California gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante’s affiliation with the Hispanic student activist group MECHa has drawn the attention of his political opponents, who are portraying it as a radical group seeking to return the southwest United States to Mexico.
State Sen. Tom McClintock, a Republican candidate for governor in the Oct. 7 recall election, has compared MECHa to the Ku Klux Klan.
“It’s like saying, ‘Oh, I was a moderate member of the Klan,’” Mr. McClintock said during an August interview on San Diego radio station KOGO. “It’s incumbent on Cruz Bustamante to clearly and completely renounce the organization and its tactics and its views.”
Mr. Bustamante’s affiliation with MECHa has been noted among conservative pundits from columnist Michelle Malkin to Los Angeles talk-show host Larry Elder.
Affiliation with MECHa plagued Los Angeles mayoral candidate Antonio Villaraigosa in his losing bid in 2001. Mr. Villaraigosa, who headed the MECHa chapter at UCLA in the 1970s, later renounced his affiliation with the group.
MECHa is a loose acronym for Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan (Chicano Student Movement of Aztlan). Aztlan is the mythical place where Aztecs are said to have originated.
Still, the group is widely recognized, and some say it is a legitimate organization with a noble cause.
“They came from a radical element — that was in the ‘60s — and they now represent a legitimate part of Latino history,” said Gabriela Lemus, national director of policy and legislation for the League of United Latin American Citizens.
She taught Chicano studies at San Diego State University in the late 1990s and recognized that the group’s politics had moved from an emphasis on cultural-heritage pride to a “more international, indigenous movement.”
“They are not trying to start their own nation,” Miss Lemus said.
Mr. Bustamante has refused to renounce his MECHa participation while a student at Fresno State University in the ‘70s.
MECHa, which has long been accused of separatist sentiments and anti-U.S. rhetoric, has a wide activist network on college campuses and high schools nationwide. It has neither a national office nor a national budget.
While many of the group’s 300 chapters around the United States focus on social activities and a simple celebration of the Hispanic culture, the groups also subscribe to a manifesto that has been summarized as separatist: “By means of the race, everything. Outside the race, nothing.”
Web sites for most of the chapters include a statement of purpose.
“Political liberation can only come through independent action on our part, since the two-party system is the same animal with two heads that feed from the same trough. Where we are a majority, we will control; where we are a minority, we will represent a pressure group; nationally, we will represent one party: La Familia de La Raza!” reads one section of the statement.
Under what is called the group’s “spiritual plan of Aztlan,” another dictate reads:
“In the spirit of a new people that is conscious not only of its proud historical heritage but also of the brutal ‘gringo’ invasion of our territories, we, the Chicano inhabitants and civilizers of the northern land of Aztlan from whence came our forefathers, reclaiming the land of their birth and consecrating the determination of our people of the sun, declare that the call of our blood is our power, our responsibility, and our inevitable destiny.”
Some Web sites for the students include links to the Web site of the newspaper La Voz de Aztlan (Voice of Aztlan). It espouses fiercely anti-Semitic views.
Defenders of MECHa portray its foes as extreme right-wing Republicans who are using the issue to make political hay.
“It is not really the Republicans themselves, but the kook element of the far right,” said Rodolfo Acuna, a professor of Chicano studies at California State University at Northridge. “This is not coming from the mainstream of the Republican Party.”
While repudiating the concept of Aztlan, Mr. Acuna said that MECHa is a “social club that has had radical members in the past. Most [Hispanic] students have had some association with MECHa. … It is hardly a radical group now.”
Supporters of the group are as adamant as its detractors, and say much of the Hispanic political leadership of California is a product of MECHa.
MECHa this week will receive accolades from the Mexican American Political Association for its “historic contribution to the educational advancement of Mexican American and Latino students throughout the United States.”
The association is headed by Nativo Lopez, a former school board member in Santa Ana who was recalled several months ago, largely due to his radical platform regarding Hispanic rights.