braid hair? I laugh it off and ignore it because I don’t want to cause problems but it’s very problematic that they think this way. There is no such thing as Mejorando la Raza. What’s important is that alguien te quiere and you are happy with them.

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