PETA is…just downright crazy!!

I’ve been a bit busy with life these past few weeks: aside from a final summer research trip, my wife and I are in the process of buying a house (escrow closes next week–yea!!), we’re starting to coordinate all the logistics of moving and repairs, and life with two little ones is always a little bit out of control. And, on top of that, give me five minutes these days and I usually spend it trying to cure my Olympic Fever. All that is to say, I haven’t had much time to blog, let alone keep up with my reading, both online and bound.

But I felt the need to poke my head out from the cave to share this little gem. Going through my back log of online articles and posts, I came across this stunningly odd post from the official blog of PETA–People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

PETA Warns Mexican-U.S. Border Crossers

No matter what your stance is on the highly controversial U.S.-Mexican border fence project, everyone can agree that those who decide to come to the U.S. should be warned about the downside of our nation’s meat and milk consumption habits. PETA is warning immigrants that there’s much more to worry about than proper documentation.

We’ve written a letter to the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection asking to buy space at each of the nine southwest border sectors for our new ad. Those considering entry will then read this message: “If the border patrol doesn’t get you, the chicken and burgers will. Go vegan” (or, in Spanish, “Si no te agarra la migra, te atraparan el pollo y las hamburguesas. Sé vegano”).

Spanish version Mexican Border Ad

English version Mexican Border Ad

By leaving behind a far healthier staple diet of vegetables and grains—like rice, beans, corn, peppers, and tortillas—Mexicans and other immigrants will likely find themselves fattening up on the fiberless, fatty, cholesterol-laden U.S. diet, which is linked to heart disease, various types of cancer, and strokes (our nation’s three biggest killers) as well as impotence (internationally recognized killer of the mood).

PETA’s placement of these colorful ads would certainly offset some of the tax dollars that fund the fence. It’s a winning solution for the folks at U.S. Customs and Border Protection, immigrants, and farmed animals alike!

At first I thought this was a joke. Alas, it appears to be real and genuine.

Then I got, well, a little mad. Here, I have to confess holding something of a mixed bag of views when it comes to political veganism, in particular when it is grounded on a kind of radical vision of animal rights. The anti-establishment and anti-corporate parts of me kind of like it, but the humanist is always a little bit concerned. When it comes down to animals before people (as it often but not always does), I find the stance not only problematic, but downright immoral. I feel the same way about this nation’s multi-billion dollar pet industry, at least with the people who daily show more compassion for their cat than for their fellow human beings.

So, PETA’s border education efforts struck me as symptomatic of U.S. cultural privilege. On the one hand, they are kindly showing concern for the health of others, but on the other, they are completely oblivious to the broader context framing that health: the struggle to meet basic needs in their own nation; a border which in its current militarized form makes their presence at it a perilous; an economic system which values them for their body at the expense of their needs as human beings; and the dietary struggles of life in poverty in the U.S.

Then I shared it with my wife, who always helps me think in less academic and more important ways. As she said, “Have they ever been to Mexico?” In 2003, we were traveling in Oaxaca. While walking in a fairly remote little village, we were amused to hear Eminem on the radio. I stopped in a small shop, which not only sold local crafts but an assortment of commercial snack cakes, many of which had U.S. roots.  Point is, U.S. culture travels as easily as U.S. corporate-sponsored obesity.  In fact, the Big Mac has a much easier time crossing the border than most people do.

Then I started to read the comments on this post!  Oh boy.

What people in this country think is Mexican food is as loaded and selective as what they think of Mexicans themselves.  I know there’s a context to this uninformed ignorance, but I ain’t got the time today.  Let me say, just to throw a little something into the mix, Latino health in the U.S. is both an issue of crisis and an issue of hope.  See the recent work of the Pew Hispanic Center and the significant work of David Hayes-Bautista if you need more.

I got to get back to the Olympics.

The Border Wall Grows Ahead of the Upcoming Election

This recent story from the AFP newswire provides an update on the construction of the infamous border wall. Intended to cover 670 mles of the more than 2000 mile-long border, the steel structure is 18 feet tall and constructed so you can see throgh but not climb.

If you think this wall is a solution to the so-called “immigration problem,” might I recommend the purchase of some magic beans I have collected over the years?

A border wall converts the phenomenon of immigration into a single, physical act, crossing from one side of an imaginary line to another.  Historically and now, nothing could be further from the truth.  Immigration is a process framed by the economic and political contexts of the nations involved.  It happens because of changes and transformations often far away from these imaginary lines.  It is a series of decision made for economic survival or betterment, decisions made in a specific context framed by the receiving nation in addition to the sending one.

Walls?  Walls do little in the long run, except for make some people feel the illusion of something different.  Economic equality, education, labor rights, equitable trade, and a host of other efforts are far more meaningful.

US races to erect controversial steel fence on Mexican border

EL PASO, Texas (AFP) — Just west of El Paso, near where Spanish conquistador Juan de Onate crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico in 1598, construction crews have completed a steel fence authorities say is a new model for border security.

The five-meter (18-foot) tall fence has a mesh woven so tightly that feet and fingers cannot grab hold, but it still allows people to see through. Steel pylons are set close enough to stop a truck from bursting through, and two meters of reinforced concrete underground deters any tunneling.

The structure is designed to push would-be illegal immigrants and drug smugglers out into the desert where they are more easily caught, said Border Patrol Agent Martin Hernandez.

“Will it completely stop them from coming across? Of course not,” Hernandez said. “Rest assured, there will eventually be holes in parts of the wall made by people trying to get in. But it buys us valuable time.”

The US Department of Homeland Security is racing to meet a December 31 deadline to raise 670 miles of steel fences and vehicle barriers along the 3,200 kilometer (2,000 mile) long southern border. About half has been completed, including this six kilometer (four mile) segment at New Mexico’s Santa Teresa Port of Entry.

But DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff faces a flurry of lawsuits by environmentalists and border communities that could stop construction cold.

To meet his deadline, Chertoff is using sweeping authority Congress granted in 2005 to waive 36 federal laws protecting water, air quality, endangered animals, and native American sites.

“The Great Wall of China did not stop the Mongols, and the Berlin Wall didn’t stop people escaping to freedom — why do they think this will be any different?” asked El Paso County Attorney Jose Rodriguez, the point man in one of the lawsuits.

The fence “is a political initiative meant to satisfy conservatives in Congress who have played to fears about all immigrants being terrorists, criminals, and living off the dole,” he fumed.

The overwhelming majority of the half-million people believed to cross the border ilegally each year are peaceful, mostly Mexicans seeking low-wage jobs. About 12 percent of those caught in the El Paso sector in 2007, Hernandez said, have a criminal background or were previously deported from the United States.

The El Paso lawsuit argues that Chertoff’s authority to waive federal law is unconstitutional. Dozens of groups have joined the suit, including the Tigua Indian tribe, which for centuries has held religious ceremonies on the banks of the Rio Grande, which marks the border between Texas and Mexico.

In El Paso, Chertoff’s waiver overrides local rules on managing land use, air quality, and river water. “We have no idea to what extent we can enforce our own laws,” said Rodriguez.

A separate lawsuit by Texas border mayors argues that Chertoff negotiated land prices in bad faith, failed to properly consult locals, and that landowners with connections to the US president — a former Texas governor — are getting special treatment.

Mexico is the second largest US trading partner after Canada, and border chambers of commerce involved in the lawsuit fear the immigration clampdown will hamper business.

Chertoff denies the charges, saying he is simply trying to complete what Congress ordered him to do. “The consequences of an open border are smuggling of drugs and human beings into this country,” he said in mid-May.

Is the security clampdown stopping illegal border crossers?

Many El Pasoans, including Fernando Garcia, head of the Border Network for Human Rights, note that the terrorists responsible for the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States did not cross the border with Mexico.

Yet the terrorist attacks “intensified and mixed anti-immigrant racist views with a law-enforcement-only approach towards immigration,” he said.

The result was an increase in border security, including a flood of new resources that saw the Border Patrol double in size from 2001 to a planned 18,000 by the end of 2008.

In some areas illegal crossers are prosecuted as criminals, jailed briefly then deported. “That has a very significant deterrent impact,” Chertoff said.

As a result, the Border Patrol reports a significant drop in the number of illegal border crossings this year compared to 2007, proof they say that increased enforcement works.

However those numbers represent only the number of people caught, immigration activists say.

“The main immigration flow has not stopped coming, it just shifted,” said Josiah Heyman, a University of Texas at El Paso border expert.

Surveys in central Mexico, the source of most illegal immigration, show that show that most people are aware of the border crackdown yet are still willing to venture north, Heyman said.

According to Garcia, ten years ago some 100 people died annually illegally crossing the border, most by dehydration in the desert or drowning as they tried to cross the Rio Grande.

The figure has been around 500 since the border crackdown intensified in 2005. “In other words, the same number or more people are crossing the border,” he claims.

He proposes handing between 60,000 and 100,000 temporary work visas a year to fill the US demand for cheap labor, then give the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country a way to legalize their status.

“The wall is symptomatic of the fact that the US is not responsive to a rational immigration policy,” Heyman said. “It is symbolic politics of paranoia.”

Outsiders fail to realize that residents have close family, business and historic ties to Mexico, border residents say.

El Paso Mayor John Cook is fond of saying the border unites, not divides, his city with neighboring Ciudad Juarez, forming a border metropolis of some 2.5 million people.

Agent Hernandez exemplifies the border’s complexities. He grew up in a heavily immigrant area of El Paso, is fluent in Spanish, and in his youth frequently visited Ciudad Juarez, where he has relatives.

Now he, and thousands of other Hispanic agents like him from the border region, keep illegal aliens and drug smugglers out of the country.

We’re Afraid of Race

The current political chatter is asking why Obama isn’t running away with his polling numbers by an even great margin.  No matter he is polling ahead.  No matter his numbers are as good as Democrats actually win in national elections for presidential (FDR and Truman excepted).

How’s that for white privilege?  McCain trails and he’s somehow winning.

CNN confronts the loaded question in the following video, which avoids that ways race is involved in both the asking and answering of it.  I’m not saying that he is where he is in the polls because American is racist, but race is undeniably a part.  We need to free ourselves from thinking of racism as some sort of purposeful prejudice and realize, that in a historic white supremacy, we can be nothing other than racist until we purposefully confront it.  Ignoring race is more racist than any affirmative prejudice.

CNN reports “43 % of Americans say they don’t relate to Obama’s background or values. In other words, to many, he’s unknown.”  Am I the only one that sees this as selective?

In other words, whites can’t relate to blacks because they have been indoctrinated to think of their experiences as so inherently different.  This isn’t something to ignore, but to confront, to discuss, and to push out of existence with purposeful action, not more ignorance.

The Death of Luis Ramirez and Shenandoah, PA

An updated post on the latest news relating to the trial can be found here.

The horrific murder of Luis Ramirez and the increasingly tragic story of the small town in which it took place are both featured in today’s New York Times.

Mexican’s Death Bares a Town’s Ethnic Tension
By Sean D. Hamill

SHENANDOAH, Pa. — Crystal Dillman knows that four teenagers have been charged in the death of her fiancé, Luis Ramirez, that the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department is monitoring the case and that most people in this small town in the Appalachian Mountains believe it was a horrible crime.

But Ms. Dillman, the mother of Mr. Ramirez’s two young children, is not sure justice will prevail.

“I think they might get off,” she said of the four teenagers, “because Luis was an illegal Mexican and these are ‘all-American boys’ on the football team who get good grades, or whatever they’re saying about them. They’ll find some way to let them go.”

The case has raised similar concerns among Latinos across the country.

“For many Latinos, this is a case of enough is enough,” said Gladys Limón, a staff lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund. “And it can help us get attention to the wider issue that this is happening all over the country, not just to illegal immigrants, but legal, and anyone who is perceived to be Latino.”

Mr. Ramirez, 25, who had been in the country illegally for six years, picking crops and working in factories, died July 14 from head injuries received two days earlier.

Investigators said he had gotten into a fight with a group of teenage boys — most or all of them members of the town’s high school football team, the Blue Devils — who left him unconscious in a residential street, foaming at the mouth.

Exactly what happened during the fight is still hotly debated on Internet message boards in Shen’doh, as the town is called, with some saying it was just a street fight that went bad, and others claiming the teenagers singled out a Mexican immigrant for a beating and made anti-Mexican remarks.

Since Mr. Ramirez’s death, this town of 5,600 has been bitterly divided over the case, illuminating ethnic tensions that surprised town leaders.

“I’ve heard things like, ‘We don’t want to send our kids back to school because we’re afraid people don’t like Mexicans,’ ” Mayor Thomas O’Neill said. “That’s shocking to me. That is not the Shenandoah I know.”

Prosecutors have charged Brandon Piekarski, 16, and Collin Walsh, 17, with homicide, ethnic intimidation and other counts in adult court, though their lawyers are trying to have the case moved to juvenile court.

Derrick Donchak, 18, was charged with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other counts, including providing liquor to the other boys on the night of the confrontation. All were members of the football team; Mr. Donchak was its starting quarterback.

A 17-year-old, whose name has not been released, was charged in juvenile court with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation and other charges.

They have all pleaded not guilty.

After anthracite coal was discovered near the town in the late 1800s, immigrants poured in, mainly from Europe. The hamlet grew to a borough of 25,000 before the mines started to close. The immigrant groups largely got along, but they also felt the need to ethnically divide not just their churches — some of which are still considered “the Italian church” or “the Irish church” — but also the town’s volunteer fire companies.

The town’s biggest festival every year is Heritage Days near the end of August, when the major ethnic groups, among them the Lithuanians, Irish, Italians, Greeks and, more recently, Mexicans, put floats in a parade and sell ethnic food from booths.

Mr. Ramirez’s death has also reignited a regional debate over immigration that began two years ago when the town of Hazleton, about 20 miles from Shenandoah, enacted an ordinance that sought to discourage people from hiring or renting to illegal immigrants.

At the time, Shenandoah, whose Hispanic population has grown to about 10 percent, from 2.8 percent in 2000, considered a similar ordinance but held off after Hazleton was sued.

Even then, there were signs of tension. After the debate over the Hazleton ordinance, Shenandoah’s Mexican community pulled out of Heritage Days in 2006.

“They just didn’t feel comfortable then,” said Flor Gomez, whose family runs a Mexican restaurant in town.

Many people believe the debate fueled by Hazleton’s actions helped create the environment that led to Mr. Ramirez’s death.

“Clearly there were a lot of factors here,” said Ms. Limón, of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which has been helping Ms. Dillman. “But I do believe that the inflammatory rhetoric in the immigration debate does have a correlation with increased violence against Latinos.”

Hazleton’s mayor, Lou Barletta, said he saw no connection to his town’s ordinance, which was scrapped after the town lost a court battle.

“It’s a tragedy what happened to that man,” Mr. Barletta said. “But I don’t believe our ordinance had anything to do with it. Every person is responsible for their own actions.”

James P. Goodman, the Schuylkill County district attorney, who is prosecuting the case, said ethnic intimidation cases were rare in his county.

But town leaders have now heard about a number of incidents from Mexican residents that were never reported. The town is trying to reach out to them, said Mayor O’Neill, who said he still could not believe the fear some residents had expressed to him.

“How it came to that point, I don’t know,” he said. “But maybe these are things that it is good that it came out.”


Enough of the “Race Card”; Let’s Talk About the Whole Deck

Does the United States become more equal, more equitable, and more just over time? Is it a forward progression that never turns back? Does it just happen? Or does it take work and struggle?

As a teacher of race and ethnicity, I find all the recent political talk about “playing the race card” suggestive of what we call a “teachable moment.” This concept which has so many meanings and uses (a floating signifier of sorts) is a rich example of many of our most significant gaps in understanding with respect to “race” in both our past and present social relations.

One of the things I find most interesting about its usage is the ways it is reflective of the fervent belief that “we” as a nation have become more racially tolerant and fair over time. “Playing the race card”—whether it means accusing whites of manipulating racial prejudice, securing support via white guilt, or any number of other actions—is seen transgressive. Doing so is seemingly suggestive of our collective racial past instead of our present. We become seemingly uncomfortable if the race of the candidate is even brought up, let alone if their race is somehow used in their campaign. Progress equals silencing of racial differences.

None of this meets my mind as progressive. In fact, I don’t see it as progress at all. Most of the racially-focused political dialogue I’ve heard in the past month leaves me thinking “we” haven’t moved all that much from the past.

Last week, while re-reading Edmund Morgan’s American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia—a classic in U.S. historical scholarship—I was struck by the historian’s analysis, first published in 1975. He wrote:

The men who came together to found the independent United States, dedicated to freedom and equality, either had slaves or were willing to join hands with those who did. None of them felt entirely comfortable about the fact, but neither did they feel responsible for it. Most of them had inherited both their slaves and their attachment to freedom from an earlier generation, and they knew that the two were not unconnected. The rise of liberty and equality in America had been accompanied by the rise of slavery.

That two such seemingly contradictory developments were taking place simultaneously over a long period of time, from the seventeenth century to the nineteenth, is the central paradox of American history. For the historian it poses a challenge to probe the connection: to explain how a people could have developed the dedication to human liberty and dignity exhibited by the leaders of the American Revolution and at the same time have developed and maintained a system of labor that denied human liberty and dignity every hour of the day…

To a large degree it may be said that Americans bought their independence with slave labor.

As I read these lines, I thought how they seemed radical not only for their time but for mine. If these words had been written in the 1990s, they would have been met by an organized movement of conservatives, criticizing this kind of analysis as “anti-American” or “revisionist.” This movement took shape after the time Morgan’s book was published. It helped elect Ronal Reagan and, in many ways, turned back the tide on civil rights. Yes, time does not always bring with it progress and betterment.

In his 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King Jr. responded to the suggestion that civil rights protests were unrealistic in their demand for immediate change, since justice is inevitable, in time. He wrote:

Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely rational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively.

In practical terms, Morgan’s analysis isn’t precious. I mean, is far more radical things are published by mainstream academic presses every month. Yet it is hardly commonplace. To me, it served as a reminder of how social progress does not always unfold over time. That such a direct and provable assertion could still be seen as a radical revision of the traditional interpretation of the U.S. past is, in itself, sort of depressing.

Likewise, one of the sobering realities of our current political discourse is that we have failed terribly in our collective effort to learn from the struggles of the past. Acknowledgment of race was never the problem. The problem was how that acknowledgment served a system of white supremacy. Today, we can add to that the myriad ways our avoidance of acknowledging race serves that same system.

Quoted texts can be found in Edmund S. Morgan, American Slavery, American Freedom: The Ordeal of Colonial Virginia (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975), 4-5; and Martin Luther King Jr., “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963. King’s letter was first published in the The Christian Century, June 12, 1963.

Luis Ramirez is Dead

An updated post on the latest news relating to the trial can be found here.

The recent beating death of immigrant Luis Ramirez is getting some but not nearly enough attention.  This is one extreme example of the all too common culture of hate in which we live.

This story from Democracy Now! is a great introduction to the events surrounding his tragic murder.

The “Border Beat” (August 1, 2008)

Most things in this country slow down in the first weeks of August as people take vacations. I wonder if the same holds for news? Of course, important things are happening all the time but if we don’t know about them, what then?

This week’s”Border Beat” is an all-you-can-eat bar of the news from Latino USA.

• “Is U.S. losing its appeal for illegal immigrants?” (San Jose Mercury News)
This article is an average collection of some of the information regarding the “drop” in the “illegal” population. For that, it is worth reading. But the title? Does anyone else not see a problem here? It just embraces the entire problematic of creating the undocumented as an essential and fixed (and criminal) thing. If they are not here illegally, they are not “illegals” no are they? We wouldn’t ask if people who go to the beach aren’t going to the beach, now would we?

• “Mexico sees decline in immigrant remittances” (AP)
We see one of the best measurements for the economic recession inspired decline in labor immigration to the United States.

• “Latino neighborhood slowly disappearing in central Mesa” (Arizona Republic)
A strange but interesting story about the gradual disappearance of Latinos from a small town in Arizona.  It reads as though its the “perfect storm” of factors.

• “San Francisco’s Sanctuary Dilemma” (Time)
The city by the bay’s “sanctuary” policy has gotten a bad rap of late.  Most of this stems from the radical right’s indictment of anything that is humane toward immigrants.  But even more is resulting from a horrific murder in the city.  This is a fairly balanced article on the whole thing.

• “Vast Majority of African American and Latino Middle-Class Families Are on Shaky Financial Ground” (Democracy Now!)
What a depressing conclusion from a new report discussed on this audio program.  Many of the issues they discuss are rooted in the historic system of white supremacy in which we continue to live.  It serves as a bold reminder of the need for continued struggle to create a more equitable society.

• “Sizzle, but not much fajita” (Palm Beach Post)
This is a humorous but insightful opinion piece from a small regional paper.  In these days of rampant ICE raids and unfounded suggestions that the Bush administration is winning the war on illegals, it is a good suggestion to keep this in perspective.