M.E.Ch.A. (Spanish: Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán; "Chican@ Student Movement of Aztlán", the @ being a gender neutral inflection) is an organization that seeks to promote Chicano unity and empowerment through political action. The acronym of the organization's name is the Chicano word mecha, which is the Chicano pronunciation of the English word, "match," and therefore symbolic of a "fire, a spark." ". The motto of MEChA is 'La Union Hace La Fuerza' (Unity makes strength).
Origins in the 1960s
MEChA began during the 1960s, empowered through the political movements of the time, especially the civil rights and Chicano Movement. The group coalesced out of several organizations which had formed during that turbulent decade and which came together at a conference in Denver. The Denver, Colorado-based Crusade for Justice, a civil rights and educational organization founded in the mid-1960s, concerned itself with the problems of the city's Chicano youth. One of the founding documents, "El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán", was drafted during this conference. This document reflects the sentiment of the Latino/Chicano youth during an era of a turbulent social climate (especially in the wake of violence experienced by Latino youth from the US military and police during the Zoot Suit Riots).
The Mexican American Youth Organization was founded in San Antonio, Texas in 1967. It employed the tactics of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and later spurred the creation of the La Raza Unida Party.
The Brown Berets were a youth organization that agitated against police brutality in East Los Angeles. In 1968, they helped the United Mexican American Students (UMAS), Sal Castro, and other youth who met at the Piranya Cafe organize the East L.A. walkouts, called the Blowouts, a series of protests against unfair conditions in Los Angeles schools.
Following the Blowouts, a group of students, school administrators, and teachers formed the Chicano Coordinating Committee on Higher Education (CCCHE), a network to pressure the adoption and expansion of equal opportunity programs in California's colleges.
Rene Nuñez, an activist from San Diego, conceived a conference to unify the student groups under the auspices of the CCCHE.
In April 1969, Chicano college students held a nationwide conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB). Many of the attendees were present at the First National Chicano Youth Liberation Conference hosted by Rodolfo "Corky" Gonzales' Crusade for Justice a month prior, and the Santa Barbara conference represented the extension of the Chicano Youth Movement into the realm of higher education.
The name "Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán" was already in use by a few groups, and the name was adopted by the conference attendees because of the importance of each of the words and as a means of transcending the regional nature of the multiple campus-based groups. Conference attendees also set the national agenda and drafted the Plan de Santa Bárbara, a pedagogic manifesto.
MEChA chapters first took root on California college campuses and then expanded to high schools and schools in other states. It soon became one of the primary Mexican-American organizations, hosting functions, developing community leaders, and politically pressuring educational institutions. MEChA was fundamental in the adoption of Chicano Studies programs and departments in academia.
MEChA exists as over 400 loosely affiliated chapters within a national organization. Typical activities of a MEChA chapters include educational & social activities, such as academic tutoring, mentorship, folklore and poetry recitals, exploring the way of life through an indigenous perspective bringing Chicano speakers to their campus, high school outreach, attending Statewide, Regional, & National Conferences. Many chapters are also involved in political actions, such as lobbying high school and university administrators for expanded Bilingual Education programs and Chicano-related curricula, the celebration of Mexican cultural traditions, as well as other Latin American holidays (such as Mexican Independence Day), Columbus Day protests, sit-ins, hunger strikes, boycotts, rallies, marches and other political activism relating to civil rights, affirmative action, and immigration.
National MEChA Constitution
The National MEChA constitution was ratified on April 9, 1995 during the second annual National MEChA conference at the University of California, Berkeley (Cal). The document outlines four objectives:
- Educational, cultural, economical, political, and social empowerment of Chicanos.
- Retention of Chicano identity and furthering of cultural awareness.
- Uplifting and mobilizing Chicanos and Chicanas through higher education.
- Implementing plans of action concerning Chicanos and Chicanas.
Since its adoption, the document has been amended five times:
- Amended on April 14, 1996 at University of Texas, Pan American
- Amended on April 14, 1997 at Michigan State University (MSU)
- Amended on March 18, 2001 at San Diego State University (SDSU)
- Amended on March 30, 2003 at University of California, Berkeley
- Amended on May 30, 2010 at University of Washington, Seattle
During the 1999 National Conference at Phoenix College, MEChA adopted a document entitled The Philosophy of MEChA which affirmed the more moderate view that "all people are potential Chicanas and Chicanos", and that "Chicano identity is not a nationality but a philosophy". In addition, The Philosophy of MEChA addressed the problem of outside organizations co-opting the legitimacy of MEChA to advance their own agendas, doing so by establishing guidelines to make local MEChA chapters more accountable to the national organization.
A passage from MEChA's national website reads: ‘As Chicanas and Chicanos of Aztlán, we are a nationalist movement of Indigenous Gente that lay claim to the land that is ours by birthright. As a nationalist movement we seek to free our people from the exploitation of an oppressive society that occupies our land. Thus, the principle of nationalism serves to preserve the cultural traditions of La Familia de La Raza and promotes our identity as a Chicana/Chicano Gente.’  Such statements have led MEChA to be criticized by a variety of sources, including the National Review and Michelle Malkin which alleges that MEChA is tinged with racist and separatist views. The Times Online has referred to MEChA as "a radical Mexican student organisation" in describing the associations of California gubernatorial candidate Cruz Bustamante.
Critics also point out the group's use of the word Aztlán: To many, this word calls to mind a mythical region comprising much of the Southwestern United States and as a result, some critics feel use of the phrase implies support for the controversial theory of reconquista. While MEChA supporters point out that the Aztlan mythology itself does not refer to reclaiming conquered lands, it simply describes the mythical home of the Aztec people. MEChA supporters do not acknowledge that the lands of the Southwest United States were actually the homelands of a multitude of Native tribes, none of which were Aztec, and that the Aztec never inhabited these lands. MEChA also does not acknowledge that the map they use to illustrate their myth of "Aztlan" has nothing at all to do with the Aztec tribe, since it is a map of Nueva Espania, lands stolen by the Spanish and claimed by the Spanish after they arrived in North America from Europe. This error, on the part of those who promote the Aztlan propaganda, including MEChA, negates their credibility on this issue.
Also controversial is the phrase "Por La Raza todo, Fuera de La Raza nada", which is often translated as "For the Race, everything, outside the Race, nothing", though this is disputed. Many critics of MEChA see this statement as ethnocentric and racist. This phrase appears in El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán as the official "slogan" of MEChA. MEChA members themselves differ in their interpretations of "La Raza". While some use the term to strictly refer to only mestizos and Chicanos, others use it to mean all Hispanics and minorities. A possible origin of the phrase is the Cuban Revolution, which used the similar slogan "Por la revolución todo, fuera de la revolución nada!"
A 1998 MEChA youth conference at California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly SLO) featured a printed program that introduced the school as "Cal Poly State Jewniversity". The program also referred to New York as "Jew York". When the Anti-Defamation League objected to the program, the Cal Poly MEChA organization issued a formal apology, a repudiation of the anti-Semitism and expelled those students who had been responsible for the production of the printed conference program. MEChA has also been linked to La Voz de Aztlán (The Voice of Aztlan), a Chicano webzine that regularly publishes articles attacking Jews, Zionism, and Israel.
The National Council of La Raza has distanced itself from MEChA due to controversial allegations made by some of its members. In a public press release, NCLR declared, "NCLR freely acknowledges that some of the organization’s founding documents, e.g., Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, contain inappropriate rhetoric, and NCLR also acknowledges that rhetoric from some MEChA members has been extremist and inflammatory... NCLR has publicly and repeatedly disavowed this rhetoric". However, the NCLR emphasized that MEChA's mission statement is to support Latino students at institutions of higher education. In reference to the rhetoric included in the Plan Espiritual de Aztlán, the NCLR quoted journalist Gustavo Arellano who commented in a Los Angeles Times op-ed article,“few members take these dated relics of the 1960s seriously, if they even bothered to read them.” Within the article, Arrallano also noted that all of the MEChA members of his class graduated from college and have gone on to successful careers, a rarity at a time when only 12% of Latinos have a college degree.
- In May 1995, Voz Fronteriza, a publication of the MEChA chapter at the University of California, San Diego published an editorial entitled "Death of a Migra Pig," which celebrated the recent death of Luis A. Santiago, a Latino Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officer who died in the line of duty. The editorial stated that Santiago was a "traitor...to his race," and that "We're glad this pig died, he deserved to die," and argued, "All the Migra pigs should be killed, every single one...the only good one is a dead one...The time to fight back is now. It is time to organize an anti-Migra patrol...It is to [sic] bad that more Migra pigs didn't die with him." The article generated public outrage, and Congressman Duncan L. Hunter threatened to pursue legislation that would eliminate federal funding for UCSD. UCSD defended the paper's right to publish the editorial, arguing that it was protected by Freedom of Speech.
- The national MEChA organization claims to not advocate violence, citing the example set by the late labor activist César Chávez. However, on several occasions, MEChA members and chapters have been involved or implicated in violent or criminal disturbances. In the largest such instance, on May 11, 1993, Chicano students at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) caused damage to the Faculty Center estimated between $35,000 to $50,000 during a riot which ensued following the university administration's rejection of the creation of a Chicano Studies program, an announcement that was made on the eve of César Chávez's funeral. Following this incident, MEChA students organized peaceful demonstrations at UCLA, including a 14-day hunger strike which garnered support from several California state leaders and ultimately resulted in the establishment of The César Chávez Center.
- In February 2002, MEChA members were implicated in the theft of an entire press run of a particular issue of the UC Berkeley conservative newspaper California Patriot which was featuring an article that labelled MEChA a "neo-Nazi"-like organization. Police reported that over 3,000 copies (valued at $1,500 - $2,000) were stolen during a break-in at the Patriot office in Eshleman Hall. The issue of the paper included an article, entitled "MEChA: Student Funded Bigotry and Hate," blames the group for impeding "advances in civil rights toward a colorblind American society" through "anti-American hate" and "a mentality that leads its adherents to believe anyone who is white and male is to blame for any historical injustice." The article written by the California Patriot staff, which Time magazine described as reveling in their roles as provocateurs, included controversial remarks made by a separate organization that were falsely attributed to MEChA. MEChA denied any involvement in the incidents and "condemns harassment," said Livia Rojas, a leader in the group. The case was ultimately dropped as insufficient evidence was found to implicate any suspects.
- On May 18, 2006, MEChA members claimed (in writing) to have destroyed the entire press run of the May 18, 2006 issue of the Pasadena City College (PCC) newspaper. Nearly 2,000 copies (of a total run of 5,000 copies) of The Courier were removed from newspaper boxes on the Pasadena, California, campus, torn in half and returned to the paper's campus office with a signed note claiming responsibility. The letter expressed disappointment for the lack of coverage provided for a MEChA-hosted event on May 12, 2006, which had involved "months of hard work". It ended stating: "As students of P.C.C., we can not accept this issue of the Campus Courier." However, student leaders of MEChA on campus maintained that the group as a whole was not responsible for the incident. A subsequent investigation determined that the theft had been committed by an individual MEChA member who admitted to acting alone. The student was ordered by the university to serve community service hours and repay the costs for the damaged issues. The Courier's advisor said that there was no lingering animosity between the paper and MEChA and that leaders from both organizations had met to discuss the incident.
At the 2010 National Conference in Seattle, the name of the organization was changed to Movimiento Estudiantil Chican@ de Aztlán.
Annual National MEChA Conferences
In 1993 MEChA de Cal State Fullerton (CSUF) hosted the National Chicana/Chicano Leadership Conference. The next year was the first annual National MEChA Conference at Arizona State University (ASU). The conference has taken place at the following campuses:
- 1994: Arizona State University
- 1995: University of California, Berkeley
- 1996: University of Texas, Pan-American
- 1997: Michigan State University
- 1998: University of California, Los Angeles
- 1999: Phoenix College
- 2000: El Paso Community College
- 2001: San Diego State University
- 2002: University of Houston
- 2003: University of California, Berkeley
- 2004: Oregon State University
- 2005: California State University, Northridge
- 2006: Northern Arizona University
- 2007: Metropolitan State University of Denver
- 2008: California State University, Sacramento
- 2009: University of Oregon
- 2010: University of Washington, Seattle
- 2011: University of Wisconsin-Madison
- 2012: Arizona State University
- 2013: University of California, San Diego
California Statewide Conferences
California MEChA statewide conferences are held twice a year, during the fall and spring semesters. The hosting chapter must rotate between the three California regions (Alta Califas Norte, Centro Califaztlán, and Alta Califas Sur).
- June 16–18, 1971: Regeneración, held at University of California, Davis
- 1972: Bakersfield College
- Spring 1973 - Spring 1978: ?
- Fall 1978 - Centro Cultural de la Raza, San Diego
- Spring 1979 - Fall 1985: ?
- Spring 1986: California State University, Bakersfield
- Fall 1986: Stanford University
- Spring 1987 - Spring 1989: ?
- Fall 1989: California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA)
- Spring 1990 ?
- Fall 1991: University of California, Davis
- Spring 1992- Fall 1992: ?
- Spring 1993: Stanford University/University of California, Berkeley
- Fall 1993: University of California, San Diego
- Spring 1994: Loyola Marymount University
- Fall 1994: California State University, Sacramento
- Spring 1995: University of Southern California (USC)
- Fall 1995: Hartnell College
- Spring 1996: San Francisco State University
- Fall 1996: California State University, Northridge
- Spring 1997: Santa Barbara City College
- Fall 1997: San Jose State University
- Spring 1998: San Diego State University
- Fall 1998: California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
- Spring 1999: San Francisco State University
- Fall 1999: Pasadena City College
- Spring 2000: University of California, Santa Cruz
- Fall 2000: James Logan High School
- Spring 2001: University of California, Riverside
- Fall 2001: California State University, Fresno
- Spring 2002: Chabot College
- Fall 2002: San Diego State University
- Spring 2003: Bakersfield College
- Fall 2003: California State University, Sacramento
- Spring 2004: University of California, Los Angeles
- Fall 2004: Santa Barbara City College
- Spring 2005: San Francisco State University
- Fall 2005: California State University, Fullerton
- Spring 2006: University of California, Santa Cruz
- Fall 2006: University of California, Davis
- Spring 2007: University of California, San Diego
- Fall 2007: California State University, Stanislaus
- Spring 2008: Sonoma State University
- Fall 2008: Los Angeles Valley College
- Spring 2009: University of California, Santa Barbara
- Fall 2009: San Joaquin Delta College
- Spring 2010: Pasadena City College
- Fall 2010: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo
- Spring 2011:California State University, Chico
- Fall 2011:California State University, Northridge
- Spring 2012:University of California, Santa Cruz
- Fall 2012: University of California, Davis
- Spring 2013: TBD by Alta Califas Sur Region
- Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán National Constitution.
- Philosophy of MEChA.
- National MEChA: The Philosophy of MEChA.
- National MEChA: The Philosophy of MEChA.
- Bustamante, MEChA and the media (archived).
- Ayres, Chris (September 8, 2003). "Rival in separatist row". The Times (London). Archived from the original on October 11, 2008.
- "The Truth About NCLR: NCLR Answers Critics" (Press release). National Council of La Raza. 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-24.
- "Rep. Hunter demands apology; student editorial said border agents should die," Jeff Ristine, San Diego Union-Tribune, July 6, 1995.
- Student Humor Magazine Prosecuted for Parody at UCSD: University Decision Expected This Week, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), June 18, 2002.
- Double Standards at UCSD by Samantha Harris, Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), February 25, 2010.
- Bustamante Won't Renounce Ties to Chicano Student Group.
- What Tony Villar Wrought.
- California Patriot Stolen at UC-Berkeley.
- Copies of California Patriot Stolen; Publication Staff Allegedly Harassed, The Daily Californian, 2002-02-27.
- Hillman, R. Tyler (January 30, 2003). "A Vigorous Voice from The Right — at Berkeley!". Time.
- Vandals Shred Campus Newspapers.
|Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: MEChA|
- National MEChA Website
- National MEChA Constitution
- El Plan Espiritual de Aztlán
- El Plan de Santa Barbara
- Crooked Timber blog: interviews of MEChA members
- MECHA at the University of Tejaztlan at Austin (more information about MECha)
- Xican@ de Aztlan de CU Boulder "What is a Xican@ (Chicana/o)"
- "An Investigation of Racism within MEChA" The Stanford Review, October 15, 2003
- "The California Future as Northern Aztlan" by Raoul Lowery Contreras, Calnews.com, August 20, 2003
- High School Student:Ban MEChA by Josh Denhalter for the Daily Bulletin Newspaper