Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlan (M.E.Ch.A.) stressed the importance of gaining access to higher education during its four-day national conference held at CSUN during spring break, marking the first time CSUN has hosted a national M.E.Ch.A. conference.
The Los Angeles and Orange County regions of M.E.Ch.A., along with several other entities, brought the 12th annual national conference to CSUN March 24-27. The event featured workshops, caucuses, speeches and provided entertainment in order to share its “Education, Not War!” theme with about 1,000 participants. This theme partly addressed the issue of Chicanos going to war instead of pursuing an education.
“We are living at a time where it’s a whole new type of war,” said Luis Rodriguez, junior Chicano/a studies major and chair of M.E.Ch.A. at CSUN. “What that theme is attempting to address is the fact that as a society, as a community, and as an entire global community, there’s so much emphasis being put on war.”
There are destructive “isms” and elements present within the Chicano/a community, including homophobia, racism, sexism and, most importantly, lack of access to higher education, Rodriguez said.
There were over 50 workshops conducted which, along with the entire conference, took about one year to prepare, Rodriguez said.
The workshops addressed a wide range of issues, from the purpose and origin of M.E.Ch.A. in “M.E.Ch.A. 101,” to resisting military recruitment on high school and college campuses in “No to War ‘ Campus Militarism,” to the role of Chicanas in “Chicanas and Feminism.”
Jose Montoya, senior government major at Eastern Washington University, said he has been to five M.E.Ch.A. conferences and had a good experience at this conference.
“It actually helped me educate myself,” Montoya said. “Every single conference caters to education.”
Montoya said he has gained valuable knowledge and networking opportunities through the conferences.
“One of the best things you (can) do is network with other people who are doing similar things like you, in order to become progressive,” Montoya said.
Personal and public issues addressing gender roles, sexuality and immigration were discussed at the caucuses, which were meetings held among a circle of several students.
Rodriguez said there are several social problems facing the Chicano/a community, and the goal of the conference was to change, motivate and educate people to stop these problems, he said.
“AIDS educational programs are to AIDS what M.E.Ch.A. is to the lack of access to higher education,” Rodriguez said. “If there was no AIDS, we wouldn’t be looking for a cure. If there were no heroine addicts, we wouldn’t have (heroine) rehab centers. My ultimate goal, and I think I would argue (that it is also) M.E.Ch.A.’s ultimate goal, is to not need a M.E.Ch.A.”
Rudy Acu?a, Chicano/a studies professor, and human rights activist Maria Guardado, elaborated more on the conference’s main goal through speeches they presented Friday and Saturday.
Guardado, a political refugee born in El Salvador, told students about her fight for human rights, and the torture she went through to pursue social peace and justice.
“When we are practicing what we learn, that is when we are putting our lives (toward) the cause of justice and peace,” Guardado said. “(Seeing) how things are in the world (today), what will be of the world if you ,the youth, do not organize to struggle?”
She gave advice to M.E.Ch.A. members and others about getting the word out regarding access to higher education.
“I would like to make a suggestion,” Guardado said. “That you organize, and you organize, and you organize, because that’s the only defense of the people.”
She also said organization has to be done outside the walls of the university, out in the real world.
Melissa Hernandez, a junior from Tuscan High in Arizona, said she benefited from the conference.
“I learned about the power of the woman,” Hernandez said. “It makes me stronger. This has been great.”
Francisco Silva, sophomore mechanical engineering major at New Mexico State University, who has been in M.E.Ch.A. for only a couple months, said he did not know what the national conference was about before he came. After being at the conference for a couple of days, he said he enjoyed the workshops, the atmosphere and the message of the conference’s theme.
Silva said it was great “to see people from everywhere getting together for a cause.”
For Orlando Bravo, junior ethnic studies major at the University of Oregon, it was the first time he attended a national M.E.Ch.A. conference. He said he was glad to learn the purpose of the conference.
“(The conference) gives me a sense of strength, being a minority in college,” Bravo said. “The sessions that I went to helped me (learn) what M.E.Ch.A. is about.”
The next national conference will be held in Arizona, according to Rodriguez. There will be a statewide conference in San Francisco next month, and another in Southern California in the fall, he said.