Feature photo by pispirikou

The word dictatorship is going to be removed and replaced with military regimen in the Chilean history books per the Piñera-led government. After a record year of student strikes and general unhappiness with the cost and accessibility of education in this country, this is one of the first moves the Education Ministry decided it should make for 2012. Some politicians say that while the country truly did experience dictatorship from 1973 until 1990 (after killing or “disappearing” over 3,000 accused communists and torturing a good 30,000), the new term is more “general” so it’s better. Aside from the fact that general means “less specific” therefore equivalent to “less information,” it’s also a lie. A dictatorship is a sub-category of military regimen, but military regimen does not necessarily mean dictatorship, which is defined as absolute control of power by a despotic state through actual or threatened violence. Revising the past by sugarcoating it does no one any good; neither the poor people of this country who experienced the brunt of the brutality, nor the monied families that live in gated communities high up in the hills who are often perplexed about the anger the other side feels about the national past.

Upon checking in with the news in the continental 48, I find out that Arizona’s war on Mexicans continues 164 years after its official end. I’m not sure what is worse: revising history or suppressing it. They are claiming that discussing Chicano history would cause class warfare and should therefore not be included as an ethnic studies course. In reality, it is not the coursework that promotes resentment, but rather the facts of historic repression and marginalization. For a detailed overview about the effects of such legislation, check out last year’s Gozamos article on HB2281.

Refusing to discuss the past is an even more effective way of promoting resentment. The Mexican-American Studies program has been called biased, emotionally and politically charged. I propose that all history is, by its very nature, political and emotional. It is after all the study of human beings. Is it biased? Maybe a true representative committee could get together to determine the veracity of this charge – not a judge. I remember learning as a child in school that the Mexican-American War was not a big deal because Mexico didn’t really want Texas or all the other land it lost. I see no logic in sending 25,000 Mexican soldiers to their death over the possibility of losing half a nation if it wasn’t taken seriously. Is that not a biased “education”?

The rich folk in the gated communities of Santiago often say that they liked Pinochet or that Chile needs another dictator. I’ve heard this from their very mouths, on the news and the internet. As the ladies who lunch get waited on by very low-income Chileans and Peruvian immigrants, they complain about lazy low-class people–the ones waiting on them hand and foot–and muse that these flojos need another strong-man. Often they don’t think about the full extent of the atrocities committed, because it happened in the poor barrios. Why should that history be further removed from their reality? I do not believe that softening terms or outright lying will make anything smoother between the classes, only recognition of history and an attempt at reconciliation  could do that. Maybe quality education could be a good start.

Eliminating an ethnic studies course is even more extreme. If Arizona’s authorities believe that if these courses tell the truth about the past, people will riot against the nation-state, that very fear shows they recognize that injustice has been done. Censorship is the absolute wrong answer to these fears. The only way to prevent riots is to tell the truth and to make positive change for the better, not eliminating history. This is 2012. Nearly everyone has access to the internet and to other individuals with brains and memories and stories to share. Papering over the past will not make anyone any safer, but is in fact a call to further injustice and potential violence on both sides. Should Europe pretend they didn’t have two giant civil wars at the start of the 20th century so everyone can make fake nicey-nice? That’s ridiculous. Should we censor the truth about the history of slavery or the destruction of the aboriginal people who occupied the lengths of the Americas from the top of Alaska to the bottom of Patagonia before the Europeans arrived? Preposterous. Ignore the extent, importance and relevance of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to Arizona and the southwest of the United States of America or the very fact that Arizona was once part and parcel of northern Mexico? Apparently, to some government types who are not educators, that seems to make perfect sense.

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