A “People to People Initiative Program”
Between Chicanos & Latinos of the United States &
The People of Venezuela
Dr. Jess G. Nieto
I. Introduction to the “People to People Initiative Program”
In my paper I wrote for the Instituto de Altos Estudios Diplomáticos Pedro Gual “The U.S. Presidential Election of 2008 And the Implications For The Development Of A Foreign Policy Towards Latin America,” I wrote that it was my opinion that a “People to People Initiative Program” be considered between the people of Venezuela and the Chicanos and Latinos of the United States. In my paper I attempted to suggest the various possibilities for the eventual development of a foreign policy towards Latin America and particularly Venezuela by the next American administration, but I also mentioned that I believed that a “People to People Initiative” between our respective populations of Chicanos and Latinos in the U.S. and the Venezolano people could contribute profoundly to the establishment of better relationships between our two countries. I wrote “that a “people to people initiative” between U.S. Latinos and Venezolanos can work to establish a deeper mutual understanding of our respective citizens, and that we can work on a collaboration of programs to improve our respective communities, especially in the areas of education, cultural exchanges, and technological and technical training.”
Having had experience in working with our Cuban friends, especially at the University of Havana, I believe the Cuban experience offers a model for this “people to people” concept. I wrote in my paper that “Despite decades of the unsuccessful U.S. efforts to assassinate Cuban leaders, the imposition of the economic embargo, the attempt to isolate Cuba internationally, and other acts of terrorism by the U.S. against Cuba, the majority of Americans view the embargo as outdated, ineffective, and favor normalization efforts. The Cubans have engaged in decades of academic and cultural exchanges with Americans. There have been visits of thousands of Americans to Cuba who have seen through the political propaganda of our government’s policies. I believe we can learn from the Cuban experience.”
The major intent of the “People to People Initiative” is that we are able to open new avenues of communication and collaboration between our two countries and peoples, especially between our U.S. Chicano and Latino populations and Venezuela. I am optimistic that we can be a bridge of dialogue and understanding, and of the establishment of new and beneficial relationships and programs between Venezuela and the United States. I believe that the visit our Chicano and Latino delegation made to Venezuela in April – May of 2008 which represented our first visit to Venezuela, was able to plant the seeds of goodwill, and it is our hope that we will be able to deepen our relationships, experiences, and collaborations with the development of a “People to People Initiative.”
II. A Look At Demographics And Overview to the Chicano and Latino Experience in the United States
As a Chicano, I am keenly aware of the many triumphs, achievements, sacrifices, and contributions our ancestors had made to the founding and development of our country.
But at the same time I am painfully aware of the hardships, struggles, and horrible problems our group has had in our country. I will briefly refer to the paper “The Chicano / Latino Experience in the United States and Our Similarities With The People of Venezuela,” that I delivered at the Palacio Municipal in Caracas in April of this year to summarize the experiences that Chicanos in the U.S. have had in the U.S. and that partially explain our present status in this country.
Latinos constitute the largest minority group in the United States at over 44.8 million people in June 10, 2006 (14.1% of the total U.S. population, and more if the undocumented population is included). See Table A for the growth of the Hispanic population in the U.S., and Table B for the 2006 estimates of the California and Kern County populations.
Table A: Growth of Hispanic Population In The U.S.
Year Hispanic Population
2000 35.6 million
2001 37.1 million
2002 38.5 million
2003 38.9 million
2004 41.3 million
2005 42.7 million
2006 44.8 million
2009 48.6 million
Table B: 2006 Estimates for California Population and Kern County Population
California Population 36,457,646
Kern County Population 780,117
Kern County White (non Hispanic) 43.0%
Kern County Black 6.3%
Kern County Hispanic 45.2%
Kern County Asian 4.1%
Kern County Native American 1.7%
The majority of the population lives in several states including California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Illinois, Florida, and New York. But the fastest percentage increases of the Latino population are in states where large numbers have been migrating to and thereby increasing those state’s percentages of Hispanics. These states include, but are not limited to Massachusetts, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Alabama, Kansas, Indiana, Missouri and South Dakota. Hence, the Latino population is quickly becoming a national reality. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, (Table C: Projected Hispanic Population Growth by 2050), the projected growth of the Hispanic population by the year 2050 is as follows:
Table C: Projected Hispanic Population Growth by 2050
Year Projected Growth
2002 38.6 million
2003 43.5 million
2004 44.8 million
2010 50.1 million
2015 56.9 million
2020 64.2 million
2025 72.2 million
2030 80.8 million
2035 90.2 million
2040 100.2 million
2045 110.9 million
Projected Hispanic Growth by July 1, 2050 122.2 million
Percent of entire U.S. Population 24%
Non-Hispanics in 2050 will be a minority with immigrants and their children driving 82% of the population growth.
The ethnic percentages of the Hispanic population is as follows, Table D: Ethnic Percentages of Hispanic Population.
Table D: Ethnic Percentages of Hispanic Population
Mexican or Mexican American ancestry 64%
Puerto Rican 10%
Cuban, Salvadoran and Dominican origins, each 3%
Remainder, other Central American, South American or
Other Hispanic or Latino origins12%
III. San Joaquin Valley and Bakersfield, California: A Brief Description
I live in Bakersfield, California in the San Joaquin Valley. 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. 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 that 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 states 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, and 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.” I mention the San Joaquin Valley of California and the town where I live, Bakersfield, because they are very reflective of conditions where most Chicanos and Latinos live under in the United States. And this geographic location is where our Heritage of America Educational & Cultural Foundation has operated for 33 years and where we would start of program with the “People to People Initiative Program,” if funded.
(A) Struggles By Latinos: Nationally speaking, Latinos 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.
I 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 for mutual benefit. I am hopeful that we can achieve this historic type of relationship with the “People to People Initiative Program.”
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 believes 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.”
Our current status as Chicanos in the United States was shaped by this country’s imperialistic designs to acquire California and other Mexican territories. Mexicans and Chicanos made their entry into the U.S. not as another immigrant group who came voluntarily from Europe, but through conquest. Mexico refused to sell California in 1846 to President James Polk and the United States, so President Polk, true to his presidential campaign that if he could not obtain California and other Mexican territories through purchase and other persuasive means, then he would use force and military action 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. Due to this minor skirmish Polk persuaded the U.S. Congress to declare war on Mexico in 1846. 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 the U.S. 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.
Although the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was supposed to protect the rights of the Mexicans living in the newly ceded territories, the people who suffered through this conquest were accorded a second class status as residents and citizens. They 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 lost all of their land holdings 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 throughout Latin America as I have outlined in my paper “The U.S. Presidential Election of 2008 And the Implications For The Development Of A Foreign Policy Towards Latin America.”
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. I am optimistic that we can be a bridge of dialogue and understanding, of the establishment of new and beneficial relationships and collaborative programs of a mutual beneficial nature between Venezuela and the United States in education, cultural exchanges and in technological and technical training.
IV. Major Goal for the People to People Initiative Program
The major goal of this proposed collaborative relationship between the Latinos of the United States and the Venezolanos of Venezuela is to develop a relationship which could have long term positive consequences for both groups.
It is proposed that a collaborative program be instituted between Heritage of America Educational & Cultural Foundation, a California based non-profit corporation, and an organization selected by the Venezuelan authorities. (Please see Appendix A: Heritage of America Materials.) This collaborative program, named “A People to People Initiative Program” is designed to accomplish several objectives:
(A) to establish educational programs that would be of direct benefit to the Latino population of the U.S., and to benefit Venezuelan students as identified and selected by the Venezuela organization;
(B) to develop cultural exchanges in art, music, theater and drama, and other art forms between the two groups;
(C) to establish technological and technical training and educational programs that would be of benefit to the two groups;
(D) to create an exchange program of professors, teachers, students, community organizers, and leaders of community organizations to learn about each other’s countries experiences through the visit of schools, colleges, universities, community organizations, actual communities, and other groups of interest.
V. Strategy On How To Achieve The Goal
In 1979 while I was a member of the Commission of the Californias, having been appointed by the governor of California to serve on this international tri-state governmental commission between California of the U.S., Baja California Norte, and Baja California Sur of Mexico, I became very involved in proposing a variety of educational programs between Mexico and the U.S. It was at this time when a colleague of mine, Dr. Julian Nava, who was serving on a committee of mine on the Commission of the Californias, was selected by U.S. President Jimmy Carter to be our Ambassador to Mexico. Dr. Nava, due to his strategic position as Ambassador to Mexico from the U.S., helped me immemsely in my effort to develop programs between the two countries. I helped create a program signed as a treaty between the U.S. and Mexico entitled Project M.U.S.T.T. (Mexico U.S. Technology Transfer) which made it possible for thousands of Mexican students to study in the U.S. in areas of technology and technical fields that were important to Mexico’s national plans of development under President Jose Lopez Portillo and his Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnologia (CONACYT). On the U.S. side, I was able to send Chicano students to study in Mexico their historical and cultural roots in a program that had significant results for many students who ended up being teachers and leaders in our communities.
Another program which I initiated between Mexico and the United States was the Binational University. Along with having received the approval of the three states of California through the Commission of the Californias (California, Baja California Norte, and Baja California Sur), and CONACYT of Mexico, both presidents of the United States and Mexico approved of the Binational University concept and along with Project M.U.S.T.T., the two programs were to be funded by the Project GEMINI which was made possible by an allocation of Mexican oil to Heritage of America Educational & Cultural Foundation. While I was Dean at Bakersfield College, Project M.U.S.T.T. was launched in 1979 at a pilot program at Bakersfield College along with support from the League For Innovation of the U.S. Community Colleges, a U.S. consortium of 120 community colleges. This project was then expanded to include thousands of Mexican students through the support of Mexico’s CONACYT scholarship program made possible through the oil revenues.
The Binational University was supposed to begin in late 1980, but circumstances beyond the control of groups in the U.S. and Mexico forced the abandonment of this ambitious program. President Jimmy Carter was defeated in his re-election bid primerily due to the secret deal presidential Republican candidate Ronald Reagan made with the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran who promised that the U.S. and Iran would work together on a number of deals of mutual benefit (one of which included the arms for drugs deal, i.e., the Iran Contra Scandal, and the arrangement which sold drugs to the U.S. market to fund the U.S.- supported Contras in Nicaragua and which was against the wishes of Congress and specifically against U.S. law) if Iran would not release the U.S. hostages until after the U.S. presidential election in 1980. Reagan won the election when the U.S. voting population saw President Carter’s inability to get the hostages released as a sign of presidential weakness. President Jose Lopez Portilla left office in 1982 after the oil industry in Mexico suffered drastically reduced oil prices and funding was eliminated for Project M.U.S.T.T. The untimely death of Dr. Tomas Rivera, President of the University of Riverside, who had supported providing facility space and other services for the Binational University, also added to the demise of the Binational University.
VI. Model of Funding Suggested for People to People Initiative Program
It is proposed that a similar model of funding which was used in Mexico with its Project M.U.S.T.T. be used to make possible this People to People Initiative Program. It is requested that Venezuela consider making an oil allocation to Heritage of America Educational & Cultural Foundation where HAECF can then present this allocation to a major U.S. refinery, such as CITGO, to purchase at accepted world prices. But a condition of purchase, with Venezuelan approval, is that the U.S. refinery donate a percentage (10-20% and to be negotiated) of its profits to HAECF to fund its programs.
From these funds, Heritage would make available 50% of the funds to the Venezuelan organization or agency so that it could fund its programs as it deemed appropriate for its own national development objectives as well as its overall involvement with Heritage.
I have already discussed the People to People Initiatve Program idea with officials at California State University Long Beach for this institution to consider being a U.S. “home base” along with the Bakersfield based Heritage of America for any programs established or developed in the U.S. for Venezuelan students to study in any programs selected by the Venezuelan agency. These exploratory discussions have yielded interest by the largest California State University campus at Long Beach regarding this innovative and far reaching international education program. CSULB has very strong international educational programs, and this project with Venezuela could provide some valuable educational services to the Venezuelan students. Any educational programs not available through CSULB, Heritage would coordinate with the California State University system, the University of California, U.S. community colleges especially through the League For Innovation with its approximately 120 U.S. community colleges, and the Venezuelan agency to understand the national Venezuelan needs and then help identify programs, colleges, and universities which would be able to respond to the requested needs.
Heritage would use its 50% of its funds to pay for its educational programs which include (1) the Chicano Latino Scholastic & Leadership Academy with California State University Long Beach; (2) the Project Abacus USA; (3) the APREMAT USA (Aprendamos Matematicas), and (D) our People to People Initiative Program with Venezuela. It should be noted that Heritage would make the Project Abacus and Project APREMAT available to the Venezuelan agency for possible adaptation and use. (See Appendix B: Chicano Latino Scholastic & Leadership Academy; Appendix C: Project Abacus USA; and Appendix D: APREMAT USA (Aprendamos Matematicas).
VII. Expected Results
Development of Better Understanding and Long Term Positive Relationships: It is anticipated that a more profound understanding between Latinos of the U.S. and the Venezuelan people will occur as a result of this program. In looking back historically to the Cuban / U.S. model of encuentros, a persistent objective of the Cubans has been to forge ties, relationships, and friendships with Americans. As stated earlier, despite efforts by the U.S. government to institute political policies to disrupt, destablize, and topple the Cuban government, destroy its economy, and isolate the Cuban people from the rest of its allies, the U.S. government’s efforts have been an unqualified disaster and failure. Although the Cuban people have suffered immensely due to this inhuman policy, Cubans and Americans have been successful in developing a strong and positive relationship notwithstanding the right wing efforts of Florida Cubans who have impacted the development of a failed U.S. foreign policy with Cuba.
Venezuela has a grand opprtunity to consider the building of a long term relationship with Americans, specifically with Latino Americans of the U.S. to begin with initially and later to expand to other Americans, that could help overcome or minimize the U.S. government’s incessant desires to control the political and economic destinies of its Latin American neighbors.
(A) Development of Educational Programs: Venezuela has the opportunity to send large numbers of students to programs of higher education in the U.S. that meet the needs of its national development plans. Half of the revenues from the Heritage oil allocation would be able to contribute to a huge acceleration of education and training opportunities for Venezuela’s national needs.
Through the “People to People Initiative Program” Heritage would be able to continue to educate Latinos and who also need to be trained to provide the leadership of our next generation. As part of this effort, it would be a priority to take Chicano Latino students to Venezuela as part of their leadership training and development to learn about the Venezuela experience and about La Revolucion Bolivariana. It is anticipated that this international learning experience for our students will not only add to their leadership skills but it will also contribute to the cementing of long term relationships of friendship and more profound understanding between our peoples. Our Chicano Latino Scholasstic & Leadership Academy program has had remarkable success but funds from this People to People Initiative Program would allow the expansion of this program to more students, and to add an international dimension to the leadership skills development by visiting Venezuela.
(B) Development of Cultural Exchange Programs: When I was in Venezulea in April-May 2008 with the first U.S. Chicano Latino delegation to Venezuela and I participated in the May 1st Labor March, I discovered the Venezolano Ali Primera CDs on sale along the march. I asked one of the venders if there was any CD similar to Chiles’s Victor Jara, and I was presented the Ali Primera CDs which I purchased. Having known many Nueva Cancion groups and singers, I immediately became very fond of the Ali Primera music and other CDs, similar in nature, that I “discovered.” I have shared these CDs with other Latinos and non-Latinos here in Bakersfield and in California, and no one was aware of this beautiful music with its wonderful messages of liberation, freedom, solidarity, and pride in being Venezolano and Latino. This is just one example of the type of musical experience that I feel would be important to share with other Latinos and Americans.
Other Venezolano musical groups and programs could be brought to California and the U.S. At Heritage it would give us a great deal of pleasure to be able to help and coordinate a series of concert tours for the Venezolano groups, orchestras, and musical ensambles. Chicano and Mexican theater groups from both the U.S. and Venezuela would also visit each other.
Exhibits of Venezolano art is also something that could be developed as part of our “Initiative” program. And it should be pointed out, that we could also send Chicano, Mexican, and Latino musical groups and art exhibitions to Venezuela.
(C) Exchanges of Teachers, Professors, Students, Community Activists, and Leaders of Community Organizations
Part of the success of the “People to People Initiative” will come when a diversity of Latinos in the U.S. (which will later be expanded to include other Americans), and a diversity of Venezolanos visit each other and truly get to know about each other, their aspirations, their hopes, their dreams, their struggles, and their collaborative successes. Understanding that despite billions of dollars spent through several decades by the U.S. government and its various Administrations to destroy the Cuban Revolution, that the ties of friendship and trust actually exist between the majority of Americans and the Cuban people. When a inherently conservative group like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has consistently denounced the U.S. embargo of Cuba as being outdated, inefficient, and non-productive and has announced for several years that it calls for a elimination of the U.S. embargo, then the ultimate success for U.S. policy towards Cuba is doomed for failure.
Likewise, it is understood and known that the U.S. has spent over $10 billion to destabilize and topple the government of Venezuela and destroy the accomplishments of the socialist Revolucion Bolivariana. The U.S. has done this through not only clandestine operations and monetary contributions to the opposition of Venezuela’s government, but also under the disguise of promoting democracy as I described in my paper “The U.S. Presidential Election of 2008 And the Implications For The Development Of A Foreign Policy Towards Latin America.” It is hoped that through a well organized plan of action that many very positive collaborative programs can be initiated between the Venezolanos and Latinos in the U.S.
VIII. Evaluation of the People to People Initiative Program
I strongly believe that it will be important to have a formative and summative evaluation process. A formative evaluation process is necessary at the end of the first six month juncture to assess the effectiveness of each of the various components of the “Initiative” so that possible revisions or adaptations be made if necessary. In addition, it will be necessary to conduct a summative evaluation at the end of the first year of the program. To repeat, each componenet of the program will be examined and assessed to determine its’ effectiveness and overall success. I propose that ideas be shared between the two groups, the Venezolano agency selected for this project and representatives for Heritage of America, for the development of a evaluation instrument and the specific objectives of the evaluation process.
It is my request that this program idea be given serious consideration. It is my sincere belief that this program can succeed and that it can begin a seriously positive relationsip between Latinos of the U.S. (which can be expanded later to include other Americans) and the Venezuelan people. I am available for any questions while I am in Caracas in October and/or later when I return to California. I look forward to the meetings which have been scheduled for me by Antulio Rosales of the Instituto de Altos Estudios Diplomaticos Pedro Gual del Ministerio del Poder Popular para Relaciones Exteriores del Gobierno Bolivariano de Venezuela.
Dr. Jess G. Nieto
Heritage of America Educational & Cultural Foundation
Chicano & Latino Scholastic & Leadership Academy
Professor- Department of Chicano & Latino Studies of
California State University Long Beach
1004 H Street Suite F
Bakersfield, California, USA 93304
Tel: 661- 325-5098
Video Phone: 661-578-6019 or 661-578-6101
FAX 661- 322- 3212
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