Jose Antonio Burciaga and the importance of MLK Jr.

The essayist Jose Antonio Burciaga–who I find myself more and more reading and re-reading–explains in his essay called “the Last Supper of Chicano Heroes” not only the importance of studying particular Chicano writers and artists–and finding personal heroes–but also the importance of Dr. Martin Luther King’s inspiration to the American Chicano movement.

He writes that the idea for the essay was inspired by his work on creating a mural with the same title. And he mentions the mural is on display at Stanford University and I’d like to be able to see it in person one day rather than off of the internet. Anyway he goes on to explain the idea led to his polling Chicano students and teachers to find a list of heroes. After I reread this essay I started thinking about those who inspire me to write and think.

Right now I can think of two: Howard Zinn and Lolo.

My students seem upset when I insult or discount heroes that our culture gives us, namely Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson and Teddy Roosevelt. I used to argue with the ex-girlfriend pretty aggressively about Thomas Jefferson– a man who called Indians ‘savages’ in the Declaration of Independance. In fact, throw in any one of those guys on Mt Rushmore. They don’t impress me much. Once Tucker Carlson on Crossfire or some such show went on and on about Teddy Roosevelt and what a bad ass he was. Something about swimming a certain amount of miles everyday. And I could only think of him charging San Juan Hill in segregated units and not allowing any soldiers of color in the famous photo after the fighting. Champion of strenuous life my ass. And of course I do understand moral relativism and the question of morality applying to history.

Like Howard Zinn I find it hard to gather inspiration from leaders who have had so much written about them–who have had a certain amount of wealth or priviledge. People I just can’t relate to I guess. Like Zinn I group them in with Columbus and Paul Revere who have had their legacy written by poets and fiction writers–historians with a certain bias or limited cultural worldview. So I try to give my students and course work a post-structuralist spin. They seem to be upset and question this. And I defend myself–I didn’t mean to say Lincoln was a bad guy, I say. I just said he didn’t free the slaves. To say he did is an insult to the abolitionist movement. The 14th Amendment did the work and even then the problems didn’t end. Well, I like him, they say. And of course in Springfield, Il it is very dificult to get away from the Lincoln legacy. I mean his picture is up everywhere including el Presidente Burrito down the street from where I write this–the place closed but the picture remains.

And I also ask my students will we think of George Bush as the liberator of Iraq in 100 years. Wait, don’t answer that.

But Burciaga writes very powerfully about Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta and Luis Valdez. Writers and thinkers I appreciate more and more. He writes they received the most votes from students and instructors in CA. He also writes that La Virgen de Guadalupe also received quite a few votes. Also students voted for family and “all the people who died, scrubbed floors, wept and fought so I could be here at Stanford.” This is why Lolo is on my list.

But here on MLK Jr. day I think of how MLK Jr. argued with his father about attending college and about travelling to Alabama from Atlanta. How his father told him to stay away to keep himself and his family safe and how he went anyway. I think about the pride I will feel when Obama is sworn in to office. How for at least the ceremony I will suspend my pessimism and my grudge against those men of authority and control and I will be hopeful and optimistic.

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john paul jaramillo

John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

One thought on “Jose Antonio Burciaga and the importance of MLK Jr.”

  1. As I said to you not too long after you wrote this, "I both love and hate this." I want this moment to not be idealism, because idealism can so easily sink into cynicism. I just want, for once, this feeling of possibility to become real. <3

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