ELIZABETH MARTfNEZFrom Reinventing "America": Call for a New National IdentityElizabeth Martinez is a Chicana activist who since 1960 has worked in and documented differentmovements for change, including the civil rights, women's, and Chicano movements. She is the author ofsix books and numerous articles. Her best-known work is 500 Years of Chicano History in Pictures (1991),which became the basis of a two-part video she scripted and codirected. Her latest book is De ColoresMeans All of Us: Latina Views for a Multi-Colored Century (1998). In "Reinventing 'America,"' Martinezargues that Americans' willingness to accept a "myth" as "the basis for [the] nation's self-defined identity"has brought the country to a crisis.For some fifteen years, starting in 1940, 85 percent of all U.S. elementary schools used the Dick and Janeseries to teach children how to read. The series starred Dick, Jane, their white middle-class parents, their dogSpot, and their life together in a home with a white picket fence."Look, Jane, look! See Spot run!" chirped the two kids. It was a house 2 full of glorious family values,where Mom cooked while Daddy went to work in a suit and mowed the lawn on weekends. The Dick and Janebooks also taught that you should do your job and help others. All this affirmed an equation of middle-classwhiteness with virtue.In the mid-1990s, museums, libraries, and eighty Public Broadcast- 3 ing Service (PBS) stations across thecountry had exhibits and programs commemorating the series. At one museum, an attendant commented,
MARTINEZREINVENTING "AMERICA""When you hear someone crying, you know they are looking at the Dick and Janebooks." It seems nostalgia runs rampant among many Euro-Americans: anostalgia for the days of unchallenged White supremacy—both moral andmaterial—when life was "simple."We've seen that nostalgia before in the nation's history. But today it signifies aproblem reaching a new intensity. It suggests a national identity crisis that promises tobring in its wake an unprecedented nervous breakdown for the dominant society'spsyche.Nowhere is this more apparent than in California, which has long been on thecutting edge of the nation's present and future reality. 5 Warning sirens have soundedrepeatedly in the 1990s, such as the fierce battle over new history textbooks for publicschools, Proposition 187's ugly denial of human rights to immigrants, the 1996assault on affirmative action that culminated in Proposition 209, and the 1997 moveto abolish bilingual education. Attempts to copycat these reactionary measures havebeen seen in other states.