Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Rodriquez: Western Civilization: To be or Not to be

Column of the Americas
Western Civilization: To be or Not to be

December 1, 2005
By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez

Mahatma Gandhi was once asked by a journalist: “What do you think of Western Civilization?”

He responded: “That Would be a Good Idea?”

It is not certain that Indigenous peoples in the Americas have ever been asked the same question, though the response can probably easily be surmised. Yet, on this continent, the issue is not theoretical in nature.

In Arizona, for instance, a variant of this question is indeed being asked. Yet here, the issue is not whether Western Civilization has been good or bad for the original peoples of this continent. Rather, as framed by Tom Horne, the State Superintendent of Schools, the issue is whether people of non-European heritage are part of Western Civilization itself. In his ongoing campaign to eliminate Ethnic/Raza Studies in the Tucson Unified School District, he has made it a point to allege that what is taught in Raza Studies is outside of Western Civilization.

One can easily cede to him this purported fact – except for three small details: According to Horne (whose latest salvo was trumpeting a severely flawed study this November that showed that students in Raza Studies do not do better than their peers) the roots of Western Civilization emanate from the Greco-Roman cultures – cultures squarely situated in Europe. The knowledge taught in Raza Studies, on the other hand, emanates from ancient and living Indigenous cultures rooted on this very continent. Thus, according to his formulation, knowledge Indigenous to the Mediterranean is acceptable knowledge and can be taught in Arizona schools, but knowledge Indigenous to this very continent is unacceptable and cannot be taught in Arizona schools.

For Horne to be correct, a massive [geographic] dislocation would again have to take place. In effect, Horne’s project asks us, or demands from us, that the so-called West be allowed to finish its imperial project; the dislocation, displacement and disappearance of the original peoples of this continent. Which brings up the third detail: Indigenous peoples from this continent have never ceded the direction of “the West” to peoples from across the ocean.

Ironically, Horne’s project actually allows for the teaching of American Indian or Native American Studies, but what it also does, is not acknowledge the cultural roots of Raza Studies – a discipline based primarily on the thousands-of-years Maiz or Maya-Nahuatl
cultures of this continent.

Through his actions and with one stroke, he becomes royal geographer and arbiter as to who is Indigenous. It is he who determines what knowledge can be taught inside Arizona classrooms, this while calling for the setting up of mechanisms, to ensure that Maiz or Mesoamericanknowledge is not taught here. Under his definition, presumably, knowledge from Andean cultures – South America – would also be banned.

Beyond arbiter of who or what is Indigenous, he in a much larger way, has actually positioned himself as the arbiter of who or what is American. In his formulation, the only thing worth teaching in U.S. or Arizona schools specifically, is what is American… or what the Greeks
and Romans have bequeathed us.

Generally, in the realm of knowledge, what the Greeks and Romans have taught the world has indeed benefitted the world. No one who teaches Ethnic or Raza Studies advocates eliminating Greco-Roman knowledge from the curriculum. Quite the reverse; Ethnic and Raza Studies
teachers simply want the knowledge that is Indigenous to this continent – maiz knowledge – to also be taught in the classroom. In part, maiz knowledge – represented by what archeologists and anthropologists have designated as knowledge that emanates from Mesoamerica – does have a direct connection to what is today the United States. One: the presence of maiz and maiz knowledge can easily be documented in the United States. Maiz, created in the south
somewhere between 7,000 and 10,000 years ago, has been here in Arizona and New Mexico for at least 5,000 years. Second: because of massive migration over the past 100 years from the south, we also know it continues to be a part of the ancient and lived knowledge and part of
the daily reality and nutrition, of the many millions of peoples who have migrated here from Mexico and Central America.

These educators within Raza Studies need not romanticize the cultures
of this continent, just as no one needs to romanticize the warfare of
the Greeks & Romans. It is counter-intuitive, however, that teachers
and students be deprived the right to teach and learn the culture and
knowledge that has been here for many thousands of years… especially
when all peer-reviewed studies do indeed demonstrate that students in
Raza Studies far outperform their TUSD classmates.

Perhaps the actual debate should be about where on the world map does
Pachamama or the Americas reside in?

Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be
reached at:

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