The “Border Beat” (May 19, 2008)

Today’s selection of articles includes features on some recent immigration raids as well as the evolving and emerging political fights including Latinos.

  • Two articles on the Iowa ICE raids on Agriprocessors Inc. (Washington Post and Chicago Tribune)
  • McCain might have a shot at the Latino vote in November (Reuters)
  • Baltimore cops say the best way to do their job is to do it and leave “illegals” alone (Baltimore Sun)
  • The Hispanic Congressional Caucus slams their Democratic leadership (Houston Chronicle)
  • When local Arizona cops do the fed’s job even God-fearing Latinos better watch out (Tucson Citizen)

The struggle brewing between the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Democratic leadership has been slowly emerging for the past months, as the Caucus tries to block any immigration legislation until meaningful reform legislation is proposed.  It has been a bold move, one marked by their refusal to support pieces of legislation that are positive for Latinos and immigrants because these items have not been part of a alrger legislative effort.  In the end, this discord reflects the extent to which the Democrats offer more of the same when it comes to immigration.

Hillary Clinton, not Feminism, is Defeated

As should be increasingly clear to most people by now, Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid is slowly coming to an end.

As a teacher of race and gender issues, I have been more than a little bit concerned at the widespread idea that the current Democratic nominating process pitted “race” against “gender.” This kind of analysis pinpoints our collective inability to understand the historic and present-day power of either social concept. More troubling, it also highlights the ways faulty understandings have actually filled the gaps created by this collective ignorance.

A small reminder of this has been the political line unquestioningly associating a vote for Hillary Clinton with feminism. In her widely-circulated editorial in last January’s New York Times, Gloria Steinem opined “gender is probably the most restricting force in American life.” She cautioned against “advocating a competition for who has it toughest”–often called the “oppression Olympics”–writing “the caste systems of sex and race are interdependent and can only be uprooted together.” Still, her primary argument did just that, asking “why is the sex barrier not taken as seriously as the racial one?”

In a similar vein, feminist activist Robin Morgan wrote an updated version of her classic 1970 piece “Goodbye To All That.” She does some of the work of “unpacking” the complex ways racialized and gendered notions have characterized the political process, often pitting one against the other, before suggesting support for Clinton is about women supporting themselves. She declares:

So goodbye to Hillary’s second-guessing herself. The real question is deeper than her re-finding her voice. Can we women find ours? Can we do this for ourselves?

Our President, Ourselves!

Both women were careful to frame their support for Clinton in terms of her qualifications (Morgan even going so far as to say of Obama: “I’d rather look forward to what a good president he might make in eight years, when his vision and spirit are seasoned by practical know-how—and he’ll be all of 54”), yet both substantiated those positions within the analytical terrain of a persistent gender bias in our political culture. In the end, support for Clinton becomes a feminist act because (in this way of thinking) it stands in opposition to the assault she has suffered for being a woman.

This is the context giving shape to seemingly profound divisions not only within the broad Democratic base but also, according to a recent AP article, among feminists themselves. Envisioning a female president as the fulfillment of a historic struggle stretching back to Elizabeth Cady Stanton, some Clinton supporters even chide and deride female supporters of Obama as “gender traitors.” As this recent story in the L.A. Times suggests, race plays a part in the Clinton-support stances of some Americans, but most continue to voice a belief that her campaign embodied a change that is now going to defeat.

I do not want to suggest that Hillary Clinton has not faced sexism in the course of her presidential bid. Negatively gendered ideas have met her candidacy from its first days. While these are difficult to tease out from other beliefs and positions fueling an anti-Clinton stance, that part of this fuel is constituted by a persistent and ubiquitous patriarchy in undeniable. However, the political demise of her presidential bid should not be construed as the victory of sexism over feminism, of patriarchy over progressive gender change.

To put it bluntly, feminism isn’t as simple as a vote for Hillary Clinton.

Just like a vote for Barack Obama won’t solve the nation’s “race problem,” a vote for Hillary Clinton does not mount a substantive challenge to U.S. patriarchy. While definitions of “feminism” may be as numerous as feminists themselves, there are collectives of understanding which might shed some light on this situation.

Noted feminist author bell hooks, in her classic text Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, put forth a definition of feminism rooted in the experiences and struggles of women of color to mobilize for change in the late 20th century. “Feminism,” she wrote, “is movement to end sexist oppression.”

hooks complicates the suggestion that feminist is about “equality with men” since men are not all equal in the modern (or historic) United States. She is careful to link the struggle of feminism to other forms of movement geared toward combating “domination” whether in the social, political, or economic realm. In her vision, shared by a multitude of “third world feminists,” feminism could never be reduced to the mere cause of representation. In fact, the political culture which equates feminism with women achieving positions of power regardless of what they do with those positions serves the forces of oppression more than it does those of liberation.

This doesn’t mean that Hillary Clinton is not a feminist or that her hypothetical election would not be a feminist act. But it does refocus our attention by challenging that assertion without some proof. It puts the burden of proof not on her gender but on her politics. How does the election of Hillary Clinton create any challenge to sexist oppression?

Her election may have been a symbolic victory on this front, but there is no basis to claim it would have meant much more. A political history which includes votes to support the war in Iraq and free trade policies which have led to economic dislocation and familial separation in Latin America; and which includes an unwavering support for welfare reform which mobilized around the image of the mother of color as a lazy addict of government aid and an education policy that has meant declining numbers of young, poor women of color to succeed; all suggests less of a challenge to systems of gender oppression than one would hope. While she undoubtedly also has a record any feminist could take pride in, that pride begins to wane as one looks at which women benefit from and figure into these efforts.

All this is to say, the defeat of Hillary Clinton is just that, the defeat of a political candidate. She was a historic candidate, who will continue to serve in a historic capacity in the Senate. But her defeat is not a blow to feminism. It does not say anything about the status of feminist movement in this country. It also says little about the prospects for true feminist change in the future.

So mourn, if you must, but take heart as well. All real change comes from masses of people united in movement, anyways.

The “Border Beat” (May 16, 2008)

Today’s offerings feature a veritable buffet of selections from the world’s presses!

  • Reporter rips McCain a new culo and it feels muuuuuuuuy bueno (Seattle Post-Intelligencer)
  • Feinstein tries to derail the efforts of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus as she does the bidding of her masters in agriculture (San Francisco Chronicle)
  • North Carolina bans illegal immigrants from going to Community College (Guardian-UK)
  • Tensions within African American and Latino Los Angeles are reaching a new high over Special Order 40 (New York Times)
  • The truth about Special Order 40 (Los Angeles Times)

The issues brewing in the final two articles are significant, troubling, and a long time coming. While most of the heat is being directed at Special Order 40–a policy within the LAPD that forbids officers from asking a person about their legal status if they are not being investigated for a crime–the issues are really bigger and broader than that.

African Americans and Latinos occupy some of the same space within Los Angeles, both right now and historically. African American “ghettos” were, generally, poorer neighborhoods in which whites chose not to live (and due to historic forms of segregation in housing restrictions, chose for African Americans to live). As waves of Latino migrants have made Los Angeles their home, they moved into many of the same neighborhoods, both a reflection of their affordability and the continued policies and practices of racial residential restrictions in the city.

Cohabitation need not breed any animosity, but that shared space has not always come with a sense of mutual community. Decades of differing political and social histories–including the ways in which each group was integrated in the economy and politics–framed more difference than commonality. Gangs, violence, poverty, and racism, have wrought more.

This is the current status of many of our working class, diverse communities of color in the United States. Unfortunately, it may get worse before it gets better.

The “Border Beat” (May 14, 2008)

As part of my continuing quest to find the most pressing (or sometimes just interesting) news on Latinos in the world, LatinoLikeMe provides you this second “Border Beat,” just some of the headlines drawing my attention (and I hope yours).

NOTE: The “Border Beat” will appear every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from here on, except when I’m away from the digital world (which is never often enough).

The “Border Beat” (May 12, 2008)

Here are some of the recent headlines of interest to Latinos and those who like to know about them:

How Immigration Enforcement is Morally Bankrupt

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is a morally bankrupt institution and the embodiment of what is going disastrously wrong with our government. Not only do they operate like an entrenched bureaucracy, with very little oversight and visibility, but they are also evermore reliant on outside contractors to do som of their dirty work.

Watch this powerful video from the New York Times on a man named Boubacar Bah.

Let the life and death of Boubacar Bah be a lasting symbol of the need for immigration reform.

Cinco de Mayo and Latino Visibility

One of the most pressing issues facing Latinos in the United States is representation. The experiences, histories, and present-day struggles of Latinos simply do not find their way into the U.S. line of sight in any meaningful way. To somebody on the “outside” this might seems strange. After all, doesn’t everybody know about J-Lo and Salma Hayek? Aren’t we obsessed with the political issue of immigration? Isn’t salsa the number 1 condiment in the nation? And isn’t everybody aware that today is Cinco de Mayo?

The skewed way our Latino experiences in the U.S. are incorporated into the mainstream are troubling. Cinco de Mayo is a case in point. Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Puebla (1862), when Mexico successfully battled against the French imperialist army within its own national borders. This historic day in the life of the Mexican nation–a nation which had been severely compromised by the loss of almost half its territory to the equally imperialist United States in 1848–is a day of celebration of independence and freedom from foreign control. But on this side of the border, it is a day to get drunk at during happy hour at your local Mexican restaurant.

Cinco de Mayo is an advertising bonaza, when corporations use Mexican/Latin themes to sell beer, food, and other items, most of which are geared toward some kind of festive debauchery. Other images you will see today commemorate the day with some trite representation of Mexican culture, only to de-politicize and de-historicize the day in general.

In most cases, these images and representations aren’t the problem in and of themselves. I’ve got nothing against a cold beer, just as I have nothing against George Lopez and Carlos Mencia. The problem is when these precious few become fully representative of Latino life and history. The problem is when these few representations define an entire people for the mainstream, white U.S. populace because, simply, they have no other images to deepen their understanding.

Cinco de Mayo is a day of celebration in Mexico. For Latinos in the U.S., it should be a day of careful thought.

Pro-Immigrant Coalitions Suggest the Solution but Reflect the Problem

This year’s May Day events are already underway throughout the world. In parts of Southeast Asia, May Day marches have been protesting the rise in food prices as well as advocating for workers’ rights. In Turkey, labor unions were met with government repression and police abuse as they marches and attempted to congregate in a noted public center. In Germany, scattered violence and rioting occurred when leftists went to battle with the police. In Greece, Cuba, and China workers also participated in events. In Greece, workers staged a day-long strike protesting privatization; in Cuba, Raul Castro sat for speeches from the nation’s only union; in China everyone celebrated what is a national holiday.

Around the world, workers’ rose up for their rights, whether those be the right to a fair wage, the right to affordable food, or the right to be free from government corruption.

In Los Angeles, as in several other urban sites around the U.S., labor and immigrant rights advocates are standing in solidarity for what has become a yearly movement to promote the rights of immigrant workers. That coalition of unions and immigrant groups is also joined by business leaders in the case of U.S. politics. Today’s L.A. Times reported on the supportive stance by the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce with respect to immigrants’ rights. This broad coalition are demanding an end to rampant government raids as well as reforms in legislation providing for a legalization pathway for the undocumented.

Coalitions which represent a broad base of support are important for securing meaningful change in a democratic system. As a scholar of social movements (you can see one of my college courses here), I know the recent past has seen too few instances of truly democratic coalition but, when it has, those movements have produced profound changes, whether in the systems of power they targeted or in the communities of which they were a part.

The immigration issue in this country is only going to be solved by such representative coalitions. As an immigrant rights advocate, I am happy to have seen such forms of mobilization become the trend with respect to these issues. Since the 1980s, immigrant rights organizations have been joined in their efforts by labor unions, churches, antiwar/anti-imperialism factions, human rights groups, and now business leaders.

But, those of us seeking true immigration reform should keep in mind not all parties come to a coalition for the same reason. While the visions for a better future held by business and human rights organizations converge on the desire for an end to raids and the passage of reform legislation, they do not have the same utopian visions for the future beyond. Business interests are pro-immigrant because they see in immigrants a cheap and plentiful supply of labor. They profit from the precarious status of undocumented labor; worse yet, they exploit that labor. [Read Miriam Ching Yoon Louie’s powerful 2001 book Sweatshop Warriors if you think this isn’t the case.]

Immigration raids hurt businesses who employ both documented and undocumented immigrant workers.  They also promote fear among businesses located in high immigration centers who might employ lots of Latino workers who are not immigrants at all.  In those and other ways, raids are bad business.  They are so bad, businesses who exploit immigrant labor would rather have that labor be legal than illegal just to end them.

But such motivations are not humanistic.  They do nothing to challenge the commodification of people’s bodies, the racialized assumptions which serve as the backbone of a segmented labor market, or the ultimate belief in profit over people.  This coalition is the model of what a successful immigrant  rights’ movement  does look like, but it is also the problem.  The unity reflected today will only last as long as the immigration reform movement stays in the comfortable position of not fundamentally challenging the problem at hand.

May Day Immigration Marches

Today thousands of people will be marching in Los Angeles, joining tens of thousands more across the U.S. and millions around the world. May 1st, also known as “May Day,” also known as “International Workers’ Day,” is a day of celebration, of recognition, and of movement.

In the U.S., May Day has also most recently become an annual event when immigration activists and their allies mobilize for mass action in support of immigrants’ rights. This year, after a string of ICE raids which has deported tens of thousands from the U.S.; after another round of reactionary pieces of legislations aimed at Latinos and immigrants; and after the continued stalemate on comprehensive federal immigration reform, the pro-immigrant marches take on a particular urgency.

I suspect, as in past years, these mass actions will be misinterpreted and misunderstood by most in the mainstream media. However, it is important for all of us to know what these marches are about.

This is a labor movement.
First and foremost, today’s marches are about labor. It is no coincidence that the annual May Day celebration has also become home to an annual immigrants’ rights event. Both are about labor. Both are about the rights of people who are workers to be treated like human beings with certain inalienable rights. Both are about reframing the way we think about economic rights in this world. Why is it that masses of people have to work in poverty to produce the wealth for a small elite? Why is it that we live in a nation where political rights are assumed but economic rights seem foreign? When we can easily understand that without economic rights there can be no other rights (the right to vote is a meaningless luxury for the person who is starving from a lack of food), why is it we care so little for the ability of an economic system to provide for people’s basic needs?

Labor rights are human rights. These marches are also, of course, about humanity. Immigrants are people traveling within a transnational system. That is, they are people whose economic situation in one part of the world necessitates their movement to another part of the world, in order for them to meet their (or their family’s) basic needs. That their options become few in one region and more plentiful in another is not an accident. That they find there way to specific destinations from other specific destinations is also not accident.

It is easy for us to think of these issues as only one affecting the host countries in question–the nations (like the U.S.) who become the final destinations for the world’s immigrants. But these seemingly local and national issues are really international human ones. Whether we as a nation like it or not, all people have the right to survive. They have the right to meet their basic needs. They should have the internationally recognized right to work, and work at a fair and livable wage.

You make think these are not realities. You may think it is not feasible for these rights to become realities. As a humanist, I say what you think doesn’t matter. They are a moral imperative. As a critical analyst, I ask, why not?

Real change begins with an individual’s consciousness. Immigrant workers in this nation, for example, find themselves most often being exploited for their labor. They are paid a wage less than the prevailing one, made to work in illegal and unsafe conditions, and manipulated to accept this condition by a host of immoral tactics initiated by employers. These realities became realities by the direct acts of human beings. They can change the same way. When you buy a T-shirt or a pair of shoes, do you care how they are made? You should; you need to start being concerned. Your action of purchasing at a cheap price above all else and your inaction at doing nothing to deal with the political economy of your clothes are both the results of your human acts. What happens when they change?

May Day is a day for us all to struggle for a world that is more respectful of all peoples’ needs and rights. It is a time for us to question how we can live in a world where so many of those needs and rights are not secure. Most importantly, it is a time for us to question the fundamental assumptions undergirding the “reality” we understand. If you think things are they way they are and there is nothing that can be done about it; if you think illegal immigrants are criminals and don’t deserve rights; if you think the benefit of one worker must come at the expense of another; then you should ask yourself, why? Why do you think that? What assumptions guide that thinking? And how did you arrive at them?

This is a movement for change. A movement is, by definition, a mass of people moving in a particular direction. They may be motivated for different reasons, analyze the situation in different ways, and envision a future goal in different ways, but they can still move together. Today, the tens of thousand who will be marching will be doing so for too many reasons to list here. In short, they will be speaking to shared cause through a myriad of voices. The question, however, is how will we choose to listen?