Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Principles of the Chicano Movement

My papi, Rene Nuñez, taught me that Chicanismo arose out the need for Mexican-Americans to carve their own space into the political landscape of the 60s and 70s, with roots reaching back through tens of thousands of years of existence in the Americas, with the survival of European conquest and colonization sparking the mestizaje that defines so much our identity today, through the Mexican-American war, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, up to the Lemon Grove Incident, through to the Zoot Suit Riots, and blowouts in East LA, right up to el Plan Espiritual de Aztlán y el Plan de Santa Bárbara - And he taught me that ultimately Chicanismo was not an ethnicity, or even an ethnic identity, but instead a state of mind,a perspective, a world view, and that this state of mind could be adopted by any human being.

The three main principles my papi taught me about the Chicano Movement are: 1) Self-Determination; 2) Higher Education; 3) Community Empowerment and Involvement.

Self-Determination: Every person has a right to define themselves, to define their identity, find their history and their roots.  From my experience with self-determination, I believe that every person knows who they are and what their purpose is.  Sometimes it takes some deep work, to look inside and connect with roots and community in order for people to figure this out for themselves.  No one has the right to tell me, or anyone else, who they are, how to identify themselves, or to limit their potential or purpose in our world.  We have a right to determine this for ourselves.

Higher Education: Critical thinking, reading the world as Paulo Freire would put it, is another human right, and a skill that every person deserves the opportunity to develop.  It is critical that we gain access to the intellectual, political, and social resources provided to us through higher education. High education is another right of every human being in my interpretation of Chicanismo.  It is important that through our involvement in higher education we are able to take part in the creation of our story, of the history of our people, and of the world.

Community Empowerment and Involvement: The most critical element of Chicanismo, according to my father, is giving back to our community - taking on the role of an organic intellectual, who harnesses the resources gained through higher education and brings access to these resources back to his or her community in order to empower our communities to determine their own identities and have the opportunity to gain even increasing access to educational and political resources.

René defined them in more depth, and in slightly different terms, as you can see in this excerpt from his (and his co-author's Rauol Contreras') article, “Principles and Foundation of Chicano Studies: Chicano Organization on University Campuses in California.”

...principles of the Chicano Movement: 1) The need for Chicanos to recover their history distorted by biased observations of the Chicano reality - that portrayed Mexicans as apolitical, apathetic and amoral; 2) The need for Chicanos to become trained to challenge the negative views that are that are part of that biased history. To provide them with the tools to become critical thinkers who can deconstruct the negative portrayals of the Chicano reality and in the process produce their own history; 3) To train Chicanos to give back to their communities.  To help them understand that as university students they are the leading intellectuals of their communities - the writers, the artists, the doctors, the engineers, the teachers, the politicians, the community activists, and so forth; and 4) To help the students see that they have a choice of two roads to travel as intellectuals. The first is an intellectual in the service of the political/cultural system that produces the biased views of people of color and gender... the second is an 'Organic Intellectual' in the service of his or her community - an intellectual that dedicates him or herself to work with and through their communities to help those communities resolve their problems.

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Few Principles of Emotional Health and Wellness

All of us are a little bit crazy.  We grew up in an imperfect world, with imperfect parents, who hopefully did the best that they could. We have all experienced some form of trauma.

All emotions are good and necessary.  If we limit one emotion, then we limit our capacity for all emotion.

Emotional health is being able to experience our emotions freely and at times extremely; not limiting our ability to experience any of our emotions in their entirety, while also not getting stuck for too long in one extreme or another.  Emotional health is also the ability to keep our experiencing of extreme emotion from harming others.  Ultimately, the ability to fluidly experience the entire range of our emotions while not allowing them to consume us and our actions is a sign of emotional health.

When two people act out of their craziness together, that is when people get hurt.  If one person can stay calm, can keep their craziness out of the interaction, while the first person is acting out, there is a much better chance that no one will be hurt.

We can only go as deeply with someone as we have gone with ourselves.  Without doing work to shed light into our own deepest darkest places, we will run from and help others avoid their dark places.

Be a soft place to land. Allow yourself to land softly.

Lean into your discomfort.  Do the emotional labor.  Dance with fear, and pain, and anger, and hatred, and happiness, and sadness, and love.

In all relationships, whether through intensity and/or duration, we experience all aspects of each person in the relationship; there is no hiding.

Thought without emotion is endless possibilities with no ability to choose or decide.

We have all been traumatized in some way.  We have all developed coping strategies, mechanism, dynamics, and patterns.  If there are any behaviors that you hope to change you must ask yourself, what do I get out of this behavior?  How does this behavior, this belief, this strategy, serve me now?  Am I willing to change this behavior if it no longer is serving my current needs?  With what new behavior can I replace this old strategy?  What new plan can I develop, experiment with, and embrace to serve my current needs?

Monday, August 1, 2016

Self-Defense and Self-Preservation

Rene Nuñez - Front Kick - circa 1972

My papi used to tell me, "Pull your toes back.  Point your foot, now pull your toes back," while demonstrating how to make that happen.  I tried and I tried, I practiced and I practiced, and I can remember when I got it, when my body listened to my mind and I could pull my toes back while extending my foot.  The proper form of the foot during a front kick, putting the ball of the foot in front as the furthest point from the body.

On July 22nd I had the pleasure of assisting master Marcellus Walker in the facilitation of a self-defense workshop.  Marcellus is openly compassionate, notably calm, yet direct and unflinching in addressing the uncomfortable reality of self-defense.  I appreciate his openness to help others develop their martial arts abilities, to face the ugly reality of personal combat and physically defending oneself, while simultaneously emphasizing the beauty and creativity of the art.

The most important aspect of self-defense is psychological; the mental willpower to physically control a situation, and if need be inflict physical harm on another human, in order to preserve one's life.  As Marcellus puts it, "We have a right and responsibility to return home each day to the people who love us, who expect to see us and talk to us later that day."

One of the first steps in self-defense is the ki'hap (or kiai in Japanese pronunciation) - to yell with great energy or "ki".  The ki'hap has both mental and physical implications.  Physically the ki'hap is a forceful breath, invigorating the body and mind during a time of potential stress and rigidity.  Mentally the ki'hap can help the practitioner gather courage and express their intention to engage in a psychical confrontation, whether in practice, competition, or a real life self-defense situation.  Our voice is our first defense, our first expression of self-preservation.

My father was a practiced martial artist.  He studied Tang Soo Do earning a red belt, one below black, before, as he described it, he attempted a jumping side kick over a chair and blew out his knee on a botched landing.  My father also studied and practiced the art of self-preservation, the preservation of our cultural identity as Chicanos, as descendants of the first people in the Americas, as humans who have a right to determine our own identities.

Papi embodied self-preservation, and he wasn't quiet about it.  He modeled it day in and day out, in all aspects of his life.  He made the determination and preservation of our culture, language, identity, and right to quality education and free speech his life's work.

At the workshop, a little over a week ago, the connection of the physical and the psychological, the martial arts of self-defense and the mental willpower of self-preservation crystallized for me.  It is imperative that we empower the voices, the willpower, of communities whose identities are marginalized within the mainstream, that we empower their voices of self-determination and self-preservation.  It is the first step in each community's ability to control their own identity and cast off limitations and barriers.  Voicing our willpower to live, to define ourselves, is the first step in self-defense.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

A Puzzle of Pieces

Puzzle pieces By liza31337

A friend of mine observed that I am great at puzzles, as long as I am not one of the pieces.

I get lost all of the time.  Maybe lost is the wrong word.  I need visual reference points or very clear directions while driving, otherwise I get turned around and take the wrong turns.  My sense of direction without a clear view of visual cues that I can recognize is horrible.

Most of the time I require and desire context, I want to see the whole picture before I make decisions and choices about the details.  I have defined myself as a field dependent learner.  However, I do not really fit the traditional definition of a field dependent thinker.

According to the research, first published by Herman Witkin in 1962, and since expounded upon countless times, field dependent thinkers rely more on concrete contexts and details, they tend to be more social, and require more external feedback and stimuli.  These can all be true for me, especially the part about being sensitive to criticism.  It has taken me years to work through carrying my father's criticisms with me everywhere I go.  I have gotten a lot better at caring less about what other people think, a lot better.  I am also very social.  These generalizations fit me.

According to the research, field independent thinkers rely more on abstract concepts, tend to be less social, tend to self-structure situations, and be interested in new concepts for their own sake.  Interestingly enough, I fit many of these definitions as well.  I love analysis and abstract thought, I can definitely self-structure situations - I was an only child until I was 12 years old and spent hours on my own in imaginary play.  And, I love new concepts and ideas for the sake of the idea and concept itself.  I really don't fit neatly into either of these categories.

We rely on generalizations, on categories, to define our world, and sometimes (or many times) the people around us in our world.  Each person fits into a few of the categories we have set to define our world: women/man, black/white/Asian/Mexican/Indian, employed/unemployed, rich/middle class/poor, hard working/procrastinating, field dependent/independent.

But not one person is truly defined by any one of these generalizations.  Not one person fits neatly into any of these categories, really.  Even what may seem to be the clearest distinction between people, gender, is a complicated social marker, with varying degrees of inclusion, of mutual agreement on what makes a man, or a woman.

We are each a piece in the puzzle, and together, as we fit in, as we arrange our identities and our actions, our lives and our living spaces, to include and accommodate, to embrace and involve the people who we depend on in our lives, we form a beautiful puzzle.  Although from a far it looks like one whole image, one neat general category, in reality our puzzle is still made up of individual unique pieces, each independently unique and interconnectedly dependent on each other piece.