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MEXICO: Stanford, Zapata and the zoot-suiters

When I founded Stanford's Latin American program and Bolivar House in the early 40s, we faced opposition fom a public generally scornful of Latin America, still viewed usually as festering with violence. Mexico was a special target, branded worldwide since its Revolution as a land of bandits who had forced the US to intervene. In addition to Bolivar House, I founded the Casa Espaņola and put in charge a Mexican woman professor, a skilled classical pianist. It helped irradiate a better image of Latin America and of Mexico.

Then, wihout a word to me, the Stanford Administration closed the Casa Espaņola. Some time tlater it created Casa Zapata in its place, with a name celebrating one of the Mexican revolutionaries. A chicano activist moved in, proclaimed himself Artist in Residence, and painted a series of morals ridiculing the Hoover Institution and its Fellows. Since I read Pravda every day, I knew he was a hero for Soviet Communists, something Stanford was unaware of. I wrote an article saying that to criticize the ideas represented by Hoover was quite proper, but not these ad hominem attacks. I had just seen how the University of Morelia in Mexico had been wrecked by revolutionary student activists. The artist denouncced me as a McCarthyite, a label not meeting the accuracy in academia standard. I later conducted a campaign to have the house renamed after Aurelio Espinosa, a Hispanic scholar responsible for the development of Stanford's Spanish Department. President Casper referred the proposal to the housing committee, where it died a natural death.

Now (2/12/01) the Stanford Daily has a front-page article with big headlines: CASA ZAPATA COMMEMORATES ZOOT SUIT RIOTS THIS WEEK. It commemorates the Zoot Suit riotes of 1943 in Los Angeles when zoot suiters described here as "Mexican Americans" were beaten up by soldiers. The article does not mention that the soldiers were angry because the zoot suioters had escaped the draft which was sending them off to war. The commemoration is described as "a fun, week-long crash course in the Zoot Suit era".

To make Zoot Suiters synonimous with Mexican Americans is an insult to the latter. The term "chicanos" confuses the issue still further. Mexicans resent being confused with zoot-suiters, chicanos and even with Mexican Americans The Mexican pianist I mentioned is no longer at Stanford. She would be sick to her heart if she were. She would conclude that she and I had wasterd our time.

Ronald Hilton - 2/13/01