Immigration Reform: The Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA)
The Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA), which translates as “Chicano Student Movement,” describes itself as an organization that urges young Chicanos (people of Mexican ancestry living in the United States) to use “higher education” and “political involvement” to promote “cultural and historical pride,” “liberation,” and “self-determination” among their people.
MEChA’s earliest roots can be traced back to the Chicano Movement of the late 1960s, which emphasized “brown pride” while rejecting “acculturation and assimilation” into the American mainstream. In that milieu, the first National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference, organized by an entity called Crusade for Justice, was held in Denver, Colorado in March 1969. Participants in this conference drafted the basic premises for the “Chicana/Chicano Movement” in a seminal document titled El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán (EPEA), which today is required reading for all members of MEChA’s various chapters.
The term “Aztlán” refers to the territory in the Southwestern United States—including California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, as well as parts of Nevada, Utah, and Colorado—that Mexico legally ceded to the United States in 1848 via the Treaty of Guadalupe de Hidalgo. But Mexican separatists consider this region to be part of a mythical Aztec homeland that was stolen form its righful owners, the people of Mexico. Reasoning from that premise, MEChA rejects the notion that any Chicano can be considered an illegal immigrant. Indeed, a popular slogan that surfaces at many MEChA rallies is: “We didn’t cross the border. The border crossed us.”
Claiming that “Aztlán belongs to those who plant the seeds, water the fields, and gather the crops and not to the foreign Europeans,” EPEA stipulates that: (a) the “Chicanas and Chicanos of Aztlán” are a “sovereign” and “indigenous people” who are “not subject to a foreign culture,” and are now “reclaiming the land of our birth (Chicana/Chicano Nation)”; (b) the “bronze (Chicana/Chicano) Nation” is “a union of free pueblos” that view “Chicano nationalism” as “the key to mobilization and organization” in “the Chicana/Chicano Movement”; (c) “cultural values strengthen our identity as La Familia de La Raza [Family of The Race]”; and (d) there is a need for “an independent national political party [to] represent the sentiments of the Chicana/Chicano community.”
Thoroughly steeped in identity politics, EPEA emphatically refuses to recognize the “capricious frontiers” of white society “on the bronze continent”; denounces “the brutal gringo invasion of our territories”; and vows to “struggl[e] against the foreigner ‘gabacho’ [a pejorative term for an English-speaking, non-Hispanic] who exploits our riches and destroys our culture” MEChA’s exclusionary racial attitudes find additional expression in the organization’s slogan: “Por la Raza, todo. Fuera de La Raza, nada.” (This translates to: “For the race, everything. Outside of the race, nothing.”)
In April 1969—a month after the first National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference—more than 100 Chicano students convened at UC Santa Barbara to draft El Plan de Santa Barbara, a manifesto outlining a strategy for higher education. This plan led directly to the adoption of the name “MEChA” and the creation of politically radical Chicano Studies programs on many college campuses. To this day, MEChA expects Chicano students not merely to enroll in these programs, but to “insure” their “dominant influence” and to “constantly remind” Chicano faculty and administrators “where their loyalty lies.” Viewing the university as “a critical agency in the transformation of the Chicano community,” MEChA calls for an “educational revolution” wherein “our bullets are our books and our victories are an increase in Chicana/Chicano graduates committed to our people’s progress.”
El Plan de Santa Barbara “sees self-determination for the Chicana/Chicano community as the only acceptable way for our people to gain socioeconomic justice”; “arguesthat a strong nationalist identity is a necessary step in building a program of self-determination”; “exhorts Mechistas [MEChA activists] to preserve Chicana/Chicano culture in this culturally diverse society, both in community and on campus”; anddisparages “the Mexican-American (Hispanic),” which is a “politically ineffective” person who “lacks respect for his/her cultural and ethnic heritage” and “seeks assimilation as a way out of her/his ‘degraded’ social status.”
One of MEChA’s more notable co-founders was Lawrence Estrada, who is currently a tenured associate professor at Fairhaven College.
Agendas and Activities
MEChA espouses what it calls an ideology of “Chicanismo,” wherein Chicano purity is held up as a supreme virtue that reflects “self-respect and pride [in] one’s ethnic and cultural background,” and seeks to advance a radical ideology “through action.” In the words of MEChA’s national constitution, “Chicano and Chicana students of Aztlán must take upon themselves the responsibilities to promote Chicanismo within the community, politicizing our Raza with an emphasis on indigenous consciousness to continue the struggle for the self-determination of the Chicano people for the purpose of liberating Aztlán.”
MEChA aims to “dismantle the co-optation of Raza students from becoming ‘corporate Hispanics’ claiming to be leaders of our community with no understanding of El Pueblo Chicano.” Instead, MEChA seeks to “train future community leaders to be consciously committed to serve the people of Aztlán.”
MEChA condemns as “race traitors” those Latinos who fail to adhere to its ideological platform. In 1995, for example, the Voz Fronteriza, the official publication of UC San Diego’s MEChA chapter, ran an editorial excoriating a recently deceased Latino INS [Immigration and Naturalization Service] agent as one such traitor. The piece stated that “all the migra [a pejorative term for the INS] pigs should be killed, every single one.”
Promoting the “ancestral communalism” of the Mexican people, MEChA viewscapitalism as an “ethic of profit and competition, greed and intolerance.”
In 2003, MEChA was an organizational endorser of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition. To view a list of additional endorsers, click here.
By supporting continued high levels of Mexican immigration to the United States, MEChA hopes to flood the Southwestern U.S. with enough immigrants—legal and illegal—to establish a numerical majority and achieve, by sheer weight of numbers, the re-partition of that region of the country. This “reconquista,” or reconquest, would represent the fulfillment of El Plan de Aztlán‘s credo: “Where we are a majority we will control; where we are a minority we will represent a pressure group; nationally, we represent one party: La Familia de Raza [the Family of Race].”
It should be noted that such a “reconquista” represents only the first phase of the “La Raza” movement that MEChA supports. The next phase would involve the ethnic cleansing, or expulsion, of Americans of European, African, and Asian descent out of “Aztlán.” As Miguel Perez of Cal State-Northridge’s MEChA chapter once put it, after the establishment of Aztlán, non-Chicanos “would have to be expelled” because “you have to keep power.”
Today MEChA is a leading campus advocacy group for the rights of immigrants, both legal and illegal. Indeed, MEChA supports open borders, government benefits (including the right to vote) for non-citizens, state recognition of Spanish as an official language of the U.S., racial preferences and set-asides for Hispanics in education and corporate hiring, taxpayer-funded welfare outlays and public education for illegal aliens, and ultimately, amnesty or a path-to-citizenship for illegals.
MEChA attributes most of the problems presently afflicting Chicanos in America to the nation’s allegedly ubiquitous racism. For example, the organization says: “Overall, Chicana/Chicano junior high, high school and college push out rates have risen since 1969, forcing many Chicanas and Chicanos to a life of poverty. These factors along with a growing right wing trend in the nation are combining to work greater hardships on Chicanas and Chicanos. New repressive and racist immigration laws are continuously directed at our Gente.” To address these trends, MEChA is “committed to ending the cultural tyranny suffered at the hands of institutional and systematic discrimination that holds our Gente [People] captive,” and to put an “end to oppression and exploitation of the Chicano/Chicana community.”
While MEChA’s radicalism has been mostly rhetorical, the organization has sometimes resorted to destructive, and even violent, measures. For example:
- In 1993, when UCLA denied MEChA’s demand that the university’s Chicano Studies Program be accorded departmental status, MEChA activists responded by rampaging through the campus and vandalizing the faculty center, reportedly causing some $500,000 worth of damage.
- In 1996, MEChA activists assaulted a number of people who were demonstrating against illegal immigration.
- In 2002, MEChA members stole an entire press run of the California Patriot,the conservative newspaper at UC Berkeley, for publishing a piece that compared MEChA to a neo-Nazi movement. The loss of the newspapers was valued at $2,000. When Patriot staff members subsequently lodged a complaint with the university police department, they received death threats. Meanwhile the university, which was supplying the campus’s MEChA chapter with $20,000 in yearly student activity fees, quietly dropped the case.
- In May 2006, MEChA activists destroyed some 5,000 copies of the Campus Courier, a student newspaper at Pasadena City College, because of what they considered the paper’s inadequate coverage of a MEChA-sponsored event.
Anti-Semitism has also been evident in some of MEChA’s activities over the years. A printed flyer promoting a 1998 MEChA youth conference at California Polytechnic State University, for example, dubbed the school “Cal Poly State Jewniversity” and referred to New York as “Jew York.” Moreover, MEChA has been linked to La Voz de Aztlán (The Voice of Aztlán), a Chicano webzine that regularly publishes articles attacking Jews, Zionism, and Israel.
Over the years, MEChA has found many creative ways to emphasize its contempt for American traditions and, conversely, its solidarity with America’s enemies. For example:
- It has held separate Chicano graduation ceremonies on various college campuses.
- It has protested Columbus Day, on the rationale that the transplantation of European culture to the New World represented a catastrophe for the indigenous peoples of the region.
- The websites of some MEChA chapters are peppered with pictures of Che Guevara or Subcomandante Marcos—the masked figurehead of Mexico’s Marxist Zapatista guerillas.
Today MEChA is a potent force on school campuses nationwide: the organization boasts upward of 400 chapters in universities across the U.S., including some 100 inCalifornia alone. It has also established a number of chapters in public high schools, encouraging its young supporters to participate in protests and marches. Moreover, MEChA co-sponsors the Academia Semillas del Pueblo Charter School, a Hispanic K-8 facility based in Los Angeles. Marcos Aguilar, the school’s founder and principal,served as MEChA’s education committee coordinator from 1989-91. Adamantly opposed to Chicanos’ racial integration with white society, Aguilar says: “We don’t want to drink from a white water fountain; we have our own wells and our natural reservoirs and our way of collecting rain in our aqueducts.” Advising Chicanos toeschew “white culture and white supremacy,” he warns that “the white way, the American way, the neo liberal, capitalist way of life will eventually lead to our own destruction.”
Over the years, several prominent U.S. politicians have emerged from MEChA’s ranks. For example:
- Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa once served as president of a MEChA chapter at UCLA.
- Cruz Bustamante, the former lieutenant governor of California, was a member of MEChA as a student at Fresno State College.
- Democratic Congressman Raul Grijalva belonged to the University of Arizona’s MEChA chapter during his student days.
In 2003, MECHA’s Georgetown University chapter received a $2,500 grant from the National Council of La Raza.