I published this awhile back in the Rio Grande Guardian and can no longer find it on their website. So I am re-publishing it here. It speaks to the elder epistemology that informs our work in Academia Cuauhtli, and in Ethnic Studies, in general.
A Reflection on Age and Generation: Last Weekend’s Raza Unida Party Reunion in Austin
July 14, 2012
I had the wonderful opportunity of being able to attend the 40-year anniversary of the Raza Unida Party at a reunion in Austin last weekend. I have been reflecting on a comment made by a young person attending the reunion: “You older folks need to make way for the younger generation.” “In whose way are they standing?” I thought to myself. Mal educado, ese muchacho. Poor manners. What a silly thing for a young person to say, generally, but particularly at a Raza Unida Party reunion attended by activists.
Just prior to the conference, one of our elders, the renowned Martha Cotera, shared this dicho with me in the context of a conversation that we were having about our political identities and nurturing the next generation: "Al que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le cobija." ("If we get close to a good tree, a good shade covers us.") This is a statement about mentorship. We shouldn’t bask in someone’s shadow, but rather in their shade. Mentorship experiences should be that nurturing and fulfilling.
We need our elders. They offer much wisdom, knowledge, and experience that the younger generation can still benefit from. As I spoke to members of this earlier generation before and during the conference, what became evident is how the movement energy lit an unquenchable fire for social justice, with many holding leadership positions and positions of high esteem within our communities to this very day. Martha Cotera is a great example of one of them.
This was and remains a formidable generation that has left our community and the world with a continuing and enduring legacy in the righteous struggle for civil and human rights. This was a generation that decided that being Mexican and speaking Spanish was not only a private identity, but a public one, as well.
This generation used arguments about history and identity to lay claim to their charter member status, not as immigrants but as natives to this land of the Southwest.
This generation talked back to oppression and said: “We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us."
Like Gloria Anzaldua says in her landmark text, BORDERLANDS/LA FRONTERA, there isn’t a Tejano or a Tejana alive who doesn’t know that the lands were taken away.
A lot of these persons—if not most—have continued to be civically engaged in one way or another. And many of them are now retired and with more time on their hands. They were young activists forty years ago; they are young, retiring Baby Boomers today. This was and remains and exceptional generation regardless of their age and we need them now more than ever.
Note: If you would like to cite this piece, here is how I have cited it:
Valenzuela, A. (2012) Reflection on age and generation: Last weekend’s Raza Unida Party reunion in Austin. Rio Grande Guardian. Retrieved October 31, 2014 from http://www.riograndeguardian.com/archives_results.asp