Ya Basta! with State Sponsored Racial Thuggery
Arturo J. Aldama, Peter J. Garcia and Mike Mosher
After teaching for several years at the “New American University” as Arizona State University was recently renamed following the appointment of Michael Crowe as sixteenth president in 2002, we (Peter and Arturo) felt that we have to address the ongoing discrimination, racial profiling, and state sanctioned violence being mandated throughout Arizona and specifically in Maricopa County. However, leaving students, friends, and colleagues behind in the toxic environment, we both agreed that something more was needed especially on the academic front to discuss the unfortunate situation that has developed in Arizona or actually speak truth to power on this “bad subject.” Hence, the focus of this issue is very personal two of the editors and we sincerely hope that this issue of Bad Subjects will make a positive difference in highlighting the racism, violence, and anti-immigrant hysteria coming out of Arizona today.
We find that when Arizona is brought up many scholars, educational and immigration rights activists across the U.S. just shrug and say “Arizona is crazy” or ”that is Arizona for you”. However we strongly believe that Arizona is a bas-relief to a matrix of racialized biopower that seeks to criminalize and denigrate subjects based on fear-driven paranoia about indigenous and mestiza/o peoples. Evidence is in the surge of copycat legislation most recent in Georgia, New Mexico, Alabama, and, as Mike Mosher points out, in Michigan. In Arizona we have an oligarchy of extreme xenophobic hegemonic activists playing hardball with state laws to create apartheid like system of legalized white supremacy much to the cheers of the American right wing. These oligarchs include the Governor of Arizona, a semi-literate deeply undereducated individual who has been caught in fear mongering lies time and time again. There is a corrupt and deeply violent sheriff who chain gangs poor women in the hot Arizona sun (resuscitating plantation slavery practices) and makes men wear pink underwear for his own cowboy macho homoerotic fantasy. We also see recently elected attorney general who is on a political vendetta to dismantle ethnic studies and insure a white supremacist educational model that keeps the attrition rate for Chicana/o and native youth at the national average or worse. He is threatened by a 97% graduation rate of youth who for him are destined to mow lawns, clean houses and work hidden in kitchens if they are lucky, or make money for the private detention industry as brown skinned working class youth continues to be criminalized and punished by the state apparatus. Finally, we see a state senator who is bankrolled by the private prison industry who introduced SB 1070 and is himself facing corruption charges, among others.
As we enter into the heat of summer 2011, Arizona is trying to enforce HB 2281 that attempts to ban the teaching Ethnic Studies and Mexican American studies in Tucson area public schools. This House Bill was spear headed by recently departed Superintendent Tom Horne who is now attempting to enforce this law in his elected position as Attorney General because he does not enjoy feeling guilty thinking the genocidal practices of manifest destiny. His own feelings of discomfort and threat of subaltern youth becoming empowered drive his vendetta to dismantle and punish students and teachers for protesting their academic freedom and rights to cultural dignity in the classroom. We are witnessing an auto da fe on a Chicano, indigenous, and ethnic studies curriculum. As educators committed to educational empowerment as a human right in our diverse and complex societies, we are dismayed and infuriated by these acts of state sponsored violence. But perhaps we are even more outraged by the lack of outrage by all educators committed to social equity, free speech, critical thinking and social empowerment. When folks compartmentalize Arizona as an isolated case of racism, rather than the front lines of a war about race, ideology and the colonialities of power we stop being responsible allies to the struggles of the pedagogy of the oppressed. We say this aware of some outstanding coalitional efforts to fight back like Save Ethnic Studies and challenge the racism of SB 1070 see Tierra y Libertad, No More Deaths, and We Reject Racism (subjects of an essay in this issue), and MEChA, among other groups. For example, we acknowledge that the Modern Language Association and the National Association of Chicana and Chicano Studies, among professional scholarly associations have written letters and have made formal positions against these issues in Arizona. Also, we are deeply aware and impressed by how much youth, teachers, and community members in Arizona lead the fight for their educational dignity and are on the front lines fighting for classrooms that embrace critical thinking and that allow students to see themselves as part of their curriculum. Please screen the film Precious Knowledge, invite the students and teachers to come to your campus and community.
We start the issue with “Outlaw Arizona: State Seceding from the United States and Humanity” by Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, a long-time activist, journalist-columnist and assistant professor at the University of Arizona. He was one of 15 people detained and arrested in May 2010 in defense of Ethnic Studies and he also took part in the 110 mile-run from Tucson to Phoenix in 115-degree heat in 2009, also in defense of Ethnic Studies. Rodriguez provides an overview of the numerous legislative proposals in Arizona that target the longstanding native, indigenous, and more recent immigrant Mexican populations. Many in Arizona are now looking into calling for Congressional hearings into these legislative assaults. The strategy is also to look outside of the state and even outside of the federal government for relief and exploring the process of initiating a court case(s) before the Organization of American States Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Human Rights Council. His piece frames how Arizona’s laws are in fact illegal and break international law and do not conform to the rule of law and are a blatant example of state sponsored racial thuggery at prime interconnected sites in the body politic of the ideological state apparatus.
Next we have a very prophetic piece written by Dr. Rodolfo Acuña in the summer of 2010 in response to the state sponsored and right wing attacks on his academic freedom, and his powerhouse scholarship. Tom Horne and right wing pundits and lawmakers are constantly holding up Dr. Acuña’s classic Occupied America along with Paolo Freire as examples of anti-American rhetoric. Dr. Acuña’s “The Search for Reason in Arizona” contextualizes his work and the ability of xenophobic and irrational fear-driven discourse to censure the ability for dialogue, reason, and civil discourse. His article clarifies how his attempts to set the record straight and provide factual knowledge about his scholarship and his positions on education are shut down by people in power. He asks, “How is civil discourse possible with people who do not read? Who don't understand the meaning of words? Who have a seriously flawed epistemology?” Like Professor Rodriguez, Dr. Acuña has been on the front lines organizing protests, fighting the anti-ethnic studies legislation, and traveling with MEChA de CSUN students to Phoenix and Tucson participating in demonstrations, marches, and rallies.
Arturo Aldama continues the critique of xenophobia by grounding the current climate of anti-immigrant within the cycles of US nativism. He queries the politics of US nativism to deny the agency and historical presence of peoples native to this continent prior to colonial expansions and looks at the cycles of US nativism to frame the current anti-immigrant climate of state sponsored violence towards brown skinned peoples. He begins with a quote from Chief Billy Redwing Tayac’s “Piscataway Nation” reminding readers of the Ghost Dance prophecy and how indigenous and mestizo immigrants are seen here as Hispanicized Indians who have every much right to cross man-made borders as the geese and other migrating animals. The issues concerning Aldama most are the arrogance of power and the absolute sense of racial entitlement that drive a para-military nativist and neo-Nazi vigilante groups along the border have left the margins to enter mainstream America.
Peter J. Garcia takes us on a trip into the Arizona borderlands and expands the critique of racism and corporatization and the sterilization of academic spaces to look at Arizona State University’s manifest identity as the new American university. In doing so, he looks at how the former Department of Chicana/o Studies (a discipline that is formed through collective protest towards institutional and educational racism) has been interpellated in the transnational flows of capitalism, a type of NAFTA neoliberal effect. In doing, its resistive edge and commitment to social justice and sacredness of academic and epistemic freedom has been co-opted. Trans-national border studies are now a type of corporate driven propaganda machine that does not embrace and cultivate neocolonial spaces of indigenous and Chicana/o leadership that resists corporate driven capitalist violence.
Doreen Martínez’s essay “The Veils of the State: Contextualizing Political Affiliation, Acts of Violence and Illogical Justifications of the Rhetoric of Patriotism” re-examines the recent violence that injured nineteen people including the premature death of nine year old Christina Taylor Green, the assassination of federal Judge John Roll, and the assassination attempt on Gabrielle Giffords. Martinéz questions, “If we select to interrogate mental illness, I argue we must do so at the start. What has happened to our country’s mental illness/health?” according to Martínez, Jarod Loughner, the lone shooter in Tucson, “had no formal political memberships but his very location as a Euro-American male privileges his daily existence and facilitates righteousness to his actions.” We wonder how much his paranoid schizophrenia was driven by his absorbing the paranoia about immigration, terrorism and allies fighting against this type of state driven racial fascism?
Alberto “Beto” Gutierrez grounds the specific tropes of anti-immigrant/ anti-Chicano hostilities into a history of racialized tropes directed at African American peoples in his rousing piece from Jim Crow to Juan Cuervo. Prisons as the perhaps most violent disciplinary force of punishment and containment are now directed by state sponsored violence towards African American and Brown bodies as new/old generator of wealth based on the exacerbation of human misery on racialized human beings. Chris Gonzalez amplifies these discourses and practices of biopower to look at how racialized subjects are turned into mechanized objects/abjects in his analysis of how capitalist production reduces immigrant labor into Fordist-like cogs of exploited brown bodies.
Jesus Acosta looks at the play of supply and demands of the drug economy and the music and culture that has developed this south to north market driven flow of goods for cash that mediate the emotional and psychic lives of consumers in the United States. Acosta argues that this criminalization of the drug culture without looking at the root causes of dependency among addicts and transnational capitalist nature of this movement directly impacts the racist ideologies that drive SB 1070 and punishes those that are stigmatized by truncated racist thought.
Associate Professor of Spanish Nohemy Solórzano-Thompson and Spanish major Tia K. Butler at Whitman College combine their talents to present “Danny Trejo’s Body; Immigrant Males, the Border, and Citizenship in the American Imagination.” In their analysis of the rise of anti-immigrant laws, they shift the focus from politics and courts to a sentiment against Latinos in the United States emerging in Hollywood movies and popular entertainment. Solórzano-Thompson and Butler argue: “[i]n all of Trejo's films, his body becomes a metonymy for the immigrant Mexican male and what happens to that body reflects the fears about the Other as imagined in the American mainstream psyche.”
“Last Stand” is a performance piece by another well-known Chicano activist, poet, and performance artist Harry Gamboa Jr. Also remembered for his student leadership role in the East Los Angeles Blowouts during the 1960s Chicano Movement, Gamboa also co-founded the avant-garde conceptual-performance art group known as Asco. Gamboa’s “Last Stand” is filled with all too familiar images of nostalgic lynchings, wild-west violence, and the failed war on drugs—reminding readers of the untamed and unassimilated Southwest borderlands that remain the last frontier of Manifest Destiny. Art History professor and critic, George Rivera presents some striking photographs of the U.S. and Mexico borderlands and provides a descriptive narrative that captures the dialectical politics of the border zone. He calls on artists and others to make a stand on the ways in which immigrants are demonized world wide, and leaves his narrative with a striking call to arms, “Artists must do their part too. We cannot stand blindly looking from afar. Otherwise, the new Nazis will rise again.” We wonder if the oligarchs of Arizona and their copycats show that they have risen again?
Mike Mosher’s “Allegory and Alterity: Regulating Labor, Immigration, and the Ruinous Emblems of Hate in Michigan” looks at how the anti-union politics of Michigan have expanded their discursive field to issues of immigration. As Mosher examines the HB 4305 and how it gives the legal power for police to act as de-facto ICE agents under the guise of secure communities. Mosher looks at the tropes that drive the Republican vision that he poetically calls “the Republican cult of ruin” that has a dual prong effect of criminalize workers that are the most easy to exploit immigrants, and to destroy the ability of working class peoples to unionize and get a fair wage and basic worker rights, especially disenfranchised African Americans.
Rebecca Beucher's "Examining Racial Constructions to (Re)theorize Race Relations in the 21st Century" provides an interesting way to think about the stakes of identity and oppression under the myth of a post racial society. She challenges the readers to consider how the tropes of the other and the subaltern continue to drive the politics and practices of power in a globalized society and challenges Americans and America to develop a critical consciousness about ones sustained role in the creation of empires and borders.
Joseph Natoli visited Tucson April 2011 and came away with incisive observations of what a class warrior resistance means to corporate driven capitalism. He reads the anti-capitalist semiotics of an indigenous person’s t-shirt and swatch of cloth that states, “Warning Rich Scum…Class war coming to a street near you.” Natoli sobers the righteous anger of this class warrior with the ways in which capitalism are so interpellated into wide swaths of society that make it utopian at best to see any type of mass subaltern uprising. In Natoli’s read, this young man he references has clearly shattered the false consciousness that drives capitalist alienation and its defense by America’s poor, yet why have others not?
In thinking about resistance, Cal State Northridge Chicano visual artist Jake Prendez provides an engaged space of visual semiotics that challenge the viewer to think about the cultural and racial politics of Arizona. His bold, sometimes punctic, sometimes ironic, semiotexte serves as almost a counter spectacle to the spectacle of racial state sponsored thuggery in the borderlands
We end this issue with two pieces dedicated to honoring the historical and complex spaces of resistance to state sponsored violence in Arizona borderlands. “Normalizing Noncompliance: Militarization and Resistance in Southern Arizona” by Geoffrey Boyce and Sarah Launius considers indigenous resistance along the AZ southern borderlands and argues that SB 1070 is a continuation of SB 1070 is merely the latest in a long string of efforts--both military and juridical--to secure the benefits of conquest against those deemed outside the constitutive boundaries of the conquering party. The piece ends by looking at resistance movements that have sprung in response to SB 1070, such as No More Deaths, the barrio-based Tierra y Libertad, and the Tucson-based We Reject Racism that gets into the structural issues of neo-colonial racism. The final piece of this issue is a transcribed interview called, Notes from the Warzone with Dr. Jason Ferreira based on his experiences of taking students from the College of Ethnic Studies in June 2011 to the Arizona borderlands. He discusses his experiences working with students and community members to do human rights solidarity activism with No More Deaths, and We Reject Racism and to witness first hand the juxtaposition of natural beauty in the desert with the violence of racialized biopower of slashed water bottles, and remnants of bloody socks and clothes that mark the struggles of border crossers within a climate of racialized paramilitary thuggery.
We want all people concerned with social justice and the struggles for human dignity to stop shrugging Arizona off as an isolated case and wake up and smell the napalm of this war--just at look at the state of Alabama's HB 56, signed into law June 9, 2011, which punishes immigrants and those who interact with immigrants, teachers, landlords, and even those who stop for hitchhikers. So wake up, stand tall, and resist, resist, resist to this 21st Century Jim (Juan) Crow axiom of evil!!!!
--July 4, 2011
Arturo J Aldama is Associate Professor, Ethnic Studies, Colorado University in Boulder.
Peter J. Garcia is Associate Professor, Chicana/o Studies at California State University, Northridge.
Editorial and production assistance on this issue by Mike Mosher and Tamara Watkins. Graphic by Bad Subjects.