Our VoiceImmigration

Cross-Post: From Wall to Wall


Imagine 2050 Staff • Mar 17, 2012

Nancy Hom, New World Border (newworldborder.tumblr.com)

Originally posted by WordStrike.

In this installment of our Saving Ethnic Studies series, pioneering ethnic studies scholar Rodolfo F. Acuña reflects on borders, at home and abroad, and how they divide us while exposing our common humanity–and vulnerability–at the same time.

I received an interesting email in response to an electronic conversation titled “The Trip.” One of the highest ranking Latino veterans responded to me. It was a courteous rejoinder although it was meant to be a subtle put down. The vet contended that he had never had trouble in this country because among other things his parents tutored him and made sure his grades were high. He never called himself a Mexican American but an American of Mexican descent.

The writer had spent much of his life as a high ranking officer in the army air force and was proud of his service.

As is my custom, I thought about what he was saying and tried to understand why our views were so different. I have always been interested in epistemology that studies knowledge (although a stint at Loyola University nearly suffocated this fascination).

I decided that the difference between me and the writer rested on how we acquired our knowledge. From googling him, I realized that he relied heavily on absolutes. My approach to knowledge because of my academic training has always been more active and more adaptive.

Just from the thumbnail narrative I could see similarities and differences in how we looked at life. Although I was not poor, my father was a master tailor; I never had the luxury of either parent helping me with my homework. My mother did not complete the first grade and my father had a fourth grade education – killed the English language.

Moreover, location had formed our views of this country. My maternal family with whom I was raised were border people whereas his family came from way under, from a state with secessionist pretensions.

What we did in the armed forces also conditioned our views. I doubt whether he ever ate with the plebes, or met what we at the time called hillbillies. The two years that I spent in the service were marred by race riots – if you were on leave you went to the black, white or Puerto Rican joints. Fights between the races were common.

These experiences informed the way I looked at life.  When I was an undergrad the education professors were always talking about people building walls around themselves. The finger was pointed at Mexican-Americans who hyphenated their identity.

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