Joe Arpaio is the new Bull Connors

In the same way Sheriff Bull Connor–the racist lawman of Birmingham, Alabama who served his office during the height of the Civil Rights Movement–came to embody the system of racial oppression framing life for Southern Blacks, so, too, Joe Arpaio is becoming the national embodiment of the similar system framing Latino life in the 21st century.

Just see this editorial from a recent Washington Post.

Even Neo-Liberal Stalwarts Think McCain is Losing Latinos

A succinct summary of much of this blog’s meandering commentary of the past two months can be found in this article from The Economist.

My disappointment in the association of my views with this relentlessly (and blindly) capitalistic, free trade, and neo-liberal magazine is assuaged by two things: first, the magazine–for all its faults–is at least consistent and thorough; and, second, this article about Latinos and McCain actually uses the word “fortnight.”

All kidding aside, when this news is getting consolidated and regurgitated by The Economist, McCain and the Republicans have some worrying to do.

I think the biggest concern for Republicans (not addressed by the piece) should be the “permanent” loss of the so-called “Latino electorate.”  As I and others have been writing about, the notion that there is a monolithic, Latino voting bloc is not only historically inaccurate but also far-fetched in current political culture.  But this seems to be changing.  The recent immigration debacle, and current raids, are all creating something of a unifying political experience for politically-diverse Latino population.  Inasmuch as the Republican party is being linked to the aspects of these we find disturbing and, often, reprehensible, they suffer through the loss of any support by Latinos.

The New Veterans G.I Bill and Educational Opportunity

The recent Chronicle of Higher Education presents an informative article on the “21st Century G.I. Bill”–Senator Jim Webb’s legislation designed to offer educational opportunities to this nation’s veterans.

Read the article here.

There are some surprising trends among returning veterans making use of the bill’s provisions. Among them, veterans seems to be enrolling in community colleges and for-profit educational institutions at higher rates with their funds than at “traditional,” four-year universities and colleges.

One of the reasons may be cost–as the current legislation only provides about three-quarters of the cost of an average college or university. Community Colleges (though severely more expensive than they were for the WWII and “baby boom” generations) are more affordable than four-year colleges. The benefit meets most of the veteran’s educational cost need.

But the for-profit educational institution is NOT less expensive. In fact, places like this charge higher fees for a degree that is worth far less in the market place. None of these institutions is accredited in the same way as most four-year and two-tear colleges are. Most do, however, offer convenience. Places like these pioneered the online course almost a decade ago.

This is something of a contrast to the original G.I. Bill, a piece of legislation that allowed for returning WWII veterans to attended college for free. As the article mentions, there is some debate as to the impact of this original legislation. Some historians celebrate the bill as the cornerstone of the postwar economic boom, which facilitated to movement of a large share of Americans into the middle class. Other say it “privileged the privileged.”

As a historical topic, I’ve been very interested in the G.I Bill and other benefits given to the so-called “greatest generation,” in addition to those given to the baby boom generation. While the original bill may not have been as transformative as some historians give it credit for, it was one part of a collection of public funding efforts that benefited (mostly white) WWII generation members. Their children–the baby boomers–got an equally staggering amount of public funds dedicated to their upbringing, everything from new roads and bridges, to new cities and water and electrical works, to new schools, and a bunch of subsidies to afford those.

Either way, we are awarding our current veterans (and even rank and file current citizens) in a reduced manner when it comes to public funds for their development and economic progress. For those trying to recreate the economic good times of the second-half of the twentieth century (at least when they were good), this is significant. That “boom” was anything but free of government handouts.

If you are a Gen-Xer, the next time anybody over the age of 55 tells you you got it easy growing up when you did, politely give them an elbow, and walk away. Just avoid major organs; their recovery costs a lot of tax dollars too.

Latinos Give Juan McCain the Frío Shoulder

A new research report issued by the Pew Hispanic Center shows Barack Obama leading over John McCain by a 66% to 23% among registered Latino voters.

That almost a 3 to 1 margin.

The report is a reminder to hesitate in believing political pundits, though you most likely don’t need that reminder. Still, if you remember, last month as the Democratic primary finally came to its long awaited close, every time you turned on the TV to the news you would see some talking head predicting Obama would struggle with the Latino vote in November, as he did during the primaries. Well, doesn’t look like that’s going to be the case.

Come to think of it, I remember hearing a lot of commentators predict Hillary Clinton voters would jump ship over to McCain as well. Turns out, more than 75% of Latinos who once supported Clinton now support Obama. Only 8% have declared their support for McCain. That’s better than Obama’s numbers for whites who voted for Clinton (where 70% support him and 18% McCain)

The most important numbers in the poll are the ones showing where Latino registered voters “lean.”  The poll estimates 65% of us are leaning to the Democratic Party while only 26% are leaning to the Republicans.  This 39% point differential is the largest “than at any time in the past decade.”

Why this is important is because this shows that, in fact, the Latino electorate may be becoming an actual voting bloc.  The debacle of immigration is becoming the equivalent of the Civil Rights Movement for the African American voter.  By the time my kids are old enough to vote, the words “Latino Republicans” might sound like “Black Republicans.”  It’s not impossible, or so rare you never meet one, but you always wonder about them.

Download the report here.

The “Border Beat” (July 25, 2008)

The “Border Beat” returns with a sampling of some of the Latino-themed and related stories you might have missed in the past week.

• “U.S. Latinos may get a national museum of their own” (South Florida Sun-Sentinel)
I first heard of this a few months ago when a friend emailed me news of the composition of the 23-member commission. Experience tells me struggles like these result in watered-down, consensus kinds of histories. Still, it’d be nice, no?

• “AIDS Among Latinos on Rise” (Washington Post)
This is a sad reminder not only of the continuing need for concentrated effort in the fight against AIDS, but also of the ways race/class factors mitigate a person’s exposure to things like prevention education and health care.

• “Jobs For Day Laborers Are Dwindling” (McClatchy Newspapers)
A small report on an increasingly common phenomenon. The lack of employment for entire classes of manual laborers in this recession/depression economy is the easiest way to understand the measurable decrease in immigration.

• “Immigration Stories Told in Quilts” (WBEZ Chicago)
Two musuem stories? I’m feeling cultured my friends! The National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago hosts a new exhibit titled A Declaration of Immigration, featuring a collection of family stories of immigration, some of which are told on a quilt. This story from Chicago’s public radio station can be listened to or read, and discusses the exhibit and the quilting process.

• “Agents arrest 43 Mexican immigrants” (AG Weekly)
This would almost be a non-story if not for the fact that these workers were arrested in HAWAII! That’s right, agricultural production in Hawaii is increasingly relying on Mexican immigrant labor. While there is a long history to the presence of Latino labor in HI, this story should at least help you think about how immigrant labor gets from their homes to their foreign worksites when there is no border to cross. It’s called labor importation, and it happens in the other 49 states too.

• “SC county may make English official language” (Business Week)
And to finish things off, this little ditty from way down in the heart of Dixie. This is a complicated issue if you think about the forces behind it: economic uncertainty, dislocation, racism, just to name a few. But the solution is simple, and truly insignificant in the scheme of things. What it does do is send a message to Latinos that the “white society” doesn’t want us. Doesn’t give those disenfranchised whites any more power, doesn’t stop the economic dislocation laying rural Latin America bare, doesn’t stop U.S. corporations from importing brown folk to abuse and under pay them…it doesn’t even make Latinos learn English any faster than they already do.

FINALLY, though it isn’t related explicitly to anything I write about, go check out the website for the upcoming animated film STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS. (As if you haven’t already…and Wookies just mught be Chicanos anyways, so…)

May the force be with you.

Rosario Dawson and Wilmer Valderrama Share la Pasion

Actress Rosario Dawson is one of the founders of an organization called Voto Latino. Founded as a Latino-centered, voter-registration effort, the group has worked rather successfully doing just that for a few elections now. Dawson has been recognized for her efforts by a couple Latino organizations in the past two years.

The organization has an army of corporate sponsors, a who’s who of the Spanish speaking market. It mixes traditional voter registration within a social networking platform and web 2.0 kinds of tactics. One of their “new” kinds of tactics was a telenovela spoof, starring Dawson and Wilmer Valderrama, who also directed. Called “La Pasion de la Decision”–“the passion of the decision”–the mini-novela comes in four parts and focuses on perhaps the most common theme in al Spanish-language drama…er, voter reg?

In addition to Valderrama and Dawson, it also features the talents of Tony Plana, Mayte Garcia, and Nick Zando. At the risk of encouraging more make out scenes with Valderrama and Dawson, here are the four “episodes.”

p.s. I’ll be nice and tag this as “Entertainment.”

UPDATE (7-25-08):  See the People Magazine story on Dawson and Voto Latino.

What is the difference between a “legal” and “illegal” immigrant?

Let me offer an answer to the above question in two versions, one short and direct and the other much longer but more explanatory.

The difference is “race.”

In the most literal of senses, with respect to race, the United States is an ignorant nation. We lack accurate, complex, and meaningful knowledge of race, as it relates to both our past and present. Put more directly, we don’t understand race. And we don’t understand how to dismantle its negative effects on everyday life.

Indeed, our ignorance nurtures a condition in which any collective ability to create a more equitable and humane society along these lines is almost instantly derailed. This is not for lack of good intentions, but for lack of deep understanding. Those united in some form of struggle against racism often do not know what it is they fight against and, accordingly, find themselves unable make true progress. Others, ignorant of the myriad ways they cling to and feed the very monster they hope to kill, end up serving their foe more than the cause of freedom.

[You may be thinking here, “What about the Civil Rights movement?” For the sake of time, I defer to Shirley Chisholm’s bold words on the subject, published in her 1971 biography, Unbought and Unbossed. Find it in a library somewhere and all will become clear.]

As a teacher, and as a historian, I view the alteration of this condition as difficult but by no means impossible. All ignorance is curable; it is the most curable of all social ills. The great healer—education—is not as accessible as it should be, nor as enriching as it must, but that, too, is changeable. Our biggest collective advantage, I hope, is that most of “us” thirst for enlightenment, for experiences helping each to better understand their self and others.

Unfortunately, that thirst is often at the heart of our ignorance. Absent exposure to and training in critical analysis, we turn to what we can find, the “truth” sold to us from politicians, pundits, and the status quo. We reiterate the things we hear from others that sound good to us (often what seems “new” or “unique”), that help us bolster what it is we want to think, that help us defend who we think we are. Instead of truth, we unwittingly become purveyors of fear, of desire, of ignorance.

I am not speaking here of “the uneducated.” Academics, scholars, and the so-called “educated” populate “the army of the ignorant” as frequently as any. They even occupy a disproportionate share of its “four-star generals.” But some, a growing number I’d like to think, are also the embodiment of the ideas and practices that will liberate us all. These scholars join the larger body of people from almost all walks of life, many without a “traditional education,” who provide flesh to the bone of idealism—movement.

I don’t pretend to wield all the weapons in the fight against this ignorance, but I know I can work a few. As a historian, one of the reliable tools I can turn to is context. A sense of how what we know of our present is part of a given time and place, both of which are connected to a time before, is, itself, a form of critical analysis. Such a position helps us to question what we may “naturally” think, to investigate it anew—hold it suspended and apart as well as fluid and interconnected. In the end, we don’t question to question, but to better understand. Even if you end up at the same position, it will never be the same conclusion.

So how does this relate to our question?

In the early part of the twentieth century, Mexican nationals began entering the United States in growing numbers as they fled the economic and political dislocation of the Mexican Revolution. Newspapers of the Southwest described this movement as an “invasion,” with one describing the migrants as “a horde of the copper-colored natives of the war-torn republic.” Such accounts are not hard to locate in the historical record, forming as they do the majority of the printed responses to the historical phenomenon.

Despite this clear racialized fear, these “invaders” entered the U.S. legally. The condition of this legality had little to do with them but everything to do with the United States. In this period, the U.S. erected no meaningful barriers to the entrance of immigrants—the one great exception being Chinese, who were formally banned from migration beginning in 1882, bestowing upon those who managed to circumvent this law the distinction of being this nation’s first “illegal immigrant.” Irish, Italian, English, German, and, yes, even Mexican migrants found little impediment to their movement and integration into the national economy. They fulfilled an economic need, and were often believed to be biologically suited to the kinds of labor asked of them.

(In fact, regional business interests often facilitated the migrants’ movement and integration. These interests created mechanisms to advertise lucrative job opportunities to populations of prospective migrant workers. They often paid or provided for their transportation, and met them at the depot with promises of employment or a contractor who would connect them to the need.)

All this would change in the 1920s, as the U.S. moved to create a bureaucratic structure to implement the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act, also known as the “Quota Act.” The crowning jewel in a crown of racist fear, the law sought to advantage northern European immigrants (English, Scandinavians) at the expense of the “swarthy” immigrant (Italian, Jewish, Greek, etc.). Ideas of racial fitness dictated that the very same migrant from a year or two before must now be considered “illegal.”

However, yet again, Mexicans did not find themselves part of this racist legislation. Migrants in the western hemisphere were exempted from quota in the 1924 act. Though the new bureaucracy of the Border Patrol did create a mechanism for “legal” passage (payment of a fee, proof of literacy and good health), accounts of border enforcement in the era often reveal regulation to entail nothing more than acquiescence to the demand “Show me your hands Mex.” Western capitalism both “protected” Mexican migrants and took advantage of them, securing their exemption from the law to assure their steady movement into the fields, rail yards, and factories of the region.

This “protection” would not survive the Great Depression, though the integration of Mexican labor into the regional economy did not alter course much over the century as a whole. Mexicans found themselves increasingly targeted by both legislation and regulatory practice, exemplified by such postwar round up efforts as “Operation Wetback.”

History and an understanding of context shatters our collective ability to view the distinction of “legal” and “illegal” immigrant as something contained within the actions of the immigrants themselves. These terms carry weight as they are given bureaucratic form—by the receiving nation of the United States. Even in the modern context, it is the U.S. who determines the context of “legal” crossing, creating numerical barriers delineating the “legal” from the “illegal” while massaging an economic system into continuing to find ways to seek their employment, in either case.

This is not to say people do not make their decision to cross the border in a context of awareness of the legality (or illegality) of their actions. But it is to say that is a context not, largely, of their making.

Our ignorance of these realities does more than obscure understanding. Every time we complain about the high cost of lettuce or a tomato, when we expect low service costs in hotels or janitorial work, when we become indifferent to the obliteration of union jobs, we actually help nurture the context.

Indeed, as James Baldwin once wrote of this nation’s majority, “It is their innocence which constitutes the crime.”