Letter to Papal Nuncio regarding discrimination against Mexican Americans in Tucson schools
May 25, 2012
To: Apostolic Nuncio, The Most Reverend Carlo Maria Vigano
From: Don Enrique Juan Vega
Re: Discrimination and history of the Mexican American people
Your Excellency, Buenos saludos del Pueblo de Tucson, Arizona.
My name is Enrique J. Vega. I attended St. Johns elementary and graduated from Salpointe Catholic High School in 1982. Shortly after graduation I joined and served in the United States Marine Corps until 1987. I have traveled extensively in the past 25 years and in 2006 I completed my undergraduate degree. Currently, I am in a graduate program at Northern Arizona University. I am a concerned member of the community.
I would like to begin and for you to keep in mind the transcription of Bernal Diaz del Castillo, conquistador and eyewitness on his accounts in the Conquest of Mexico almost 500 years ago on the mission of Spain: “Hernando Cortez certainly served to exalt our Holy Faith and benefit his Majesty…”
I was raised in a community of Yaqui, Tohono O’ Odham, as well as generations and generations of Mexican American families from Tucson. I was exposed to a multilingual and multicultural community. I was brought up to respect my family, my elders and my community. My cultures and languages are both beautiful and complex. I hold dearly many of our traditions, beliefs, social memories, proverbs and customs. My common sense questions are based on my observations of the relationship of the Catholic Church and the Mexican American people of the Southwest for almost five centuries.
The purpose of my letter is to ask you as the Apostolic Nuncio and diplomatic representative of the Roman Catholic Church to provide me answers and solutions to my questions and concerns. I will begin with the idea of Mexican American history, language and culture. We have been identified as a historic people of the Americas. Ironically, today the modern day Mexican-American continues to be discriminated against. For example, in the past three months in the State of Arizona, Mexican-American Studies was removed from the curriculum. The bill which outlawed this discipline was Arizona House Bill 2281, banning Mexican American Studies in the Tucson Unified School District.
I would like for you to acknowledge that this month has been four years since I addressed Bishop Kicanas of the Tucson Diocese at the graduation of my Nephew from Salpointe Catholic class of 2008. I asked Bishop Kicanas if it would be possible to provide me an account of the Catholic Church’s historical relationship with the Mexican-American (Chicano) people of the Southwest. He provided me his email, but I never heard from him again.
It can be confirmed by Mr. Fred Allison, who was the Tucson Diocese Director of Communication in my attempt to create dialogue during the year of 2011 to further understand the history between the Catholic Church and the Mexican- American/Chicano people of the Southwest.
I have yet to receive an answer.
Within the 500 years, I speak of the time of del Castillo – the Doctrine of Discovery, Papal Bulls, Conquistadores and Manifest Destiny – the Catholic church has benefited politically and economically in the past five centuries. As a descendent of la conquista; can I receive an official answer from the Catholic Church in reference to the Chicano y Los Indios Americanos of the Southwest?
May of 2008
I asked Bishop Kicanas about the issue of removing Mexican-American Studies, and asked again in February of 2009. I believe my questions fell upon deaf ears. Similarly, during the summer of 2011, I found the time to call the office of the Archbishop of Los Angeles seeking to find the historical connection between the Mexican-American people and the Catholic Church in the Los Angeles area. Furthermore, I also called the offices of the Bishops of Las Vegas and Phoenix, and it appears as though there is no historical connection between the Catholic Church and the Mexican American people. This clearly represents a know-nothing attitude or know-nothing knowledge of history.
Over the past four years, I have addressed the Tucson Unified School District School Board; I have spoken at the Tucson City Council; I was interviewed on the radio; and I personally collected over 1,200 signatures for the Save Ethnic Studies campaign.
In the last conversations that I had with Mr. Allison at the end of 2011, I mentioned that I had been waiting patiently for an answer from the Bishop for over three years, keeping in mind two things: the first, that during this three year time period, the Bishop had time to visit the Philippines and Haiti, and secondly, that charity starts at home. I followed the advice of Mr. Allison and spoke with Sister Charlotte in an attempt to make an appointment with the Bishop. This can be confirmed by Sister Charlotte to have taken place sometime in October 2011. I called an additional three times to inquire on the status of my appointment with the Bishop, and have yet to hear anything on my status since October, 2011. No one has had the time or decency to give me an answer to my question, or on making an appointment.
One definite similarity between the Bishop and del Castillo is the amount of time it is taking to get a response – maybe my response was sent on a ship that sunk. What else could explain the reason why I haven’t received a response?
During the past four years, I took the initiative to visit three parishes in Tucson, including the parish where my parents have attended since the late 1950s, and the parish located in the community where my Father was raised nearly 80 years ago. These parishes are historically Mexican American and Native American. I requested permission to use the pulpit to educate the community involved in these disgraceful and discriminatory actions towards the descendants of these identified historic peoples. It was an unfruitful experience with each priest saying “no.” Clearly, what good is the Church for the people? This represents the Catholic Church, correct? The same “Holy Faith” Bernal Diaz del Castillo speaks of?
Therefore, Your Excellency, I find it unacceptable for the poor quality service that has been provided to me, including the use of the pulpit. There are many many social ills in the Mexican American community. If the pulpit was used to provide attention to issues that plague our communities, for example: hate crimes against the Mexican American people and/or people of Mexican descent; victims of hate groups. A young female child was murdered by a white supremacist, and two military Chicano Veterans were killed by law enforcement in the State of Arizona. The SWAT team of Tucson killed an Iraq Veteran. There are many social ills that plague my once beautiful culture. Where is the Catholic Church, besides taking money on weekends?
Does the Catholic Church have a moral obligation to the descendants of this history? The history of the Mexican American people was clearly demonstrated by the Bishop; the three priests and the secretaries to the Archbishop and Bishops offices all of whom demonstrated their ignorance of history. Therefore, I would like to have a response to this assault on the integrity of the traditional Mexican American people like myself.
The mainstream media slanted this issue and has done a poor job providing an accurate account. Radio stations attacked daily Mexican American Studies; businesses voiced their opposition to MAS. There were constant remarks of “go back to Mexico” and hundreds upon hundreds of other disparaging remarks that I have identified over the past three years – as hate speech towards Mexican American Studies and the people. Clearly, racial polarization has taken place by way of mainstream media.
In the past month the Director of Mexican American Studies, Sean Arce received a notice of non-renewal on his contract. In the past few weeks, books have been banned from classrooms and guest authors have been denied visiting the Tucson Unified School District. Will others lose their jobs as a result of this white privilege over the history, culture, and language of the Mexican American people?
It is imperative to see the Catholic Church involved – not dismissive or hypocritical with issues that negatively impact the preservation, maintenance and traditions of the Native American/Mexican American culture. I believe del Castillo also said that the savages would be converted to the Holy Faith. As a descendant of these savage people converted long ago, I ask for you to question the value of culture and history of the Mexican American people.
I would like to see the Catholic Church involved with issues that concern the preservation, maintenance and traditions of the Native American/Mexican American cultures. I would like to see future bishops demonstrate backbone in the face of this political adversity. I would like to see the pulpit used to inform the Mexican/American community by educated persons like myself, my parents, and other elders who hold our culture dearly and hate to see it all falling apart.
The Church must actively voice opposition of racial discrimination against all peoples, including historical groups such as the Mexican American – who are descendants of the original Native American people; and all Indigenous peoples who face constant discrimination against their sacred sites, exploitation and depletion of their natural resources; racial, linguistic, historical and cultural disparagement and contempt.
I believe my questions validate my human right of self-preservation and connection to the respect of my identity, the respect of my ancestors before me, and Tonantzin – our Mother Earth. It is a great sadness and injustice when a people are removed from history.
Enrique J. Vega
Concerned Chicano Veteran – United States Marine Corp
Concerned member of the Mexican American community