Isn’t it too early to be this dramatic Sen. McCain?

Check out the latest on Wesley Clark’s so-called “critique” of John McCain’s military service this past weekend.  According to this story, Obama has now “disavowed” Clark’s assessment amid a flurry of Republican wonky-wonks sputtering on about it.

Here’s what I think: for reals??  Are we then saying that McCain being shot down in Vietnam does make him qualified to be president

Because, honestly, I’d actually like to every once in awhile consider voting for the people who weren’t shot down, too.  Or maybe even those that didn’t serve.  Yeah.

Man, this is going to be a long election.

Ruben Navarrette Smokes from the Neoliberal Pipe

Let me start by saying that I have really begun to enjoy reading Ruben Navarrette Jr.‘s editorials this past year. There are far too few Latino journalists out there, and even fewer willing to speak from a grounded and informed basis on issues surrounding the Latino populations of the U.S. While I hardly agree with him all the time, he has been at the journalistic forefront of dissecting the current immigration debate in a way that often centers the racism at its core.

That said, brother’s got some crazy in him, too…as we all do. Navarrette’s latest sampling is a reflection of his own political foundations and assumptions, that of the neoliberal order that is “the West.” It is marked by a faith in individualism, in the market rationales, and in a democratic system to assure people’s rights. It is both Clinton and Reagan and everyone in between and, often, on to the right and left of both.

Navarrette might see himself as a political realist or pragmatist (I don’t know), but a neoliberalist he is. He sees open borders as an unfeasible solution because of the politics of it. He advocates for some solution to the current immigration situation by proclaiming some kind of faith in “the law.” And he thinks kids are lazy. Okay, that one might not be a feature of neoliberlaism, but he does

“It’s worth mentioning that not only do illegal immigrants do jobs that Americans won’t do, but many of the jobs they’re doing were once done by young people in their teens and 20s – your sons and daughters – who, as a generation, have shown themselves to have a terrible work ethic.”

His neoliberal tradition is reflected here in the belief that economic decisions which have lead in the past two decades to the substitution of youth labor by undocumented and documented immigrant labor are decisions made at the point of labor entry by the worker in question.

When I was working near Salinas, California–a town that does not run without immigrant labor–some students in one of my Chicano Studies classes had a conversation with a local employer who discussed his concerted effort to hire adult immigrants over teenagers for his fast food franchises. He saw them as more permanent and flexible with their hours, as well as willing to work for the wages he offered.
Such decisions are not rare. They are also not ones made solely–or even a little bit–by the workers themselves.

Hispanic vs. Latino: What’s in a Name?

Check out this incisive blog post on the great debate–Hispanic versus Latino, that is–written by Daniel Cubias.

He provides a slice of just some of the tensions framing this “debate” within the Latin American-descent population of North America.  If you are new to the topic of us, it’s a good beginning.  And if you’re you and you is us then, well, how about that?

Cubias doesn’t offer much of a solution and, as a professor of Chicana/o ~ Latina/o Studies (yes, that’s right, I did just use all those words and slashes) let me declare my reluctance to offer any bold opinion as to which we should “all” be using.  As with most “debates,” the most important understanding to take away is not the results of an either/or dichotomous battle but a bird’s eye view of the arena of contestation.

The real lesson in all of this is three-fold:

1. Latin American-descent populations are diverse and, at times, rivalrous to an extent that makes inter-ethnic, inter-national, and/or inter-identity formation difficult, to say the least.

2. The question to ask is, really, what frames and nurtures these diverse examples of identification?  This is not a debate about language at all.  It is about what that language says about what we think of ourselves.  Identity is about memory and visions of the past and future.  The unique historical experiences and circumstances which have given rise to this current “debate” are the real story for us as Latinos/Hispanic and as non-Latino/Hispanics to educate ourselves about.

3. No matter what you think about this in intellectual terms, identity is a historically situated phenomenon.  People will call themselves what they want because of the time, place, and circumstance of their life experience.  Barring a widespread–and I mean WIDE–movement in this country, there will be no lasting resolution to this debate.

And, just so you know, I am proud to call myself a Chicano.

The “Border Beat” (June 30, 2008)

As we inch closer to the Democratic and Republican conventions, and with those closer to the November elections, we’ll all be hearing more and more talk about and to Latinos. The issue of immigration works as a rallying point for certain sectors of both parties’ constituencies, acting as the target of political rhetoric meant to move you to vote. At the same time, the numerical realities of electoral politics mean the growing, younger, and as yet unknown political quantity of the “Latino electorate” is as popular as a boat in a flood.

Some thoughts as you dive into the “Border Beat.”

  • McCain and Obama each try to convince NALEAO that they will be our mejor amigo (AP/Yahoo);
  • Is America worried that Latinos are too fertile? (Tucson Citizen/USA Today);
  • USA Today is surprisingly sharp in discussing Latino birth rates and the rise of their presence in rural America…and they have maps!
  • Latinos mobilize in North Carolina, that’s right, NORTH CAROLINA! (;
  • Women among the rising ranks of undocumented workers, a powerful lesson in what multiple oppression looks like (Houston Chronicle); and
  • Frida Kahlo returns to San Francisco (OC Register).

The second to last article I spotlight today is a simple report from the Houston Chronicle on the rising numbers of women among the flow of undocumented workers into the United States. While the story may be simple, the forces at work are anything but.

Traditionally, with the exception of political refugees, immigration to the United States has been two things almost without exception: young and male. Not only is the actual process physical arduous, but the gendered economic realities of immigration often presented opportunities for males to benefit from wages in el norte while it required women to maintain the “domestic economy” back in the “homeland.”

As those of us in the worlds of Chicano and Latino Studies know, immigration from Mexico and other parts of Latin America has been bucking this trend for some time. For the past few years, numbers reported by the Pew Hispanic Center have shown women account for almost half of the immigration flow from the South. Now, as ICE conducts weekly raids on worksites across the U.S., we have further proof of this.

This trend is a powerful reminder of the ways migrants are, in the words of noted Chicano scholar Ernesto Galarza, “ecological victims.” Their journey is dictated by economic necessity. This is not only a necessity framed by their own household circumstance in Latin America, but also the larger system which desires their body for labor and nurtures their movement from one part of the world to another, from abject poverty to first-world poverty.

Women are a rising share of the undocumented population because they occupy a position of diminished rights within global economic and political systems. This isn’t just a condition of the so-called Third World, it is a reality of the U.S. as well. The millions of Spanish-speaking women working in sweatshops in downtown Los Angeles are living proof of that. But there are others as well, women of all languages and hues and, yes, even economic classes.

The UN estimates that there are currently more than 12 million people working in “forced labor,” or “modern slavery” [see International Labour Organization]. Of these, the overwhelming majority are either adult women or children (both boys and girls). More than 20,000 of these slaves are working now in the U.S. While most of the women in this nation, and most of the immigrant women in this nation, are not slaves, millions of foreign-born women do find themselves working in an economic circumstance of little flexibility or freedom. They work in coercive environments which seek to employ them for the very reason that they are women with diminished political and economic rights.

Land of the free, indeed.

Utah, Latinos, and the Battle Over Immigration

I hope I’m not surprising any of you when I say I find Utah to have a less than favorable image within the varied constituencies of “the left.” As such a solidly “red state,” and one so heavily (conservative) religious, most see it as a predictable home for a kind of Reagan Republicanism.

Let me tell you, though, this view is not as widespread for Latinos, broadly speaking.  I know more than a  few Latinos who live or have lived in Utah and who, on the whole, like it.  This is the result of the growth of a diverse set of factors which have both created networks which facilitate Latino movement and integration, and help nurture community for Latinos once they are there.

Latinos have been present in Utah since before its establishment as a State, but they’re numbers were small until the World War II era.  Then, the Emergency Labor Program (1942), also known as the “Bracero Program,” led to the establishment of economic/labor ties between Utah capital and Mexican labor.  Still, until the latter part of the 20th century, their numbers never measured much of the overall population.

That growth has really taken off in the last few decades.  Utah, like all places in the Southwest, has undergone a measurable development process in the last generation, attracting and requiring physical laborers.  For decades the Mormons have been sending their own to parts of Latin America as members of the church do their missionary service.  This has made the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints the fastest growing religion in Latin America.  More brown Mormons means more Latinos making pilgrimage to Utah and, often, settling.  And in the past decade, the University system has also reached out to Latino/first-generation students, a result of their commitment to hiring Latino faculty with expertise in Latino issues.

All of this recent history makes Utah something of a microcosm of the broader Latino/immigration debate in the nation at large than it makes it an exception.  I don’t think the future of Utah on this issue is as important as California, New Mexico, Texas, Illinois, Florida, New York, or any other state with a longer and more profound history with immigration.  But Utah is very much a reflection of the kinds of issues states like Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Iowa, Ohio, Maryland, and many others are facing.

A short and yet insightful reflection of this is a recent article in the Salt Lake Tribune.  It unpacks some of the ways Utah–much like the nation as a whole–is kind of schizophrenic when it comes to the issue of Latino immigration, welcoming with one hand as much as they are blocking with the other.

The “Border Beat” (June 20, 2008)

The “Border Beat” is back in its traditional format today. We end the week with a cornucopia of articles on immigration, foreign relations, and, of course, the 2008 election.

  • The European Union cracks down on immigrants–U.S. style (San Francisco Chronicle);
  • Death, life, and medical attention on the U.S.-Mexico border (Tucson Citizen);
  • Proof pundits don’t know what they’re talking about, Obama’s Latino troubles have turned into a “Latino edge” (Hispanic Business);
  • The Economist (of all publications) warns the U.S. of “Mexico-bashing”; and
  • Rogue Arizona Sheriff detains all brown people, makes them prove they aren’t illegal immigrants, and then arrests them if they can’t–oh, and he’s running for reelection (Reuters).

The last article is insane. It tells the story of Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona. Arpaio–who has made a name for himself as a tough guy when it comes to cracking down on illegal immigration–has been using his office to do more of the same. What they do is send groups of officers into the Latino barrios of his county and stop people who “look” like they might be “illegals,” force them to prove they are not, and then–if they can’t prove they are citizens or legal residents–they arrest them.

There is probably not much of a defense to what he is doing. It is a clear case of racial profiling, a practice that is largely illegal. It blurs the line between federal and local jurisdiction, arrests people even if they have not committed any crime (how do you prove a negative?), and, worse, creates a clear climate of fear among Latino communities in his county. But he’s just that kind of law man!

Arpaio is no stranger to the headlines. He makes them and he attracts them. He fancies himself a maverick who is cleaning up a bankrupt system. He is an author of a book about his hardline stances and, coincidentally, he is running for reelection this fall.

When you look past all the hype and bluster, this is a tragedy. Latinos are residents of the same county he is sworn to protect and, yet, he has no compunction about creating a different standard for them in terms of deserving respect, protection, and safety. Sadly, this is more the norm than the exception when it comes to Latinos and their daily interaction with law enforcement in their communities. If you don’t believe that…well…read more.

John McCain on Abortion

Every presidential election is one of importance to the daily lives of women and people of color. Recent political events notwithstanding, this fall’s race is no different. As a historian, trust me when I say, these connections are not always so easy to make.

Here, from today’s San Francisco Chronicle, are McCain’s evolving (or devolving) views on the issue of abortion.

“I’d love to see a point where (Roe vs. Wade) is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations.” McCain said he would support legislation banning abortions in the third trimester.
Interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, Aug. 20, 1999.

“After a lot of study, a lot of consultation and a lot of prayer, I came up with a position that I believe there should be an exception for rape, incest or the life of a mother…(the issue) is one of the most difficult and agonizing issues that I think all of us face, because of our belief — yours and mine — that life begins at conception.”
Reported in the New York Times, Jan. 22, 2000.

“John McCain believes Roe v. Wade is a flawed decision that must be overturned, and as president he will nominate judges who understand that courts should not be in the business of legislating from the bench.”
McCain for President website, 2008.

The “Border Beat” (June 18, 2008)

I’m away on a research trip, and so feel a little funny about spending too much time blogging while I’m on someone else’s dime. Plus, the archive I’m in gives back only as much love as it gets. But, in case you just need something juicy to read in the news, check out this little tidbit.


Agents arrest 4 supervisors at poultry plant

6 others are expected to be arrested in an ongoing investigation of possible immigration violations.

By Ames Alexander, Franco Ordonez, Kerry Hall
Staff Writers for The Charlotte Observer

GREENVILLE, S.C.–Federal agents arrested four supervisors at a House of Raeford Farms poultry plant Tuesday and are expected to arrest six more as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged immigration violations.

Immigration officials made the arrests after finding what appeared to be false information on employment records kept at the company’s Greenville chicken processing plant, according to Kevin McDonald, first assistant U.S. attorney for South Carolina.

“It’s an ongoing investigation – one that (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and our office have been working on for a number of months,” McDonald said.

In a February series about working conditions in the poultry industry, the Observer found N.C.-based House of Raeford increasingly relied on Latino immigrants. Of 52 current and former Latino workers who spoke to the Observer about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally. Former supervisors said managers were well aware that undocumented immigrants worked for the company.

McDonald said that while he can’t discuss the next steps in the federal investigation, “certainly those arrested will be given an opportunity to discuss any relevant information with investigators should they choose to do so.”

Federal immigration agents allege that those arrested used false Social Security numbers and alien registration numbers to get jobs at the plant. Some of the numbers belonged to other people, while others were invalid, the court affidavits state.

In a statement issued Tuesday, House of Raeford said it is “cooperating fully” with immigration officials.

“We have supplied the information they requested for their … audit of this facility and support their efforts to enforce immigration laws,” the statement reads.

Immigration officials, spurred by the Observer report, recently questioned two former House of Raeford supervisors about how immigrant workers were hired and whether company managers knew some of those workers were in the country illegally, according to those supervisors. Those supervisors are U.S. citizens and were not among those arrested Tuesday.

House of Raeford has said it doesn’t knowingly hire undocumented workers and regularly asks outside counsel to audit company records and hiring practices. “We take all necessary efforts to comply with applicable law, including immigration laws,” the company wrote in a statement last month.

With eight processing plants in the Southeast and about 6,000 employees, House of Raeford is one of the nation’s top chicken and turkey producers. In the early 1990s, when another company owned the Greenville plant, most workers were African Americans. Now, most are Latino.

“We can only hire those who apply to work for us, and at the moment between 85 percent and 90 percent of our job applicants are Latino,” Greenville complex manager Barry Cronic wrote in response to previous questions from the Observer.

Former House of Raeford officials previously told the Observer that the high percentage of Latinos at the Greenville plant was no coincidence.

Human resources employees at the plant were directed not to examine actual IDs when hiring, but instead to copy them, one former department staffer has told the Observer. The black-and-white copies concealed flaws in fake IDs, the staffer said.

House of Raeford has said the plant examines all documents as presented and makes copies only for its records.

Federal immigration law requires little of companies when checking applicants’ IDs. Employers aren’t required to verify workers’ immigration status or check that their IDs are valid. Instead, companies must accept applicants’ documents if they “reasonably appear to be genuine.”

ICE increasingly is targeting “egregious” employers with fines and arrests when they knowingly violate immigration law. The agency often proceeds in stages, starting with arrests of illegal workers, then conducting interviews and reviewing records to build criminal cases against employers.

Late Tuesday, more than a half dozen House of Raeford workers sat on the stoop of their apartment complex near the plant. News of the arrests was the talk of the production line, they said. Some questioned whether it was safe to return to their shifts today. Two of the supervisors were arrested while working their night shifts at the plant, the men told the Observer.

“Everyone is scared, said Francisco, 29, a chicken hanger.

The workers all said they were in the country illegally, either from Mexico or Guatemala. The Observer is not using their full names to protect their identities.

Alejandro, 21, a chicken packer, said he learned of the arrests when his shift started at 9:30 a.m. When he got to the plant, his supervisor wasn’t there, said the Mexican native. His supervisor, Simon Gutierrez-Gomez, was arrested and charged Tuesday with using a false document and making a false statement to a federal agency.

Alejandro said Gutierrez-Gomez is a good person, with a wife and young daughter.

Others arrested Tuesday were:

Juan Ramon Macias-Rodriguez, charged with aggravated identity theft and making a false statement to a federal agency.

Juan Juarez-Suarez, charged with false use of a Social Security number and making a false statement to a federal agency.

Evaristo Merino-Vasquez, charged with aggravated identity theft, using a false document and making false statements to a federal agency.

All of the men are from Mexico, according to an ICE spokeswoman. They had their initial court appearance Tuesday and are in the custody of U.S. marshals. Authorities say they’ve issued warrants for the six additional supervisors and expect to arrest them soon.

Lucas Alonzo, 25, a native of Guatemala, works at a manufacturer but lives within a mile of the poultry plant. He said he heard Tuesday morning about the arrests and that his neighbors, many of whom are poultry workers, are worried.

“Everyone is nervous,” he said. “No one here has papers.”

The “Border Beat” (June 16, 2008)

Here’s a sampling of some of the current news and views relating to Latino U.S.A.

  • A small and encouraging school board election is making international news (Washington Post);
  • A small newspaper busts some big myths relating to Latinos and immigration (Contra Costa Times);
  • There’s but a small difference between Obama and McCain with respect to immigration, but that just might make a difference (New American Media);
  • A big report is attacked by small minds incapable of true critical analysis (Arizona Daily Star); and
  • The brewing anti-gay marriage movement of 2008 has more than a small chance for getting some Latino votes (News Tribune-Tacoma).

The last story is one everyone should be following. Those of you who are regular readers of this blog (or its predecessor) will know that one of my running analyses is the inability of the mainstream media to understand the Latino electorate. Proof of that is abundant these days, as poll numbers suggest Latinos are switching from Clinton to Obama (despite four months of most pundits saying they never would) and as Obama shows a commanding lead over McCain among Latino voters. These numbers have given birth to a new “popular certainty” that Latinos will swing Democratic in November 2008.

But watch out. Bush got over 40% of the Latino vote in 2004. Part of Karl Rove’s strategy in getting out the conservative base (evangelicals) was to support ballot initiatives outlawing gay marriage in swing states. Eleven states ran such initiatives in 2004–though in each gay marriage was already illegal. This tactic to garner conservative votes, also spilled over into the Latino electorate, many of whom vote as conservative as anyone on so-called “social issues.”

This fall will see at least three major initiatives aimed at gay marriage. California and Florida are the two biggest states voting on such measures. Both are also home to a sizable percentage of the Latino electorate. Perhaps even more ominous for the Democratic nominee, this time the ballot efforts are more than symbolic. In California, for example, the voters will face an opportunity to amend their State Constitution to ban gay marriage, thereby nullifying the recent State Supreme Court decision.

I don’t want to suggest that Latinos will swing Republican in fall 2008; I don’t think that will happen. But I also don’t think that final tally matters.  I do think that without an organized campaign targeting Latino voters, the pro gay marriage coalitions will have an uphill battle in places like California. And, in the end, presidential electoral politics may be a game of small margins, too. The more than a few Latinos who swing to the right in fall may just be, regrettably, the difference in some places.

“Juan Crow in Georgia”

Check out this month-old but fantastic article from The Nation titled “Juan Crow in Georgia.” Author and activist Roberto Lovato provides us with a humanistic and compassionate look at immigration in the South. His main argument is that the current immigration regulation apparatus means Latino youth in the South “are growing up in a racial and political climate in which Latinos’ subordinate status…bears more than a passing resemblance to that of African-Americans who were living under Jim Crow.”

Lovato centers the human experiences of youth growing up in this highly racialized and increasingly stratified social system. He also helps to situate the causes and effects of some of the recent evolutions in immigration regulation being promoted by the Bush administration, namely, tactics which help blur the lines between federal and state responsibilities and jurisdictions. These tactics, says Lovato, owe more than coincidental connection to historic legal frameworks of the slave era of the South, as well as the Jim Crow era which followed in its wake.

The only concern I have with Lovato’s piece is that I think it leans too much toward the side of demonizing the South as the home of U.S. dysfunction with respect to race. I am sure he would agree, there is a potential danger in this kind of thinking, inasmuch as it absolves the rest of the nation for their own regionally-specific racisms as well as the many ways they are complicit in Southern racism.

One of the true intellectual gifts of fields of inquiry like Chicana/o and Latina/o Studies is the researched and grounded challenge it presents to the narrative characterizing U.S. racism as an aberration, as an exception to the rule, and/or as a localized affair. Racial oppression was/is not merely an imperfection within the American ideal of itself, confined to a region filled with bigots and their slaves. The experiences of Latinos in the U.S., largely concentrated in the Southwest and Northeast for most of the 19th and 20th centuries, testify to the rampant and systemic racisms north of the Mason-Dixon. Indeed, racism is as American as apple pie.

This Southern dysfunction/Northern absolution story is but one of the many consequences of the Civil War. Outside of Southern historical circles, the trend was to convict the South of the crimes against freedom while redeeming the North as its guardian. Of course, such analyses are filled with historical inaccuracies. To provide but one example, Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation only freed the slaves who resided in State which had seceded.

Chicano/Latino Studies, and Roberto Lovato’s story, are both reminders of the ways the U.S.’s racial problems are not only not a thing of the past, they are also woven into the fabric of what this nation is. I don’t mean to be dramatic or pessimistic in my analysis on these topics, but I do think it is vital for those of us engaged in the struggle for a more just, multiracial, and equitable society to be realistic of what it is we face.

All that said, I am sure you will find Lovato’s article a worth-while read.