Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Damn I write a lot

So what have I been up to the last couple of days ? Weeks to be more like it. Doing school work. Yes It keeps me rather busy and to prove it, here's my paper from Chicano Studies. It's 9 pages. Damn I write a lot.

Chapter three of the book, Chicana/o Identity in a Changing U.S. Society by Aida Hurtado and Patricia Gurin, analyses and critics the social identities of Chicanos/as, how those identities are formed, how they differentiate between men and women, and how they affect and influence their perceptions of both themselves and of the world around them.

~ The chapter first explains that society, ideally is based on the concept of meritocracy, in which individuals and minority groups can reach the same level of success as the dominant group has in terms of education, wealth and quality of life based on their personal abilities and talent as apposed to achieving that status instantaneously by belonging to the privileged, dominant group. Through meritocracy, individuals belonging to minority groups have a pathway to success as defined by the dominant group through universal rule. Only by meeting the required standards the dominant group has established as the model of success, can minorities reach the same level of success as the dominant group. However, the resources needed to meet the universal standard are not accessible to everyone.

The discussions we have had in class highlights and acknowledges that meritocracy doesn’t work when only select individuals and groups have access to the opportunities, skills and resources that will help them be successful, in accordance to the standards the dominant group has established. The discussions noted that individuals, who are in the minority group, live in parts of Los Angeles that don’t offer or have the same resources as available to them as individuals of the dominant group have in their neighborhoods. Minority groups for example, tend to live in areas of Los Angeles that have high crime rates, high dropout rates in high school students and the majority of residents speak English as a second language. Instead of allocating funds to improve the conditions of high schools, community libraries and offering more resources, like classes, for individuals to better themselves, elected officials spend those funds on imprisoning individuals that are products of the social economic problems in those same neglected communities.

It is only now, in the formative years of my life, that I am able to acknowledge the ideas and concepts I have known of my entire life, but was never able to put a real meaning and words behind them. Up until now, the only words that I was able to use to formulate a description of the realities of the social system I live in, in which individuals belonging to the dominant group have access to more resources and opportunities, were of “The Man”, the dominant group, and how “he is keeping us down”, individuals belonging to the minority group. Through the lectures, in class discussions and reading the class textbook, I am discovering the resources available to me that will guide me in my academic journey as an individual of a minority group making it in a world controlled by the dominant group. The realities I accepted as the norm, such as having textbooks of poor quality throughout high school, not being eligible for magnet programs or AP classes and having to be aware of my personal safety through all of my school life are interconnected to my groups social and economic standing, cultural background and the resources available to me.

~ Once an individual or group grasp and understands the dynamics of the system put in place by the dominant group, to attain success, through universal rule and how it works against them, they can become empowered by changing their personal perceptions from negative to one that is positive. The book explains and analyses that through group empowerment, which is commonly established through shared similarities such as common language, gender, physical features like skin color and/or culture, it can also lead to them being degrouped by the more dominant group. Degrouping occurs when those same commonalities that individuals share are stripped away to prevent them from forming positive views of them-selves and empowering themselves, which can lead to the minority group questioning the dominant groups control and governance. That is why even though the dominant group makes it seem that any individual can achieve professional success and have better quality of life, and that the significant differences found between the dominant and minority groups are in correlation to individual choices, rather than group privilege and oppression. This leads us to believe that people belonging to minority groups, women included, chose to have working class professions such as custodial services, lawn maintenance and factory work or be stay at home moms, rather than striving to be doctors, lawyers or teachers.

In class lectures have highlighted that even though there are pathways in which individuals can achieve success, despite the lack of resources and opportunities found in the communities they live in, success can still come at a price through affirmative action and tokenism. Both affirmative action and tokenism are used to allow individuals, belonging to minority groups, the opportunity to attain a high level of success in a profession. Yet, even though individuals have reached a high level of success such as becoming astronauts, doctors or Supreme Court judges, they are still scrutinized and criticized for their actions, no matter how big or small they may be. As I stated earlier before, this becomes an even bigger and more prominent dilemma when the focus is changed from individuals of a minority group, to women who are part of a minority group. Women face bigger challenges in being part of the minority and competing in a male dominated society. Women are conditioned to be followers because of cultural practices and beliefs in both the dominant and minority groups.

Like many, but not all of my classmates, I felt the most empowered and self-confident when I belonged to a group of people, whether it was a club or an inner circle of friends. Just as the book and in class discussions have touched on and explained, being able to relate with others through our culture, roots, language and personal taste in music and/or entertainment, helped me build a connection with them that helped empower myself, even if it was only temporary or had its foundation in misconceived notions and teenage ambitions. Having moved around so much during my high years, four schools in four years, I was never able to maintain the feelings of empowerment and self-esteem that I felt when I was part of and accepted by a group. I found myself becoming a loner within a minority that lead to apathy and lack of ambition in my personal life. It wasn’t until I comic books like “Watchmen”, “Preacher” and a few other critically acclaimed books that I broke out of my self-imposed shell and began to find empowerment and self-confidence in who I am as an individual. I have since then surpassed the need to find empowerment, validation and self-esteem within groups, yet no matter how much progress I make, I still find myself part of groups, smaller but none the less like minded.

~ Through empowerment, individuals and groups begin to identify and acknowledge the differences that separate them from the dominant group, such as skin color, language and culture, and view them as positive attributes, rather than negative ones. This also includes, again the reconnecting of groups and individuals to their historical roots and traditions, which help build and reaffirm a positive self-image. The creating of a positive, personal identity helps foster the creation of an individual’s self-esteem, which they will incorporate in their groups. By having a positive self-image, individuals and groups are motivated to take action rather than doing nothing, which is broken down into four steps, self-efficacy, developing group consciousness, reducing self-blame and assuming personal responsibility for change. Self-efficacy helps individuals see multiple ways in solving problems because they will put in more effort, not back down from the challenge, and experience less stress when failure is a possibility. Group conciseness deals with knowing how political info structures work and affect individual and group experiences. This will lead to the reduction of self-blame, which is most commonly viewed, as the individuals own fault because they are different and rather a product of restrictions placed on them by the dominant society. These steps culminate in the individual taking personal responsibility and ending the cycle of self-blame. They no longer see themselves as victims of an oppressive system and that they are not the stereotypes they are label to be by the dominant groups. When incorporated and executed at the same time, these steps help build an individuals sense of self-efficacy, which is rarely given to minority groups.

By the mere fact that as students taking this Chicano Studies class at East Los Angeles College, we are implementing the steps mentioned not only the text book, but also from the class lectures in the beginning weeks of the class. By having us, as students learn to acknowledge and realize the differences within how we view ourselves personally, whether it be Chicano/a, Xicano/a, Mexican American, Mexican-American, Mexican Salvadorian etc, and how that completely differs from the view the dominant group has of us by grouping all of us together and using one word to describe us, “Hispanic”. Only a few people even considered themselves “Hispanic” only because they knew that’s how they defined themselves to government agencies when filling out forms. Even then, the word is used as a stigmata to try and break down the differences that make all individuals unique because not everyone can be defined by one word. By breaking down and analyzing the meaning of the all the labels and words used to describe minorities of Mexican decent in those early class lectures, the class, least the ones that are paying attention, is rebuilding their self-image or reinforcing the one they already have.

I myself thought I knew it all going into the class. I knew what a Chicano/a is, judging from my test you’d think other wise since I failed, how “the Man keeps us down” and how we have to continue to fight the good fight and free more minds. My experience growing up mirrors that of most students and individuals who grow up in the parts of town with high crime rates, high drop out rates and who come from working class families who value work ethics over school grades. Yet despite everything, I’m still here learning and realizing how to go about fighting “The Man” through academic channels rather than just being a radical who acts without thinking. My personal experiences taught me that I didn’t belong anywhere, thus I learned to be own my, resulting in the development of my own sense of individuality and knowing who I was in this world. The class and book have shown me that I have the right idea, I’ve just been implementing it in the wrong fashion because my understanding of what it means to be Chicano/a came literally from the streets. Being around artist and activist who are active in the community gave me a sense of belonging and understanding. Nonetheless, coming into the class knowing what I know, I knew that I needed an academic understanding of what I thought I already knew. Not only am I understating the subject matter on a critical level, I am applying it on a personal level as well.