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One common feature of logos used by MEChA chapters, an Eagle holding a lit stick of dynamite and a macuahuitl.

M.E.Ch.A. (Spanish: Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, "Chicano Student Movement of Aztlán") is an organization that seeks to promote Chicano unity and empowerment through education and political action. The acronym of the organization's name is the Spanish word mecha, which means "fuse". The motto of MEChA is La Unión Hace La Fuerza ("Unity Creates Strength"), according to the MEChA National Constitution.[1][2][3][4]

Contents

Origins in the 1960s

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MEChA began during the 1960s, empowered through the political movements of the time, especially the civil rights and Chicano Movement. The group coalesced out of several organizations which had formed during that turbulent decade and which came together at a conference in Denver. The Denver, Colorado-based Crusade for Justice, a civil rights and educational organization founded in the mid-1960s, concerned itself with the problems of the city's Chicano youth. One of the founding documents, "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlan", was drafted during this conference. This document reflects the sentiment of the Latino/Chicano youth during an era of a turbulent social climate (especially in the wake of violence experienced by Latino youth from the US military and police during the Zoot Suit Riots).

The Mexican American Youth Organization was founded in San Antonio, Texas in 1967. It employed the tactics of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and later spurred the creation of the La Raza Unida Party.

The Brown Berets were a youth organization that agitated against police brutality in East Los Angeles. In 1968, they helped the United Mexican American Students (UMAS), Sal Castro, and other youth who met at the Piranya Cafe organize the East L.A. walkouts, called the Blowouts, a series of protests against unfair conditions in Los Angeles schools.

Following the Blowouts, a group of students, school administrators, and teachers formed the Chicano Coordinating Committee on Higher Education (CCCHE), a network to pressure the adoption and expansion of equal opportunity programs in California's colleges.

Rene Nuñez, an activist from San Diego, conceived a conference to unify the student groups under the auspices of the CCCHE.

In April 1969, Chicano college students held a nationwide conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Many of the attendees were present at the First National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference hosted by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales' Crusade for Justice a month prior, and the Santa Barbara conference represented the extension of the Chicano Youth Movement into the realm of higher education.

The name "Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán" was already in use by a few groups, and the name was adopted by the conference attendees because of the importance of each of the words and as a means of transcending the regional nature of the multiple campus-based groups. Conference attendees also set the national agenda and drafted the Plan de Santa Bárbara, a pedagogic manifesto.

MEChA chapters first took root on California college campuses and then expanded to high schools and schools in other states. It soon became one of the primary Mexican-American organizations, hosting functions, developing community leaders, and politically pressuring educational institutions. MEChA was fundamental in the adoption of Chicano Studies programs and departments in academia.

Organizational Structure

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Affiliated chapters

MEChA exists as over 400 loosely affiliated chapters within a national organization. Typical activities of a MEChA chapters include educational & social activities, such as academic tutoring, mentorship, folklore and poetry recitals, exploring the way of life through an indigenous perspective bringing Chicano speakers to their campus, high school outreach, attending Statewide, Regional, & National Conferences. Many chapters are also involved in political actions, such as lobbying high school and university administrators for expanded Bilingual Education programs and Chicano-related curricula, the celebration of Mexican cultural traditions, as well as other Latin American holidays (such as Mexican Independence Day), Columbus Day protests, sit-ins, hunger strikes, boycotts, rallies, marches and other political activism relating to civil rights, affirmative action, and immigration

National MEChA Constitution

The National MEChA constitution was ratified on April 9, 1995 during the second annual National MEChA conference at the University of California, Berkeley (Cal). The document outlines four objectives:[5]

  • Educational, cultural, economical, political, and social empowerment of Chicanos.
  • Retention of Chicano identity and furthering of cultural awareness.
  • Uplifting and mobilizing Chicanos and Chicanas through higher education.
  • Implementing plans of action concerning Chicanos and Chicanas.

Since its adoption, the document has been amended four times:

During the 1999 National Conference at Phoenix College, MEChA adopted a document entitled The Philosophy of MEChA which affirmed the more moderate view that "all people are potential Chicanas and Chicanos", and that "Chicano identity is not a nationality but a philosophy".[6] In addition, The Philosophy of MEChA addressed the problem of outside organizations co-opting the legitimacy of MEChA to advance their own agendas, doing so by establishing guidelines to make local MEChA chapters more accountable to the national organization.

Criticism

A passage from MEChA's national website reads: ‘As Chicanas and Chicanos of Aztlán, we are a nationalist movement of Indigenous Gente that lay claim to the land that is ours by birthright. As a nationalist movement we seek to free our people from the exploitation of an oppressive society that occupies our land. Thus, the principle of nationalism serves to preserve the cultural traditions of La Familia de La Raza and promotes our identity as a Chicana/Chicano Gente.’[7] Such statements have led MEChA to be criticized by a variety of sources, including the National Review[8] and Michelle Malkin[9] which alleges that MEChA is a Hispanic nationalist organization tinged with racist and separatist views. Groups such as American Patrol are even more vitriolic in their criticism, accusing MEChA of outright Aztec supremacism and irredentism. The Times Online has referred to MEChA as "a radical Latino student organisation"[10] in describing the associations of California gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante.

Much of the criticism addresses statements made by individual MEChA members or chapters, as opposed to the official agenda of the national organization. Critics also point out the group's use of the word Aztlán: To many, this word calls to mind a region comprising much of the Southwestern United States and as a result, some critics feel use of the phrase implies support for the controversial theory of reconquista. While MEChA supporters point out that the Aztlan mythology itself does not refer to reclaiming conquered lands, it simply describes the ancestral home of the Aztec people.

Also controversial is the phrase "Por La Raza todo, Fuera de La Raza nada", which is often translated as "For the Race, everything, outside the Race, nothing", though this is disputed. Many critics of MEChA see this statement as ethnocentric and racist. This phrase appears in El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán and is often claimed to be the "slogan" of MEChA, despite little attestation of its use by MEChA members or alleged importance within MEChA. The official motto of MEChA, as seen in its logo, is "La Unión Hace La Fuerza", meaning "Unity Makes Strength".[1] MEChA members themselves differ in their interpretations of "La Raza". While some use the term to strictly refer to only mestizos and Chicanos, others use it to mean all Hispanics and minorities. A likely origin of the phrase is the Cuban communist Revolution, which used a similar slogan: "Por la revolución todo, fuera de la revolución nada!"

A 1998 MEChA youth conference at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) featured a printed program that introduced the school as "Cal Poly State Jewniversity". The program also referred to New York as "Jew York". When the Anti-Defamation League objected to the program, the university’s MEChA chapter issued a formal apology. MEChA has also been linked to La Voz de Aztlán (The Voice of Aztlan), a Chicano webzine that regularly publishes articles attacking Jews, Zionism, and Israel.

The National Council of La Raza has distanced itself from MEChA due to controversial allegations made by some of its members. In a public press release, NCLR declared, "NCLR freely acknowledges that some of the organization’s founding documents, e.g., Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, contain inappropriate rhetoric, and NCLR also acknowledges that rhetoric from some MEChA members has been extremist and inflammatory... NCLR has publicly and repeatedly disavowed this rhetoric".[11]

Controversies

  • The national MEChA organization claims to not advocate violence, citing the example set by the late labor activist César Chávez. However, on several occasions, MEChA members and chapters have been involved or implicated in violent or criminal disturbances. In the largest such instance, on May 11, 1993, Chicano students at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) caused damage to the Faculty Center estimated between $35,000 to $500,000 during a riot which ensued following the university administration's rejection of the creation of a Chicano Studies program.[12][13]
  • In February 2002, MEChA members were implicated in the theft of an entire press run of a particular issue of the UC Berkeley conservative newspaper California Patriot which was featuring an article that labelled MEChA a "neo-Nazi"-like organization. Police reported that over 3,000 copies (valued at $1,500 - $2,000) were stolen during a break-in at the Patriot office in Eshleman Hall. The issue of the paper included an article, entitled "MEChA: Student Funded Bigotry and Hate," blames the group for impeding "advances in civil rights toward a colorblind American society" through "anti-American hate" and "a mentality that leads its adherents to believe anyone who is white and male is to blame for any historical injustice." However, MEChA denied any involvement in the incidents and "condemns harassment," said Livia Rojas, a leader in the group. The case was ultimately dropped as insufficient evidence was found to implicate any suspects.[14][15]
  • On May 18, 2006, MEChA members claimed (in writing) to have destroyed the entire press run of the May 18, 2006 issue of the Pasadena City College newspaper. Nearly all 5,000 copies of the Courier were removed from newspaper boxes on the Pasadena, California, campus, torn in half and returned to the paper's campus office with a signed note claiming responsibility. The letter expressed disappointment for the lack of coverage provided for a MEChA-hosted event on May 12, 2006, which had involved "months of hard work". It ended stating: "As students of P.C.C., we can not accept this issue of the Campus Courier."[16]

Annual National MEChA Conferences

In 1993 MEChA de Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) hosted the National Chicana/ Chicano Leadership Conference. The next year was the first annual National MEChA Conference at Arizona State University (ASU). The conference has taken place at the following campuses:

California Statewide Conferences

California MEChA statewide conferences are held twice a year, during the fall and spring semesters. The hosting chapter must rotate between the three California regions (Alta Califas Norte, Centro Califaztlán, and Alta Califas Sur).

References

External links

Critics



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