April 27- May 3, 2008  

The Chicano / Latino Experience in the United States and Our Similarities with the People of Venezuela

By

Dr. Jess G. Nieto

Executive Director

Heritage of America Educational & Cultural Foundation

Chicano & Latino Scholastic & Leadership Academy

 Professor- Department of Chicano & Latino Studies of

California State University Long Beach

President of Nieto & Associates: Marketing & Advertising & Cuatro Vientos Internacionales, Inc.

1004 H Street Suite F

Bakersfield , California 93304

Tel: 661- 325-5098

FAX 661- 322 3212

 

It is indeed an honor for me to be able to be part of the first Chicano / Latino delegation to visit Venezuela .  Not only is this a joyful experience for me but it also reminds me of the enormous responsibility this delegation has in opening the doors for further relationships, dialogue, and collaborations with our friends of this beautiful country.

I am proud of our Mexican and Latino roots in the United States , and I am also proudly painfully aware of the hardships, struggles, and horrible problems our group has had in our country.  But I am also keenly aware of the many triumphs, achievements, sacrifices, and contributions our ancestors had made to the founding and development of our country.

I live in Bakersfield , California in the state of California which is in the San Joaquin Valley (or Central Valley as it is also known).  The Valley contributes to the wealth of the state of California through its agriculture and petroleum industry, making it, if it were a county, the country with the 7th  or 8th  largest economy in the world.  And yet in the midst of all of this wealth, the Chicanos and Latinos constitute the largest group of the population  in California (46%) and the San Joaquin Valley at  55% and  56% in Kern County .  The Bakersfield School District which is the largest kindergarten through 8th grade school district in the state has 74% of its students classified as Hispanic or Latino.   It should be stated in this “land of plenty,” if the San Joaquin Valley was a state of the Union, the Valley would be the 49th state out of 50 with Mississippi being the lowest, and in fact, the San Joaquin Valley has been referred to by social science writers as the Appalachia West of the U.S.   The San Joaquin Valley would be classified as a “developing nation” or a Third World country with the inherent characteristics is has in the Valley!  Chicanos and Latinos represent the population group with the least income, the least education, the highest levels of unemployment and underemployment, the most poverty,  the highest levels of communicable disease in the nation, higher levels of alcoholism than any other group, the highest levels of drug abuse, and highest levels of teenage pregnancy in the country.  To repeat, all of the indices that would qualify this region as an “undeveloped country” or as a Third World nation are present here in this “land of plenty.

Our people have fought these economic and political inequalities in government and in other social sectors like in education.  The lack of protection for Chicano and Latino workers, especially in the agricultural field, lead to many examples of exploitation, injustices, and unfair treatment.  It has been only since the decade of the 1960s when the efforts of farm labor organizer Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers led to improvements for farm workers. 

Chicanos and Latinos were segregated in schools and other public places and it was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that desegregation began to occur after horrific battles against the white controlled establishment. 

Changes in the political electoral process did not begin to occur until the late 1970s and early 1980s, and there is still a great deal to do in this arena in obtaining political representation for our people.  The battle has just begun although Chicano and Latino populations now constitute the majority of many cities, counties, and it is the largest ethnic group in the state of California .

We believe that it is necessary is to link up with other groups in this nation and certainly with other countries to seek the development and establishment of models of interrelationships to work for mutual benefit.  We must think of ways in which we can work in ways that can be of mutual benefit.   I am hopeful that we can achieve this historic type of relationship.

It is this bittersweet experience and historical memory that we have that ties us closer to our Venezuelan brothers.  Both of our countries were part of a historically important part of the independence movement against Spain .  Although the dream of Venezuela ’s Simon Bolivar, one of the most important figures of the War for Independence by Nueva Espana, was not fulfilled in a united America Latina due to the fragmentation of the hemisphere into territories and countries, nonetheless, we share a shared important historical commonality of struggle and eventual triumph of achieving national independence.

We also share the experience of the Yankee’s Manifest Destiny in which los norteamericanos sought to control and develop North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans even though Mexico ’s northern territories stood in the way.  This missionary zeal was deeply ingrained in the American psyche.  Americans believed from the earliest times when John Wintrop proclaimed his dream of building a “city upon the hill” to which the world would look at America for guidance and inspiration, that Americans developed a sense that they were a special people.  This “Manifest Destiny” made many Americans believe that God had selected them to be a “special people” with the inalienable right to secure, populate, develop, and control lands occupied by inferior “savages,” or non-whites.  A poem by Rudyard Kipling encouraged this missionary fervor when he wrote:

“Take up the White Man’s burden

Send forth the best ye breed,

Go bind your sons to exile

To serve your captives’  need;

To wait in heavy harness

On fluttered folk and wild.

Your new-caught sullen peoples,

Half devil and half child.”

Mexico refused to sell California in 1846 to President James Polk and the United States, so true  to his presidential campaign that if he could not obtain California and other Mexican territories “por la buena” (through purchase and other persuasive means), then he would use force (“por la mala”) to forcibly take California.  Since Mexico refused these imperialistic overtures, President Polk orchestrated a minor military skirmish in a disputed area between the Nueces River and the Rio Grande River which was the boundary between the Republic of Texas and Mexico , and persuaded the U.S. Congress to declare war on Mexico in 1846 because U.S. troops had been attacked the U.S.   This incident was incredibly similar to the Gulf of Tonkin incident when President Lyndon Baines Johnson positioned American warships in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of Vietnam to be “attacked” after the U.S. had bombed the North Vietnamese and instituted acts of terrorism, sabotage, and political assassinations.   A number of U.S. members of Congress opposed the imperialistic Mexican War including future president Abraham Lincoln.

In two years after three invading armies swept into Mexico , including California , the Yankees defeated the Mexican armies and through the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo forced Mexico to turn over half of her land, including California , New Mexico , Arizona , and large parts of Colorado , and Utah .  Through this war of aggression, Mexico also lost over 70% of her natural resources. 

So  the Mexicanos living in these territories who suffered through this conquest were given  a second class status as residents and citizens, and experienced a total deterioration of their political, economic, cultural, and language rights even though there were sections of the Treaty that were to protect these interests. My own family, that of Manuel Nieto and his descendents who settled in California in 1769 and who eventually owned over 300,000 acres of land in Southern California lost everything by 1870 through the U.S. courts and unscrupulous official and unofficial acts of the new laws, government, and the swarming Yankees who took over the land and completely overturned and swallowed up all existing laws, traditions, and customs that protected the Mexican populations.

As Chicanos, we understand the foreign policies the United States has practiced in America Latina.  In addition to the acts of aggression against Mexico and its remaining citizens abused by the new order in the new “Southwest,” many other historical events demonstrate the demand by the Yankees to spread their brand of domination and influence.  The Spanish American War, and the suppression of a nationalist movement in the Philippines to obtain independence after the United States obtained the islands through the defeat of Spain , further fueled the betrayal of the traditional American traditions. These groups included former President Grover Cleveland, industrialist Andrew Carnegie, labor leaders, writers, and other well known Americans.  This large contingent of American idealists spoke out against this change in foreign policy and urged other peoples and nations the right for “self determination” that Americans so deeply cherished.

Although the United States had proclaimed Latin America to be free of European interventions and entanglements through the Monroe Doctrine, the U.S. hypocritically proclaimed that it had the right to protect itself and its’ interests in her backyard.

Due to the triumphs in the Mexican War, the Spanish American War, and the defeat of Philippine guerrillas, the moderate urgings of the American idealists were quickly drowned out in the United States when other sectors of American life resonated with optimism, ambition, energy, and the desire to spread the American ideals.  A new group of Americans called for the acquisition and control of new resources, markets, and opportunities for the American corporations while at the same time calling for the overthrow of other Latin American governments to impose “real republican democratic” institutions and practices.  Hence, American troops under President McKinley moved to depose a Cuban nationalist movement and government, and President William Howard  Taft acted to depose the government of  Nicaragua to help promote “real patriotism.”  Earlier during the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt, he had indirectly contributed towards the overthrow of President Jose Santos Zelaya of Nicaragua and used the “Roosevelt Corollary” to the Monroe Doctrine which stated that the U.S. had the right to intervene in any country of the Western Hemisphere that needed intervention.  (The Monroe Doctrine in 1823 stated that the United States would not tolerate any attempt by any European power or nation to control the destiny of a nation or to “influence the course of events in the Americas.”)

The Roosevelt Corollary in 1904 stated in part: 

“Chronic wrongdoing, or an impotence which results in a general loosening of the ties of civilized society, may in America, as elsewhere, ultimately require intervention by some civilized nation, and in Western Hemisphere the adherence of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force the U.S., however reluctantly, in flagrant cases of such wrongdoing or impotence, to the exercise of an international peace power.”

U.S. administrations at the beginning of the twentieth century had no feelings of regret in instituting these types of action and intervention in America Latina.  These acts were also influenced by feelings of racism.  In countries where the people were of a “colored” or of mixed bloods (miscegenation), these new leaders of the U.S. believed that these inferior peoples were in need of guidance from the more enlightened whites of America .  Hence, the whites of America had a moral obligation to control these peoples with the result that systemic repressions and exploitations occurred.  Incidentally speaking, these were the policies and practices that Afro-Americans and Mexicans (and other ethic minorities of color) had inflicted upon them and hence, suffered in the United States . 

Hence “regime change” operations became commonplace in the twentieth century for the United States in Latin America if the action justified its mission of “Manifest Destiny,” resources and markets acquisition, and the overthrow of inferior governments that were not “real republican democracies.” 

Chicano / Latino groups in the United States have struggled since 1846 to retain and win their rightful rights as citizens of the United States .  Although there have been many victories, these have not come easily.  As Chicanos and Latinos in the United States , we understand the paternalistic policies that have been instituted in Latin America .  The United States has actually been unfit and unsuited to rule other governments or countries.  In the majority of cases, the U.S. has not understood the nationalistic movements of these countries, and its desire to maintain politically stable governments and environments to protect its economic interests has made it incompatible to promote the needs of these countries and their societies.  In addition, America ’s obsession with the idea they are uniquely endowed to bring progress and virtue to other nations and peoples has become a part of the American national identity.  Being favored by God, has convinced them that by bringing their political and economic system to others, they are doing God’s work.  The conviction that capitalism and individual political choice as President George W.  Bush stated that it is “right and true for every person in every society.”

In reality, the United States has acted in the intervention of other countries for self-centered motives and interests. 

However, many of the United States sponsored interventions in many instances using clandestine operations by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) have produced generations of patriots from their countries who articulate their frustration and revolt against American interests in their countries.  Many of these patriots are then called “terrorists,” “revolutionaries,” or “subversives” by the U.S. for what these people believe is the defense of their sovereignty and national interests.

The fact is that American foreign policy and of the Administrations from Polk to Bush have deluded themselves into believing that the United States has the right to intervene in other countries and that their citizens would immediately rush to embrace American forms of government, values, and economic systems. The reality is just the opposite where the majority of countries which been intervened or invaded reject the American presence and influence and in many instance initiate movements of resistance and opposition.  The United States in turn sponsor groups within that nation with military and economic aid to quell the dissatisfactions, rebellions, and opposition.

These efforts by the United States in turn creates greater movements of rebellion, violence, and opposition.  During the last decade, the United States has ignored Latin America (except for the economic and military it provides to Colombia to combat the drug trade).  According to a recent speech to the Organization of American States in Washington D.C. . by Bill Richardson, Governor of New Mexico, Latin America is still growing on average of 5% per year, and has lured more than $125 billion from India and China .  It is within this historical  framework of United States aggression (and to some extent non-attention to Latin America in the last decade) that Venezuela and its President Hugo Chavez has faced the beginning of the twenty-first century. 

President Chavez has survived a take-over by dissident military personnel supported by the U.S.   and by U.S. television and radio media stations sponsored by the U.S. to whip up support for his “resignation” which all American newspapers reported after this “resignation lie” had been spread to all U.S. media by the U.S. State Department.  The coup leaders bungled their operation within 48 hours, and because Chavez was not murdered,  the truth became known to the world.  He escaped his captors, and returned proclaiming the truth of what had happened.   In actuality, there is still a continuation of U.S. sponsored activities to promote the demise of the Chavez administration.

The U.S. media has used words like “dictator,” “autocrat” “crazy,” and “anti-democratic.”  President Chavez has in turn instituted policies to protect his country from the onslaught of attacks from the United States .  Why is the Unites States attacking Hugo Chavez?

The answer may partially lie in Chavez’s efforts to reject America ’s neocolonial efforts to use its will and foreign policy to extend their global reach politically, economically, and socially.  This in the past has also been known as “expansionism,” “imperialism,” and now “neocolonialism.” 

Neocolonialism has been used in the  late 20th century by critics of developed countries' like the United States, particularly in Latin America and their involvement in the developing world (like Laatin America). Opponents of neocolonialism, like President Hugo Chavez,  argue that existing or past international economic arrangements were created and  used to maintain control of developing nations.   The term Neocolonialism can combine a critique of current actual colonialism (where some states continue administrating foreign territories and their populations in violation of United Nations resolutions and a critique of modern capitalist businesses involvement in nations which were former colonies or are developing nations. Critics of neocolonialism contend that private, foreign business companies continue to exploit the resources of post-colonial peoples or developing nations, and that this economic control inherent to neocolonialism is akin to the classical, European colonialism practiced from the 16th to the 20th centuries. In broader usage, current especially in Latin America, Neocolonialism may simply refer to involvement of powerful countries in the affairs of less powerful countries. In this sense, "Neo"colonialism implies a form of contemporary, economic Imperialism: that powerful nations behave like colonial powers, and that this behavior is likened to colonialism in a post-colonial world.  President Hugo Chavez argues that this is the motivation of the United States , and the challenge of his efforts in Venezuela and in other Latin American countries, is to confront this hegamony and dominance of the United States .  This, of course, is emphatically opposed by the United States because its foreign policy is merely what many have called the “enforcer” of Wall Street interests.

As Chicanos and Latinos in the United States , members of our delegation understand these historical patterns of relationships between the United States government and its foreign policies of intervention and neocolonialism.  We therefore express our solidarity with the people of Venezuela and their right to determine their own self destiny, and their right to establish political, economic, and social/cultural programs for the benefit of the majority of its’ people.  A very sacred principal to Chicanos is that it is necessary to guard against the “tyranny of the majority,” and to protect and to safeguard the rights of minorities which we, as Chicano and Latinos, have historically struggled and fought to maintain and protect. 

It is our intent that we are able to open new avenues of communication between our two countries and peoples, especially between our U.S. Chicano and Latino populations and Venezuela .  We are optimistic that we can be a bridge of dialogue and understanding, of the establishment of new and  beneficial relationships and programs of a mutual nature between Venezuela and the United States .   We believe that this is only the first visit to Venezuela to plant the seeds of goodwill, and this to be followed by other visits to harvest the results of our mutual labor. 

Return to Venezuela Page