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Friday, August 29, 2003

The Seamier Side of Political Life in California

Tacitus has been causing a fair bit of controversy in California with a piece about Cruz Bustamante's links to the radical Chicano group MEChA during his student days. While everyone esle seems worried about where big Arny would take the golden state, deap seated changes which seem to revolve around the rise of the Chicano vote, do seem to be on the horizon. Tacitus's question about just why Bustamante hasn't renounced this part of his past seems a perfectly reasonable and legitimate one.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger can be hounded by Tim Noah for his social support of Kurt Waldheim, then surely it's fair to query Cruz Bustamante about his collegiate affiliation with the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, or MEChA.

....Bustamante attended Fresno State University, where he served in the student senate and began dabbling in community politics, learning about partisan politics first-hand. "I wasn't the most radical Mechista [M.E.Ch.A, which stands for Movimiento Estudiantil de Aztlan, is a Chicano student organization known for its ethnocentric views]. At the same time, there were a lot Vietnam veteranos attending school. They were like big brothers, and they taught me a lot."
It's tempting to dismiss this as a youthful affiliation that means nothing today -- but that temptation would be wrong. There are certain associations that are socially tainting (and justly so) in the modern day, and they don't have statutes of limitations. Former Klansmen and former Nazis don't get a pass unless they spend a great deal of time and energy apologizing for and explaining themselves in a convincing manner. (This rule doesn't apply to former communists, of course, because they mean well). MEChA -- which exists mostly as a series of student organizations at universities across the country -- is premised upon the notion of a distinct "Chicano" race with an inalienable right to a homeland called Aztlán, encompassing roughly the area ceded by Mexico to the United States in 1848. This isn't benign ethnic identity politics (inasmuch as such politics can be benign) -- as the rhetoric from the founding documents of the movement make clear.

Mechista fellow-travellers are people like Professor of Chicano Studies at the University of New Mexico Charles Truxillo, who proposes the formation of an Aztlán-style polity called La Republica del Norte "by any means necessary." Truxillo is a self-described disciple of Chicano "activist" Reies Lopez Tijerina, whose primary contribution to the struggle was to lead an armed gang into the courthouse at Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico in June 1967; once there they shot two court employees in cold blood, severely beat a third (all three were Mexican-Americans), and took twenty hostages before fleeing. Truxillo's political justification for the formation of his desired Republica closely parallels the nutcase theories of neo-secessionist and neo-Confederate movements in the American southeast.

Mechista fellow-travellers are also people like Hector Carreon and Ernesto Cienfuegos, who vigorously tout the idea of Aztlán via their website. I wouldn't click on this link at work -- aztlan.net is a hate site as surely as any Aryan Nations site is. Their target of choice? The Jews, of course. As with MEChA proper, Carreon and Cienfuegos generally don't get called on their true colors when they pop up in the mainstream press. Former LA Times columnist Agustin Gurza, who has written before about racism in Latino communities, described aztlan.net as merely "an online Whittier-based Chicano magazine."

The confluence of the fringes -- Islamists supporting anti-Semites supporting secessionists supporting Chicanistas supporting communists -- is not new phenomenon. But it is disturbing nonetheless, and those who participate in it deserve to face some tough questions.

Which brings us back to Lieutenant Governor of California Cruz Bustamante. He "wasn't the most radical Mechista," but he was a Mechista, with all the baggage and bad company that entails. I don't think, as Lowell Ponte does, that Bustamante secretly considers himself a future ruler of the Alta California province of Aztlán. But I do think he's morally compromised by his past with this group and this ideology, and it's something he must face squarely and publicly. Association with known racists combined with racist Freudian slips in the recent past would have already raised the hackles of every self-described "progressive" from the Oregon border to San Diego if he had an (R) after his name. Why not now? With a new poll showing him leading Schwarzenegger, Californians deserve nothing less from the man who may well be their next governor.

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