Que Viva MEChA
The Southwest Political Report
In the next few weeks we will be compiling brief reflections on MeCHA from members of the community . They are the words of community members unedited. We will be releasing them 4 or 5 at time. If you’d like to submit please email firstname.lastname@example.org
“I was a mechista some years ago. At pierce and where I was in charge for a bit while it was small and struggling for a while with a lot. Then I transferred to csun in 2013 and was a mechista. MEChA saved me. I found my space. The people saved me. Especially being a brown child at all white schools from 1st grade until high school in catholic schools even all girls school. And being in white neighborhoods after growing up around my people. I struggled. I needed so bad to be with my community after a period of self hate as a child. I was even suicidal but depressed for years. My tata’s teaching helped me out of self hate. I became angry and loud in high school where it was private but more open minded and encouraged to learn my history. College came and I was a mess and needed people like minded. MEChA and Chicano@ students saved my life.”
“My first experience with mecha was at grace davis high school in modesto California . i had just moved from the l.a. area to there and i was looking for a sense of belonging there and hoped mecha would be it. Going to that school was my first experience seeing and hearing blatant racism. We talked about what was going on and one day one of our sisters was called a “spic bitch.” Being the chicano that i was i put hands on that guy and hurt him real bad. I was arrested for attempted murder and come to find out he was the son of a kkk member. My life never rebounded after that. Almost 30 years later i started the merced brown berets and mecha de merced college. It was our platform to push the xicano existence on campus . it was very hard to do we couldn’t find an adviser and at first we had a gringo be our advisor. After a semester a chicano stepped up but was only our advisor on paper not in practice. We were self taught and tried our best. I’m proud to be the founding prez of it and that it is still on campus and one of the biggest clubs. I also went on to hold 2 more officer postions at mecha de fresno state and a chair for the historic chican@ youth confrence. We didn’t want nothing to do with nationals. We just wanted to again shine light on our existence on campus .”
“MeChA Memory: MEChA was really close with AfroEthnic Student Association, Intertribal Council, and the Muslim Student Association as the more left student orgs. We were a voting bloc and supported each other. I remember one time going to a AESA talk about WEB Du Bois. A handful of us went. I have two snippets of formational memories.
1. I do not remember how the conversation started but some of the AESA members started talking about Black folks being divided on issues and then referenced that Mexicans were united. That whenever anything happened to the Mexican, Mexicans would stand up for each other. I sat there, trying to decide if it was appropriate to say anything, as we were guests, not necessarily participants, but they were talking about Mexicans, so I was conflicted. I eventually raised my hand and said something to the effect of “ We are not united. We have divisions over what to call ourselves, whether we are native, what languages we should be speaking. It may seem we are united but there is so much division and infighting” Then an AESA member that was kind quiet raised his hand. He said something like “ I understand what she is talking about, I am from Panama but everyone sees me as Black. I identify as Black, but I speak Spanish and other Black students do not understand why. I also see myself as Latino, but I never talk about it.” It kicked off this whole discussion about racialization and unity, a discussion I stayed quiet for as I just listened.
2. Another moment was when an Elder asked the AESA members about who they were fighting for presently and historically, the students answered “ The Youth, high school kids.” To which elder replied “You, we were fighting for you, you are the youth.” It resonated to me, because I didn’t see myself as youth, even though I must have been 19.
This was also the conference where the statewide action was to, as a state, paint a mural in Placentia. It was about education and not incarceration. Some white folks living in condos in view of the mural, complained the mural was too Chicano and therefore gang related and it was whitewashed without our knowledge. It only stayed up for one day. Oh memories.”
“As an outsider looking in, but also as an Afro-Panamanian, I am sad for the name change. I have so much respect for MeCha and it’s history. They played such a crucial role in Black liberation on campus and off in LA and SD. When I was BSU President, we had no closer ally than MeCha as it should be.
MeCha and Chicanisma/o played an important role in my identity formation as a child. As a child, I attended Academia Quinto Sol, formerly named Escuelita De La Raza, in East Long Beach. Academia was run by former Chicana/o movement activists from CSULB and was heavily linked to their student movement there and the local Raza community center in East Long Beach.
Before I was born, my Panamanian grandmother passed away. I grew up in a family that had pride of our ancestry but did not always practice many of the customs. My family grew up in LA where you were either Black or Brown. There was a small Panamanian community but not large. The idea of Blackness amid latinidad was something for the East Coast. So, Black folks had taken to calling my mother, who is named Maria, Marie. And the administrators at Academia told me that they always remembered us because my mom’s name and that we were of Panamanian descent.
Some of the reason that I hear many student activists are against the name MeCha and Chicanisma/o is they believe it is Mexican-centered and erases the experiences of Central Americans and other people from Latin America. Yet, I would like to suggest that my family’s experience with Academia, an Escuelita built by MeCha members and Chicana/o activists reveals a much more relational history of Black Power and Chicana/o Power which taught my family a critical counterdiscourse to California’s whitewashing of California’s Mexican past and created a venue through which third generation Panamanians in the US were actually reconnected with our past. See, even the most reductive cultural nationalist segments of Black and Brown Power talked about the shared history of Africans and Mexican people. And I have actually been told by more Chicanx activists than anyone else about the Olmec heads and how Mexico had African roots.
At Academia my sister, cousins and I participated in a Ballet Folklorico troupe where we learned and performed the African-descended dance of Son Jarocho from the state of Vera Cruz. We learned Spanish, a language that had been cut off from us due to our grandma’s death, and we also learned gained a radical education that propelled us to academic success. Our school was diverse and represented the diversity of Long Beach’s Black, Brown and Asian working class. I believe that, even as children, we understood that we could learn of the revolutionary histories of other people and still have that build us up.
My positive memories of academia influenced my future. From my attempt to create a clique that brought Black and Brown together in high school (which is for another story) to my time as a BSU organizer in college. Now as a Black Studies professor, this powers the bonds we have made academically, especially at places like City College and in the grassroots struggles. It also emerged as central to my dissertation. In the 1950s, Black and Mexican American activists in SD looked towards bonds between Blacks and Puerto Ricans back east to create programs for Black and Brown youth solidarity in SD. El Congreso activists and Negro Congress activists helped form the Civil Rights Congress in San Diego. And even after being redbaited , those activists worked together through the 1960s. Julia Usquiano of El Congreso helped start a Black cultural space in Logan Heights where she taught Black youth Spanish and other things. Black support played a role in the formation of Chicano Park. Black and Chicanx students came together 50 years ago to protest racist education policies at Lincoln High School. Four years later they did the same thing at Morse. They created a joint community newspaper and in the late 1970s Chicana/o activists played a crucial role in support for African liberation and Black activists formed a crucial front against racist immigration policies. While both communities were united in their fight against policy brutality.
It is for these reasons that I express my sadness that the name of MeCha was changed. MeCha and the Chicana/o movement empowered my family and community in Long Beach. I don’t want that to be erased.”
I am seeing the debate today about the naming of MEChA and especially the comments about how alumni and elders have failed to teach, model and inspire MEChA youth who no longer understand what it means to be a Mechista. I am hoping it is a badly done April Fools joke because that was not my experience at all with MEChA. Now don’t get me wrong, there have been huge issues that MEChA had to struggle through. I was there when the call out about the MEChA handbook happened, and the call out over Machismo and homophobia rampant in Mechista leadership. I was also there during many valid criticisms and debates over the years. But that does not erase what I was taught by MEChA elders and advisors. I was taught by my elders that I am Chicana/x Indigena and that my roots are also native to this land, that WE belong HERE! I was also taught that the first people (native communities) need to be acknowledged, their ways respected and that we share a common enemy in the western ideology that wants to erase our connection to our ancestors and our relatives. These enemies prefer that we call ourselves Hispanic or Latino over Chicana/x Indigena. It is obvious to me why they prefer this. The understanding of Chicana/x Indigena identity that is NOT equated with Chicano nationalism, is a terrifying thing to our enemies because it means the work of colonization has begun to be undone. The unraveling of the many lies that colonizers tell us that these borders are justified, that we as people are not connected to these lands, that we as people are not capable of care-taking the earth, that we are the problem and not the solution to the extreme state of unbalance in this world. These lies have been adopted by some of our own people who think a degree alone, or even money and power will save them and save our people from suffering. We will not win our struggle through becoming a mirror image of our oppressors. WE must stay TRUE to ourselves and our identity.