Guillermo Gómez-Peña’s performance last Saturday set out to break boundaries. When the lights dimmed and a conch shell sounded at the end, it seemed like he was gearing up for Act II. Instead, campus members of the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán took over the stage and stepped forward one by one to make their demands for Kalamazoo College.
For the most part the students of MEChA wanted to be heard and supported. Their demands (which can be found on the Index’s website) centered on the creation of a Chicano studies department, investment in Latina and Latino professors like Dr. Salinas and Dr. Garriga-Lopez, and more support from the school’s administration.
“I feel that our bodies as students of color are often exploited; you can see it through the website where they always put up a brown face,” said Aldo Macias K’13, founder of K’s MEChA chapter. “In reality that’s not seen in the education that we get here.”
According to Macias, much of the concern from MEChA students stems from Salinas’ short, two-year contract. They worry that the Latino(a) representation among professors will wane along with the support for those students on campus.
Macias said that MEChA has previously talked to the administration about creating a multicultural center on campus, but the administration was “really resistant about it” and worried that it would “segregate the school.”
“I don’t think it’s about segregation. I think it’s about gathering resources that will support everyone: not just Latinos but everyone—other minorities on campus,” Macias said. “It’s not just about Chicanos; this history is also American. If students would engage in this kind of education it would bring so much understanding about the way the world functions.”
Gomez-Peña’s performance, titled “Return of Border Brujo,” provided a backdrop for MEChA’s demands. He contrasted words like north/south and white/other, and concluded that no matter how we try, these language borders fail to grasp the truth. He read his open letter to the governor of Arizona asking her and others to try to follow their anti-Hispanic actions through by removing all Spanish influences in the U.S. — he suggested, for example, renaming Florida, “Flowery.” But mostly he provoked the audience to start discussing and questioning the roles these borders play in society.
MEChA kindled this discussion at K. Though the audience clapped and cheered for the group on Saturday, reactions to their demands have been mixed. “A lot of students take it differently. Some are really opposed for some reason and believe that everything is fine. That’s just not our experience,” Macias said. “Our main goal in MECHA is to obtain resources for Latinos and Latinas on campus, to empower them academically and socially so they can come back to their communities.”
But for Macias and the members of MEChA, the administration can do better.
“It doesn’t matter how many resources you have if you don’t know how to use them,” he said.