Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former president of South Africa, turned 90 years old today.  Few historic figures embody the full measure of their myth.  Mandela, in many ways, exceeds his.

For a fascinating look into his life as a revolutionary listen to this audio profile from NPR.  It not only provides you with a glimpse into some of South Africa’s history but also a brief example of the equally potent white supremacy in the West, clouding their interpretation of events and structuring their lack of meaningful involvement.

Is McCain’s “Latino” Ad Offensive?

The McCain campaign released a new TV ad last week, one that is stirring up some controversy in the blogosphere. The ad, titled “God’s Children,” is featured in both English and with Spanish subtitles and describes the historic and present-day contributions Latinos have made on the front lines of this nation’s wars.

Using McCain’s remarks at the June 5, 2007 Republican Primary Debate, the piece concludes with McCain saying “So let’s, from time to time, remember that these are God’s children. They must come into our country legally, but they have enriched our culture and our nation as every generation of immigrants before them.”

You can watch the English version below:

Access the version with Spanish subtitles here.

Some have called the ad “offensive” and “paternalistic.” In her recent post, Marisa Treviño of Latina Lista called the ad out for its suggestion that most Latinos in the U.S. and in the military are immigrants. She accurately noted how the ad works from the “false assumption that all Latinos are recent immigrants” in making its point that “they” are “God’s children.” She calls for the Hispanic/Latino politicos out there to demand the removal of the ad from the airwaves.

On The Huffington Post, M.S. Bellows, Jr. wrote:

But McCain’s attitude also is paternalistic, and underlying his comments is the archaic, imperialist sense of noblesse oblige — the assumption that even though God chose, sadly, to make “them” (either the lower classes or some variety of colonized people) inferior to “us,” we still have a moral duty to be kind to them and to recognize whatever good qualities they may have. Even the sentence structure of the ad — that the subject (whites) should think nice things about the object (Latinos) — is colonial.

I think both of them provide good analyses of the ad, hopefully in ways that help us all think about these media bites in more nuanced and critical ways. But, I’m not so sure the ad is mistakenly practicing the kind of colonialist thought and rhetorical simplification of which they accuse it.

Upon first watching the ad my first thought was “What a conscious manipulation of white paternalism.” (I know! Academia really messes with your analytical habits.) I didn’t see the ad as misstepping but rather trying to walk the big “white” line of “interlocutor for the oppressed.” John McCain is speaking to Latinos in the ad by, literally, demonstrating how he speaks about us to a broader white public. He is talking down an illogical white hysteria with respect to immigration, celebrating Latino patriotism and service, and using the notion of God to create a sense of humanism. This is made even more powerfully clear by the venue of his remarks–a gathering of Republicans from a year ago–and the careful cuts to the audience (of serious whites) left in the ad.

I certainly agree that McCain is working from the assumption that Latinos=immigrants, negating the historic presence of Latinos in this nation before, well, it was a nation. As the Pew Hispanic Center shows us in their compilation report from earlier this year (see Table 3), about 60% of the Latino population in the U.S. is “native born,” that is, born here. When I saw this mistaken belief used as the foundational assumption of the ad, however, I interpreted it as seizing the dominant rhetoric in order to focus on the most oppressed and powerless among us (Latinos), which suggests his “authentic” posture.

McCain speaks generally about people with “Hispanic backgrounds” as participating in patriotic service to the maintenance of this “blessed nation.” He begins by noting that service by the most severe and dramatic of its indications–one’s life given in combat.  In playing up the martial tradition of Latinos, McCain ‘s ad massages those impulses within the Latino community, impulses that have deep roots.  It not only comes off as respectful of “values” and history within the Latino populace, but it also (because of the setting and context of the commercial) translates into him publicly recognizing Latinos as “Americans.”

The conclusion uses the language of Christian conservativism to elucidate a kind of humanism, again, directed at whites but relating to Latinos.  Latinos become both “people” and religious at the same time.

I am not a political fan of John McCain, and I am not swayed at all by his most recent commercial.  I do, however, see it as a potentially effective ad.  It won’t win votes from many of “us” (Latino leftists) but it can speak widely to the broad base of the so-called “Latino electorate.”  In its conscious attempt to win Latino votes by showing how John McCain can competently work as an intermediary between the anti-Latino America and the one of Latino aspiration, it is paternalistic, yes, but in a way too many of us might desire in a political leader.

Text of McCain Speech to La Raza

Here are John McCain’s remarks (as made available from his website) delivered at the recent annual convention of the National Council of La Raza.

Interestingly, when Barack Obama delivers a speech, his campaign makes the text available on their website, let’s people know he’s giving the speech on Twitter, and then posts a video of it on YouTube. When McCain speaks, his people just put the text up on his website. Oh well…

Remarks by John McCain at the 2008 National Council of La Raza Convention

July 14, 2008

ARLINGTON, VA — U.S. Senator John McCain will deliver the following remarks as prepared for delivery to the 2008 National Council of La Raza Convention in San Diego, CA, today at 12:45 p.m. PT (3:45 p.m. ET):

Thank you, Jane, for that kind introduction. Thank you, also to the leadership of the National Council of La Raza, and its board of directors. I’m very pleased to be with you again to discuss some of the issues in this campaign that most concern you. As you know, this isn’t my first address to La Raza. I’m proud to have worked hard over the years with many friends here and elsewhere to make sure Americans of Hispanic heritage are appreciated for their contributions to the prosperity, security and culture of the United States, and to improve opportunities for your continued success, not for your sake alone but for the benefit of the entire nation. I also want to thank La Raza’s former CEO, Raul Yzaguirre, for being here today, and for the privilege of over twenty years of friendship and counsel he has so generously given me. And to my fellow Arizonans here today, who have given me the great honor of serving you in the United States Senate, thank you from the bottom of my heart. With your votes, advice and encouragement you have helped me to be a better public servant and a better American, and I am in your debt.

There are several issues I want to discuss today, but let me begin with the one that concerns all Americans the most — our economy. Over 400,000 people have lost their jobs since December, and the rate of new job creation has fallen sharply. Americans are worried about the security of their current job, and they’re worried that they, their kids and their neighbors may not find good jobs and new opportunities in the future. To make matters worse, gas is over $4 a gallon and the price of oil has nearly doubled in the last year. The cost of everything from energy to food is rising.

I have a plan to grow the economy, create more and better jobs, and get America moving again. I have a plan to reform government, achieve energy security, and ensure that healthcare and a quality education are affordable and available for all. I believe the role of government is to unleash the creativity, ingenuity and hard work of the American people, and make it easier to create jobs.

At its core, the economy isn’t the sum of an array of bewildering statistics. It’s about where Americans work, how they live, how they pay their bills today and save for tomorrow. It’s about small businesses opening their doors, hiring employees and growing. It’s about giving workers the education and training to find a good job and prosper in it. It’s about the aspirations of the American people to build a better life for their families; dreams that begin with a job.

So how are we going to create good jobs? Let’s start with small businesses, which create the majority of all jobs. A recent report says small businesses have created 233,000 jobs so far this year while other sectors are losing jobs. Small businesses are the job engine of America, and I will make it easier for them to grow and create more jobs. There are two million Latino owned businesses in America, many of them started by Latinas. The first consideration we should have when debating tax policy is how we can help those companies grow and increase the prosperity of the millions of American families whose economic security depends on their success.

It is a terrible mistake to raise taxes during an economic downturn. Increasing the tax burden on Americans impedes job growth, discourages innovation and makes us less competitive. The many small business owners who pay individual tax rates would take strong exception to the idea that keeping them low helps no one but the wealthiest Americans. Taking more money from small businesses deprives them of the capital they need to invest and grow and hire. Jobs are the most important thing our economy creates. When you raise taxes in a bad economy you eliminate jobs. I’m not going to let that happen, I will keep taxes low and cut them where I can. For those of you with children, I will double the child deduction from $3500 to $7000 for every dependent, in every family in America. I will reduce the estate tax to fifteen percent, so parents who have spent long years working hard to build a business, and provide a decent living to t heir employees, can leave the product of a lifetime of labor and love to their children.

La Raza runs one of the largest housing counseling programs in the country that has helped tens of thousands of Latinos become homeowners with secure mortgages. But millions of Americans have been hurt by the mortgage crisis and falling home values, and many in the Hispanic community have been especially hard hit. I want to help people who genuinely need assistance in these tough times, not speculators and lenders who contributed to this mess and didn’t follow the basics of good business practice. I am committed to making sure families who want to hold onto their home have a chance to do so. My HOME plan allows families who need help to apply — either at their local Post Office or online — for a new, guaranteed, fixed-rate, 30-year mortgage that will allow them to remain in their home, and raise their family with dignity.

To get our economy on track again, and create new and better jobs, we need to compete more, not less, in the global economy. We can’t build walls to foreign competition, and we shouldn’t want to. America is the biggest exporter, importer, producer, manufacturer, and innovator in the world. That’s why I reject the false virtues of economic isolationism. Any confident, competent country and its government should embrace competition – it makes us stronger – not hide from our competitors and cheat our consumers and workers. We can compete and win, as we always have, or we can be left behind. Lowering barriers to trade creates more and better jobs, and higher wages. It keeps inflation under control. It makes goods more affordable for low- and middle-income consumers. Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers live outside the U.S. Our future prosperity depends on opening more of these markets, not closing them.

I recently traveled to Colombia and Mexico because I understand how vitally important it is to the prosperity and security of our country to strengthen our trade, investment and diplomatic ties to other countries in our hemisphere. I have often traveled over the years to Central and South America, and I have learned our relationships there are as important, if not more important, as any relationships we have in the world. It is the reason why I’m an unapologetic supporter of NAFTA, the Central American Free Trade Agreement, and the Colombian Free Trade Agreement, and why I believe a hemispheric free trade agreement is a worthy and necessary goal whose time has come. And while it is surely not my intention to become my opponent’s scheduler, I hope Senator Obama soon visits some of the other countries of the Americas for the first time. Were he to do so, I think he, too, would see that stronger economic bonds with our neighbo rs and the closer friendships they encourage, are a great benefit in many ways to our country. Colombian President Uribe, a man of courage and vision, has risked much to combat the narco-terrorists of FARC for the sake of all peoples in this hemisphere. His recent leadership in freeing Americans held hostage for years should earn him the respect and gratitude of all Americans. And we should emulate his statesmanship by passing the trade agreement Colombia and the United States have negotiated, and which both countries would greatly benefit from.

I know that not all Americans have prospered in the global economy. And for those who, through no fault of their own, have lost their job to foreign competition, I have proposed a comprehensive reform of our unemployment insurance and worker retraining programs. We will use our community colleges to help train workers for specific opportunities in their communities. And for workers of a certain age who have lost a job that won’t come back, if they move rapidly to a new job we’ll help make up the difference in wages between their old job and the new one.

In the global economy what you learn is what you earn. Today, studies show that half of Hispanics entering high school do not graduate with their class. By the 12th grade, U.S. students in math and science score near the bottom of all industrialized nations. Many parents fear their children won’t have the same opportunities they had. That is unacceptable in a country as great as ours. In many schools, particularly where people are struggling the hardest, the situation is dire, and I believe poses the civil rights challenge of our time. We need to shake up failed school bureaucracies with competition; hold schools accountable for results; strengthen math, science, technology and engineering curriculums; empower parents with choice; remove barriers to qualified instructors, attract and reward superior teachers, and have a fair but sure process to weed out incompetents. I’m a strong believer in charter schools. La Raza has hel ped establish 50 new charter schools and the results they are producing are very encouraging. Hispanics work hard and sacrifice a lot because their most cherished dreams are the ones they hold for their children. You understand the importance of early childhood development and the active role parents must play in their children’s education to make sure they graduate on time and with an excellent opportunity to live happy and prosperous lives. You deserve a greater say in deciding how your children are educated, and I am committed to making sure you do.

Let me address one other issue important to all of us. As you know, I and many other colleagues twice attempted to pass comprehensive immigration legislation to fix our broken borders; ensure respect for the laws of this country; recognize the important economic contribution of immigrant laborers; apprehend those who came here illegally to commit crimes; and deal practically and humanely with those who came here, as my distant ancestors did, to build a better, safer life for their families, without excusing the fact they came here illegally or granting them privileges before those who have been waiting their turn outside the country. Many Americans did not believe us when we said we would secure our borders, and so we failed in our efforts. I don’t want to fail again to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. We must prove we have the resources to secure our borders and use them, while respecting the dignity and rights of citizens and legal residents of the United States. When we have achieved our border security goal, we must enact and implement the other parts of practical, fair and necessary immigration policy. We have economic and humanitarian responsibilities as well, and they require no less dedication from us in meeting them.

Several years ago, the leading newspaper in my state published an article putting faces on the tragic human costs of illegal immigration, and I would like to briefly quote from it:

“Maria Hernandez Perez was No. 93. She was almost 2. She had thick brown hair and eyes the color of chocolate.

“Kelia Velazquez-Gonzales, 16, carried a Bible in her backpack. She was No. 109

“John Doe, No. 143, died with a rosary encircling his neck. His eyes were wide open.”

We can’t let immigrants break our laws with impunity. We can’t leave our borders undefended. But these people are God’s children, who wanted simply to be Americans, and we cannot forget the humanity God commands of us as we seek a remedy to this problem.

I spoke recently at both the NALEO and LULAC conferences, as did Senator Obama. I did not use those occasions to criticize Senator Obama. I would prefer not to do so today. But he suggested in his speeches there and here, that I turned my back on comprehensive reform out of political necessity. I feel I must, as they say, correct the record. At a moment of great difficulty in my campaign, when my critics said it would be political suicide for me to do so, I helped author with Senator Kennedy comprehensive immigration reform, and fought for its passage. I cast a lot of hard votes, as did the other Republicans and Democrats who joined our bipartisan effort. So did Senator Kennedy. I took my lumps for it without complaint. My campaign was written off as a lost cause. I did so not just because I believed it was the right thing to do for Hispanic Americans. It was the right thing to do for all Americans. Senator Obama declined t o cast some of those tough votes. He voted for and even sponsored amendments that were intended to kill the legislation, amendments that Senator Kennedy and I voted against. I never ask for any special privileges from anyone just for having done the right thing. Doing my duty to my country is its own reward. But I do ask for your trust that when I say, I remain committed to fair, practical and comprehensive immigration reform, I mean it. I think I have earned that trust.

Let me close by expressing my respect and gratitude for the contributions of Hispanic-Americans to the culture, economy and security of the country I have served all my adult life. I represent Arizona where Spanish was spoken before English was, and where the character and prosperity of our state owes a great deal to the many Arizonans of Hispanic descent who live there. And I know this country, which I love more than almost anything, would be the poorer were we deprived of the patriotism, industry and decency of those millions of Americans whose families came here from other countries in our hemisphere. Latinos are among the hardest working most productive people in our country. The strength of your religious faith and the strength and closeness of your families are a great force for social stability and individual happiness. In my recent visit to Mexico, I visited the Shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and was greatly mov ed by the experience, and came to appreciate all the more your deep devotion to the God who created us and loves us all equally. I will honor your contributions to America for as long as I live. We would not be the special country we are without you.

I know many of you are Democrats, and many of you would usually vote for the presidential candidate of that party. I know I must work hard to win your votes, but you have always given me a respectful hearing, and I appreciate it. I know many of you were disappointed and hurt by those who used the debate on immigration last year, not to respectfully debate the issue, as most did, but to denigrate the contributions of Hispanics to our great country. I denounced those insults then, and I denounce them today. My friends, you know me. One of my proudest achievements as a politician is to have won 75 percent of the Hispanic vote in Arizona in my last re-election. I believe I’m the only member of the Senate to have twice won your Congressional Leadership Award, a distinction I am also very proud of. Senator Obama is a fine man, and an inspiring public figure. All Americans should be proud of his success. I also greatly admire Sena tor Hillary Clinton, and value her friendship. She, too, would have been a very worthy opponent. But I intend to compete for your votes by continuing to earn your trust.

When I was in prison in Vietnam, I like other of my fellow POWs, was offered early release by my captors. Most of us refused because we were bound to our code of conduct, which said those who had been captured the earliest had to be released the soonest. My friend, Everett Alvarez, a brave American of Mexican descent, had been shot down years before I was, and had suffered for his country much more and much longer than I had. To leave him behind would have shamed us. When you take the solemn stroll along that wall of black granite on the national Mall, it is hard not to notice the many names such as Rodriguez, Hernandez, and Lopez that so sadly adorn it. When you visit Iraq and Afghanistan you will meet some of the thousands of Hispanic-Americans who serve there, and many of those who risk their lives to protect the rest of us do not yet possess the rights and privileges of full citizenship in the country they love so well. To love your country, as I discovered in Vietnam, is to love your countrymen. Those men and women are my brothers and sisters, my fellow Americans, an association that means more to me than any other. As a private citizen or as your President, I will never, never do anything to dishonor our obligations to them and their families or to forget what they and their ancestors have done to make this country the beautiful, bountiful, blessed place we love.

Thank you.

On the whole, it’s not a bad speech. While it does not have the rhetorical craft of Obama’s speech to the same group–a speech that made a special effort to speak to Latinos simultaneously as an address of a candidate and as an “insider” in the “nonwhite in America” club–McCain’s speech does address the issues of most interest to the so-called “Latino electorate.” (At least when it exists in poll form.)

Beyond using this chance to deliver what is a more than typical campaign speech, McCain also made clear and direct efforts to speak to Latino politicos in ways that were respectful and, at times, empathetic. His close is especially strong.

I suspect if he stays on track with this message (in particular the deference to service, sacrifice, and patriotism) he just may get a decent share of those older generation Mexican Americans out there.

I have to remember that a lot of blog traffic is post by post, and many of the people who stop by to read are doing so for just one post.  I will try to be more attentive to not assuming everyone knows my own interests, analytical assumptions, and biases.

So, just to clear up any confusion, while I think McCain may have been “effective” in his above speech, I do not find it personally persuasive or even humane.  His reliance on trade as a form of economic policy is great in the abstract, but it is the kind of trade he and others lobby for that is disastrous to humanity.  His kind of trade is the kind that destroys the ability of millions of people “south of the border” to make a living.  In turn, a percentage of those dislocated workers will become migrant who head to where there is work, north.

I would say that this is the modern day version of U.S. empire building, but that would be wrong.  As any historian of U.S.-Latin American relations could tell you, the economic has always been the foundation of U.S. empire-building.

Obama Visits La Raza

The National Council of La Raza began their annual convention this past weekend. Barack Obama, Democratic nominee for President, addressed the gathering this past Saturday. It is the first time a major party nominee has addressed this gathering.

Watch the video of the speech below.

Obama spent most of his time drawing a connection between his grassroots experience and that of the collection of Latino advocates in attendance. It struck me as a subtle and building refrain suggesting the common bonds between communities of color in the United States.  To compliment his speech of public empathy, he also addressed immigration, the war (including benefits for veterans), and health care: all issues that rank highly within the Latino electorate.  He presented each with a turn toward the working class.

John McCain will address the group today.

Jóse Canseco Gets Knocked Out

Why here? Well, he’s a cubano, if that helps…

Steroid king and all-around jackass Jóse Canseco got himself knocked out last Saturday night in an exhibition boxing match held to help him get out of debt.

You can read or watch the story at this link from ESPN. Believe it or not, they filed it under “Boxing.”

Señorita Universe: Latinas Dominate 2008 Miss Universe

Dayana Mendoza of Venezuela has been crowned the 2008 Miss Universe. It is the fifth time the “honor” has been bestowed upon the oil-rick nation.

In addition, four of this year’s top ten were from Latin America: Dayana Mendoza (Venezuela); Elisa Najera (México); Taliana Vargas (Colombia); and Marianne Cruz (Dominican Republic). Also in the top ten was Claudia Moro from Spain.

I don’t want to make a big thing out of this, I mean, after all, it’s a beauty pageant. The whole thing is not only offensive to me as an ally of feminist movement, it kind of offends me as an aficionado of popular culture. I mean, beauty pageant? What is this, 1950? The fact that Donald Trump now owns the franchise is a solid indicator of where it ranks in my book.

But don’t be fooled. The thing is big news in much of the rest of the world. For an assortment of nations who often visibly struggle due to the presence of the U.S. in their political and economic arenas, any victory on the global stage is celebrated. At the same time, these kinds of contests are inseparable from the strong currents of patriarchy which find a home in both the U.S. and Latin America. Displaying “your women” and selecting the most beautiful in competition is a substantive vindication of the patriarchal impulse; It is, in this sense, a victory for men more than women.

Historically, the Latin American contestants have most often been reflective of the kinds of standards of beauty common in the United States and western Europe. What Alfred Crosby might have called a “neo-European” look, and what you and I might just call “white.” This says a lot about the power of “the West” to dictate cultural standards on the global stage. It’s a kind of cultural imperialism when you think about it.

This year’s winner is not fully the embodiment of the indigenous and other “non-white” majority of Latin America but she is neither a blond, “neo-European” beauty queen. She is far more reflective of the kinds of people living in Latin America.

Could we consider this a kind of bump back at U.S. cultural hegemony?

For some of the coverage in Latin America, see El Nacional and El Universal.

Alfred Arteaga (1950-2008)

Poet, teacher, advocate, and friend Alfred Arteaga passed away on July 4th. Loved ones celebrated his life and work at a memorial service this past Saturday. Those of you who had the pleasure of crossing his path at UC Berkeley know what a humorous and caring person he was. He will most certainly be missed.

Here is the obituary released by the campus.

Poet Alfred Arteaga, professor of Chicano and ethnic studies, dies at 58

By Rachel Tompa, Media Relations; 11 July 2008

BERKELEY – Alfred Arteaga, renowned poet and professor of Chicano and ethnic studies at the University of California, Berkeley, died on July 4 of a heart attack at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Santa Clara. He was 58.

Arteaga was a pioneer in post-colonial and ethnic minority literature studies and an important early Chicano movement poet. He was an expert on the works of Shakespeare and the Mexican poet Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz. Arteaga originally joined the UC Berkeley faculty in 1990 as an assistant professor of English and was tenured in the Department of Ethnic Studies in 1998.

Arteaga was interested in the collisions of different cultures and the resulting mixtures. His early focus on the Renaissance eventually merged with his later work on Chicano literature, particularly the merging of Western and indigenous influences in the Americas after European colonization as reflected in language and literature. His studies and teaching focused on the contributions of contemporary Chicano literature and music to American culture. He drew attention to the hybrid culture of Chicano writers by focusing on their hybrid use of language.

“He was really a renaissance man,” said Laura Pérez, associate professor of Chicano and ethnic studies at UC Berkeley. “But in contrast to most people, he not only mastered a European education, but he had a profound knowledge of indigenous traditions, philosophies and aesthetics of the pre-Columbian world.”

Arteaga’s most recent book of poetry, “Frøzen Accident” (2006), “is absolutely brilliant and his masterpiece,” Pérez said. “It’s very bold, daring and successful.” In the book, Pérez said, Arteaga stages a conversation between Western and pre-Columbian schools of thought around the meaning of life, the possibility of truth and the uncertainty of the afterlife, concluding that art and poetry triumph over nihilist philosophy and are the closest we can come to obtaining truth. “I feel that his work is an embodiment of that,” she said. “He infused his insights as an artist into his studies as a scholar.”

On a personal level, Arteaga was a warm man, Pérez said. “He was a very beautiful, very large- hearted, generous human being. He was loved and respected by his students as a caring mentor and by his colleagues as a collegial man with an easy laugh.”

Beatriz Manz, chair of the Department of Ethnic Studies at UC Berkeley, agreed. “He always seemed to have a permanent smile on his face,” Manz wrote in an e-mail. “His students loved him. His office was a few doors away from mine, and I always had to contend with students sitting on the floor outside his office and maneuver walking over a dozen stretched-out legs.”

Arteaga won several awards, including the PEN Oakland/Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence in 1998 for his book of essays, “House with the Blue Bed” (1997). He also received a National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship in poetry in 1995.

Besides “Frøzen Accident,” Arteaga published four other collections of poetry, “Zero Act” (2006), “Red” (2000), “Love in the Time of Aftershocks” (1998) and “Cantos” (1991). His poem “Corrido Blanco” from “Cantos” was memorialized as part of the Berkeley Poetry Walk, a collection of poems set in cast-iron panels in the sidewalk on Addison Street in the city of Berkeley. A sixth collection of Arteaga’s poetry will be published posthumously, Pérez said. Arteaga also published a book on literary theory, “Chicano Poetics: Heterotexts and Hybridities” (1997) and edited “An Other Tongue: Nation and Ethnicity in the Linguistic Borderlands” (1994), a collection of essays.

Arteaga began writing poetry at the age of 8, said his daughter, Mireya Arteaga. His love of music and his passion for the written word were always entwined, she said.

Pérez said Arteaga had many interests outside of poetry – he loved to travel and spoke and read many languages, including Spanish, English, French, Portuguese and Latin. His daughter said he was well-versed in every topic she could think of. “There wasn’t a question I could ask him that he didn’t know the answer to, from cars to language to travel to food to foreign language to science to geography to current events to movie trivia,” she said. “Not once in my 29 years of life, or my sisters’ 30-plus years, did we ever stump him.”

Alfred Arteaga was born in 1950 in Los Angeles. He received a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Columbia University in 1974, and a master’s degree and doctorate in literature from UC Santa Cruz in 1984 and 1987, respectively. Before coming to UC Berkeley in 1990, he was an assistant professor of English at the University of Houston for three years.

In 1999, Arteaga suffered a massive heart attack and spent six weeks in a coma. He recovered, but had another heart attack in 2005. In 2006, he traveled to Thailand, where doctors cultivated Arteaga’s stem cells from his blood and injected them into his heart in an experimental procedure that was an alternative to a heart transplant. His family and friends organized several poetry reading benefits for this procedure.

Arteaga is survived by his daughters, Marisol Arteaga and Xochitl Arteaga of Los Angeles and Mireya Arteaga of Aptos; sisters, Tisa Reeves and Rebecca Olsen of San Jose; mother, Lillian Wilding of San Jose; and two grandchildren.

A campus memorial service is being planned for the early fall.

Immigration Equality

I recently came across this website for the organization Immigration Equality. They are a national organization working on issues of equality for LGBT and HIV-positive immigrants.

This is valuable humanistic work, for a sector of the immigrant population that is often ignored. I am reminded of the complex processes of culture and nation which lead some to become “sexiles” (from Manuel Guzmán’s 1997 article “Pa’ la escuelita con mucho cuida’o y por la orillita’: A Journey through the Contested Terrains of the Nation and Sexual Orientation”).  The work of this organization reminds us all that the journey to a new home is also often a mixed solution in itself.

If you don’t want to donate to the cause, at least check out their blog.

The “Border Beat” (July 11, 2008)

Summertime in the borderlands comes with the good and the reminders of the not-so-good.  This week saw Barack Obama and John McCain compete over who loves Latinos more; it saw the premiere of the documentary “The Ballad of Esequiel Hernandez”; and it saw, well, is seeing my dear California burn all over the place.

Here’s some more from the headlines and bylines of Latinolandia…

  • Mexicans are becoming U.S. citizens in growing numbers…I can just hear Pat Buchanan saying “I told you so!” (Los Angeles Times);
  • Coverage of Obama’s and McCain’s speeches to LULAC (Boston Globe);
  • Another professor has nice humanistic things to say about Latinos (San Francisco Chronicle);
  • The U.S. seems ambivalent about immigration because, in fact, they are ambivalent! (Gallup.com);
  • Debate over the cause of the Latino decline in Prince William makes it look like a snapshot of the issues facing us everywhere (Washington Post).

The first and the last stories stand out this week in large measure for the unresolved questions that linger from their twin contexts.  Mexican immigrants–who for various reasons haven’t been as large a share of the new citizen pie as many would like–are becoming U.S. citizens in rising numbers.  This has multiple potential consequences.  First, depending on where many choose to live, they help to reinvigorate the national culture as they present yet another challenge to the ingrained (and often muted) addiction to the notion that “American” is “white.”  Second, they will be a growing constituency of first time voters.  Third, if as the article notes this trend is largely due to the effective campaigns of grassroots organizations and Spanish-language media, then we got some new political power brokers in town.

The last article is an update to the continuing anti-immigrant saga that is Prince William.  This suburb of the D.C. metropolitan area has been a frequent topic on this blog.  This article wonders why the Latino population of the town is in such steep decline, presenting a local debate that uncovers a matrix of forces.   In the end, I can’t help noticing how much the place embodies the most pressing Latino issues nationwide, from the gross statements of prejudicial associations in the first paragraphs to the growing roster of Latino foreclosures.

Obama, Gay Marriage, and the Latino Vote

In his 2001 collection of articles titled Magical Urbanism: Latinos Reinvent the US Big City, author Mike Davis described Latinos as a political “sleeping dragon.” Contextualizing just some of their historic political disenfranchisement from a system that simply did not care about them or their interests and needs, and contrasting that with their emerging demographic growth, he saw them as a political force about to awaken.

I believe 2008 will be largely seen as that moment when the “sleeping dragon” awoke. From the current fixation on the issue of immigration; to a widespread and diverse anti-Latino racism fueling regulations meant to continue their marginalization; to a rash of federal raids nurturing fear and causing both emotional and economic hardship; to the two main political parties seeking to garner the votes of an unknown and little understood electorate, 2008 is shaping up to be the political “coming out”–or quinceañera–party for Latinos.

The question is, what will this dragon do? Will they support Obama or McCain? Will they lean to the left or to the right? Current polls suggest what Latino scholars and pundits have been suggesting for months now: the Latino support for Clinton will easily transfer to Obama in the fall election while McCain will post decent numbers due to his previous support for immigration reform.

But don’t be too sure. This quinceañera is anything but predictable. While you’ve seen the Obama “Sí Se Puede” video in Spanish, and can already imagine the growing excitement within certain quarters of the Latino electorate to elect a person of color to the “highest position in the land,” issues like gay marriage are competing to sway Latinos to the right this fall. All-in-all, the dragon may be scorching a few of us this November.

While most will see this year as the actual political emergence of Latinos, it is not. Latinos have been “announcing” their political presence for generations. But that voice has rarely been heard or measured in a national sense.

Latinos have been politically active since the United States invaded and conquered the northern two-fifths of their nation in the U.S.-Mexico War (1846-1848). In the wake of the military conquest came the political and economic conquest, a time of sustained marginalization and political disenfranchisement. Upper-class Mexicans often served as part of that process, trying to align themselves with the U.S. newcomers, often at the expense of the poor, laboring class of (most often mixed-race) Mexicans and Indians who made up the majority of the population. Those masses often engaged in informal kinds of political acts, like banditry, the creation of community organizations and institutions, and other forms of resistance. [See see Acuña 2006; Chávez-García 2004; Hurtado 1990; and Pitt1969]

In the early 20th century, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Mexicans organized trade unions, mutual aide societies, and political clubs throughout the U.S. In the 1920s middle-class professionals in Texas founded LULAC, an organization promoting both cultural and political assimilation of Mexican Americans into mainstream U.S. society. In the 1930s, a host of labor and political organizations protested the forced and illegal deportation of more than 125,000 Mexicans from the Southwest, most of which were legal, U.S.-born citizens. Beginning in the same period, Puerto Ricans in New York began to mobilize in East Harlem to have a political voice. They eventually secured educational rights for their children and, after WWII, helped elect a socialist to the House of Representatives. In the 1940s and 1950s a growing number of organizations like American G.I Forum, MAPA, and the CSO also fought to secure the political rights of Mexicans and Mexican Americans in a time of rising expectations and growing frustrations with a system that struggled to practice the “freedom and democracy” it preached. [See Acuña 2006; Whalen, et. al. 2005; Sánchez Korrol 1983]

In the 1960s, Mexican Americans and Puerto Ricans mobilized behind the first formal, national electorate endeavors seeking to register and win the support of Latino voters. These campaigns–called “Viva Kennedy” and, later, “Viva Johnson”–were the first time a presidential campaign reached out to Latinos. In the case of Kennedy in 1960, these efforts may have proved crucial to his victory, at the time, the slimmist in U.S. History.

From the 1960s onward, as the Democratic Party became the national party of Civil Rights in the realm of education, work, voting, and public housing, a kind of “Civil Rights Coalition” developed uniting most voters of color, with unionized working class voters, and others. It was not until the 1980s, and the candidacy of Ronald Regan, that any noticeable challenges were made to this coalition (as he chipped away at the working-class white base of the Democratic Party)

Latino Voters and the Recent Past
Though Regan supported and secured major immigration legislation (the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986), Latino voters remained largely Democratic with a handful of local exceptions. The 1990s further swayed them to the left as the Republican Party, in a host of both big states and border states, began supporting restrictive measures targeting Latinos and other populations of color. The various anti-Affirmative Action campaigns in California, Michigan, Texas, and Florida, as well as efforts like California’s Proposition 187, helped politically educate an electorate coming of age.

Bill Clinton received the benefit of these decades of political machinations in his election and reelection bids in the 1990s. In 1996, even after supporting legislation that militarized the border and increased border deaths by shocking degrees, he won the Latino vote handily. In Texas, he won more than three quarters of them. He won them in California. He even came close to winning the Cuban American vote, at the time still unquestionably Republican.

George Bush entered the national political arena with the reputation of a pro-Latino, border state governor. In 2000, that got him a respectable third of the Latino vote, this despite the Democratic Patry’s seemingly secure lock on raza. In 2004, much to everybody’s surprise, he was reelected with as much as 44% of the Latino electorate.

How did conservative begin to tap into Latino America? One way was gay marriage.

Before I go on it is important for me to clarify that Latinos are not any more homophobic than anyone else. If you are about to analyze the numbers of Latinos who are anti-gay marriage as proof of “these people’s homophobia,” just check yourself. Remember, Latinos–like white voters, Black voters, Native American voters, and Asian voters–are diverse in their beliefs and shortcomings.

Gay Marriage as a Conservative Electoral Strategy
Clearly, Karl Rove deserves a lot of credit with regards to Bush’s victory in 2004, both with Latino and non-Latino voters. Part of that strategy was to force the conservative base to come out, a bloc whose votes represent a small but solid margin upon which to build a victory in any number of swing states. One of the primary issues that brought them out was gay marriage.

In 11 states (some of them clear swing states), Republicans ran anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives, though in each case gay marriage was already illegal. This is an important thing to remember. This was a time when both federal and state laws effectively made these unions not only illegal, buy unlikely to become legal in the near future. The one exception was Massachusetts, which had recently become the first state to allow same-sex couples to marry.

Now the new exception is California. And California will be joined this fall by others in confronting new anti-gay marriage ballot initiatives in the polling booth. The states include Arizona, Florida, and possibly others. Arkansas has an initiative to ban same-sex couples from adopting.

Without question, Latinos–heavily Catholic and prone to conservative issues in the social arena–are among the constituencies of support for these homophobic measures. But they are also the same for other progressive measures, including the efforts to defeat these ballot initiatives.

Where will they fall?

The Outlook in 2008
As the Los Angeles Times and many others have reported, the results of a recent Gallup Poll show Obama beating McCain among likely Latino voters 62% to 29%. But these numbers are not fixed in stone. One of the issues that has the potential to sway Latino voters will be the issue of gay marriage.

This is an issue that can go both ways. While conservative homophobes may have an upper hand on the surface, the pro-egalitarian side of the debate also has the potential to resonate with Latinos. The question is, who will get to them first?

My great fear is that, in California and elsewhere, the coalitions fighting against these restrictive ballot measures won’t reach out in any organized and systematic way to Latino voters. This may be a huge mistake, because, I assure you, the other side already is.

The anti-gay marriage coalition is surprisingly diverse and, most importantly, grass roots. They are made up of small organizations, on the ground, who can reach out to and mobilize voters. They were ready to get their measure on the California ballot before the State Supreme Court even issued their decision on May 15th [see the San Francisco Chronicle article on this here]. And, as should be of no surprise to anyone following Latino politics and religion, a core constituency group of this grassroots coalition are Latino churches.

A list of the organizations composing the coalition in California can be found here. Among them are a host of Latinos and Latino organizations. The Alliance for Marriage, a national coalition responsible for the upcoming ballot proposition in California, includes even more. Their Board of Advisors includes a list of politically mobilized Latino evangelicals who are already beginning their efforts to win over Spanish-speaking voters this fall.

Latinos are in many ways less homophobic than the average U.S. American. This may surprise many people “north of the border,” but it is a strong lesson in the ability of homophobic practices to change to fit the circumstance. Latin American Catholicism is almost always less absolute than Anglo American Puritanism. That said, Latinos in the U.S. are also more religious than the typical U.S. American voter. The issue of gay marriage in 2008 may be the focal point upon which this vote pivots.