One Bronze People: El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, Mexican Americans, and Mexican Immigrants (by Efrain M. Zuniga)

TARGET AUDIENCE:

9th-10th graders, although the lesson plan will also do for middle schoolers.

STANDARDS:

Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.

Analyze how a text uses structure to emphasize key points or advance an explanation or analysis.

Write routinely over extended time frames (time for reflection and revision) and shorter time frames (a single sitting or a day or two) for a range of discipline- specific tasks, purposes, and audiences.

OVERVIEW:

The purpose of this lesson plan is to help students understand how the Chicano movement impacted Mexican American-immigrant relations and the importance of identity. To do so, students must also comprehend the dynamic and complex relationship between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, through a set of activities, a lecture, analyzing a primary source, and reflection. Students will examine the intersection between self-determination and identity and the relationship between Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans.

FRAMEWORK:

This lesson is focused on analyzing the historical relationship between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants from an emphatic perspective, selectively focusing student analysis on one specific document: El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán. For convenience, it is divided into two parts. On the first day, students will begin the lesson by engaging in a simulation that is designed to help students see the relationship between Americans of Mexican descent and Mexican immigrants from both perspectives. After they complete the simulation, they will be asked to reflect on the experience, before the instructor gives a short lecture. The lecture will focus on the history of Mexican American – Mexican immigrant relations in the US, drawing parallels to the simulation the class just undertook. The first day is laying groundwork in background knowledge.

On the second day, the class will engage in a close examination of a primary source – El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán – to help frame a new discussion on how the Chicano movement of the 1960’s helped push the boundaries of the Mexican American identity, and how this impacted the relationship between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants.

The lesson will end with a take-home portion where students can reflect on their experiences within the lesson.

ESSENTIAL UNDERSTANDING:

The Chicano movement and some of its ideals (as preserved in El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán) helped create solidarity between Mexican American and Mexican immigrant communities by challenging the tradition of cultural assimilation and old notions of Mexican American identity, and emphasizing the significance of their Mexican cultural and historical heritage.

ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS:

  1. What is the historical relationship between Americans of Mexican descent and Mexican immigrants? How has this relationship changed over the past two centuries? What factors contribute to the state of this relationship?
  2. What is the “identity problematic” of the Mexican American experience?
  3. What is the Chicano movement? What is the significance of El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán?
  4. How did the Chicano movement challenge traditional notions of identity within the Mexican American community? How did Chicano youth raise questions about the importance of cultural and racial heritage, and ultimately Mexican American identity?
  5. Why were these questions of identity important for the relationship between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants? How did the Chicano movement impact the struggle for immigrant rights?

GLOSSARY:

Mexican American: for the sake of this lesson, Mexican-Americans will be defined as an ethnic group within the United States consisting of American citizens of Mexican descent who are born within the United States.

Mexican immigrant: someone who has left their native country of Mexico to come to live in the United States, most of the time either for seasonal employment or permanent settlement.

INTRODUCTION:

This introduction should serve as the primary framework for the lecture that the instructor should give on the first day to provide a backdrop for the students to understand the historical relationship between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants.

The relationship between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants is rooted in the colonial and imperialistic history of the United States. As the US expanded into the West, the action of taking land from Mexico instantly created a “process of colonization” that tore down the social structures that Mexicans who had been living in what were once Mexico’s northern territories had built, replacing them with a class structure where Mexicans found themselves at the bottom as a “nonwhite people,” and led to a decimation of Mexican culture.

At first, the Mexican American community consisted of explicitly and exclusively either people who were once Mexican nationals living in the Southwest who became US citizens after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo or their descendants who were born US citizens. There was not much immigration from Mexico to the United States. However, soon after 1890, immigration from Mexico began to increase. What had once been a diminishing Mexican American population soon burgeoned.

Mexican Americans had immediate reactions to the new immigrants. Some were happy to embrace the new arrivals because they helped revive Mexican culture in Mexican American communities, but others were more uneasy. For some Mexican Americans, the new wave of immigration could only be viewed as a negative development, and represented an event that only amplified their oppression, adding competition in the labor market and exacerbating negative perceptions of Mexicans within US society.

Like it or not, Mexican Americans had to deal with an ever-rising influx of Mexican immigrants to the US during the twentieth century. Over the course of the century, Mexican immigrants arrived in the U.S. in a series of four waves. At first it was mostly seasonal workers traveling north, but soon entire families came to settle permanently in the US.

However, this narrative of immigration from Mexico to the US has been paralleled by a another narrative: the reactions towards and perceptions of Mexican immigrants by Americans of Mexican descent . While it is true that the nature of these attitudes have varied within the Mexican American community, a historical analysis indicates that, especially in the beginning, many Mexican Americans were opposed to Mexican immigration, primarily due to economic and social frictions within their communities.

More importantly, it was a natural polarity concerning identity that helped promulgate the idea that Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants were two highly distinct groups of people. Both groups of people shared many customs, traditions,  values and a common language, however, the foundation of a sense of a fundamental divide between the Mexican American and immigrant communities was set in the early years of the nineteenth century.

As soon as Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans started to share spaces – whether these spaces were neighborhoods, labor markets, or social classes – sources of tension began to emerge. Natural frictions were fomented by an ‘us versus them’ mentality. From both sides of the border, a sort of animosity – despite shared culture, history, and language – developed between Mexican American immigrants and Americans of Mexican descent.

It was within this framework, these roots, that the relationship between Americans of Mexican descent and Mexican immigrants continued to develop over the course of the century, as Americans of Mexican descent never fully embraced the Mexican immigrant community. This lack of support from the Mexican American community weakened the struggle for Mexican immigrant rights, and at times even opposed it, as Mexican Americans viewed Mexican immigrants as a vastly different, even antagonistic, group. Ultimately, this division was tied to the fundamental question of identity: what did it mean to be Mexican American, to be of Mexican descent?

For many Americans of Mexican descent in the first half of the twentieth century, the answer to this question was a simple manner of association. In their minds, the various socioeconomic problems within their communities was tied to their relegation to a lower class in U.S. society. To solve these problems, Americans of Mexican descent had to find a way to break out of this lower social class and rise above it: because their confinement was based on perceptions of racial identity, many Mexican Americans decided that identifying as white and assimilating into the dominant European American culture was the answer. Part of this process involved playing down the nonwhite origins of Mexican identity, and instead strongly aligning themselves with European Americans by insisting that Mexicans were a misunderstood white ethnic group.

This question of identity, and the answers that were formulated over the first half of the twentieth century, had an important impact on the struggle of Mexican immigrants through the relationship between Mexican Americans and immigrants. As more and more immigrants flooded into the U.S. from Mexico, many organizations, such as LULAC or the G.I. Forum, argued for stringent measures to control the tide, perhaps limiting the flow, and called for a repeal of the Bracero program. It was not a matter of hate or animosity, but rather self-interest. Many of these same Mexican-Americans might have sympathized with the lonely immigrants, anti-immigration advocates viewed the issue as one of foreign interests versus American interests. Simply put, the mainstream perception among Mexican Americans was that Mexican immigrants created extra competition for jobs and exacerbated many of the socioeconomic problems experienced by the Mexican American community. Although not everyone thought this way – a few Mexican Americans had started to propose that the struggles of Mexican immigrants were closely tied to the struggles of Mexican Americans – the mainstream attitudes towards Mexican immigrants led to Mexican advocacy groups supporting harsh reforms that clamped down on illegal immigration. Instead of helping these new arrivals, immigrants who shared a common cultural and historical heritage, the mainstream Mexican American community of the 1950’s actually impeded the progress of Mexican immigrant rights.

MATERIALS:

M&M’s – many bags of M&M’s, and bowls to hold them

“El Plan Espiritual De Aztlán.” National Chicano Youth and Liberation Conference, Denver, 1969. Accessed April 21, 2015. https://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/00W/chicano101-1/aztlan.htm.

Gutierrez, David. Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

**Instructor should make copies of excerpts of Chapter 6 from this book**

 

ACTIVITIES:

Day 1:

The first part of the lesson involves a simulation that is designed to help the students begin to think about the issue of immigration from an emphatic perspective. Basically, the simulation is meant to depict the complex interactions and historical events that led to communities of Mexican descent separated by a border, without actually using specific names that refer to subject at hand.

  1. The instructor should make sure that the class is more or less established in a organized manner, preferably in rows, but with enough space for students to move around.
  2. Students should be told that they will be representing the citizens of the imaginary country of _________, with the blank being filled by a creative name that comes from the able mind of the instructor.
  3. At this point, the instructor should indicate that they will be representing the neighboring country of __________ (once again, the instructor should be creative when assigning names). For the rest of the simulation, the instructor should play the role of the US government – but under a different name.
  4. In a sudden and unexpected move, the instructor should declare to the class that its citizens need more space to live, and have decided to take the land from the country the students represent. The instructor should divide the class in half, and move some students who are currently in the instructor’s country from their seats to the other side of the “border,” while still keeping a few students in the instructor’s country.
  5. Now the simulation really begins. The instructor should hand out some bowls of M&Ms or something to the students who are currently sitting in the instructor’s country. Students should know that although they can eat the M&M’s during the simulation, they should eat them very slowly. At this point, the instructor should tell them that they get to eat all the M&M’s, and keep them for themselves. If anyone protests, the instructor should tell the class to trust in them. **Note: if the budget is low for said class, then instructor can use paper clips instead of candy, although the enjoyment students experience during the lesson will be greatly diminished if the instructor chooses inedible objects instead of food.
  6. In a series of successive rounds, the instructor should permit a few students from the “south” side of the border – the student’s ‘country’ – to enter the “north” side – the instructor’s ‘country’ – and sit by the students who were there first. Another twist is now thrown in: the students with the bowls must share M&M’s with the new students if the new students ask for M&M’s, but how much they share is up to the students in charge of the bowls.
  7. At the end of each round, the students without bowls should return to the south side. Additionally, the same students should travel back and forth each round – this means that some students will not receive any M&M’s for the first few rounds, but that is by design.
  8. At the end of a few rounds, the instructor should ask the students with bowls what they think of so many people arriving and trying to have some M&M’s, listen to their responses, and emphasize how the students on the south side don’t have any M&M’s.
  9. Nearing the end of the simulation, the instructor should announce to the class that less students from the south will be admitted into the north each round. Pay attention to their responses, especially from those students who haven’t received any M&M’s. Each round will continue to rotate the same few students.
  10. When the supply of M&M’s runs dangerously low, announce that any student who wants an M&M should come sit on the north side, and they will only receive an M&M if they are seated. If simulation is planned and executed correctly, there should not be enough seats on the “north” side of the room for everyone to sit, and barely any M&Ms left at all. Consequently, there should be plenty of complaints, especially from those who haven’t had any M&M’s.
  11. End the simulation before arguments break out over any leftover M&M’s. If the instructor is down and wishes to avoid any hard feelings, they should bring extra bags of M&M’s so students can munch on them for the rest of the lesson.

This simulation, like the lesson plan, is highly flexible: the number of rounds in the simulation will depend on both the number of M&Ms available and the length of the allotted class time.

As for the rest of the day, students should begin with a short period of written reflection time (a “free-write”) to help them process their experiences within the simulation. They should be directed by a few questions, including what they thought of the group of students on the other side of the line. After taking a few minutes to organize their thoughts, the entire class should come together and discuss what they felt during the simulation, and why they think certain groups responded in specific ways.

To wrap up, the instructor should deliver a concise lecture that helps communicate the historical relationship between Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants (refer to the Introduction section), drawing parallels to the simulation the students just finished.

Connecting the attitudes, emotions and reactions students had during the simulation to the attitudes, emotions, and reactions of Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants throughout their historical relationship should hopefully help develop a sense of empathy within the students. While it must be admitted that the simulation is in a way a large simplification of the complex events and relationships that define Mexican American-immigrant relationships, it is designed to focus on developing specific feelings in the students that will hopefully help them connect with the subject matter at hand. The lecture will help create connections between what the students experienced during the simulation to what Mexican American and Mexican immigrant communities have experienced throughout their historical relationship, developing empathy within the students.

Day 2:

The instructor should begin with a very short lecture of just a few minutes, this time exploring the “identity problematic” of the Mexican American experience, which is defined by Carlos Muñoz inYouth, Identity, Power. The lecture should orbit a few major ideas, providing details to help give context: Mexican cultural heritage is complex and highly diverse: a combination of white European, indigenous, and even African and Asian influences. Due to this highly multicultural and multiracial heritage, Mexican Americans have been given various labels throughout the course of their history. At times, due to their Spanish, European ancestors, they have been counted as members of the white race. Other times, when Mexican Americans were competing with European Americans for socioeconomic opportunities, it made more sense for the white power structures to distinctly label Mexican Americans as nonwhite people of color, emphasizing their indigenous heritage.

After that, the instructor should introduce the Chicano movement, roughly sketching its origin in student movements in major cities across the U.S. to the National Youth and Liberation Conference in Denver of 1969. The focus of this part of the lecture should be on the historical events of the movement, not on its ideals – students will be responsible for discovering and exploring those on their own.

Finally, students will begin the process of analyzing a primary source.

The class should be rearranged so that everyone is in a circle, after which the instructor should hand out copies of El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, with only a brief, rudimentary explanation of what it is – students should have the chance to explore its meaning and significance on their own!

To begin, the instructor should ask for a volunteer to read the preamble, the poem written by Alurista, asking for a volunteer who will be willing to read the poem with passion and theatrical flourish. Alternatively, the instructor can take on this task as well, if they enjoy lifting their voice and shaking their fist.

Students should then read the rest of the text silently on their own – it is not very long – and then write a short reflection about their initial reactions to the document. The instructor can try to make this reflection time as specific as they wish. Students should then turn to small groups to discuss what they wrote.

Now students should all come together to discuss the document as an entire class. The instructor should guide the conversation, primarily by asking guiding questions, clarifying areas of confusion, or nudging the conversation in certain directions. Due to the focus of the lesson plan, the questions should center around the preamble. In this discussion, the instructor should try to push the students towards a few guiding questions:

What is this document?

What is it saying? What in the world is “Aztlán?” (There are actually quite a few words in the document that the instructor will most likely have to clarify)

Does it say anything about Mexican American identity? What does that even mean?

What does “Chicano” mean, and why is it significant?

Using what was covered in the previous lesson, what parts of this text stand out as particularly radical or as a significant departure from the Mexican American mainstream?

To conclude, the instructor should enter the conversation and direct it towards a consideration of the immigration issue within the Mexican American identity. How could the changing perceptions and definitions of Mexican American identity contained within El Plan affect the struggle for Mexican immigrant rights? This part of the conversation should draw heavily on the activity and lecture of the previous class.

At this point, much of what the students answer concerning identity and Mexican American-immigrant relations will be speculation. However, as a final part of the lesson, the instructor should assign a reading – part of or the entire chapter 6 from Walls and Mirrors: Mexican Americans, Mexican Immigrants, and the Politics of Ethnicity by David Gutiérrez. This reading will help students develop a concrete sense of the impact the Chicano movement had on Mexican American and Mexican immigrant relations.

To conclude the lesson plan, students should write a short paper of at least a page, although they can make it as long as they like, once they have read the chapter at home, and bring it to class the next day. They should address the following question:

How did the Chicano movement and its ideals (especially those contained within El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán) impact Mexican American and Mexican immigrant relations, and by extension, the struggle for immigrant civil rights?

ADDITIONAL SOURCES:

Griswold Del Castillo, Richard, ed. Chicano San Diego: Cultural Space and the Struggle for Justice. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2007.

Griswold Del Castillo, Richard, and Arnoldo De Leon. North to Aztlán: A History of Mexican Americans in the United States. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1996.

Mariscal, George. Brown-eyed Children of the Sun: Lessons from the Chicano Movement, 1965-1975. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005.

Muñoz, Carlos. Youth, Identity, Power: The Chicano Movement. London: Verso, 1989.

Rodriguez, Gregory. Mongrels, Bastards, Orphans, and Vagabonds: Mexican Immigration and the Future of Race in America. New York: Pantheon Books, 2007.

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