History books are written by the winners. No matter how well known, few among us seem to apply the practical implications of that phrase to our understanding of the world. During that ancestral research session I mentioned on Day 3, I dug and dug for information about the region of New Mexico known as La Cienega–the home of my ancestors. I came across a History channel page talking about when New Mexico joined the union during the Mexican-American war. Something about the language was so infuriating., Perhaps it was the line, “In 1846, the Mexican-American War erupted, and U.S. General Stephen W. Kearny captured and occupied Santa Fe without significant Mexican opposition,” that made me so angry. In that single sentence, all that I had studied about the Mexican-American war was trivialized. I was one of the lucky few to spend a year studying Mexican-American history at my alma matter, San José State University, a Hispanic Serving Institution. The class was offered by the Department of Chicana/Chicano Studies.
Chapter 5 of How to Be an Antiracist makes me think a lot about ethnic studies and why this field is so vital. Recently I’ve followed the work of @m_alexrandolph (Twitter) and others fighting so hard to get Stanford University to establish an African and African American Studies Department. Stanford’s official response was that the field was “too narrow.” In my own frustration over the response, I tried to wrap my head around the idea that the history of the second largest continent on the planet, from which countless resources that fuel Western civilization are pillaged, could be too narrow of a topic for such a grand university? I still don’t have a good answer. Though there is little information on my ancestors from New Mexico, there is of those from the Texas-Mexico border. In reading the stories and seeing the pictures of the old familias de Terlingua, I felt so much gratitude for the scholars who had clearly worked hard to preserve our history. When I shared this with my tia, her response was, “Mija, a lot of our info is only found through catholic baptism because of the war.” Without the work of ethnicity scholars, and the departments that support them, the histories of marginalized peoples would be lost forever, destined to be overwritten by the “winners.”
All of this became formalized in my mind tonight while reading Kendi’s work, recounting his experiences as a young, African American, teenager. I had never read about ethnic racism before, let alone from the perspective of a young man who identified as Black. I never realized the divide between African Americans and African Immigrants to America. I never considered that one might have seen the other as part of the problem. There is so much in this book that I just didn’t know, and that really is because the history books are written by the winners. What does it matter to the white patriarchal academic powers that ethnic racism and the full telling of the diaspora be told in American history books? Should I be surprised that this wasn’t in my high school curriculum? Even the History channel can’t get the details of the Mexican-American war right.
I think the fact that I’ve never had to deal with ethnic racism, as Kendi describes in his first hand accounts as a school boy and college professor, is part of my White-passing privilege. Sure, I carry ideas about how others would view me if they knew my origin story, but it’s nowhere near the same. Usually my idea of how someone else views me doesn’t match what the other person is actually thinking. What Kendi describes is the opposite. As an African American teenager, he both suspected and had evidence that African Immigrants to America viewed him as inferior because of his ethnic race, because they bought the racist ideas being sold by the oppressors.
There is so much ethnic racism in the Southwest United States that it breaks my heart. Growing up I was very much aware of it. Today I see so many Chicanos who vote for Trump and express xenophobic ideas against Mexican immigrants. The same can be said for almost any other ethnic group in California. I’ve had friends who are immigrants point this out to me as they’ve struggled to process the Black Lives Movement through a Western European or Chinese Immigrant lens. It’s deeply upsetting because instead of directing all of that energy and anger into overthrowing the oppressor, it’s been channeled into further marginalizing each other. But it’s easier for me to say that considering the fact that I literally do not have skin in the game.
“With ethnic racism, no one wins, except the racist power at the top. As with all racism, that is the entire point.”
I’ve been thinking a lot about the relationship between racism and xenophobia lately, and didn’t quite have the full picture in mind yet, but Kendi’s words makes their relationship a little more clear. “Ethnically racist ideas, like all racist ideas, cover up the racist policies wielded against Black natives and immigrants.” Xenophobia is a tool used by the oppressor to tighten their grip on the oppressed.
Today was a much needed recovery spin on the bike (I’ve got some big things planned in the next few days). Still, I nabbed another 1191 vertical feet, leaving 17615 to go. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from bike racing, it’s that big goals are achieved through small efforts over long periods of time. True transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It takes doing the work every day, even if it’s just a miniscule action some of the days. If there’s one thing we know from neuroscience and long term potentiation, it’s that learning isn’t just about the magnitude of the stimulus, it’s also about the frequency of stimulation.