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But My Name Is Lupe, Not Malinche
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Among Chicano militants of the 1960s or their holdovers today, there is no more telling or harsh an insult than to be characterized as a “La Malinche,” the Aztec noblewoman who supposedly betrayed her own people to assist Cortes and the other Spaniard conquistadors.

Thus, when Rita Montero recently brought several Mexican immigrants to a Spanish-language Denver television station for an interview on their “English” campaign, their bilingual activist opponents naturally charged them with being “Malinches”—the betrayers of their own people. Being herself a long-time Chicano militant, Rita viewed these charges in a very negative light, angrily saying that the issue was test scores not politics.

By contrast, the Mexican mothers attending with her reacted with puzzlement rather than defensiveness: “But my name is Lupe, not Malinche.” As actual Mexicans rather than American-born Chicano activists seeking after Mexican “authenticity,” they had never heard of “La Malinche,” an obscure historical figure far better known in the halls of the Chicano studies departments of American universities than in Mexico itself.

And in any event, most Mexicans have conflicted or ambiguous feelings toward the Spanish conquerors who did enslave their Aztec ancestors, but also brought them their modern Catholic religion, Spanish language, and European culture. Similarly, most modern Englishmen hardly revile William the Conqueror, whose Norman army defeated and enslaved their own Anglo-Saxon ancestors, but thereby created the modern nation of Britain.

Ironically, those deracinated American Chicanos who most fervently denounce the Black Legend of the Spanish conquest are exactly the same individuals who most glory in the continued use of the very Spanish language imposed by those conquerors, an ideological contradiction equivalent to having Black Muslims worship at the Tomb of Gen. Robert E. Lee.

On an equally ironic note, New York City’s unanimous “compromise” this last spring on bilingual education appears to have unsurprisingly broken down in mutual recriminations. Under its terms, bilingual advocates had agreed to pretend that their failed program was being curtailed or reduced if they were actually given an annual extra $75 million to expand it instead. Tightening budgets have now prevented city officials from honoring this cash promise, leading Schools Chancellor Harold Levy and bilingual activists to charge betrayal. Twenty-eight years of failed bilingual programs thus look likely to become twenty-nine, with the system neither much larger nor much smaller than before.

My own critique of this dishonest “compromise” appeared in the New York Times several months ago.

• Category: Race/Ethnicity • Tags: Bilingual Education 
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