I had barely finished reading the article in the paper when my friend called to rant about it.
Carlos (I'll use his middle name) was incensed about a piece on Raza Studies in the Tucson Unified School District. The May 25 article by Rhonda Bodfield (you really have to read this well-done piece) looks at a program that is praised by some and vilified by others. It is either forward-thinking or anachronistic, inclusive or divisive, money well-spent or money that could be put to better use, as, say, wallpaper in a bathroom in a public park.
Carlos was heated. He's Hispanic and proudly so, but not exclusively so. "I don't want to be known first for my ethnicity. I'm not ashamed of it; I don't try to hide it. But I want to be known for who I am. I've studied hard and worked hard to become who I am, and I want to be known as an individual, not part of a group."
Who he is, is a well-paid and highly respected engineer who lives in Tucson. He's also a family man with two daughters, a member of his church, a volunteer youth coach and a politically astute individual. If you made a Venn diagram of Carlos, there would be a whole lot of overlapping circles, only one of which would be Hispanic.
He says, "I can't believe that even one penny of my tax money is going to fund a program that teaches kids that it's not only OK to dislike other people because of the way they look; it's also perfectly acceptable to aim low."
Adopting a sarcastic, whiny tone, he continues, "Oh, don't try too hard; the system won't allow you to succeed. The school's out to get you; the police are out to get you; the political system is out to get you. I swear, my father would roll over in his grave if he heard that crap."
Carlos' father was an activist--a pretty fiery one, by most accounts--back in the 1960s and '70s. He was a union man, and he also worked in politics and for many social causes. He endured a lot, but also got to witness a great deal of progress. Well into the 1970s, at his job in the copper industry, there were separate shower facilities for Anglos and Hispanics.
"Can you imagine if somebody tried to do something like that today?" Carlos asks.
"My father was a brilliant man," recalls Carlos. "He was smart and he was wise. He didn't get to go to college, because he went to World War II, but he was sharp. I used to talk to him all the time. Right before he died, he said that even with all he had to (endure), he still felt that he'd had a great life. He said that he had worked hard and put up with stuff so that his kids could have a better life, and that I should do the same."
Having worked hard to prompt change, Carlos' father warned him that the people who hold on to hate the longest are the ones who were initially hurt by it, and that's understandable. But you have to let it go to move forward. "These people did amazing things to make things better, but they're still using the same rhetoric from 40 years ago."
Using his engineering background, Carlos says that the people in the previous generation did an amazing job and made a great foundation. But instead of putting up a building, the Raza Studies people are putting another (weaker) foundation on top of the first one, and then another, and another, until the entire thing is crushed under the weight of its own redundancy.
His dad said that everybody gets hurt, and some suffer indignities, but how they respond is telling. "He said you can either keep picking at the scab, preventing it from healing, or you can be strong. It might heal into a scar, but scar tissue is usually stronger than the skin it replaced.
"It's like we're all on a train, and we're making good speed; the ride's kinda bumpy in spots, but we're getting there. Up ahead, there are some tumbleweeds on the tracks. We could go right through them, but the people (in the Raza Studies program) want us to stop the train, get out and walk, and then blame the white man for putting the tumbleweeds on the tracks. I don't live in that world, and I don't want my kids to live in that world."
Which presents a dilemma of sorts: Carlos lives within the TUSD and doesn't want his kids being pulled aside because of their skin color and/or their surname and told that they have to go to "victim class."
He says, "My daughters know who they are and where they came from. They speak English and Spanish. They know that their grandparents and great-grandparents lived in Mexico. They've visited their ancestral lands. They've been taught their culture in the home and through extended family.
"When they get to high school, they're going to study physics and calculus and things like that. I don't want them taking a class telling them that they're either a victim or a self-hater. How does that help anyone?"