Hispanic Heritage Month: By Chealsea Hunt, J310F
Posted: Sept. 25, 2015
“We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto!” Mexican-American journalist Gustavo Arellano said as he kicked off UT’s first ever Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Tuesday. “It’s time for academia to acknowledge that Ethnic Studies are as American as you can possibly get! … Not sure why UT is just getting with the program… But hey, better late than never!”
The United States has officially recognized Hispanic Heritage Month since 1988. It is celebrated across the nation from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 every year. Officials from the university’s Center for Mexican American Studies did not comment on the matter when questioned about why the school is only just acknowledging this event.
Arellano, most well known for his nationally syndicated column entitled “¡Ask a Mexican!,”said he was sure there were “some politics about it.” He added that “you can let it get to you, or you can be glad it’s finally happening!”
And most people in attendance did seem glad. Just moments before Arellano stepped up to the mic, the lecture hall in UT’s Gordon White Building was buzzing with chatter. The room was small, but it was packed. There were maybe sixty people in attendance, and they were practically humming with excitement. Officials from the school had to quiet everyone down before things could begin.
When all was silent, Arellano bounced his way to the front of the room. He quite literally leapt into talking about his own accomplishments, most recently working as a writer and producer for Fox’s upcoming animated series Bordertown. The show addresses the issue of immigration with a comedic tone Arellano compared to that of Futurama.
Futurama was in itself the topic of discussion for several minutes of Arellano’s speech. He said America’s general attitude towards Ethnic Studies can be exemplified by the series’ famous, foul mouthed, drunken robot, Bender.
In one episode of the show, Arellano said Bender revealed that his focus in college was “Robo-American Studies.”
According to Arellano, this joke “was a total slap in the face to ethnic studies” and “what the show was trying to say was that these degrees are so worthless and pointless that even a dumb robot could be majoring in it.”
This joke, Arellano continued, was based in satire. He said that historically in this country, “everyone from deans and academics, to politicians, have thought that Ethnic Studies are pointless at best, and at their worst, they teach people how to hate America.”
This was the point in the speech where Arellano grew more serious. He stopped bouncing around, growing still for the first time in his presentation.
He said that it is false to assume these courses teach students to hate America, when to be ethnic is to be American due to the inherently diverse nature of this country.
According to Dr. Victoria De Francesco Soto, outreach coordinator for UT’s Center for Mexican American Studies, “you can’t fully understand a society until you understand its component parts, and one of the big component parts of our American society is Latinos, Chicanos and Mexicanos.”
Arellano said that it is natural for historians to divide their subject into sub-genres in an effort to better understand these specific cultural components.
He cited the example of Texas History, which is taught as its own unique course from grade school all the way through college. Arellano clarified that this is not to say Texas History is separate from American History, but rather that it is a unique perspective which deserves specific attention.
Luis Guevara, program coordinator for UT’s Center for Mexican American Studies, said that “you can of course incorporate the ethnic experience into the general history of the United States, but there should also be a space to claim and really focus on specific cultures in a more detailed way.” This is something Guevara said “can’t happen in a general classroom because you’ve just got to cover so much.”
Arellano said that this mass of information covered in basic courses can be potentially problematic when discussing topics which pertain to certain ethnicities. He said that “when history is told by the victor, it is important to make an effort to see things from the points of view of minorities” and other groups who often go without proper representation.
Arellano went on to say that “ethnic studies are not only important, but vital,” because in understanding the past of certain ethnic groups, we will be better able to understand current events.
He said that in taking courses and celebrating the histories specific to Latino, Mexicano, Chicano, or other Hispanic cultures, people can gain perspective on ongoing issues.
The example he gave on this idea was Bordertown’s topic of immigration. According to Arellano, in understanding the past failures of the Border Patrol’s strict policies in dealing with immigrants, we can avoid putting too much stock in ideas like Donald Trump’s Mexican Border Wall.
Arellano said that in learning about such topics in a historical context, we will be given better insight into “where this country is headed from here.”