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EMMA PEREZ Printer Friendly Page
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  • Professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder
  • States that white mistreatment of Chicanos is by no means a thing of the past, but rather “a history that still brutalizes”
  • Expressed “full and unconditional support of Ward Churchill and his First Amendment rights” during the controversy over Churchill’s expressed desire to see the United States destroyed
  • Believes that conservatives “want to dismantle the structural footholds . . . that social movements gained for people of color and liberal and progressive intellectuals inside academe during the 60s & 70s.”



Emma Perez is a professor of history at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She was named Chairman of UC Boulder’s Ethnic Studies Department after Ward Churchill resigned that position amid great controversy in February 2005. Prior to joining the UC Boulder faculty, Professor Perez taught at the University of Texas-El Paso, where she served as Chairman of the History Department, Assistant Vice President for Graduate Studies, and Director of the Institute of Oral History. Perez earned her doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s degrees at UCLA. She lists her teaching and research interests as: Chicana/Latina Studies in the United States and Mexico, gay/lesbian history, cultural studies, history and theory, feminist theory, postcolonial theory, women of color in the United States, and creative writing.

Professor Perez has made it her mission to draw attention to what she deems the paucity of information that history books have traditionally provided about Chicana women. (The terms "Chicana" and "Chicano" were appropriated by Mexican-American activists in the Brown Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s in the American Southwest.) To address her concern, Perez authored the 1999 book The Decolonial Imaginary: Writing Chicanas into History -- a tome she describes as "an archaeology of discursive fields of knowledge that write Chicanas into histories."

Depicting history as a male-dominated discipline whose works are written largely from a male perspective (and focus heavily -- and unfairly -- on the deeds of men), Perez writes, "I am more concerned with taking the 'his' out of the 'story,' the story that often becomes the universalist narrative in which women's experience is negated." Later in the text she reiterates, "I attempt to take the his out of the Chicana story."

Complaining that women's accomplishments have usually been overlooked by historians, Perez asserts that generally women can find a place on the pages of history books only by virtue of their ties to men of repute. "The documents on or by women that have been preserved in libraries," writes Perez, "are often the papers of the wives, daughters, or family members of 'great men.'"

According to Perez, those women whose names do appear in history books are, for the most part, caricatured and misrepresented through the lenses of the historians' biases. She writes:

"Voices of women from the past, voices of Chicanas, Mexicanas, and Indias, are utterances which are still minimalized, spurned, even scorned. And time . . .  has not granted Chicanas, Mexicanas, Indias much of a voice at all. We are spoken about, spoken for, and ultimately encoded as whining, hysterical, irrational, or passive women who cannot know what is good for us, and who cannot know how to express or authorize our own narratives."

In Perez's analysis, historians' overriding emphasis on men (particularly white men) and their exploits is due to the fact that "[h]istory, after all, is the story of the conquerors, those who have won." This view dovetails with the anger Perez says she has felt whenever "a white man was trying to persuade me to forget a history of brutality and move on."

White mistreatment of Chicanos is, in Perez's view, by no means a thing of the past, but rather "a history that still brutalizes." She lauds the author Antonia Castaneda for pointing out "how incoming Euro-americans sexualized Mexican women in their diaries and travel logs" -- which both Perez and Castaneda cite as evidence of "the intimate bond between sexual violence and colonization."

Viewing American culture as hostile to Mexicans, Perez is less than enthusiastic about the efforts of "Chicanos/as" to assimilate into white society, though she empathizes with the emotions and the pragmatic concerns that she believes compel them to do so. "Few have probed how assimilation may be a tactic, an interstitial move for survival," writes Perez. "Why must we call upon assimilation at all? . . . To say yes to speaking English, to say yes to an American education, to say yes to participation in organizations like the YWCA -- these were interstitial moves for survival. The contradictions women faced forced them to accept existing structures and to create their subjecthood within those structures."

Professor Perez identifies what she considers her personal and scholarly mission as follows: "[T]o invert all power . . . to love myself and other Chicanas and women of color, to revere the Chicana . . . is the revolution I speak of now. . . . I prefer to think of myself as one who places women, especially Third [W]orld and lesbians, in the forefront of my priorities."

In February 2005 Professor Perez was among the most passionate defenders of the aforementioned Ward Churchill when he faced strong public criticism for having written that terrorist violence directed against the United States was a morally justifiable response to what he characterized as the U.S. government's "rape" and "murder" of other peoples. "We as faculty in ethnic studies stand in full and unconditional support of Ward Churchill and his First Amendment rights," said Perez, adding that Churchill's comments had been "misconstrued in virulent terms." She described Churchill as one of UC's many "good scholars."

Writing in the Web magazine Counterpunch in February 2005, Perez advanced her view that the widespread criticism of Churchill's statements was rooted in a "neocon battle for dominance in academe."

Suggesting that there was an organized conservative strategy to undo the civil rights advances of recent decades, Perez said, "This is much, much bigger than an individual attack on Ward [Churchill]. What we're looking at is a carefully developed, pre-existing national strategy that has been searching for exactly the right breakthrough 'test case.' It has found extremely favorable conditions in Ward's situation and in the post-911 climate. As they've been doing already in other areas, they want to dismantle the structural footholds (academic freedom/tenure, ethnic studies) that social movements gained for people of color and liberal and progressive intellectuals inside academe during the 60s & 70s."

Perez further suggested that criticism of Churchill was motivated by racism, asserting that "There are faculty who have problems with his being American Indian."

 

 

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