The “Border Beat” (December 30, 2008)

Needless to say, it’s been a full year in Latinolandia USA.  With the conclusion of the election season, there has been something of a tempering of the media’s focus on race issues, and on Latino-related ones in particular.  It is at times like these that significant stories might slip under the radar.

Here’s the final “Border Beat” of 2008:

• Mexican immigrants moving back home amid sour economy (Chicago Tribune)
For over a century now, Mexican workers have been fulfilling the seasonal labor needs of various sectors of the US economy.  This has only increased over time with the organized and formal importation of workers from Mexico, to the dismantling of union labor, to the highly orchestrated and massaged system of international capitalism linking businesses in the US and elsewhere to production and (often manipulated) labor reserves in Latin America.  With the seasonal labor has come a seasonal movement back, during the down times, an important time of family reunification and economic stimulus to regions of Mexico.  Right now, a lot of that movement seems to be “permanent.”

• City of Immigrants Fills Jail Cells With Its Own (New York Times)
This story is absolutely fascinating and tragic at the same time.  It is an in-depth exposé into the complex system of pubic-private human detention and exportation the US government and its corporate subsidiaries have developed over the past decade or so.  This is a long story but well-worth the read.

• Latin American migrants often don’t make it to U.S. (Baltimore Sun)
US Americans are often fixated on their southern border with Mexico as the ground zero in the “war on illegal immigration.”  What they don’t realize is the way human migration often takes place in segments–whether from rural town to urban center and then across the border (as it does for most Mexicans) or across multiple borders (as it does for many Central Americans from south of Mexico).  This piece provides a glimpse into that process while also centering a discussion of the dangers involved in human migration within the hemisphere.  Our ground zero has taken the lives of some four to five thousand people in the past decade or so.  But it is not the only geography of violence.

• The Army wants more recruits from L.A. (Los Angeles Times)
Back in 1966, as the US military struggled in an unpopular war, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara had the brilliant idea of of lowering the mental and physical requirements for military service as a way of lowering the number of rejected enlistees and increasing the Army’s surplus of infantry men.  The result was something called “Project 100,000,” an organized government program that literally preyed on teenage males in poor communities in the US.  Let’s hope current struggles to meet recruitment quotas don’t go the same way.

• Tensions rise with U.S.-Mexican border fence (USA Today)
Just because the US elected a Black president doesn’t mean the stupid waste of money called the “Border Fence” isn’t still stretching further along the border everyday.  Your president voted for it after all.  As it creeps into the Latino stronghold of El Paso, this article shares some of the social forces it teases.

Samuel P. Huntington, dead at 81

From the Los Angeles Times comes word of the death of Harvard academic Samuel P. Huntington.

He was best known for his views on the clash of civilizations. He argued that in a post-Cold War world, violent conflict would come not from ideological friction between nation states, but from cultural and religious differences among the world’s major civilizations.

He identified those major civilizations as Western (including the United States and Europe), Latin American, Islamic, African, Orthodox (with Russia as a core state), Hindu, Japanese and “Sinic” (including China, Korea and Vietnam).

He made the argument in a 1993 article in the journal Foreign Affairs and then expanded the thesis into a book, “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order,” which appeared in 1996. The book has since been translated into more than 30 languages.

While the Times summary of his work might seem noncontroversial, the man was anything but. For most of his 58 year career at Harvard he produced academic work based on simplistic and white-centered interpretations of the past and present, often with dire intellectual consequences.  For those concerened with Latinos in the Americas, Huntington was one of a small group who helped to use their positions in the ivory tower to legitimate racism and fear.

And now he’s dead.  I’m just saying…

All Hail the King! Praise His Name and Glory!

So many 40 year anniversaries came and went in 2008. Many of them were momentous historical events, ones that defined 1968 as a tumultuous year in U.S. political and social history. As a historian of social movements, almost everyday this year reminded me of something I find important, on a personal intellectual level, so much so that I have dedicated much of my adult life to learning more about them.

History only means what we let it, so to avoid the deterministic and overly commemorative inclinations our culture celebrates (and sometimes fixates on), let me just offer this as a reminder of the glory that was 1968:

If you’re Latino like me, then you know what I’m talking about.  And if you ain’t, then baby, get goin’, ’cause nothin’ ever changed by stayin’ still…

All I Want for Xmas…

A month ago, the top o my list was a genuine Chicana/o voice in the White House.  Since Obama gave us that gift a little early, here’s my top five:

1.  World Peace (if not for the whole world then just the parts of it with which this nation is currently and violently fucking);
2.  For people who call themselves “Christians” to actually start to live up to the teaching of Jesus Christ on a scale that lets me be okay with 12 years of Catholic school;
3.  An end to the kinds of fear, anger, and hate–and the ignorance fueling them–among this society’s more xenophobic segments;
4.  A firm realization by a majority of this polity that there is not and never has been anything remotely similar to the theoretical construct of “laissez faire” capitalism and that you wouldn’t want it anyways; and
5.  An official Red Ryder carbine action two-hundred shot range model air rifle with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time, of course!

Merry holidaze and all that…

Is Obama Black, White, or Biracial?

One of the consequences of Barack Obama’s election is “talk about race” in the United States.  From local diners, to bus stops, to classrooms, to offices, to the family dinner tables, Americans are starting to talk about race with a frequency perhaps unheard of since the climax of the Civil Rights Movement.

No matter what he does as president, Obama’s very high-profile position is beginning to force a reckoning with small elements of America’s racial past.  [I am being very deliberate in the language I am using here.  I do NOT believe that the election of Barack Obama is, in itself, racial healing, or proof of this nation “getting past” it’s history of racial oppression.  It can be, but I am less than optimistic that it will be.  That said, his election is–almost unavoidably–framing a process that can lead to something better.]  Obama just being Obama makes it difficult for “everyday Americans”  to ignore race, which is not only something we have become expert at doing but also (contrary to the skewed interpretation of MLK’s “colorblind society”) stands as one of the biggest problems we continue to face as a nation.

This segment from NPR is a wonderful demonstration of this process.  The topic of discussion is Obama’s choice to call himself an “African American” instead of a “biracial” person.  Reflective of the ways his mere presence picks at some of the long-held racial assumptions of our national culture, these kinds of discussions can be huge steps forward toward better understanding ourselves, each other, and our common social bonds.

This particular issue interrogates ideas which are so deeply engrained into our collective ways of knowing.  Namely, it helps to expose the inconsistencies between our traditional notions of race (as a fixed and biological “fact”) with the historical evidence of it (as a set of socially constructed meanings we encounter).  On more personal level, it also helps to frame an inquiry into the politics of naming–the choices people of color make for themselves in representing their experiences and identities as well as the ones “others” choose for us.

The end result of discussions like this one are not preordained.  We are actually far more likely to retreat into the dysfunctional belief systems of the past, preserving the current incarnation of global white supremacy because, like all dysfunctions, it is comfortable and familiar.  But, if we learn how to work at it, we could also be moving, collectively, to a brighter day with respct to race and equality.  We’ll see.

The “Border Beat” (December 15, 2008)

Health care, the Border Patrol, murder, religion, abuse, and intrigue–it’s all here in the latest edition of The “Border Beat,” a roster of the must-read news for you Latinos and Latino-philes out in Latinolandia.

• “Hiding in Plain Sight” (NY Times Magazine)
This might be one of the most complete and humanistic stories written on undocumented immigrants in the past year.  In this profile story, a family of Mexican migrants living in New York serves as the foundation of a thorough and thoughtful description of the myriad forces shaping life and circumstance for the millions living and  studying and working within our borders.  My favorite part is a child’s description of her and her family’s status as “unlegal.”

• “Children of U.S. Farmworkers Often Uninsured” (Washington Post)
This is not a surprising article in terms of the revelation that the children of farmworkers remain among the most underserved when it comes to health care, but it is a reminder of the continuing need for more–more attention, effort, affordable health care, insurance, fair labor standards, movement, and justice.

• “Border Patrol swells to more than 18,000” (Houston Chronicle)
Bush is close to fulfilling his pledge to double the Border Patrol by the end of his presidency.  There are problems, of course, with such a rapid growth spurt (not to mention the ones relating to the “pledge” in the first place).  The Border Patrol is now most-armed federal agency, having more gun-carrying personnel than the FBI.

• “More Hispanics in USA fluent in English” (USA Today)
This is as interesting a story and are the sad comments of many of the readers.  For those who care, Latinos seem to be assimilating according to tradition in U.S. history, with respect to language–only faster.  Germans, Russians, and others held on to their native tongues in monolingual enclaves as well, don’t forget, and often for longer.

• “Jews, Latino Pentecostals together” (Post-Bulletin)
A small piece that serves as an able introduction to both the growing population of Latino Pentacostals and the strengths/weaknesses of Jewish-Protestant relations.

• “Calls for justice after Ecuadorean’s beating death” (Newsday)
Just weeks after the murder of Marcelo Lucero, another New York Latino is dead, apparenty the victim of a hate crime.

Latinos Take Over the Golden Globes

It’s that time of year again!  The Hollywood awards season has begun, for reals!  After those hors d’oeuvres teasers last month, we get the first real course of our nominations feast–the Golden Globe awards.  Nominations were announced today, and you know what? I bet Latinos are shining brightly.

Let me gather up all the Latino nominations for you.  Just a minute…

Hmmm.  That can’t be right.  Give me a sec to double check this.  In the meantime, think about the wackiness of that Illinois governor.  Man!

Alright… well…

America Ferrera got a nomination for “Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series” for her work on ABC’s Ugly Betty.

And… then… there’s…

DAMN!  That’s it.  I mean, well, Weeds got a nod for “Best Television Series-Musical or Comedy,” and they were sort of a Latino-themed show this year, but it was all gang-bangers, drug dealers, and corrupt Mexican officials on the border (not to mention the murdering, torturing, and human trafficking).

Okay!  New game:

2009 Golden Globe Nominees Who You Might Think Are Latino (But Aren’t)

  • Frank Langella, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama (Italian)
  • Javier Bardem, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy (Spanish)
  • James Franco, Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture-Musical or Comedy (Italian)
  • Angelina Jolie, Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama (just hot)
  • Penélope Cruz, Best Performance by an Actress In A Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Spanish)
  • Sam Mendes, Best Director -Motion Picture (British with a spot o’ Portuguese)
  • “Gran Torino”, Best Original Song-Motion Picture (song about a car)
  • Tony Shalhoub, Best Performance by an Actor In A Television Series – Musical Or Comedy (Lebanese)
  • Catherine Keener, Best Performance by an Actress In A Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television (Lebanese)

I guess the title of my post should be: “Latinos!  Take Over the Golden Globes!”

Latino Hate Crimes

An unwelcome distinction if there ever was one.

Check out this post from the Hispanic Fanatic (a.k.a. this guy on the Huffington Post) discussing the latest statistics showing Latinos “are officially the top victims of hate crimes that are “motivated by ethnicity or national origin,” as the FBI puts it.” Fanatic provides you a link to the FBI page with the data as well.

While you’re at it, subscribe to his blog, one of the finest examples of Latino critical humanism out there.

Religion and Same Sex Marriage

Author and cultural commentator Richard Rodriguez offers his insights into the passage of Proposition 8 and the crises in American churches in this interview featured at

Rodriguez is a sophisticated and critically-minded public intellectual.  He offers a solid analysis of our political/social present, while also emplotting some old school frameworks to read gender/sex politics.  Here are some snipets to whet your appetite:

Then there is the Roman Catholic Church, my own church, which has just come off this extraordinary season of sexual scandal and misbehavior in the rectory against children. The church is barely out of the court and it’s trying to assume the role of governor of sexual behavior, having just proved to America its inability to govern its own sexual behavior.

. . .

To my knowledge, the churches have not accepted responsibility for the Bush catastrophe. Having claimed, in some cases, that Bush was divinely inspired and his election was the will of God, they have failed to explain why the last eight years have been so catastrophic for America.

Rodriguez is something of an outcast in the world of Chicano academics, much of it stemming from his use as a foundation for reactionary racial political ends, such as the end of affirmative action and bilingual education.  To his detriment, he (seemingly) willingly allowed his work to get used in this way, often accelerating its profile in certain political circles.

But, I would agree with Peter Richardson, that Rodriguez isn’t really writing political or policy-minded books.  In the end, his place in “Chicano letters” may say more about the past status of Chicanos in academia and the arts then about him.

Erik Estrada is my hero.

Holy former TV starts of the seventies Batman!  Turns out my sarcastic post of last week should have been written with a tone of serious warning to slacker parents in Muncie, IN: Watch out!  Erik Estrada “feels responsible for all children”!

From (no I don’t read it…okay, maybe once):

No baby shall suffer the perils of cold footsies while Erik Estrada is on the case!

We’re told while Estrada was on patrol as a reserve officer for Indiana’s Muncie Police Department, he risked his own safety for that of a child.

Police say during one of Erik’s midnight shifts, “he spotted a man and his girlfriend walking with a baby in the snow in 10 degree weather at 2 AM … the baby was only dressed in pajamas.”

That’s when Erik braved the freezing temperature and “got them inside.”

A hero never rests.