“The Awakening” by Dr. Rodolfo F. Acuña

Photo of Rodolfo “Rudy” Francisco Acuña, Ph.D.

I have been writing about having to reconstruct my life after being incapacitated by Parkinson’s and trying to reconstruct my life by requesting my Human Resources Files from my past employer, California State University, Northridge (CSUN). My files, articles and reputation are under siege. For at least a decade, I have been writing about neoliberalism in some form or another. Even my first book, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, originally was about the internal colonial model and how it impacted Mexican Americans. Indeed, colonialism in the Americas that can traced or justified by powerful institutions and individuals. For example, Pope Alexander VI issued the Doctrine of Discovery in 1493 — a Western idea. It was an influential proclamation to justify European colonization. The doctrine itself set the stage where Westerners became heirs to the so-called right to take away lands from indigenous peoples and for the colonized to accept Western religion. It was based on a Big Lie.

In examining gentrification and neoliberalism, I found many similarities to colonialism — which continues to have negative impacts on our people. I first got involved with gentrification in studying the Immigration Act of 1928, which created quotas that favored European immigrants and took away the rights of American-born women who married immigrants. It extended to Palo Verde, La Loma, and Bishop — later redubbed Chavez Ravine. An entire community was destroyed so future generations could watch Dodger games and eat Dodger Dogs. It was not difficult to extend this logic to the choice of freeway routes in East Los Angeles, as part of racist programs, plans and policies (e.g., urban renewal, gentrification, redlining etc.). Like in the case of the Doctrine Discovery, these racist programs, plans and policies are maintained by the Big Lie, which includes the creation of a caste system.

When I awoke, I found even “friends” who were spreading the Big Lie at CSUN: they allegedly established the Scholarship Foundation, Operation Chicano Teacher, and the CHS Course of Study. I know there were others who made this possible, but the new claimants were not among them. Some of them even stole pieces that I had written and published. I tried to correct people, but often they are ready to believe the Big Lie. Muddling this up were outsiders who would offer up opinions without knowing what they were talking about. The Big Lie cannot be corrected through hearsay or misinformation.

At the beginning of the search for how and why I had gotten in this pickle, I had already been marked. Throughout the past decades I have gotten into many heated confrontations with university administrators. Through the document search, I discovered a world I had never known. CSUN was controlled by another entity called The University Corporation (TUC) — headed by the President of the university and controlled by the Chancellor of the system. As the precursor to CSUN, San Fernando Valley State College (SFVSC), this institution had enjoyed tremendous growth that was financed by the enrollment of first-generation Mexican Americans and other Latinas/os.

CSUN was not built with state funds. The state had not built a building in over ten years. Student funds built all the buildings, even the dorms, and students paid dearly with the profits going to TUC. The outcome was that many students could not afford to eat on campus or sleep in the dorms. Sounds like a neo-liberal university to me!

It is crystal clear that CSUN would not be as prosperous as it is without Mexican American and Latina/o students. It was on our/their land that it was built. They were/are simply the commodities. The Black population is at an unacceptable less than 5%. If Black students would be at least 10%, then the number of students of color would increase on a campus where the professors and administration are almost all white. How is this possible? In reviewing CSUN documents, I’ve found the administration hostile towards Black and Brown student organizations who seek transformative change on campus and beyond. In the years to come, we will be writing the true story of CSUN. It can only become a more perfect university by writing the true story and imagining a new university.

Author: Dr. Rodolfo F. Acuña is the founding Chairperson of the Chicana/o Studies Department at California State University, Northridge (CSUN). For numerous decades, Dr. Acuña (or Rudy) has been actively engaged in uplifting Chicana/o communities through his teaching, research/publications and activistm. He’s the author of the classic book, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos.

Editor: Dr. Álvaro Huerta is a Religion and Public Life Organizing Fellow at the Harvard Divinity School and an associate professor at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He’s the author of the award-winning book, Defending Latina/o Immigrant Communities: The Xenophobic Era of Trump and Beyond.