Morgan Freeman, Librotraficantes, and nipping bullshit in the bud

Oh hello there.

Everyone's seen that video, right? The Morgan Freeman one where he starts talking about oh fine I'll just link the damn video. And I'll tell you why it's very right, but very wrong.

WALLACE: Black History Month, you find ... 

FREEMAN: Ridiculous. 


FREEMAN: You're going to relegate my history to a month? 

WALLACE: Come on. 

FREEMAN: What do you do with yours? Which month is White History Month? Come on, tell me. 

WALLACE: I'm Jewish. 

FREEMAN: OK. Which month is Jewish History Month? 

WALLACE: There isn't one. 

FREEMAN: Why not? Do you want one? 

WALLACE: No, no. 

FREEMAN: I don't either. I don't want a Black History Month. Black history is American history. 

I love this part, because he nails it with that last sentence: Black history is American history. I feel the same way about Latino history in the U.S. And yet, we're relegated to footnotes and subsections of chapters. I mean, everyone can talk your ear off about the Civil War, but how many people could tell you about the Mexican-American War? A war, by the way, where Lee, Grant, Jackson, Burnside,  Meade, Davis, Scott, McClellan, Beauregard, Sherman, Mansfield, Porter,Sumner, Johnston, Reynolds, Longstreet, Anderson, Fremont, and Pope, all cut their teeth in? Or how many people will actually look at what happened in Iraq and say, MAN, that is so weird that we ramped up nationalistic fervor and then went to invade a foreign, weaker country under false pretenses. We've NEVER done that. 

Except we have. 

"American blood on American soil", anyone? 

That marked just the BEGINNING of the intertwining of Mexican and American history, a partnership with more importance than people give it credit. Without American influence, Mexico probably would not have kept the French out. Without Mexican influence, the U.S. wouldn't have had nearly enough soldiers to send over to Germany and Japan in WWII.

People remember Audie Murphy. People don't remember Jose M. Lopez.

I'm all for getting rid of these months so long as we get the space we deserve in history books. Let's get rid of the "Ethnic" catch-all at Barnes and Noble and make sure that Carver and Cisneros are in the same bookshelf, a few letters below Achebe, Allende and Ambrose. Until then, I'm going to celebrate Latino heritage every damn day. 

And then


WALLACE: How are we going to get rid of racism until ...? 

FREEMAN: Stop talking about it. I'm going to stop calling you a white man. And I'm going to ask you to stop calling me a black man. I know you as Mike Wallace. You know me as Morgan Freeman. You're not going to say, "I know this white guy named Mike Wallace." Hear what I'm saying?

no. no. no. no. 

We're not going to get anywhere NOT talking about something. Let me tell you what not talking about something does.

Not talking about something is how you get a ban on Mexican-American Studies. 

Not talking about something is how you get a ban on books by chican@s because they allegedly:  "promote the overthrow of the United States government; promote resentment toward a race or class of people; are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals."

Here's the full list.

Two of my favorite books are there: A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn and Sandra Cisneros' Woman Hollering Creek. You know what Zinn's book didn't do? It didn't inspire me to overthrow the government. Quite the opposite, it inspired me to understand the history of my adoptive country because only in understanding its history could I hope to change its future. Sandra Cisneros', as I've talked about a lot in my past posts, is one of two authors who inspired me to write short stories (the other being Benjamin Alire Saenz), and having read-and-extensively-dog-eared Woman Hollering Creek, I can't recall at any point it meeting any of the requirements that stupid law set forth. Unless, of course, you consider "encouraging the overthrow of boring-ass literature" overthrowing the government. The only resentment I felt reading some of those books is resentment at not having these books out in the open. Sure, we'll have Carver out, but why aren't we having Suarez? Anaya? Cisneros?

Texas tried to do something similar under then-senator-now-unfortunately-our-lt.-gov Dan Patrick, and would have succeeded had it not been for the efforts of the Librotraficantes and a myriad other Latino activist groups who said NOPE. You think the Librotraicantes would've stayed quiet after spending a summer smuggling books into Arizona to circumvent the band? Hell no. I'm honored that I've  had the opportunity to contribute to the movement and done my small part, and I'm confident that as long as someone is out there trying to erase our history, the Librotraficantes are going to keep fighting and keep fighting 

Back to not talking about things.

Not talking about these things means that we run the risk of well, repeating history. I was fresh out of college then, when I heard SBOE member Mary Helen Berlanga speak to a whole bunch of students at the SET-B lecture hall l about the Texas textbook fight. I told her I'd go to Houston and fight, too. Took me longer than I thought or expected, but I'm fighting now.

Not talking about it means that we're in for another fight soon.

I'll point to the relevant passage:

“Chicanos, on the other hand, adopted a revolutionary narrative that opposed Western civilization and wanted to destroy this society.”

Those are words in an actual textbook.

You can't make this shit up.

Now in the last several years, and thanks in large part to the Librotraficante movement, I've gotten to meet a lot of Chican@ activists. I can tell you for a fact that they don't want to destroy this society. Quite the opposite. They want to make it flourish, make it grow, make it something beautiful. If that's a revolutionary narrative, fine, call them revolutionaries. Not the worst thing you can call someone, honestly. 

Mexican-American kids should not be learning about people like Sandra Cisneros or Dagoberto Gilb when they're in grad school. They should be learning about them much earlier, about their movements, about their causes. 

Here are two things that I find puzzling. 

One, as covered here, is that the textbooks will cost $70 a pop. Which, I mean, is comparatively cheap to other textbooks. But at the same time, when a SHITTON of Latin@ educators are saying yo bro, we can save you some money there because we've gone ahead and developed - on our own time and dime - our own curriculum....they're being ignored. 

The second thing I find puzzling is the need these people have to suppress history and culture. Now, going off purely anecdotal data, in my circles, the majority of Latin@ creative folk lead a double life as activists. Their activism colors their art and their art colors their activism. And then they're being told, hey, your experiences don't matter. Your history doesn't matter. Your culture doesn't matter. They're pissing off people who craft images and music and poetry and will NOT hesitate to have them remembered as blowhards.

Maybe in the minds of Cynthia Dunbar,  Jaime Riddle, and Valarie Angle, they think they are doing kids a favor and that is what their legacy will be. But it's not going to work out that way. We will give them a legacy, absolutely, only it will be a legacy like the one Strom Thurmond and George Wallace. 

If we are "not talking about something", people like Cynthia Dunbar get elected to statewide positions. Why? Because all across the state of Texas, from the smallest First Baptist Evangelist Church of Armpit Texas to the biggest megachurch, people are talking, people are mobilizing. And they're not going "oh, hm, maybe we should bring everyone to the table to see how we can make our state awesome" they're going "see those Chicanos? See those BlackLivesMatter activists?  See those Muslims? See those refugees? See those GLBT people? See those transgendered individuals? They're degrading the fabric of our society."

These people are voting in large groups.

So, to bring this full circle and back to Mr. Freeman

I'm going to talk about it. I'm going to post about it. I'm going to write about it. I'm going to question and nudge and prod. I'm going to get involved, I'm going to find these exclusive groups (you know where they're at) and push the door in and at the very least stick my foot in the door so that the people behind me can overpower our way to the entrance.

They say we're bad, fine, let's be bad weeds. You know what they say about weeds? Mala hierba nunca muere. Bad weeds never die. Let me embrace that title.

So should you.

But we can't do it alone. We need allies.

We need allies who go beyond Twitter activism. We need allies who won't spin a movement around and say "no, here, you're being too angry, just let it play out". And when we get allies who say "wow, y'all got a pretty raw deal, how can I help?", allies who actually listen and understand instead of just hear,  we need to be able to embrace them and bring them into our family and tell them thank you. Why? Because gratefulness goes a long way and for a lot of these people, getting involved is a big step out of their comfort zone, just like Viola Luzzo and James Reeb did forty years ago. I have many friends like this and I want you to know, I see you, and I'm grateful.

A lot has changed since the 1960s, but the fight continues.

All we have to do is keep talking about it.

I'll leave you with this This American Life episode. Listen to it. Get angry. Get involved. We'll be here.