• Subaltern Dreams, Subaltern Realities

    The following are excerpts from essays written by graduate students in the History program at California State University, Los Angeles in reaction to the recent Presidential election.

    The fall of 2016 was a difficult time to teach, especially as the battle for the American Presidency was being waged before our very eyes. Both faculty and students were on edge parsing the news obsessively, trying to find reasonable solutions among the many speeches that we heard from every side of the political spectrum. My safe haven was my graduate seminar, entitled Russia in World History: Personalities and Events. My students — avid, critical, and passionate — and I read the works of Leo Tolstoy, Emma Goldman, Peter Kropotkin, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, among many others. Contrarian and difficult individuals, these original thinkers rejected the notion that any political formation, be it a nation or an empire, could prosper in the long run by violating the rights of others. They claimed that it was impossible to accumulate unlimited material wealth without impoverishing many, and cautioned against building the spaces of modernity at the expense of the environment. We discussed Tolstoy’s ideas about global justice, Goldman’s prescriptions for a transnational and humane economics, and Solzhenitsyn’s arguments for a moral commonwealth. My students brought new insight to these old works and I realized once again how important the past is when dreaming about a better future. We met a week after the elections and my students had used the time in between classes to write these thoughtful, heartfelt, and politically astute essays.

    -Choi Chatterjee
    Professor of History, California State University, Los Angeles

    Mitigating Power

    By Miguel Arriola
    MA Program in History, California State University, Los Angeles
    The author is legally blind.

    Millions of lives are at risk as our new President-elect Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to round up undocumented immigrants and treat them as criminals.  He can immediately direct his attention to hundreds of thousands of people protected from deportation by President Obama’s executive order, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), even though the Obama administration has deported at least two million undocumented immigrants. Having witnessed the xenophobic trends in the United States that brought Donald Trump to power, what can be done in order to resist, mitigate, and stop policies inspired by racism and national chauvinism? Dreamers can build a political movement, and lobby for acceptance by the government and society, but will they be successful in the long run?

    Surely Mr. Trump will not start his career by disturbing civil peace? Can law and order be maintained by threatening fragile families and communities? Mass deportations will separate children from parents, uproot human beings both socially and psychologically.  Classmates could lose friends, adults with developed social, academic, and economic ties to the United States could experience the loss of friends, families, and lovers. Students could find that their academic futures are in jeopardy. And economic disruptions could be both widespread and catastrophic. Lastly, the idea of a federal task force dragging people off the streets should be an image associated only with totalitarian governments, not sully the democratic face of the United States. Protesters can always wait and see what actually ensues.  This is a prudent thing to do as already Mr. Trump is talking about deporting three million criminal aliens rather than the 11 million undocumented people in the United States.

    Universities can serve to connect nodes of resistance that are forming. Many students believe that universities should be used as sanctuaries for undocumented persons fleeing deportation.  At Cal State Los Angeles, we have already seen protest groups on campus composed of students and faculty members. We could cooperate with other universities such as CSU, Long Beach, CSU Dominguez Hills, UCLA, and USC, and liaise with communities at risk to disrupt deportation raids. When a deportation takes place crowds could gather to disrupt the proceedings, and we can document the events for distribution to news outlets and international organizations such as the United Nations. But protesters must have clarity about how resistance should be mounted, and understand the risks that they will face. We cannot allow our communities to be torn apart on the whims of a nativist agenda, but in addition to protests we must have a long-term political vision. We have to fight for a complete overhaul of the American immigration system, one that sensibly matches the needs of both employers and workers in the United States. We must push for civil peace and comprehensive development south of the border so that populations won’t be forced to flee their homelands. Equitable bilateral treaties and fair trade with Latin American nations, instead of military interventions and neo-liberal economics will strengthen the democratic fabric of the United States.

    A Good Day

    By Refugio Casillas
    MA Program in History, California State University, Los Angeles

    I was not born here. Nonetheless, I am sincerely happy to be part of this nation and am very appreciative of the many opportunities it has afforded me.  My family came to live here as a result of my father’s experience as a bracero during the 1940’s. He made a difficult decision to leave the family back in Mexico in order to eke out a better life for us. Before he died he confessed to struggling in the agricultural fields of Central California.  He was hardworking, honest, and a respectful human being, but he never forget his patrimony.  He would walk everywhere and anywhere. He refused to ride a car or bus. I never understood why.

    We immigrated to the United States and settled in the Los Angeles Pico Union-Rampart Area.  The first true friends that I made upon my arrival were Derek and Darrel (brothers). They were African-American and could neither speak nor understand Spanish. Thank you for sharing your one-arm GI Joe with me. Although I could not speak a “lick” of English, they kindly permitted me into their lives. Our family struggled, worked hard, and we slowly adapted ourselves to the American way. Although we lived for many years in the Rampart area, I don’t recall ever being stopped by the Los Angeles Police.  All that my parents asked of us was honesty, hard work, and respect for others.

    As a young student, I have had the opportunity to work in a Korean owned market (Thank you Mr. Park) and a Mexican restaurant where I learned to cook, bake, and treat customers properly (Thank you Don Norberto). I do remember the caring efforts of wonderful LAUSD schoolteachers who sought only the best of me.  (Thank you Mrs. Levin, Mrs. Bayan, Mr. Parlapiano, and Mr. Sandoval).  Yes, the work was difficult, but as long as I was willing to work, opportunities presented themselves. Upon graduating, I enlisted in the US Army. I served with White, African-American, Filipino, Hispanic and soldiers of many other ethnicities. Heck, I even slept in the same barracks dorm room with them, sharing and exchanging experiences.  During my stay in the South, I can frankly say, I never experienced any maltreatment. I don’t ever remember an instant where my ethnic origin or my accent generated a negative response.  Over all, my recollections consist of good people and great experiences; except the time I got robbed in Nashville. But that’s a different story.

    What am I rambling about?  Oh, yes, “my unique life experience.”  Since then, I have had the opportunity to return to school. The education and guidance of motivated, professional, and scholarly teachers have led me further on the road to life. Something about that high school history class and the medieval manorial system. Gosh darn it…I have since worked as a teacher’s aide, as a Brink’s Security guard, bilingual social science teacher, and in government service. Yes, I have been a chameleon, of sorts.  Where else but in America could I have worn so many hats?

    I am not your traditional Cal State LA graduate student. I am married, a parent of five children, and have a full time job. Yes, I have seen the worst and the best life can dish out. I humbly suggest you seek, find, and capture what is good.  The recent elections notwithstanding, all in all, it has been a good day.

    Waking Up From the American Dream

    By Jeffrey Evans
    MA Program in History, California State University, Los Angeles

    My father became a garbage man in Seattle in 1980 as he had a wife and two babies to support.  Dangerously he rode on the back of a speeding garbage truck in the rain, jumping on and off hundreds of times each day to pick up garbage cans that were surely too heavy for a single man to lift for over eight hours a day, six days a week.  25 years later, he became the city’s solid waste superintendent.  He had made it.

    This was the American Dream.  A person could arrive in this country, work hard, and provide a decent life for their family.  However, that dream is over and it is time to wake up.  But what do we have to wake up to?   We have woken up to a country full of people who are blaming one another for stealing their jobs, for stealing their opportunities, and for stealing their dream.  Many of these people are those who voted to “Make America Great Again” by electing Donald Trump to be the next President of the United States of America.  However, while a vote for Trump has now been equated to a vote for racism, bigotry, sexism, and homophobia, many of those votes came from people of all color, background, ethnicity, and sex who are neither racists, bigots, sexists, nor homophobic, but who are jobless, poor, and desperate for change.  But this change is NOT going to come from mass deportations, banning immigration, reversing Roe vs. Wade, and a rhetoric of hate, inequality, and injustice.

    Immigrants have not “stolen” the jobs and opportunity from these people, but the government’s lack of investment in infrastructure, job creation, and education has broken the American dream. The new path to success in America is through education.  The majority of all jobs paying its worker a rate that will allow them to live above the poverty line require advanced educational training in some form.  However, high schools have failed to prepare students for the jobs of the twenty first century.  The government provides public schools with barely enough money to offset overcrowded classes, and you can forget about specialty programs in computer education, internships, and other opportunities to prepare students for the workforce of the future. There are school districts that have the money to provide these opportunities, as long as you live within its borders, which brings me to the issue of class.

    Those who can afford a better education are the ones who have access to the new path of success.  Those who can afford the sky rocketing prices of higher education are also allowed to walk this path.  So where does that leave everyone else?  Apparently in the voting silent majority, perhaps misguided by hateful rhetoric that it was someone that came into this country and stole their job.  It is the government’s job to fix this broken dream.  Not through mass deportation, immigration restrictions, and hateful discourses, but through investment in infrastructure and education. Widen the path to success so that every person has the opportunity to walk it together.

    Roots of a Nation: The Sleeping Giant and the Shift in the State’s Consciousness

    By Sergio Maldonado
    MA Program in History, California State University, Los Angeles

    Today is not a dark day, it is merely an unveiling of the true nature of the United States: a nation that uses phrases such as “land of the free” or “leader of the free world” to portray and perpetuate false truths about itself. How can the United States be the “land of the free” or the “home of the brave” when one of its founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson, called for the extermination of the American Indians? He wrote, “ferocious barbarities justified extermination…in war they will kill some of us, we shall destroy all of them.” From its inception, the United States has been built for elites, many of them racist and sexist. When one looks at our American past, it is easy to see that 1776 was not a revolution for freedom. Rather, it was a pseudo revolution for the privatization of stolen land, and a seat at the table of exploitative and transnational capitalism. The universal rights were carefully restricted for the few. The election of Donald Trump should come as no surprise to anyone, as he has simply tapped into the roots of the United States, roots that have been ignored for far to long. You may think to yourself, “I voted for Trump, and I am not a racist.” That may be true, but the undeniable truth is that you tolerate his behavior, and any tolerance for such blatant racism gives credence and power to hate. But I, as well as many others, am to blame for such ugliness. Our complacency about our freedom and our material comforts have eroded our empathy, and distracted us from the real truths.

    If our country is fundamentally racist, what can be done about it? Some might allow their visceral reactions to dictate their behavior: rioting, destruction, and lashing out against authority. Indeed, this is an understandable reaction, but it is an action that undermines the true potential for fundamental and democratic change. We need a rational and scientific response that undoes the sanctity of race-based identities. Yes, some may shout, “Not my president” but I must ask, if you succeed in ousting Trump from office, what happens after that? Are the racist roots of the United States still firmly planted into the ground? YES! But we have the potential to uproot this fundamental problem, and plant the seeds of a fruitful tree. Now, more than ever, people of all backgrounds can unite to squash the pseudoscience of race.

    A movement from the bottom is needed. In what form, I do not know but it is a venture that we must all take together. Others should scrutinize anyone who claims that they have the correct answer to the problem. Change will not come from politicians, but from the subalterns of societies engaged in the politics of radical democracy. I implore us all to engage in self-reflection and to come to terms with the true nature of our country. Once we understand ourselves, and how we ourselves have contributed to this state of racism and racialized identities, only then can we move forward as a cohesive group. Accepting the subalterns and rejecting the racists, we must patiently plan and work towards a post-race and human future.

    Parts of this essay have previously appeared in the Cal State LA University Times

    Staring Through the Glass: How it Feels to Almost Have Had a Female President

    By Katherine Mishler
    MA Program in History, California State University, Los Angeles

    Hillary Rodham Clinton — a name that either invokes tremendous pride or visceral hatred. Whether you love her or hate her, it is a name that made history on November 8, 2016. For the first time, the United States had a female candidate for President who was endorsed by a major party, and with that endorsement she carried many hopes and dreams of millions of Americans everywhere — or at the very least, she carried mine. But before I tell you about my hopes and dreams, I should probably explain why I felt my entire professional and personal existence was riding on the results of this presidential election.

    You see, in 2016 gender equality in the work place is not as clear as we think it is. As a 29-year-old woman working in a technical industry, I can tell you firsthand how challenging it can be to gain respect in the workplace. I currently work in the automotive field and have for many years.  I can say that gender equality and respect is still a mirage. I have walked into a room many times only to have people assume that I was there to either take notes, or make coffee. I have received more unsolicited coffee orders than I care to remember. I thought that if Hillary could be the nation’s President and earn that kind of respect, then I could walk into an automotive shop the next day with my head held a little bit higher. People would no longer assume that the only woman in the room was there in a secretarial capacity. Alas, it was not meant to be, and as I spent the election night crying into a plate of chicken enchiladas, I felt such overwhelming sadness. We raise our girls to tell them they can be anything and anybody…except the President of the United States. When it comes to the metaphorical glass ceiling I don’t know what is worse; being so far below that you have no concept of what you are missing, or being so close that your face is pressed up against the glass staring at a world just beyond your reach.

    I take comfort in the fact that while women everywhere are still staring through the glass ceiling, there are little tiny cracks everywhere, splintering in different directions, and each direction has a name, a time, and a place. Each crack represents a small victory, and one day, hopefully soon, that glass will shatter and all Americans will have the chance and the opportunity to rise to new heights — because we all will have value. As Susan B. Antony so eloquently put it, “the day may be approaching when the whole world will recognize woman as the equal of man.”

    Parts of this essay have previously appeared in the Cal State LA University Times.