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La Raza Chicanos at Harvard

By Martin R. Garay

"Across the San Joaquin valley, across California, across the entire Southwest of the United States, wherever there are Mexican people, wherever there are farm workers, our movement is spreading like flames across a dry plain ..."

ALTHOUGH the flames have been crisscrossing the Southwest for the last few years, the rest of the nation, and especially the Northeast, have been rather oblivious to them. But this past fall, some sparks jumped from the Southwest, across Middle America, and landed, of all places, at Harvard. In the short period of two semesters, the University has begun to feel the impact of the Mexican American or Chicano Cansa.

Originally La Cansa received much of its energy from the farm worker movement led by Cesar Chavez, but it has grown to engulf the struggle of nearly all seven-and-a-half million Chicanos, eighty per cent of whom live in cities. It is a monumental struggle-social, economic, political, educational, and psychological in nature-which has the no less ambitious goal of providing full self-determination for the Chicano people. It is a struggle which, though it wants to attain a fairly universal goal, will have to develop new forms and means to achieve it. It is not like the black struggle, nor like the European immigrants' nor even like those of Latin America, though it has gained inspiration from all of them. In short, it is adhering to the principle verbalized by Regis Debray in Strategy for Revolution: Essays on Latin America. After discussing some aspects of the Cuban Revolution. Debray states that he "believes that the admirable influence of the revolution has been a success and that it can be summed up in the following way: each must choose his own road according to his own conditions." The Chicano is in the process of choosing his road.

THE ROAD building that took place at Harvard began, rather appropriately, with a farm worker cause early in the fall. Working along with the United Farmers Organizing Committee (UFWOC) representative in Boston, a group of students, both Chicano and Anglo, decided to press Harvard into buying only UFWOC picked lettuce. The Ad Hoc Committee to Stop Scab Lettuce at Harvard designed a petition asking for only union lettuce, collected 1100 signatures, and presented it to the Harvard Administration. The petition was dismissed because it represented the wishes of only a small group of students. After some long-winded meetings with Administration personnel, the Ad Hoc Committee decided that the Harvard Administration seemed to show little concern for the wishes of the University community, and even less concern for the farm workers. Through the use of pickets at selected College dining halls and at the Faculty Club, the Committee increased its pressure on the Administration, which finally relented, and, through one of its Committees, agreed to purchase only UFWOC lettuce for the duration of the strike. It was the first time Harvard had made such an agreement.

At the same time that the Ad Hoc Committee was negotiating with the University, the United Mexican American Students of Boston (UMAS), an organization representing all the Chicano students in Boston area schools, was beginning its second recruiting drive. Receiving funds from a number of Boston universities, including Harvard, UMAS was able to send some 18 recruiters to the Southwest, the Northwest, and some cities in the Midwest. Though not promised any specific quotas by the various universities, admissions officers did imply that Chicano applications would receive special consideration. In order words, the admissions committees would try to look at a Chicano's academic record while keeping in mind that in all likelihood the Chicano had not spoken English when he entered school, that the school in which he was enrolled was probably substandard, that he was probably economically impoverished, and that his parents had probably never gotten beyond grade school.

IN GOOD faith, UMAS expected the various universities to respond positively to the additional Chicano applications generated by the intensive recruiting efforts. The University response was, as it turned out, mixed. Some schools cooperated with UMAS requests, while others-particularly Harvard's GSAS, the College and Radcliffe-arrogantly manhandled both recruiter requests and prospective applications. There were several instances of impatience and discourtesy on the part of all three admissions offices.

But UMAS received a bigger shock when the three admission offices released the names of those it had admitted; Chicano names were conspicuously absent. Of the nearly 2000 acceptance letters that were sent out by Harvard and Radcliffe, only 14 were received by Chicanos and Chicanas. At GSAS only two Chicanos were admitted. At the College, with "special consideration" the Chicano had a one in nine chance of being admitted; without special consideration, an Anglo had a one in four-and-a-half chance of being admitted. The Chicanas fared better under special consideration at the 'Cliffe: her chances were one out of seventeen, while her Anglo sisters' odds were one out of six. Although statistics can be misleading, these numbers do seem to indicate a certain trend.

At any rate, the UMAS membership read something into these numbers. The week that they were released, the Boston Chicanos were being told by a moderate Mexican American that the best way to help La Raza was to work within the system. This speech served as a proper backdrop for the UMAS chairman as he reported the admission figures to his constituency at the same meeting. For a moment, the Chicanos were silent as both the words of the moderate leader and the figures reported by the chairman intermingled in the air. Like oil and water, they did not mix.

THAT NIGHT, the UMAS membership moved a step away from moderacy and accommodation, and it unanimously endorsed any action that a special Chicano committee on admissions decided would be needed to pressure the University to accept more Chicano students.

The special admissions committee directed its attention to the College, but it continued to follow a fairly moderate road. An angry four-page letter was sent to both President Nathan Pusey and President-elect Derek Bok, and released to the two college newspapers. The pressure of the news stories and the friendly urgings of President-elect Bok made the meeting with members of the Admissions Committee somewhat productive. Although no new Chicanos were admitted to the Class of 1975, the Admissions Committee agreed to remodel some of its admissions procedures: it would help train Chicano student recruiters; it would listen to the relevant social, political, economic, and intellectual issues of the Chicano experience; it would place Chicano material in news-letters sent to alumni; and, it would attempt to fill any Admissions Committee "with a person who by background or training will be both sensitive to the cultural distinctiveness of the Chicano experience and possesses the credentials to be an admissions staff member."

UMAS won very little in concrete terms by accepting these four points; but it did establish itself, and the flames seemed to grow a little stronger.

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