Daddy Day

This weekend is “Father’s Day” in the U.S., or as I like to call it, “I get to pick where we eat” Day. I have two lovely little ones–a 2 year 7 month old son and a 6 month old daughter–making me a beneficiary of the holiday.

Since my wife and I are kind of not into making them too public on the internet quite yet, let’s say their names are “B” and “Miss Pants.” Now, you may not know this but it is true: being a dad to my two kids is the best thing in the world. I often find the life of babies and an academic semester to be a bit too speedy and overwhelming to think about it much, but when I get a breather, I am often reminded that all of my political and philosophical commitments relate back to them.

That isn’t to say I didn’t have these commitments until my children entered the world. No, but they did give those commitments life. My kids ground me on a daily basis and remind me that the struggles we face as communities of people are so vitally important. They are my link with humanity and my daily challenge to be empathic, humble, critical, and loving.

I hope you have those reminders, too.

Happy pop’s day.

The “Border Beat” (June 13, 2008)

It’s Friday the 13th, and you want to know what scares me? Ignorance. The simple condition of not knowing or understanding scares me. Well, maybe that’s not it. It’s that condition placed in our particular context that I find scary. You see, not knowing is part of the human condition. We are learning animals, born not knowing or understanding but with the capacity to alter that status.

Here, in the context of the United States, we are a little too defensive about our human condition. From my perspective, we try to hide it more than we try to confront it and embrace the possibilities if has for us. We try to think we know all there is to know and, worse, that we know more than others. We also approach the process of learning not as we should–empathically and critically.

This condition is a prominent theme in my thinking lately, especially after spending the last day and a half reading blogs and news about Obama, race, immigration and deportation, and the emerging war against Chicano Studies that is taking place in Arizona. What we don’t understand is each other. We lack any true and useful shared language to have a meaningful dialogue on race in the U.S. We do not know how to think outside of ourselves or, perhaps even more usefully, how to engage ourselves in analyses of self-criticism. We have no humility of thought.

Here’s the “Border Beat” for the end of the week with some examples:

  • DC area Latinos hold a meeting to begin the process of teaching their local police departments what they don’t know–namely, Latinos and their negative experiences with the law (Washington Post);
  • Ruben Navarrette Jr. tells us about the “benefit of not being Mexican” (San Diego Union-Tribune);
  • PBS’s NewsHour reports on Arizona’s various and recent anti-immigration efforts in this audio file (NewsHour);
  • Controversy erupts when a community suggests naming a street after Cesar Chavez (CBS affiliate in Dallas/Fort Worth);
  • Ted Rall analyzes how Obama is a “token” as he congratulates Democrats for not being racists (Yahoo News); and
  • Too many people with too much power to gain platforms to speak are, quite simply and horrifically, afraid of Chicano Studies (Arizona Republic).

“Cindy McCain is No Baby Mama”

I like Erin Koteki’s blog. Her recent post on the racism on Fox News is blunt but hits the mark all over the place. Check out “Cindy McCain is No Baby Mama” and some of the responses she provokes.

I would take issue with her on one point, however. She provides a clip from Fox of an interview with some conservative blogger named Michelle Malkin. (Not for nothing, but this is the first time I’ve ever heard of her.) Anyways, Erin writes:

I wonder how she feels about this racism and sexism going on as she sits and spins for the GOP that uses her skin color to gain credibility with minorities? (yes, GOP, we see what you are doing)

Allies in the struggle, take head. What the GOP is doing with these public pundits of color who swing to the right isn’t trying to gain “credibility with minorities.” They’re trying to gain credibility with whites. They’re trying to justify their racist views on issues by getting a brown face to say “you are right” or “thanks, that’s just what we need.”

People of color have been hip to that for a long time now. Uncle Tom? Tío Taco? We all know first hand about the mental condition known as “internal colonization.” Either you got it, or you got somebody in your family who does. In Chicano/Latino circles that’s your tío or tía who got their ass deported back in the 50s and then voted for Proposition 187 back in the 90s. Or a Cuban.

*The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández*

PBS is set to air The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández on July 8th, as part of the P.O.V. series. Ballad is an award-winning documentary about the 1997 murder of a young Mexican American on the U.S.-Mexico border. Hernández was assassinated by U.S. Marines who were performing their “duty” of border enforcement. This is the story of U.S. troops shooting and killing a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil.

The P.O.V. website describes the film as follows:

In 1997, U.S. Marines patrolling the Texas-Mexico border as part of the War on Drugs shot and killed Esequiel Hernández Jr. Mistaken for a drug runner, the 18-year-old was, in fact, a U.S. citizen tending his family’s goats with a .22 rifle. He became the first American killed by U.S. military forces on native soil since the 1970 Kent State shootings. “The Ballad of Esequiel Hernández,” narrated by Tommy Lee Jones, explores Hernández’s tragic death and its torturous aftermath. His parents and friends, the Marines on patrol and investigators discuss the dangers of militarizing the border and the death of one young man.

I haven’t had the chance to see the film but I have heard some talk about it. Every year for the last six, I have taught at least one class where we learn about Esequiel’s murder. For my “Chicana/o-Latina/o Histories” class, Esequiel’s murder serves to help humanize the kinds of forces at work in the recent history we discuss. I try to situate it within the broader context of the increased militarization of the border as well as the increasing dehumanization of brown bodies.

I’m sure this documentary is going to be time well-spent and a future teaching and learning tool for me and my students.

FEMA Gives Katrina Victims the Shaft

Anyone looking for another example of the Bush administration’s incompetence and indifference to poor folk and communities of color?

Look no further. CNN reports FEMA has literally given away $85 million worth of household items originally intended for victims of hurricane Katrina. These items were largely purchased as “starter kits,” packages of goods meant to help somebody rebuilding their life in a new living situation (often a temporary trailer). The remainder of these goods came as donations, given by corporations and others in the wake of the tragedies (both the meteorological event and the federal response).

FEMA had been paying $1 million to store the goods and, according to their press secretary, “determined that they were excess to FEMA’s needs.” Even though there remain thousands of people living in less than permanent situations, an even more who continue to struggle as a result of their displacement and loss, no one at FEMA thought of trying to assess whether or not these items should go to the people they were intended to go to. No one at FEMA thought of contacting any of the community agencies who actually do serve these people. According to the story, they did offer these items to state agencies, including the state of Louisiana, who passed on the free goods.

These household items did go to some cities throughout the South and Midwest. FEMA did find people at the local level who wanted them, they ust never bothered to look at the New Orleans local level.

This story exhibits the clear and convincing pattern of the Bush administration’s incompetence. Worse yet, it exhibits a clear indifference regarding the identification and fulfillment of the needs of poor communities and communities of color. In the mindset of a President and his White House, this kind of indifference is not too surprising. But coming from the agency meant to, at least in part, do exactly this in times of tragedy and disaster, this is just an outrage.

FEMA lacks the kind of proactive empathy required of such an agency, and it is the poor and most marginalized who feel it most.

FOR MORE INFORMATION: If you are interested in learning more about the events surrounding hurricane Katrina, in particular on a human level, see Spike Lee’s documentary When the Levees Broke – A Requiem In Four Acts. It is powerful and important, a fantastic teaching tool on modern racism from a complex and multifaceted perspective.

The “Border Beat” (June 11, 2008)

Now that the Democratic nominee question is settled, there seems to be a hush in the news world. So much attention had been focused on the rivalry between Clinton and Obama that it left little room left for the other big stories of late (did anyone see “The Daily Show” last night on the weak coverage of the recent Senate Intelligence Report-Number Two?).  Alas, the news continues, much like the struggle for justice! (I know, too dramatic.)

The “Border Beat” is knocking on your door:

  • The New York Times shows why their the best in journalism with this in-depth and layered report on recent immigration struggles in the South and Midwest;
  • The recent murder of a Salvadoran shopkeeper remains unsolved and witnesses may not be coming forward out of fear of deportation (Washington Post);
  • Recent events in El Paso serve as a reminder that the issues on “the border” are far more complex than a failed federal immigration policy–they include a failed federal drug policy, too (Houston Chronicle);
  • Oklahoma’s injunction (previously featured on this blog) reveals a true bright side–the evolution of mid-Western, Latino political organizations (KSWO-TV);
  • Barack Obama and John McCain are both headed to San Diego to speak at the National Council of La Raza’s national convention in July (San Diego Union-Tribune).

The first and last stories featured today are a powerful snapshot of the current state of “Latino USA.”  Though it is careful it how it presents the story, the NYT article revolves around the way efforts to “enforce the law” have served as a cover for an anti-Latino racism.  This racism is, generally, nothing new.  It emerges naturally from the historic association between “American” and “white.”  What is particularly interesting about this racism is that it is particularly widespread in parts of the nation that had previously not had any Latino immigrants.  The South and Midwest are the new venue (or the venue again?) for analyzing the gulf between the United States as an ideal and as a reality.

The newness of the influx of immigrants, and their cultural markers, shapes peoples’ racially scripted notions of “their” country.  When Harry Buckles sees and hears brown people speaking Spanish at his Winn Dixie, he associates it as proof of their non-assimilation (a primary feature of anti-Latino racism).  No matter these people may have been in the U.S. for only a matter of years; no matter statistics show their children will become fluent in English (even them if they arrived in their teens).  To Buckles, this is Latinos being Latinos.  Even worse, it is a sign of a kind of take over (another major feature of anti-Latino racism).  When Buckles expresses concerns with his nation being “overwhelmed” with unassimilable Latinos, he echoes the script he has inhereted from past and living generations of racists (as the Times points out, the brown menace is less then 3% of the local population).

All this comes at the same time as both major party candidates agree to speak at the upcoming national convention of the National Council of La Raza.  This group–which has always struggled, in some sense, for legitimacy–finds themselves the big fish (for lack of any other fish) in a growing political pond.  This is HUGE.  Not only will it increasingly fuel the transformation of NCLR into a major palyer in national politics, but it speaks to a new brand of political necessity–the Latino vote.

What a time to be alive!

The “Border Beat” (June 9, 2008)

Here’s a rundown of some of the news and views in latinolandia:

  • Latinos say to Obama and no to McCain (Los Angeles Times)
  • The Associated Press reports immigration is shaping up to be about as big an issue in the November election as, well, as it always is
  • New England health officials reach out to the barrio to better serve Spanish-speakers’ health needs (Boston Globe)
  • Yes, there are Latinos in Kansas and, no, it’s not pronounced “wee-CHEE-ta” (Witchita Eagle)
  • Latino youth at higher risk for alcohol and drug use, unsafe sex, and suicide attempts (Arizona Republic)
  • George W. Bush is a bad historian too (Washington Post)

The final story has little to do with Latinos specifically but, as a professional historian, it hit me kind of close to home.  The discussion is on the recent increase in historical references in Bush speeches, primarily those that suggest his presidency will be vindicated by future historians.  It’s and interesting story, and maybe even a little bit desperate.   All Bush has left is to hope people of the future like him more than the people of the present.  As a person who will have some say on the matter, at least if I live beyond middle-age, let me assure you, it doesn’t look to good.

Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968)

June 6th marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Younger brother to JFK, Attorney General from 1961 to 1964, and U.S. Senator from New York from 1965 to his death, RFK was shot after winning the California Democratic Primary.

The Los Angeles Times reported on the results of the Tuesday, June 4th primary in their Wednesday, June 5th edition:

“A late surge of votes from Mexican-American and Negro precincts–particularly in Los Angeles County–made Sen. Robert F. Kennedy the winner in California’s Democratic Presidential primary battle Tuesday.” 1

They went to press before being able to report he had been shot after giving a victory speech in the Ambassador Hotel, shortly after midnight.

He died at 1:44 a.m. on June 6th. The last edition of that paper from L.A. reported in an article titled “Disbelief, Sorrow Sweep Negro, Latin Areas at News of Tragedy”:

“Stunned disbelief and sorrow swept across the Mexican-American barrios and through the Negro neighborhoods of South Los Angeles Wednesday as hundreds of thousands tried to grasp the enormity of the tragedy that befell Sen. Robert F. Kennedy.

To many, he was the only presidential candidate who fully sensed their problems and their frustrations.” 2

Indeed, today’s remembrance is a significant one in Chicano/Latino history. RFK was popular within Latino communities, and for good reason. He consistently voiced support for the issues and daily struggles of Latinos in the United States.

He was a public and fervent supporter of the farm worker’s struggle, led by Cesar Chavez. Though a sharp minority of the Latino population in the U.S. of the 1960s worked in the agricultural sector, most could identify with this union struggle of the poorest and most oppressed of our population. RFK’s support for this cause endeared him to Latinos because it spoke volumes about his capacity for empathy and humanism. That such a powerful figure in U.S. society recognized “our” struggle spoke volumes to a generation who knew the scourge of racial oppression.

Likewise, RFK won the loyal support of radical and reformist Chicana and Chicano activists when he publicly supported the young students who started the Chicano Movement by walking out of their East L.A. classes in March of 1968. Already an advocate for minority rights in the face of local police oppression, RFK’s legitimization of these students’ efforts helped win them the support of many in Los Angeles, an important fact when 13 of the walkout leaders were arrested and charged with felony conspiracy. His support played a small role in eventually getting the “East L.A. 13” released from jail (coincidentally, on June 6th), as well as securing them an acquittal on all charges.

As a historian, I am utterly fascinated with the political history of the United States. But, I assure you, I’m no sentimentalist when it comes to the same. I know better than to put too much faith in a politician to represent the ideals I hold dear. Regrettably, that is not the game of politics. But RFK would have been a real difference to that long history of disappointment with power. In his lifetime, he had already begun to model a potential challenge to that, though not without contradiction.

So take pause to remember this day in Chicano/Latino History.


1. Richard Bergrolz, “Kennedy Wins Race’ Rafferty Apparent Victor Over Kuchel,” Los Angeles Times, June 5, 1968, 1.

2. “Ray Rogers and Jack Jones, “Disbelief, Sorrow Sweep Negro, Latin Areas at News of Tragedy,” Los Angeles Times (“Extra” edition), June 6, 1968, C1.

The “Border Beat” (June 6, 2008)

Today’s “Border Beat” brings you a set of articles all related to Latinos and labor and the racial ideologies that bring those two together.

  • A fascinating look into how Operation Streamline has made a Texas-based meatpacking company turn to Burmese refugee workers (Wall Street Journal)
  • CDC report reveals how Latinos (and Latino immigrants, in particular) occupy some of the deadliest jobs (U.S. News & World Report)
  • The feds claim victory for the drop in “illegal immigration” by arguing its the ICE raids behind it; but it looks like the way Bush messed up the national economy is really the hero (Time)
  • A more systematic investigation of the recently-reported (and afore-referenced) unemployment figures for “Hispanics” is a reminder that the poor always suffer the most in an economic de-, I mean recession (Los Angeles Times)
  • A Federal Judge does what every reader of this blog knew he would regarding facets of an Oklahoma “anti-illegal immigrant” law, and Oklahomans speak out (it’s the “Featured Comments” below the story reported by the Tulsa Fox affiliate you will want to read)

Make no mistake about it, the modern economy (a.k.a. “capitalism”) is predicated on the abuse of humans. I don’t say this to be dramatic–although I know a lot of you can’t read those words and not have a knee-jerk response to dismiss everything else I say because you know think I am a communist–but I do say this to make three points:

1) when you see some of the ways the economic system preys on “weaker” peoples and can’t operate unless it finds those people (whether we are talking about people with less political rights, less economic rights, lower expectations, a diminished ability to acculturate into a larger society) you can begin to understand the ways seemingly rational political stances (“undocumented workers shouldn’t have a political voice because they are not here legally”) work to nurture a complex and inhumane economic system;

2) a clear solution to many problems would be the institutional recognition of people’s economic rights as human rights, that is, rights which are not bestowed by government fiat but as ours by birth; and

3) be thankful for what you do not struggle for, as thankful you should be that another person’s struggle and oppression helped bring you that salad, or chicken sandwich, or…you get the picture.

How Do You Get Latino Votes? (the VERY unexpected part 3)

And, thanks to Hans, a reminder that some people know how to get it right!

Here’s an Obama ad produced for the Latino market/electorate.

p.s. Yes, I know Obama’s people didn’t directly produce this but, dammit, they are sure going to benefit from the talent his candidacy inspires!

p.p.s. I KNOW!!  They even got the “hesitant Latina” Jessica Alba to appear as a Latina!!