La Bloga guest post by Jimmy Franco, Sr.
“There is no neutrality. You either have to be a part of the solution, or you’re going to be a part of the problem” - Eldridge Cleaver
Within recent years there has been a growth of cultural awareness among many young Latinos and other minority youth. This is a positive first step toward developing a higher level of cultural pride in one’s ethnicity, history, language, identity and traditions.
Such a nationalistic trend is a normal reaction when an ethnic group experiences discrimination and injustice by those who control a political system that denies equitable political and cultural rights to all. The natural response by national minorities to any repressive situation imposed upon them by a dominant group is a growth of nationalistic feelings and an ideology that asserts a growing pride and dignity in one’s roots. Yet, the ideological trend of cultural nationalism that is a preliminary stage of awareness and activity has its limitations.
One of these can be a sectarian attitude and a form of isolationism from other cultures. However, the major limitation is that a cultural nationalist ideology does not explain nor propose concrete solutions to eliminate the structural cause of a national minority’s subordinate position in society nor the political methods of control and policies used to maintain it. If someone remains at this preliminary cultural stage which entails personal pride and a growing awareness of one’s ethnic background without eventually progressing forward, then this can lead to a stunting of one’s political consciousness and development. This stagnation may also hinder one’s perspective and awareness of broader social issues which often results in a reactive and culturally self-serving individualism that does not assist in pro-actively resolving the social ills faced by the broader community.
During the Civil Rights period of the 1960’s and 1970’s, many cultural nationalist groups were created as a reaction to the prevailing rampant injustice and discrimination existing at that time. However, the narrow response of those involved in this trend was to primarily focus on cultural issues and feel-good activities related to music, history and wearing ethnic dress. This also included a good deal of time primarily learning languages such as Swahili and Nahuatl with a focus on a return to the past and romanticizing the cultures of Africa, Puerto Rico and Mexico. There were many individuals who were also proud of their culture, but in contrast, also advocated and utilized militant civil rights tactics and even revolutionary nationalism. Their political perspective pointed out the root-cause of the problem of ethnic rights and discrimination and this was accompanied by action to eventually change it.
The extreme cultural nationalist trend during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s practiced a form of what could be characterized as a safe form of escapism in contrast with those engaging in political activism who were more aggressive in civil rights organizing or attempting to effect social change. This is not to say that those groups involved in political struggle were not proud of their cultures and ethnic groups as they were, but they did not limit themselves to cultural activities or dwell solely upon the narrow realm of individualistic personal awareness or a romanticizing of the past.
Cultural nationalists tend to primarily focus on personal identity issues and abstain from the economic and political struggles that affect our society. In contrast to this trend, are activist cultural workers who share and utilize their musical, artistic and writing talents to raise issues, support struggles and politically educate our young people. Cultural activists play a vital role in nurturing a political movement by utilizing their art to raise people’s political consciousness and by further enhancing a culture by integrating new experiences from vibrant social movements into it.
Dwelling on the past and on abstract activities contributes to our social problems
The progression from cultural nationalism to political activism is vital in order to confront and resolve the many social and economic problems presently facing our community and improve its wellbeing. The issue of voting rights, a lack of equal political representation and civil rights injustices continue to persist and fester within our society.
In addition to these, there are scores of economic issues such as job and gender discrimination, low wages, unjust immigration policies, a high rate of incarceration and an unequal educational system that deprives our youth of enlightening their minds and providing financial security for them and their future families. Lastly, the number of Latinos who are working and visible within the media industry is still insignificant in comparison to the demographic growth of Latinos and this has the effect of censuring and limiting our ability to tell our stories to a broader public as others are allowed to do.
Individualistic and personal cultural pride are good traits, but they are no substitute for the right of a repressed ethnic group to gain equitable entry into the overall culture of the country and contribute to it in a significant way. This presents us with a choice of either actively participating in the struggle to confront and resolve this array of social problems that we face or we can retreat into the isolated shadows and separation of individualistic self-serving pride and abstract feel-good activities of cultural nationalism.
Two directions: a detached cultural nationalism or involvement in a political movement
If a better world existed where conditions within the US were more equitable than what presently exists, then self-cultivating cultural activities and an individualistic detachment from social issues would not pose a problem. However, since we live in an imperfect society which inflicts economic and political harm upon certain sectors of our people and communities, this means that we have a moral and ethnic duty to contribute to the elimination of such social defects. Involvement in a political struggle is not a hobby or merely some type of therapy to fill the time with, rather it is a social responsibility that has been historically thrust upon us by the defective conditions and injustices of the social system under which we live.
This developing trend of cultural nationalism that a growing number of young people are receding into involves a romanticized attachment to the past and even an assortment of mystical practices. Such a one-sided perspective and mental detachment can become a form of therapeutic escapism that is split from objective reality. Another aspect of this cultural nationalist obsession involves a type of dogmatic book worship and personal self-cultivation which borders on selfishness by divorcing book knowledge from its application to the practical experience and vibrant knowledge of solving real social problems. In opposition to such a passive worship of the past, an ideology is presently required that reads and analyzes information from a scientific perspective and creatively applies it to address people’s needs within our communities.
A method of persuasion needs to be used to link cultural awareness to political activism
We need to respect the choice of those who are entwined within this revived trend with its cultural pleasantries and a mystical longing for the past. A dialogue needs to be created that utilizes discussion, persuasion and an exchange of views on this issue. It needs to be explained to cultural nationalists in a respectful manner that their decision to abstain from the political struggle and recede into a pleasurable self-cultivation on the sidelines creates a strategic problem by objectively assisting those who wish to harm our community.
Many college students in ethnic studies programs around the country are being introduced to cultural nationalism by their instructors, and this ideological trend can be a beginning phase if they then use this knowledge to proceed forward and integrate it with political activism in the real world. If both professors and students remain bogged down in abstract academic speak, intellectualizing and culture for culture’s sake which is often disconnected from the real needs of students and the community, then this type of cultural nationalism becomes a retrograde and toxic trend that does not contribute to our future wellbeing.
What is presently needed are more individuals of all ages who are pro-active and involved in constructively changing our communities and improving the lives of its people. A person can be proud of their ethnic identity, culture and history, yet this knowledge needs to be linked and enhanced through practical action and experience which involves cultivating our community’s educational needs, organizational level and political consciousness.
This article originally posted by Jimmy Franco Sr. on LatinoP.O.V., on Nov 12, 2015. Copyright, November 12, 2015: Jimmy Franco Sr.
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Jimmy Franco Sr. is a long-time educator and community activist who was born in Texas and grew up in the Lincoln Heights area of Northeast Los Angeles. He attended Cal-State L.A. where he was an active member of M.E.Ch.A. and did graduate work in history and education, including his thesis entitled Chicano Trade Union History of the Southwest: 1919 to 1929. He has taught elementary through twelfth grade, adult school, at the university level, classes at Chino Prison in California.
Jimmy began writing in 1967 for the community newspaper “Inside EastSide”which at that time was geared toward high school students and assisted in preparing the groundwork for the 1968 East L.A. high school walkouts or “Blow Outs”. During this time, Jimmy was active in the Chicano Moratoriums of 1970-1971 against the Vietnam War. He has also been involved in various community organizations and written for other community-based newspapers such as El Machete and El Pueblo Obrero.
Jimmy became a member of the Retail Clerks Union at the age of sixteen and has been a member of three locals of the United Steel Workers of America Union. He was also a member of the United Teachers, Los Angeles and received a N.E.A. award for his civil rights contributions. Previously, Jimmy was the California State Civil Rights Chairperson for the League of United Latin-American Citizens (LULAC), and the past president of its NorthEast L.A. Council.
He has been involved in bilingual education, drop-out prevention, affirmative action, educational reform, labor and anti-war work, and educational outreach to promote systematic reform of the educational system.