Wednesday, October 5, 2011

“Latino” Based Frats, Sorors, and La Politica (Or Supposed Lack Thereof)

          Being a member/brother of a “Latino” based fraternity I have been engaged in a conflicted battle over lack of political participation from “Latino” Greek organizations/hermandades. I come from CSU, Xico, so when I arrived at Mixigan State University, I wasn’t surprised when some of the local Xican@/Latin@ student activist organizations (MEChA and CLU)were upset with the Latino Greeks, when a time arrived where we were all trying to unite against a common cause, namely an unstable, vendida and dictatorial Chicano/Latino Studies director. The response from most of the Latino Greeks was that they didn’t engage in political movements (as an organization), which for the Xican@/Latin@ activists was an astounding and agitating statement to make.

            I need to give some history at least based on the experiences of my own fraternity. You see, after pledging and becoming a member, ideas were bounced around, about participating in marchas, or giving our support to the latest MEChistA agenda, but those suggestions were always slapped down. The argument was that we as Latino Greeks were not allowed get involved in politics. Well let me rephrase that, my fraternity said we were allowed to get involved in those types of political actions, but as individuals. That meant we could go to a marcha, but we weren’t suppose to wear our “Greek” letters. The reason being that we didn’t want the public to associate us with a specific political agenda or what not. You’re probably asking yourself why not? Well again, in relation to my fraternity, an incident occurred in its infancy, where a few brothers wore our letters to a Gay pride march in San Francisco. Apparently there might have been pictures floating around (before everything could go viral on a massive scale). After this, when people would approach a brother (I don’t know what chapter(s) specifically), they’d see our letters and ask-“Aren’t you the Gay fraternity?” The rationale being that they saw a couple of possibly Gay brothers at the Gay pride march, and therefore assumed we were a Gay fraternity. 

            As you can imagine “Latinos” have a reputation for being machistas, therefore, at a national meeting this topic arose, and I’m not sure if there was a vote, or if it was just an executive order that we were to no longer wear our letters to political gatherings. We could attend individually, but never with our letters, because “we” didn’t want our hermandad associated with any specific political movement or party (especially with anything that had to do with Gay rights). So it was to be, and as far as I know my chapter abided by this rule for the most part. [I heard all of this from a secondary source years ago, namely one of my carnales].

Years later Xico State Xican@/Latin@ students would have an issue with a local bar and its representation of Mexican@s for Cesar Chavez Day. A few of my carnales wanted to go to the boycott, which they did, but they were warned by some of our other brothers to not wear letters. One of my carnales wore his letters, but he had a jacket covering them. However when the campus paper, the Orion, snapped a pic of the demonstrators for an article, you could barely make out an “A”, one of the three letters of our hermandad. At which point he was mildly reprimanded on our e-mail list serve.

So again that’s the history of at least my “Latino” based fraternity in relation to politics. I will say this about my fraternity, when I was interested in pledging, they had pamphlets, that clearly stated, that although we might become an hermano of the organization, it did not mean there would be a loss of individual identity (that’s not word for word, but it’s the gist of it). And for the most part it was good to know that if a brother had a political agenda he could pursue it, unfortunately without having the full support of our chapter, since we all had our own political ideologies. There were some who said they had no political interest (I went through that phase at one point), but truly did have a political stance, because that in and of itself is a political stance.

It’s not to say that we didn’t engage in politics at all because we truly did, we had internal politics. We had brothers lobbying for votes because they wanted to push their own agenda in their run for the presidency or some other position (like social chair, etc.). So we truly did know about politics. But when it came to the things impacting specifically Xican@s/Latin@s, everyone had their own opinion, some could care less, others felt why get involved and agitate, if that’s what the other side wanted to see - us angry and agitating against their ignorance. Others of the more radical ideological mindset wanted to hold up signs, shout, and boycott.

What was always really interesting to me was that we always claimed to be a non-political organization, but wasn’t the fact that we are a “Latino” based organization a political statement? Why would we want to start a “Latino” based fraternity if we didn’t want to make a political statement? We could have pledged for a traditional white Greek letter organization, a black or even multi-cultural fraternal organization, but no, instead a group of “Latinos” at Xico State chose to start their own “Latino” based hermandad (well technically they wanted to establish a chapter of a pre-existing "Latino" based fraternity). Don’t get me wrong, there was already one Latino based fraternity on campus, but the young men who chose to start the one I’m a carnal of, didn’t feel it meshed with what they were looking for. So when I hear carnales from my hermandad make a statement about how we shouldn’t be involved in politics or when I’d hear a MEChistA complain about the Latin@ Frats or Sorors, I can’t help but shake my head, because that is just so oxymoronic for us to say, due to the fact that we continue to neglect that we are “LATIN@ GREEKS.” What is a "Latino Greek"? As far as I know, at my chapter the majority of my carnales are Mexican, Mexican-American or Xicano. There are few who may claim to be Latino, and we even currently have a few who are Gay (one of our chapter founding fathers included). None of us claim to be half Mexican and half Greek, or half Salvadoran and half Greek.

Making the claim that we aren’t political, I can understand the agitation of MEChistA’s. At other chapters we have a history with them where we came to physical altercations with them because they felt we were essentially sellouts because we didn’t join their organization and take a more proactive role in pushing the Xicano agenda. And at Xico we never got into physical altercations, but there is that continuous ideological battle we continue to have, based on what we do or don’t do. FUN FACT: Alurista, Xicano poet, activist, and author of the Plan Espiritual de Aztlan was the first advisor for our founding chapter at Cal Poly SLO, where as far as I know he was also active with MEChA which still didn’t help ease tensions between both groups.

Nonetheless we continue to claim our lack of political motivation when my hermandad specifically has organized or participated in events like Dia De Los Muertos, Cinco de Mayo, and Dia de los Ni~nos, just to name a few. These are cultural events that were brought to Xico State, a place sorely in need of some Xicano/Latino cultural awareness. These events although cultural were also providing a political statement-“Aqui Estamos, Y No Nos Vamos.” Well no nos vamos until we graduate, maybe.

But there is a fine line within in my hermandad, because I recall one year hearing that we were suppose to try organizing some posadas for the holiday season, but one of the brothers who is Gay was against this event because of the role the Catholic Church played in countering the Gay community’s own beliefs and lifestyle. This is where that line between the cultural and the political becomes a bit convoluted. I was conflicted about this as well, because I could understand his standpoint, but for me I wasn’t thinking about the Catholic Church I was thinking more about the cultural, communal and familial aspect of the event, like the others we had organized and participated in. For me it was no different than some of the Latino comedy shows we organized, shows where we brought Carlos Mencia, Culture Clash, and Gabriel Iglesias, where some type of cultural AND political agenda was being pushed, but we were using comedy and laughter as our weapons of choice.

When I was applying for doctoral programs one of the Chicano Studies professors that was suppose to write me a recommendation letter told me to send him a resume of things I’d done, especially regarding my participation in my fraternity. When I sent him an e-mail It wrote the following:

“Although the fraternity isn't necessarily a political group, I would like to think that we tried to spread the word about Chican@'s subliminally. I say this mainly due to any cultural events we participate in or which we organize, because spreading awareness of a minority group in a town like Chico is a form of making the community actively aware that we exist. So anything like lowrider car shows, comedy shows, Dia De los Muertos, or Dia De los Ni~nos, informs the community about the culture [. . .]”

            Whether some of my carnales choose to believe it or not, we have been politically motivated, we’ve been pushing a political agenda through our cultural events, but also by being brown folk who rejected pre-established fraternal organizations and choosing to start our own familia based hermandad, even though we did adopt the structure of the traditional Greeks. We’ve just been covert about how we push our politica, so covert in fact, that some of us in the hermandad don’t even know it or choose to ignore it.

Unfortunately I couldn't find the picture printed in the Orion of the Normal St. Bar Street, but I believe this is the original article it was published in:

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