Words by Rene Rocha, edited by Josue Ramirez and Freddy Jimenez
Words by Rene Rocha, edited by Josue Ramirez and Freddy Jimenez
The national debate surrounding Critical Race Theory (CRT), as much as vehement opposition to a vague concept could be called a “debate,” is intense. It is troubling when considering the incorrect definition of Critical Race Theory as used by those who oppose it. The partisan talking points are the usual mish-mash of maudlin appeals: CRT is an affront to patriotism and all we hold dear as a nation; it’s divisive, it’s racist because it makes certain students uncomfortable.
That uncomfort would be a part of the process of self-reflection. It would prove to be the reckoning that as a society we’ve seen surface in fits and bursts. But instead of wringing our hands about the off-base definition of CRT being used, let’s briefly examine what it is. Let’s also consider how it is useful in addressing regional concerns in addition to issues that the Mexican/Mexican American/Chicano diaspora within the United States confronts regularly.
Critical Race Theory is a lens originally used in legal studies to consider the role race has played, and still plays, within the American legal system. CRT applied in a historical context analyzes the role of race in our society as a whole. It recognizes the experiences and knowledge of Black, Brown, and Indigenous people as legitimate and critical to understanding the racism disguised in the rhetoric of normalized structural values and practices.
Consideration of who has benefitted historically from laws, standards, traditions, and social norms displays a great deal. Applying a critical lens to a historical document such as the Declaration of Independence goes a long way in recognizing and addressing injustice in a society said to have been built upon such virtues as freedom and equality.
Upon examination through a CRT lens the fissures in those overarching ideals become visible and conclusions are made. Unsurprisingly, the conclusions end up being the primary complaints concerning CRT. A glance at the history of Texas makes these contradictions clear.
One can reflect on the history of the lower Rio Grande region and recognize remnants of colonization. They trace back to the arrival of the Europeans, the Spaniards in this case, on these shores and on these specific lands and beyond. The disregard for the original inhabitants of these lands seems to be consistent on the entire continent.
Mexico, as a Spanish colony, enacted a distinct caste system based on race and miscegenation in particular. Privilege was enjoyed by those of European extraction, in particular with those born on the Spanish peninsula.
After a struggle for independence and other internal conflicts, Mexico welcomed settlers from the burgeoning United States into the northern regions already inhabited by Spanish colonizers, Mestizos, and Natives. These settlers from southern states were intent on continuing slavery, which had been outlawed in Mexico in 1837. This caused turmoil between new settlers and the Mexican government. Anglo settlers also engaged in coercion and violence directed at the Tejano landowners in a stark harbinger of things to come. It resulted in open rebellion and Texas independence. Subsequently Texas joined the United States as a recognized slave state.
The details and incidents in that brief summary are viewed through the Critical Race Theory lens. The main conclusion being that Black, Brown, and Indigenous peoples lives were undervalued, if valued at all. These events, the so-called “Conquista,” the Texas revolt, and Texas statehood, are covered in history classes in public schools. To the victors go the spoils, and the privilege to write history in a way that favors them.
If the CRT lens is not employed in these cases, then history class becomes a cultural bludgeon to control, discourage, and undermine marginalized communities, of which the Rio Grande Valley is one.
CRT provides a relevant lens with which to consider historical events from the point of view of those adversely affected. What is being confronted though? It seems complicated to describe and vague in concept simply because it’s been entrenched in culture, legal proceedings, and every aspect of political discourse.
Throughout history Anglo cultural dominance and exploitation in the region was achieved through; the imposition and effects of “Anglo” standards, the application of U.S. laws foreign to Mexican people including the language in which they were written, and outright violence and terror. These actions were, and are, the manifestation of systemic white supremacy.
This term is finally being used openly, and as such, is being addressed and corrected. Hopefully, it’s not limited to removal of problematic statues, though that is a start.
CRT brings the focus to the forefront and engages the learner to consider white supremacy juxtaposed to the advertised ideals such as justice, equality, and freedom. If these ideals are held at bay, or extended to only a certain privileged few, then, the whole endeavor that the “American experiment” is based on, is a blatant lie. This lie extends to our community, both geographically and as Chicanos.
So much of history, as taught in the state’s public schools, has been figuratively whitewashed, and it should be noted that the attempts and successes at keeping it this way are well underway. House Bill 3979 in Texas was passed in June of this year and went into effect on September 1st. This law is direct pressure on teachers and administrators who simply want to consider other perspectives on how we arrived at this point in history. These perspectives range from violence as perpetrated by the Texas Rangers, to a reconsideration of the events that led up to the world famous and often misunderstood Battle of the Alamo.
Professor Thomas De La Cruz, lecturer at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, spoke on the measures that can be taken to put this particular critical lens to use, specifically, in literature. Especially in light of a lawmaker from Texas proposing the banning of 850 books.
“Our country is multicultural, yet the authors we read, in all fields, don’t represent that. Not really. There is value in reading texts that discuss our identity. Our history. Authors who speak our language. Authors who have our last names. People like: Gloria Anzaldua, Sandra Cisneros, Mayra Infante, Oscar Casares, Domingo Martinez, Victor Villanueva Jr. Many of these people from the RGV,” mentions De La Cruz.
“This provides a valuable point of inclusion for Chicano youth who may struggle with identity and their place within our society,” De La Cruz mentions, “Raza, for the most part, values education. So, if we learned at school that our voices, and experiences are valid, then think of how much better we will function in society.”
CRT is being used as a scare tactic by the Right in an effort to paint any social justice movement, any movement for equality for that matter, as an extremist threat, in essence accepting that CRT is, in fact, a viable threat to white supremacy. Teaching these concepts in our region and in other parts of the Chicano/Latino diaspora will go a long way to enhancing racial and ethnic pride in addition to teaching truths that have been figuratively whitewashed.
As De La Cruz further pointed out, “Critical Race Theory isn’t a tool I’m using to teach students to hate America. Not even close. It’s a tool to show students how they can love all of what America is. This complex collection of experiences, cultures and identities. CRT shows us how some spaces can be reimagined into spaces that allow us to have a presence, allow us to have a space.”
In recognizing these facts, further progress towards a more equal and just society can be made, and the acceptance that this is a multicultural society will be more readily accepted.