De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century

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9780896085831: De Colores Means All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century

The unique Chicana voice of Elizabeth Martinez arises from more than thirty years of experience in the movements for civil rights, women's liberation, and Latina/o empowerment.With sections on women's organizing, struggles for economic justice. and the Latina/o youth movement, De Colores Means All of Us will appeal to readers and activists seeking to organize for the future and build new movements for liberation.

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About the Author:

A Chicana activist now based in San Francisco, Elizabeth Martinez has published six books on social movements in the United States and Latin America. Her best-known work is the unique bilingual volume, 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures, and the popular video based on it, which she co-directed. She has taught Women's and Ethnic Studies, does anti-racist work with community and youth groups, and writes for Z and other magazines.

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Visiting Cuba a few years after the 1959 revolution that overthrew the Batista dictatorship, I went to several teacher-training centers to see how new educators were being developed. The program took them through several stages, each in different parts of the island. The first center was located in a remote, mountainous area, so the students-who often came from the city-would understand campesino life. When I asked them about their goals, they said: "to help make life better for all Cubans." Then one of them added proudly, "after that, we'll help teachers in Africa, Asia, all over the world!" I was thinking over this ambitious statement when another young student caught my eye. "After that," he said with a big, happy smile as the whole group nodded, "We'll just go help on another planet!" They were absolutely sincere. Such was the spirit of revolutionary Cuba. Such was the spirit of many people engaged in struggle around the world, including these United States, in those years. A little optimistic? You could say so. Is this book too optimistic? You may come to think so. I hope, instead, that you will see my attempt to avoid both empty nostalgia and paralyzing cynicism. To learn from both past and present. And above all to listen to young activists, whose fiery demands for social justice light up a new path today. They weave for all of us a garment of brightness. We surely need that light. For we live in an era of counter-revolution, when the gains made against racism during the 1960s-which I fought for alongside millions of other people-face constant assault. A century ago, the Reconstruction that followed the Civil War and offered real hope to Black people was brutally undone. Today, the Reconstruction that was launched by the Civil Rights Movement and offered hope to all people of color faces a similar reversal. Latinos and Latinas are often victims of that reversal, with California the scene of the greatest abuse. The last few years have seen that state's denial of human rights to immigrants and its elimination of bilingual education. Also, California's abolition of affirmative action has excluded Latinos along with African Americans and other people of color, as well as many women, from higher education and better jobs. The reversal of our twentieth-century Reconstruction doesn't stop there. Every day we see drastic cutbacks in programs that once helped the poor, at a time when the poor of all colors are getting steadily poorer. The poverty rate among Latinos-who are the focus of this book-has surpassed that of all other ethnic/racial groups in the United States. Census Bureau data published in 1996 showed that Latinos formed nearly 24 percent of the nation's poor. Among Latinos, 30 percent were officially poor (earning less than $15,569 for a family of four), with Puerto Ricans being the most impoverished sub-group. Child poverty ran equally high among Latinos and Blacks, at an outrageous 40 percent. Latinos had the lowest proportion of high school graduates: 53 percent of adults aged 25 and older, compared to 83 percent of whites and 74 percent of African Americans in the same age group, according to Black Issues in Higher Education (September 19, 1996). Recent immigration explains some of those figures but far from all, as other studies have shown. In this era of counter-revolution and its deadly effects, we can be discouraged into silence or reduced to caring only about our immediate, personal world. Or we can, as I heard poet June Jordan say at a conference in Arizona, fight back against "those pistol-packing gate-keepers of a house that never belonged to them in the first place." That sounds better! And let's remember: there would be no counter-attack today if we hadn't made some significant changes yesterday. This book is a collection of writings about Latinos-mostly Chicanas and Chicanos-that appeared in various publications during recent years and have been updated. It is rooted in a basic demand for respect, beginning with recognition that our presence in the United States goes back more than 400 years. Elsewhere in Amrica, our history goes back thousands of years. We have a long record of building vast wealth for others, and a proud tradition of militant resistance by women and men. All that, yet in racist eyes we remain trapped under that big sombrero, taking an endless siesta. Sometimes we have resisted oppression with humor, like the cartoon by Lalo Alcaraz featuring Cuco Rocha (a pissed-off Chicano cockroach) saying: "Esos pinches gringos ... they stole our land ... but left us the yardwork!" We also hear seriously angry cries of "Ya basta"-that's enough-from many Raza (Latinas and Latinos), like those you will find here. Repression and resistance are the historical twins that dominate my own four decades of thinking, acting, struggling, and rethinking how to transform not only Latino life but the entire human condition in these United States. We are all inseparable from our times, whether we realize it or not. It took me a while to understand that there is quite a straight line from my injustice-hating mother and my Mexican immigrant father who had watched the 1910 revolution as a young Zapatista enthusiast, to five years as a United Nations researcher on colonialism at a time when independence movements raged around the world, to working in the Black civil rights/human rights movement, to years in the Southwest with the Chicano movimiento, to a decade of trying to serve the socialist vision, and now to today's struggles. Strengthened by that sense of continuous linkage to human history, I am making two commitments with this book: to remember something ancient and to imagine something new (as Peter Bratt, director of the movie Follow Me Home, said). Something ancient includes the pre-Columbian roots of Raza and the best of our indigenous traditions, which honor balance and respect for all living creatures. Something new-now, there's the trick. It needs to include the promise of transformation. Transformation will elude us until we envision our society in very new ways. This requires ending the inequality-based system called capitalism, a monstrous task when we recall that our nation was born capitalist-without passing through primitive communalism, feudalism, and so forth-so most people here identify as such. It was also born racist, thanks to unbridled genocide. We need a vision, then, in which we abolish the prevailing definition of the United States as a nation with a single, Euro-American culture and identity. Then we must re-imagine it as a community of communities that recognize their inter-dependence and relate on the basis of mutual respect. The nation's very boundaries may have to change; after all, they're only two centuries old and they were drawn through conquest and genocide. Think sin fronteras-without borders. Think what may seem unthinkable, and envision revolution.

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