As part of educating ourselves as well as others the Ethnic and Critical Race Studies class will be holding an Ethnic Studies Spring film series titled “Roots of the Struggle”. Everyone is welcome every Wednesday at 7pm in Social Sciences 1, Room 110
Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo, starring Marlon Brando as William Walker & Evaristo Márquez as Jose Dolores.
Quiemada! is set on a fictitious island of the same name, where a Portuguese colony produces sugarcane using African slave labor. The name comes from the Portuguese word “Burnt”, used to describe how the indigenous populations were wiped out through fire. William Walker is sent by Great Britain, as an agent provocateur, to incite a slave rebellion for the distinct purpose of securing the UK’s economic interests on the island. Walker searches and discovers a slave by the name of Jose Dolores who he has chosen to mold into a revolutionary. Once the slave uprising begins, the white latifundists kills and replaces the Portuguese government. They acknowledge the Dolores as a general and the slaves as a now sovereign people. With little to no resources for the slaves to survive, they would have to return to the sugar cane field through the new governments legal and property system.
Ten years later Walker returns, this time hired by the Royal Sugar Company to destroy Jose Dolores & the slave rebellion that he helped start. Walker finds that Dolores has developed a decolonial consciousness that it is spreading throughout the Africans on the island. Dolores has picked up the rhetoric of self-determination whereby freedom is not given, it is taken and it is practiced.
Despite this new consciousness the rebel army is defeated and Jose Dolores sacrifices himself, becoming a martyr. The film concludes with William Walker being stabbed by a man resembling Dolores both physically and the way in which he approached Mr. Walker by offering to carry his bag.
Quiemada! explores the dynamics of Colonization both physically and metaphysically through the relationship that the provisional government of the Latifundists assumes with the slaves. If anything, the power imbalance was nuanced and complicated through the overthrow of the Portuguese presence. This ultimately turned slavery into wage slavery and transformed the colonized into the economically exploited through the balance of power that has emerged and persisted since the colonial era. The masters changed but the subjects remain in a system of perpetual exploitation, a reflection of the trends that have historically occurred in colonies, particularly the Americas.
In a smaller context, Pontecorvo uses Walker and Dolores to embody the dynamics of colonization on an interpersonal level, in material terms, where the white man is in a location of power that the black man tries to negotiate.
This film connects to our lives now & our movement here because we see the dynamics of colonization throughout the University. UCSC, like any western institution on this land, was built by, with, and for white power. The colonial presence is no longer here but white power, western values, and the systems built thereafter dictate and determine our lives. These systems are contingent upon the dispossession of non-western people whereby groups are systemically stripped of property, land, and even knowledge. Dispossession is a tactic of conquest that ultimately serves to solidify a relationship of dependency and complacency in which our people struggle to secure the very resources that have been taken from them (food, clothes, shelter, education, etc). This dependency has developed into a complex organization of social systems in which the colonial drama is reproduced on various stages (University, Nations, Corporations, Prisons, etc) The UC can be understood as a reflection of the colonial state, whereby people/students of color are forced to assume roles in which they compete for resources in institution that was not built to address their needs and concerns.
It is important to understand how conquest has brought us to where we are. It is also important to ask ourselves:
- “What roles do we assume with the University?”
- “What does it mean to a student/person of color here at the UC?”
- “What is our responsibility as students of color during a time of intense globalization & privatization?”
As the legacies of conquest inform and shape our reality, the processes of decolonization must pervade every moment of our lives.
ON STRIKE! ETHNIC STUDIES 1969-1999
Roots of the Struggle Ethnic Studies Film Series continued last Wednesday with the screening of Irum Shiekh’s On Strike! Ethnic Studies 1969-1999 and Hunger Strike, directed by Jon Silver.
Hunger Strike, an 18-minute long film produced by the Migrant Media Education Project in 1982, is a record of the hunger strike put on by the Third World And Native American Studies Support Coalition (TWANAS) at UCSC in 1981. Setting up tents outside of McHenry Library, 25 students fasted until their demands for Ethnic Studies faculty and funding were met. The film opened with a series of speakers, standing on a bench outside of McHenry library, who called for an end to compromise, and the need for “speaking our best English, and trying to be as middle-class as possible, when we [talk] to these administrators.” Students participated in a sweat before the fast, for strength. During the strike, over 600 supporters marched with signs, singing songs like “Which Side Are You On?” and “Solidarity Forever.” In student interviews, students discussed their concerns. One student questioned the use of hunger striking as a method of action, saying it was using the enemy’s weapon against oneself, as a Third World person. Another addressed the concern that people in the sciences do not take responsibility for the impacts of their research: “if research is not solving humanity’s problems, then there is something wrong with science.”
At the end of the strike, overjoyed protesters heard from negotiators with faculty that their demands had been met: 1 tenured and 1 half-time professor for Asian American Studies, and 1 tenured and 1 half-time professor for Native American Studies, as well as additional funds for one full-time position.
On Strike! Ethnic Studies 1969-1999 documented the struggle to maintain the Ethnic Studies Department at UC Berkeley, when it was once again under threat in 1999. The film began with clips of the original battle at Berkeley in the 1960’s, led by the Third World Liberation Front, and culminating in the formation of the Department after a 10-week-long strike. The documentary featured interviews from members of TWLF, including Jeff Leong, LaNada Boyer, Richard Aoki (Black Panther and leader during fight for Ethnic Studies in the 60s), Harvey Dong, Vina Nguyen Ha, and Jose Palafox.
In the early 90s, severe budget cuts to the university began, continuing a trend of detriment to the Ethnic Studies department. In an interview clip, Ling-Chi Wang, Ethnic Studies professor, described how the administration targeted Ethnic Studies. He said, “We were told to merge, consolidate, and downsize.” Meanwhile, Propositions 187, 209, and 227 passed, demonstrating the gaining momentum of backlash against immigrants. In response, there was a string of actions, including the California Hall Takeover in 1993 at Berkeley, the Affirmative Action walkout in 1995, Sproul Hall takeover in 1997, and demand for a Third World College in October of 1997.
As attacks on Ethnic Studies escalated, so did student resistance. As Laura Perez, Ethnic Studies professor described, there was “a growing blindness to the destruction of the department, and administrative channels were blocked.” On April 14th, 1999, Barrett’s Hall at Berkeley was occupied, followed by the Campbell Hall protest, a protest at the New Student Orientation, and finally a hunger strike outside of the Chancellor’s office at Berkeley on April 29th.
Only 5 students were fasting outside of the Chancellor’s office, but hundreds of supporters were present throughout the 5-day strike, demanding that Chancellor Robert Berdahl address student demands.
On May 4th, the 5th day of the action, at 3 am, the Chancellor ordered the campus police to clear out the camp, bringing empty buses to take away arrested protestors. Supporters were forcibly dragged away, some lying in front of the buses, and even the bus drivers allegedly did not want to be involved in removing the protestors. Campus police arrested over 80 people that night, but the next day a thousand came out in support at a post-arrest rally. The Chancellor finally began negotiations, while outside, supporters sang “We Shall Not Be Moved.” A TWLF member described in interview how the Chancellor refused the protesters demand for amnesty for all arrested persons, saying “The Chancellor slammed his hands on the table, and declared ‘This is a deal breaker.’ That was the moment when power just revealed itself, barefaced.”
Ultimately the final demands were signed without the demand for amnesty, but the action did secure 8 faculty positions for the department, a success.
After the films, our discussion began with heavy emotions—after witnessing how the struggle has changed since the 60s and even the 90s, and how our movement continues in a very different, and sometimes frustrating campus climate at UCSC, the task of creating a Department seemed daunting. But the actions of the past were also a source of energy and invention, and we began a discussion of how to use direct action in our current context, and build off of these inspirational actions.