Bustamante Silent on Separatist Past

There is a popular saying among Hispanics, Dime con quien andas y te diré quien eres . It means “Tell me with whom you hang out, and I will tell you who you really are.”

Who does California gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante (search) “hang out” with? By now, Californians know that Bustamante refuses to repudiate the Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan, known as MEChA (search), the separatist student organization he joined in college. But do they know what MEChA does, or refuses to do, and what, apparently, are Bustamante’s reasons for not condemning MEChA?

The term “MEChA”  has recently been lumped together with the term “La Raza” (search) or “The Race.” While there is an organization whose name is “The Race,” other “Raza” organizations abound. The term “Raza groups” is used to describe those organizations who seek to “reclaim” the U.S. southwestern states for Mexico, or at least for people of Mexican descent. Most of these groups have termed the U.S./Mexico border “false.” In an age when the slightest trace of racial intolerance can destroy a candidacy, how is it possible that Bustamante thinks it is just fine to not go on the record and condemn MEChA and what it stands for?

The aims of Raza groups are easier to pin down than most. Their members talk. A lot.

Rudy Acuna (search), a Cal State Northridge professor of Chicano studies, is a self-described socialist (search), an advisor to MEChA, and a card-carrying separatist who has reportedly publicly urged Chicanos to get more militant about defending their rights and has warned Chicanos that they are living in a "Nazi U.S." where they are in danger of being taken to "intellectual ovens."

Acuna recently wrote this defense of Bustamante. While Acuna denies that MEChA is anti-Semitic, he is a regular contributor to the rabidly anti-Semitic La Voz de Aztlan.  Acuna would no doubt contend that his own articles are not anti-Semitic and that Aztlan.com did not reflect his own opinion of Jews. But that would be no different than submitting editorials to the Ku Klux Klan's newsletter and arguing that the Klan's views do not reflect one’s own opinions.

In May of 1995, Voz Fronteriza (search), an explicitly Raza student newspaper based at the University of California at San Diego, ran a front page article exalting the line-of-duty death of U.S. Border Patrol agent Luis A. Santiago (search). On May 9, 2001, anti-immigration activist Hal Netkin invited the country’s MEChA chapters -- reported to number 300 -- to repudiate the publication. To date, only two have.

And Cruz Bustamante refuses to repudiate MEChA. The only logical conclusion is that Bustamante gives his tacit approval to sentiments like those featured in Aztlan.com, in the comments of Rudy Acuna, and in Voz Fronteriza. It’s also possible, and perhaps worse, that Bustamante is personally offended by those sentiments but is enough of a cynic to capitalize on them through his silence.

It was state representative Cruz Bustamante who, according to Mother Jones (search) magazine, participated in a 1993 conference on illegal immigration where he said, "We could not conduct business without the immigrant." Reporters present then asked if Bustamante endorsed illegal immigration. "My district requires it," he answered. Gov. Gray Davis, in a horribly conceived attempt to curry even greater favor among Hispanic voters, stated again this week that he will sign a bill just passed by the California assembly that will allow illegal aliens in the state to obtain driver’s licenses.

The issue confronting California voters should not be that Bustamante was a MEChA member. The issue is that, even today, he refuses to condemn MEChA and the “false border” MEChA philosophy, a philosophy that is even now reflected in Bustamante’s politics. By not repudiating the MEChA philosophy he thereby validates the ideology of MEChA's leadership.

Matt Hayes began practicing immigration law shortly after graduating from Pace University School of Law in 1994, representing new immigrants in civil and criminal matters. He teaches at Berkeley College, and is author of The New Immigration Law and Practice, to be published in October.

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