I have been reconstructing my life after being incapacitated by Parkinson’s, made more difficult by my attempts to obtain my human resources file 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. My first book, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos, was originally about the internal colonial model and how it impacted Mexican Americans. Indeed, colonialism in the Americas can be traced to or is justified by powerful institutions and individuals. Pope Alexander VI, for example, issued the Doctrine of Discovery in 1493, justifying European colonization in the Western Hemisphere. The doctrine set the stage for Westerners to become the so-called heirs to lands belonging to indigenous peoples, as well as for the colonized to accept Western religion, namely Catholicism–all of it based on a Big Lie.
In examining gentrification and neoliberalism, I found many similarities to colonialism, which continues to have negative impacts on Latinas and Latinos. 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 dubbed Chavez Ravine, where an entire community was destroyed so future generations could watch baseball games while eating 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: urban renewal, gentrification, redlining, and so on. As with the Doctrine of Discovery, these racist policies are maintained by the Big Lie, which includes the creation of a caste system.
I found even some of my friends and colleagues at CSUN were spreading the Big Lie. 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 most readily believe the Big Lie. Further muddling things were the outsiders who offered up their 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. Over 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) had enjoyed tremendous growth 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 10 years. Student money 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 neoliberal university to me.
It is crystal clear that CSUN would not be as prosperous as it is without Mexican-American and other Latina and Latino students. It was on our/their land that the school was built, but they were and continue to be treated as mere commodities. The Black student population is at an unacceptably low rate of less than 5 percent, when it should be at 10 percent at least. As is, the professors and administrators are almost all white.
In reviewing CSUN documents, I’ve found the administration to be 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.
Dr. Rodolfo F. Acuña is the founding Chairperson of the Chicana/o Studies Department at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), and author of the classic book, Occupied America: A History of Chicanos.
Editor’s Note: This essay was edited and distributed by Dr. Álvaro Huerta. Dr. Huerta is a Religion and Public Life Organizing Fellow at Harvard Divinity School (HDS) and author of the award-winning book, Defending Latina/o Immigrant Communities: The Xenophobic Era of Trump and Beyond.