AS PROFESSOR OF CHICANO STUDIES at Cal State Northridge, Rodolfo Acuña ?teaches that the U.S. annihilated millions of indigenous people and took half of Mexico by force. But the past isn’t his sole purview. His classes also delve into the harsh realities facing Chicanos and Mexicans living in Los Angeles today. As its foremost scholar, historian and activist, Acuña is to the Chicano/Mexican community what W.E.B. Du Bois was to the early civil-rights movement. Not only is he the founding chair of what is now the largest ethnic-studies department in the nation, but also his Occupied America: The Chicano’s Struggle Toward Liberation is the most widely assigned text in Chicano-studies programs across the U.S.
Acuña’s bibliography also includes The Sonoran Strongman, A Community Under Siege, Anything But Mexican and Sometimes There Is No Other Side. Combining theory and practice, Acuña in his activist role has really championed the Chicano/Mexican community, including support of the 1993 UCLA student hunger strike for a Chicana/o-studies department. Always confronting racism, he’s rallied against the noxious anti-immigrant Proposition 187, the English-only”initiative and the dehumanizing effect of labeling all Latino immigrants — whether U.S. born, legal or undocumented — as “illegal aliens.” On a more personal note, he even sued the University of California, Santa Barbara, for political, race and age discrimination after he was turned down for a position in the Chicano Studies Department, despite his credentials. Acuña won a milestone victory when a multiracial jury in Los Angeles agreed that he had been discriminated against; however, the judge refused to compel UCSB to appoint Acuña to the position in dispute. Instead, he was granted a $325,000 award. He continues to struggle for the rights of those in the barrio to get a higher education.
In Anything But Mexican, Acuña writes, “An ethnic group unable to define its past is unable to take pride in its accomplishments. .?.?. History is more than just an esoteric search for facts; it involves a living community and its common memory.”