RESPONSE TO “HISTORY MATTERS”
Northridge, California. By Harold Hellenbrand.
Several people have forwarded to me Professor Acuña’s recent essay, “History Matters.” It has been cited and reprinted in blogs across the web. Acuña presents Mexican history as an allegory. Foreigners privatize indigenous communal land holdings; he traces this back to the “Conquest.” The crowning episode is the illegitimate, clandestine marriage of UNAM and Cal State Northridge. The satanic spawn of this secretive pact will be courses fathered by the patriarchal Westernized intellectuals in UNAM and midwifed by CSUN’s College of Social Sciences. This bastard brood will displace, colonize, disrupt, and/or privatize, the authentic voice of the peasantry, as channeled through a few faculty in Chicano Studies.
I have addresses these charges, as well as the general claim that CSUN is racist elsewhere (http://www.csun.edu/academic.affairs/trojan_horses_centers_slings_arrows_hellenbrand_nov2013.pdf). Essentially, the proposed Center will sponsor scholarly exchange and research, as approved by a board of faculty from Social Sciences, Chicano Studies, and Central American Studies. Professor Acuña knows this. Yes, consultation with Chicano Studies was handled poorly. College deans followed an unfortunate practice on this campus; they did not sit down with all potentially interested parties. We have changed this practice, and meanwhile Chicano Studies has been and is being consulted.
Contributing to the hesitation to talk with Chicano Studies, in particular, is fear of the vitriol that Professor Acuña spews on those whom he regards as antagonists. He has labeled a senior faculty in Social Sciences as a CIA operative in order to discredit the College that will house the Center. By the way, this faculty has no role in the Center. He has linked, without credible evidence, two mid-career faculty in his College to reactionary forces in Central America. Their crime is that they support the arrangement with UNAM. He has broadcast these allegations across the web. As a result, at least one respondent to a Facebook posting volunteered to assault physically anyone whom Professor Acuña suggested.
Professor Acuña, have you no shame, no shame at all?
Professor Acuña is a wonderful man, a great scholar. If I could accomplish 1/1,000th of what he has done, I would be proud. But he has inflated an academic spat into an epic struggle so that he regains the stage as “vox populi.”
He has, I fear, Arizona envy. In his mind, de-legitimation by the powers that be is the imprimatur of legitimation. He does not admit that he, as an intellectual in a university sinecure, is enmeshed in institutional power. Consequently, he does not credit how his rash words can influence the careers of others in this institution and the profession generally.
What is particularly sad about the essay, “History Matters,” is that it shows that history does not matter when it can complicate rant, rectify cant. Here are several examples:
- When the Spanish arrived, he says, they set about privatizing the peasants’ communal landholding. And there were no quasi-feudal states at hand?
- Later, church holdings were challenged. Another “public institution,” like those peasant communal villages, was disappropriated. The Catholic Church was/is a “public institution”? Its holdings were communal like the indigenous villages?
- Nationalization after the Revolution restored the community property ideal of the villages. Greedy privatization is the only reason state-owned monopolies—oh yes, the people’s properties—was de-nationalized. Really?
History indeed does matter. Argument and ideology should not ride rough-shod over it. That is why this essay is so troubling.
Provost, CSUN, Nov. 30, 2013.