La prensa

Anything But Mexican Revisited

Created: 23 December, 2010
Updated: 26 July, 2022
8 min read

La Vida Es Un Juego

By Rodolfo F. Acuña

   One of my gifts in life is that I attended and teach at a state college. It has tempered my elitism something that has been nurtured by a terminal degree and the academy. This sort of elitism gets worse as you get older depending on the institution you teach.

   However, being part of the system has its advantages. It gives you a sense of its awesome power. You learn that you can never discount the rhetoric of its members.

   Irregardless of what people say, words are important. Words form the culture of an era.

   For instance, presently confronted with a budget crisis brought about by the failure of the capitalism and the refusal of politicos to require the rich to contribute to the maintenance of its infrastructure, the cost of education has been shifted to the student. Consequent to this, education is beyond the reach of most poor and middle income families.

   The fundamental problem is that country does not have enough jobs. It has abandoned the old Henry Ford model that well paid workers become good consumers. At the same time, Americans are still having children. They still believe in the myth that the American Dream is possible. They believe that education is the stairway to the middle-class heaven.

   In order to reconcile these apparent contradictions, it has become popular as of late to blame the poor. “99 cent store” economists say that the problem is not the higher cost of education but that we have too many ill prepared students attending college. According to them, too much money is being spent on education overall. They propose budget cuts and the raising of tuition.

   The rationale is that if tuition is not raised that “the state will have to raise taxes, which will further damage the business climate.”

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   Much to my dismay, this discredited survival of the fittest theory was recently espoused by the chair of the economics department at California State University Northridge.

   Shirley V. Svorny in an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times on November 22, 2010 wrote that fees at the CSU are artificially low and consequently attract lower-achieving students.  This, according to Svorny, results in watered-down courses.

   If you are as old as I am, you will remember that the same arguments were made when the G.I. Bill opened the colleges to the “ill prepared” veterans of World War II and the Korea. The same old argument was made in the sixties as larger numbers of minority students and women entered academe.

   Svorny’s piece is filled with false syllogisms. Nevertheless, it is wrongheaded to dismiss her fallacies. It is even dangerous because taken with the avalanche of right wing articles produced by other academics, it is paving the ground for among other things the privatization and defunding of public education.

   Svorny’s argument could easily be refuted by citing Donald Bogue’s analysis of the 1980 U.S. Census that concluded that the prime indicator of success in college was not cultural or racial but the father’s income.

   Moreover, you only have to remember the fiascos of the energy deregulation in the 1980s and the privatization of the prison industry to see where this reasoning leads.

   However, dwelling on Svorny’s piece would detract from my theory that “la vida es un juego,” that “life is a game.” You have to know the game life before making assumptions.

   Part of the American Delusion is that there is a level playing field. Intellectual acuity and physical superiority always comes through. The American Delusion avoids any discussion class or the complexity of identity in forming these aspirations.

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   The role of identity is especially sensitive when it comes to Mexican Americans.  Identity has a hidden side when it comes to Latinos. We cannot shake the image of Pancho, the Cisco Kid’s sidekick.

   Take Lee Treviño who was born in El Paso in 1939. He was dubbed as “The Merry Mex” and “Supermex” by the press. Treviño was raised by his mother; he never knew his father. He didn’t attend much school, and began working in the cotton fields at the age of 5. Treviño worked at a golf course and learned to play golf. Eventually, he won the U.S. British and Canadian Open championships in a single year. The high cost of putting fees and membership in tennis clubs kept most people of color from achieving his dream—he was the exception not the norm.

   Ricardo Alonso Gonzales was born in 1928—generally known as Pancho. He was perhaps the greatest American-born tennis player. Pancho was rated No.1 in the World for eight years in the 1950s and early 1960s.

   He was self-taught, and many of the tennis clubs were inaccessible to people of his color which severely limited his playing time.

   While on the tennis circuit, his name was routinely mispronounced. Further, raised in Boyle Heights, Gonzales was never accepted by the elite tennis crowd. It was rumored that he got a scar from a knife. In reality, it was from an accident. At the time the stereotype was that all Mexicans carried knives. He was a hot tempered Mexican to others. 

   Gene (Genaro) Brito was born in 1925. His dad was Spanish American (AKA New Mexican) and his mother Mexican American. Raised in Lincoln Heights in LA, he played defensive end in the National Football League. He played in the Pro Bowl.

   However, not many people knew he was Mexican American; he was even elected to the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in 1989. Brito was stricken by a disease similar to the ALS that killed Lou Gehrig. His health deteriorated and he died in 1965 at age 39.

   Although he never denied his race, Brito lived in an era when being Mexican was not an asset. Few of the over one hundred Mexican American NFL players before 1970 are known to Mexican American children.

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   Probably the greatest baseball hitter of all time was Ted Williams who played for the Boston Red Sox. He is the last player in Major League Baseball to bat over .400 in a single season. Williams holds the highest career batting average of any player with 500 or more home runs.

   His mother May Venzor was a Salvation Army worker from El Paso, Texas—he was raised in San Diego.

   It is true that Williams was not a pioneer for Latino players who came after him. Williams said little about being Mexican. “He never made a point of letting it be known,” said Williams’ nephew. In his 1969 autobiography, “My Turn At Bat,” Williams said, “If I had my mother’s name, there is no doubt that I would have run into problems in those days, the prejudices people had in Southern California.”

   Williams spent time in Santa Barbara visiting his Mexican grandmother, who barely spoke English. He was advised by Eddie Collins, the Sox’s manager, not to acknowledge that part of his family.

   Williams once told his cousin Manny Herrera, while the fans in Boston were good to him, he harbored one fear. ‘’They don’t know who I really was, how poor I really was.’’ His cousin replied, “We’re all poor, Ted.’’

   On another occasion, Manny told Ted, “You’re a damn Mexican like me and you don’t even speak Spanish.” Williams replied, “Yeah, I’m a pitiful one.”

   I recount these stories not to glorify the sports figures, but to shed light on the importance of identity. Colleges are like private clubs that you have to belong to before acceptance. If you want your kid to get a soccer scholarship or to become a professional, be prepared to sock out $3,000-$5,000 annually per child. It is not enough to give her or him a soccer ball.

   Pancho González made it in spite of the system. Life was his nightmare; he died destitute.

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   Ted Williams dreaded that the system would learn who he was and kick him out of it. He was tired of being poor, which he associated with being Mexican.

   Now people like Svorny want to close the door to membership in the last club open to the masses of poor people, higher education. They do not want to seem as if they are racist or that the American Delusion does not work. For them the illusion of the dream is what is important. However, words have consequences and they set the rules of game.

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