President Obama Doesn’t Need Your Baggage

It’s finally here.  The big day.  An African American President, and I don’t even have to watch Keifer Sutherland act.

If I were delivering the invocation at today’s ceremony, I would remind people to stop putting their baggage on the new Prez’s shoulders.  He doesn’t need to be a symbol of how far you’ve come as a nation.  He doesn’t need to reconcile this nation’s historic racial turmoil.  He doesn’t need to fulfill anybody’s dreams but his own.  The job will be hard enough.

So suck it, Bono.

How to Celebrate King

Today is the official day we commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King Jr.  Born on January 15, 1929, King would have been 80 years old last Thursday.

I will admit, I am more than a bit indifferent to such a “holiday.”  The notion of “celebrating” a man who was gunned down while actively engaged in the struggle to which he dedicated his life, seems premature.  After all, King never felt his goals had been met.

We often forget that King was NOT a successful figure in terms of his political struggles.  This had little to do with his skils, commitments, or sacrifices.  This nation and its vast majorities opposed him nearly his entire life.  After rising to fame in the very successful Montgomery Bus Boycott, King met failure as he tried to desegregate department stores, work for fair housing, stand up for labor, register voters in Georgia, not to mention his unsuccessful struggle with sanitation workers in Memphis (the cause he was working on when he was assissinated).

To move to celebrate without ever having considered what it was he stood for does him an even further injustice in death.

Today, we often take a little piece of the rhetorical greatness that was King and use this as a synopsis of everything he was about.  “I have a dream!”  “Love your enemy!!”  “…judged not by the color of his skin but by the content of his character!” These are the safe ways to remember King, the ones that leave the present status of injustice and oppression uninterrogated and unchanged.


To mark this occasion, I offer the following text of King’s last speech.  Delivered in Memphis, on April 3, 1968, it is neither meant to serve as the definitive version of King’s ideas and commitments or as his best speech.  It is a reminder of the way he framed his present moment, how he defined injustice and freedom.  When measured with the vast writings and political organizational efforts of his life, it is clear his version of the “promised land” was much, much more than what we celebrate tomorrow.

Thank you very kindly, my friends. As I listened to Ralph Abernathy and his eloquent and generous introduction and then thought about myself, I wondered who he was talking about. It’s always good to have your closest friend and associate to say something good about you. And Ralph Abernathy is the best friend that I have in the world. I’m delighted to see each of you here tonight in spite of a storm warning. You reveal that you are determined to go on anyhow.

Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world. And you know, if I were standing at the beginning of time, with the possibility of taking a kind of general and panoramic view of the whole of human history up to now, and the Almighty said to me, “Martin Luther King, which age would you like to live in?” I would take my mental flight by Egypt and I would watch God’s children in their magnificent trek from the dark dungeons of Egypt through, or rather across the Red Sea, through the wilderness on toward the promised land. And in spite of its magnificence, I wouldn’t stop there.

I would move on by Greece and take my mind to Mount Olympus. And I would see Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Euripides and Aristophanes assembled around the Parthenon. And I would watch them around the Parthenon as they discussed the great and eternal issues of reality. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would go on, even to the great heyday of the Roman Empire. And I would see developments around there, through various emperors and leaders. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the day of the Renaissance, and get a quick picture of all that the Renaissance did for the cultural and aesthetic life of man. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even go by the way that the man for whom I am named had his habitat. And I would watch Martin Luther as he tacked his ninety-five theses on the door at the church of Wittenberg. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would come on up even to 1863, and watch a vacillating President by the name of Abraham Lincoln finally come to the conclusion that he had to sign the Emancipation Proclamation. But I wouldn’t stop there.

I would even come up to the early thirties, and see a man grappling with the problems of the bankruptcy of his nation. And come with an eloquent cry that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” But I wouldn’t stop there.

Strangely enough, I would turn to the Almighty, and say, “If you allow me to live just a few years in the second half of the 20th century, I will be happy.”

Now that’s a strange statement to make, because the world is all messed up. The nation is sick. Trouble is in the land; confusion all around. That’s a strange statement. But I know, somehow, that only when it is dark enough can you see the stars. And I see God working in this period of the twentieth century in a way that men, in some strange way, are responding.

Something is happening in our world. The masses of people are rising up. And wherever they are assembled today, whether they are in Johannesburg, South Africa; Nairobi, Kenya; Accra, Ghana; New York City; Atlanta, Georgia; Jackson, Mississippi; or Memphis, Tennessee — the cry is always the same: “We want to be free.”

And another reason that I’m happy to live in this period is that we have been forced to a point where we are going to have to grapple with the problems that men have been trying to grapple with through history, but the demands didn’t force them to do it. Survival demands that we grapple with them. Men, for years now, have been talking about war and peace. But now, no longer can they just talk about it. It is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence in this world; it’s nonviolence or nonexistence. That is where we are today.

And also in the human rights revolution, if something isn’t done, and done in a hurry, to bring the colored peoples of the world out of their long years of poverty, their long years of hurt and neglect, the whole world is doomed. Now, I’m just happy that God has allowed me to live in this period to see what is unfolding. And I’m happy that He’s allowed me to be in Memphis.

I can remember — I can remember when Negroes were just going around as Ralph has said, so often, scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled. But that day is all over. We mean business now, and we are determined to gain our rightful place in God’s world.

And that’s all this whole thing is about. We aren’t engaged in any negative protest and in any negative arguments with anybody. We are saying that we are determined to be men. We are determined to be people. We are saying — We are saying that we are God’s children. And that we are God’s children, we don’t have to live like we are forced to live.

Now, what does all of this mean in this great period of history? It means that we’ve got to stay together. We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves. But whenever the slaves get together, something happens in Pharaoh’s court, and he cannot hold the slaves in slavery. When the slaves get together, that’s the beginning of getting out of slavery. Now let us maintain unity.

Secondly, let us keep the issues where they are. The issue is injustice. The issue is the refusal of Memphis to be fair and honest in its dealings with its public servants, who happen to be sanitation workers. Now, we’ve got to keep attention on that. That’s always the problem with a little violence. You know what happened the other day, and the press dealt only with the window-breaking. I read the articles. They very seldom got around to mentioning the fact that one thousand, three hundred sanitation workers are on strike, and that Memphis is not being fair to them, and that Mayor Loeb is in dire need of a doctor. They didn’t get around to that.

Now we’re going to march again, and we’ve got to march again, in order to put the issue where it is supposed to be — and force everybody to see that there are thirteen hundred of God’s children here suffering, sometimes going hungry, going through dark and dreary nights wondering how this thing is going to come out. That’s the issue. And we’ve got to say to the nation: We know how it’s coming out. For when people get caught up with that which is right and they are willing to sacrifice for it, there is no stopping point short of victory.

We aren’t going to let any mace stop us. We are masters in our nonviolent movement in disarming police forces; they don’t know what to do. I’ve seen them so often. I remember in Birmingham, Alabama, when we were in that majestic struggle there, we would move out of the 16th Street Baptist Church day after day; by the hundreds we would move out. And Bull Connor would tell them to send the dogs forth, and they did come; but we just went before the dogs singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.”

Bull Connor next would say, “Turn the fire hoses on.” And as I said to you the other night, Bull Connor didn’t know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn’t relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn’t stop us.

And we just went on before the dogs and we would look at them; and we’d go on before the water hoses and we would look at it, and we’d just go on singing “Over my head I see freedom in the air.” And then we would be thrown in the paddy wagons, and sometimes we were stacked in there like sardines in a can. And they would throw us in, and old Bull would say, “Take ’em off,” and they did; and we would just go in the paddy wagon singing, “We Shall Overcome.” And every now and then we’d get in jail, and we’d see the jailers looking through the windows being moved by our prayers, and being moved by our words and our songs. And there was a power there which Bull Connor couldn’t adjust to; and so we ended up transforming Bull into a steer, and we won our struggle in Birmingham. Now we’ve got to go on in Memphis just like that. I call upon you to be with us when we go out Monday.

Now about injunctions: We have an injunction and we’re going into court tomorrow morning to fight this illegal, unconstitutional injunction. All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” If I lived in China or even Russia, or any totalitarian country, maybe I could understand some of these illegal injunctions. Maybe I could understand the denial of certain basic First Amendment privileges, because they hadn’t committed themselves to that over there. But somewhere I read of the freedom of assembly. Somewhere I read of the freedom of speech. Somewhere I read of the freedom of press. Somewhere I read that the greatness of America is the right to protest for right. And so just as I say, we aren’t going to let dogs or water hoses turn us around, we aren’t going to let any injunction turn us around. We are going on.

We need all of you. And you know what’s beautiful to me is to see all of these ministers of the Gospel. It’s a marvelous picture. Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it. Somehow the preacher must be an Amos, and saith, “When God speaks who can but prophesy?” Again with Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Somehow the preacher must say with Jesus, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me,” and he’s anointed me to deal with the problems of the poor.”

And I want to commend the preachers, under the leadership of these noble men: James Lawson, one who has been in this struggle for many years; he’s been to jail for struggling; he’s been kicked out of Vanderbilt University for this struggle, but he’s still going on, fighting for the rights of his people. Reverend Ralph Jackson, Billy Kiles; I could just go right on down the list, but time will not permit. But I want to thank all of them. And I want you to thank them, because so often, preachers aren’t concerned about anything but themselves. And I’m always happy to see a relevant ministry.

It’s all right to talk about “long white robes over yonder,” in all of its symbolism. But ultimately people want some suits and dresses and shoes to wear down here! It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

Now the other thing we’ll have to do is this: Always anchor our external direct action with the power of economic withdrawal. Now, we are poor people. Individually, we are poor when you compare us with white society in America. We are poor. Never stop and forget that collectively — that means all of us together — collectively we are richer than all the nations in the world, with the exception of nine. Did you ever think about that? After you leave the United States, Soviet Russia, Great Britain, West Germany, France, and I could name the others, the American Negro collectively is richer than most nations of the world. We have an annual income of more than thirty billion dollars a year, which is more than all of the exports of the United States, and more than the national budget of Canada. Did you know that? That’s power right there, if we know how to pool it.

We don’t have to argue with anybody. We don’t have to curse and go around acting bad with our words. We don’t need any bricks and bottles. We don’t need any Molotov cocktails. We just need to go around to these stores, and to these massive industries in our country, and say, “God sent us by here, to say to you that you’re not treating his children right. And we’ve come by here to ask you to make the first item on your agenda fair treatment, where God’s children are concerned. Now, if you are not prepared to do that, we do have an agenda that we must follow. And our agenda calls for withdrawing economic support from you.”

And so, as a result of this, we are asking you tonight, to go out and tell your neighbors not to buy Coca-Cola in Memphis. Go by and tell them not to buy Sealtest milk. Tell them not to buy — what is the other bread? — Wonder Bread. And what is the other bread company, Jesse? Tell them not to buy Hart’s bread. As Jesse Jackson has said, up to now, only the garbage men have been feeling pain; now we must kind of redistribute the pain. We are choosing these companies because they haven’t been fair in their hiring policies; and we are choosing them because they can begin the process of saying they are going to support the needs and the rights of these men who are on strike. And then they can move on town — downtown and tell Mayor Loeb to do what is right.

But not only that, we’ve got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a “bank-in” movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I’m not asking you something that we don’t do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an “insurance-in.”

Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base. And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts. I ask you to follow through here.

Now, let me say as I move to my conclusion that we’ve got to give ourselves to this struggle until the end. Nothing would be more tragic than to stop at this point in Memphis. We’ve got to see it through. And when we have our march, you need to be there. If it means leaving work, if it means leaving school — be there. Be concerned about your brother. You may not be on strike. But either we go up together, or we go down together.

Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness. One day a man came to Jesus, and he wanted to raise some questions about some vital matters of life. At points he wanted to trick Jesus, and show him that he knew a little more than Jesus knew and throw him off base….

Now that question could have easily ended up in a philosophical and theological debate. But Jesus immediately pulled that question from mid-air, and placed it on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho. And he talked about a certain man, who fell among thieves. You remember that a Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him. And finally a man of another race came by. He got down from his beast, decided not to be compassionate by proxy. But he got down with him, administered first aid, and helped the man in need. Jesus ended up saying, this was the good man, this was the great man, because he had the capacity to project the “I” into the “thou,” and to be concerned about his brother.

Now you know, we use our imagination a great deal to try to determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop. At times we say they were busy going to a church meeting, an ecclesiastical gathering, and they had to get on down to Jerusalem so they wouldn’t be late for their meeting. At other times we would speculate that there was a religious law that “One who was engaged in religious ceremonials was not to touch a human body twenty-four hours before the ceremony.” And every now and then we begin to wonder whether maybe they were not going down to Jerusalem — or down to Jericho, rather to organize a “Jericho Road Improvement Association.” That’s a possibility. Maybe they felt that it was better to deal with the problem from the causal root, rather than to get bogged down with an individual effect.

But I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho road is a dangerous road. I remember when Mrs. King and I were first in Jerusalem. We rented a car and drove from Jerusalem down to Jericho. And as soon as we got on that road, I said to my wife, “I can see why Jesus used this as the setting for his parable.” It’s a winding, meandering road. It’s really conducive for ambushing. You start out in Jerusalem, which is about 1200 miles — or rather 1200 feet above sea level. And by the time you get down to Jericho, fifteen or twenty minutes later, you’re about 2200 feet below sea level. That’s a dangerous road. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the “Bloody Pass.” And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around. Or it’s possible that they felt that the man on the ground was merely faking. And he was acting like he had been robbed and hurt, in order to seize them over there, lure them there for quick and easy seizure. And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: “If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?”

That’s the question before you tonight. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, “If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?” The question is not, “If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?” The question is, “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?” That’s the question.

Let us rise up tonight with a greater readiness. Let us stand with a greater determination. And let us move on in these powerful days, these days of challenge to make America what it ought to be. We have an opportunity to make America a better nation. And I want to thank God, once more, for allowing me to be here with you.

You know, several years ago, I was in New York City autographing the first book that I had written. And while sitting there autographing books, a demented black woman came up. The only question I heard from her was, “Are you Martin Luther King?” And I was looking down writing, and I said, “Yes.” And the next minute I felt something beating on my chest. Before I knew it I had been stabbed by this demented woman. I was rushed to Harlem Hospital. It was a dark Saturday afternoon. And that blade had gone through, and the X-rays revealed that the tip of the blade was on the edge of my aorta, the main artery. And once that’s punctured, your drowned in your own blood — that’s the end of you.

It came out in the New York Times the next morning, that if I had merely sneezed, I would have died. Well, about four days later, they allowed me, after the operation, after my chest had been opened, and the blade had been taken out, to move around in the wheel chair in the hospital. They allowed me to read some of the mail that came in, and from all over the states and the world, kind letters came in. I read a few, but one of them I will never forget. I had received one from the President and the Vice-President. I’ve forgotten what those telegrams said. I’d received a visit and a letter from the Governor of New York, but I’ve forgotten what that letter said. But there was another letter that came from a little girl, a young girl who was a student at the White Plains High School. And I looked at that letter, and I’ll never forget it. It said simply,

Dear Dr. King,
I am a ninth-grade student at the White Plains High School.”

And she said,

While it should not matter, I would like to mention that I’m a white girl. I read in the paper of your misfortune, and of your suffering. And I read that if you had sneezed, you would have died. And I’m simply writing you to say that I’m so happy that you didn’t sneeze.

And I want to say tonight — I want to say tonight that I too am happy that I didn’t sneeze. Because if I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1960, when students all over the South started sitting-in at lunch counters. And I knew that as they were sitting in, they were really standing up for the best in the American dream, and taking the whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1961, when we decided to take a ride for freedom and ended segregation in inter-state travel.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been around here in 1962, when Negroes in Albany, Georgia, decided to straighten their backs up. And whenever men and women straighten their backs up, they are going somewhere, because a man can’t ride your back unless it is bent.

If I had sneezed — If I had sneezed I wouldn’t have been here in 1963, when the black people of Birmingham, Alabama, aroused the conscience of this nation, and brought into being the Civil Rights Bill.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have had a chance later that year, in August, to try to tell America about a dream that I had had.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been down in Selma, Alabama, to see the great Movement there.

If I had sneezed, I wouldn’t have been in Memphis to see a community rally around those brothers and sisters who are suffering.

I’m so happy that I didn’t sneeze.

And they were telling me –. Now, it doesn’t matter, now. It really doesn’t matter what happens now. I left Atlanta this morning, and as we got started on the plane, there were six of us. The pilot said over the public address system, “We are sorry for the delay, but we have Dr. Martin Luther King on the plane. And to be sure that all of the bags were checked, and to be sure that nothing would be wrong with on the plane, we had to check out everything carefully. And we’ve had the plane protected and guarded all night.”

And then I got into Memphis. And some began to say the threats, or talk about the threats that were out. What would happen to me from some of our sick white brothers?

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountaintop.

And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

And so I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man!

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!!

Ricardo Gonzalo Pedro Montalbán Merino (1920-2009)

Simply put, he was a legend.

Obit Montalban

While most of us might think of him as something of a semi-comical figure, knowing him primarily from his days as the mysterious Mister Roarke on the hit ABC show Fantasy Island, Ricardo Montalbán, who died yesterday, was much more than a man in a white suit.

As a kid, both the immigrant and native-born sides of my family had a profound amount of respect for him, as an actor and advocate.  People lie Cesar Romero, Anthony Quinn, and Montalbán were the symbols of talent and dignity within our transnational culture.  Montalbán–whose 66 year marriage to Georgiana Belzer was legendary within the Spanish media–was always held in a little bit more esteem than the other two.  I remember seeing him on a Spanish interview show when I was about ten or eleven.  He spoke about his glory days in Hollywood but also about the limiting ways Latinos were (and continued to be) depicted in television and movies.  He never faltered in thinking beyond his own success and fame.

It’s no wonder so many Mexicans on this side of the border respected him.  We could relate to his bicultural life.  He was a star of stage, television, and cinema–in both Mexico and the United States.  When he began his career in Hollywood in his early twenties he had already been acting for years in both Mexican films and stage productions.  He would continue to perform in productions made on both sides of the border through the forties.  When he became a contract MGM actor in that decade, he was one of only a handful of actual Mexicans of the silver screen.


Montalbán knew first hand the limitations faced by Latinos in the U.S., professionally and otherwise.  He often was cast as the “Latin lover” in his early films and, after leaving MGM, he found himself relegated to playing a host of “ethnic” roles.  As a young Mexican in 1940s Los Angeles, he also recalled instances of witnessing segregation and discrimination.

All this fueled a political committment to improving life for Latinos in the U.S.  He lent his fame to causes like the Council on Mexican-American Affairs, a group founded in 1955 to work for Mexican American rights.  He advocated for a more responsible form of depicting Latinos in cinema, both informally and as the founder of the Nosotros Foundation, a group he led from its 1969 start.  Through Nosotros, Montalbán represented a consistent voice for dismatling sterotypes and opening doors to the next generation of Latino actors.

He paid the price for his political committments.  He attributed his inability to find work in the fifites to an industry that saw him as a trouble maker.  He was misquoted in the press at the time as complaining about Anglos playing Mexicans in film.  Although all his political committments were moderate by even contemporary standards, he was cast as a Latin radical for a time, a reputation that stuck with him for some time.


Of course, for those of us who are part of generation x, he was also Mister Roarke and Khan in the classic Star Trek sequel released in 1982.

Thoughtful obituaries can be found at the Los Angeles Times, La Jornada, and the Huffington Post.  For more on his politics, see his autobiography, Reflections: A Life in Two Worlds (1980).

Preston Gómez (1922-2009)

Former baseball player, coach, manager, and scout Preston Gómez died yesterday. He had been severely injured last year after being struck by a motor vehicle. He was 86.

Born in Cuba, Gómez was the first manager of the San Diego Padres when they were created as an expansion team in 1969. He was hired by the historic former Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodger executive Buzzie Bavasi, who knew Gómez from the Dodgers, where he served as the third base coach from 1965 to 1968. (That term included the Dodgers’ 1965 World Series season.)

Gómez was only the second Latin American/Latino manager in baseball history when he took the helm in 1969. Before him there had been the cubano Mike Gónzalez who managed the St. Louis Cardinals during two interim stints, one in 1938 and another in 1940. (Gónzalez managed a total of 22 major league games.)  Accordingly, Gómez, it could be argued,was the first Latino to manage a major league baseball team on a permanent basis.

Preston Gómez played baseball for more than two decades on a professional basis, including 8 games in the big show (for the Washington Senators).  He made much more of a name for himself as a coach and as a manager (for the aforementioned Padres (1969-72), as well as he Houston Astros (1974-75) and Chicago Cubs (1980)).  For the last 27 years he worked for the California Angels as, first, a coach, and (since 1984) as a scout and consultant.

Latinos have a strong presence in professional baseball.  In a generation or two, we will also have a notable presence in the Hall of Fame.  Men like Gómez can be simultaneously regarded as pathbreakers for their early achievements but also as human records of baseball’s racial past–a past that prohibited the play of dark-skinned and African-descent Latinos while it allowed the participation of “white” ones.

Undoubtedly, he was an important part of baseball history.  For more information on his life in the big leagues, see the announcement from the Angels organization.

Where, indeed, is that beef?

25 years ago today, this commercial first aired on television.

I don’t remember the first time I saw it, or the first time I heard somebody use the phrase outside of talking about the commercial, but I know EVERYBODY said it. You could not get away from the phrase or that little Clara Pellar (the 81 year-old lady who uttered the words). For goodness sakes, there was even a “Where’s the Beef?” record! I can remember being a senior in high school (like 1989 or 1990) and having a teacher use the phrase in class and thinking “Jesus! Let it die already!!” Every once in awhile, I’ll still hear it, either as kind of a retro form of humor or by somebody who think Victor Borge was funny.

I will say this: I had never been to Wendy’s before in my young 12 year-old life when this commercial aired. But after all the hoopla, me and the family went down to one in West Covina somewhere. I didn’t go back for another 15 years.

George W. Bush’s Final Regret

In a Washington Time interview with Cal Thomas, President Bush regrets not pursuing real immigration reform after the 2004 election and instead spending/wasting his time on Social Security:

See, I happen to believe a system that is so broken that humans become contraband is a system that really needs to be re-examined, seriously. I know there´s a lot of concern about our borders, and there should be. And we´ve done something about that. On the other hand, I don´t see how you can have comprehensive border security without a program that recognizes that there will be people doing jobs Americans aren´t willing to do, and therefore there ought to be a way for them to temporarily come here on a verifiable basis in a way that would cause them not to have to sneak here or pay for a coyote or get stuffed into an 18-wheeler, or try to walk across the desert and die.

Funny. Me too.

For some analysis of the interview, check out Imigration Impact, a clearinghouse for developments in the immigration arena.

Drugs, Death, and the Border

There is an absolutely riveting, tragic, humanistic, and brutal series of audio reports on life and death in the “border town” of Juarez.  These stories do what the best kind of NPR stories do so well: keep you centered on everyday peoples’ lives amid a complex context of powerful global/local forces.  For those of you trying to get your heads around the drug war seemingly dominating the news from Mexico, they also provide a solid introduction.

You can hear part 1, part 2, and part 3 at the NPR website.

It is imperative for people in the U.S. to realize our culpability in this current situation.  This isn’t to say Mexico does not have a lot to answer to.  Their politicians and “public servants” are the primary players in this tragedy.  But it is near impossible to dislodge those people and their institutions of power from corporate and governmental interests in the U.S.  Many of the economic changes in Mexico are shaped and, often, determined outside of their borders.

More under our control is the way U.S. demand for drugs (and cheap products) fuels a profound change in the material reality of everyday Mexicans, as much (if not more than) it does for people on this side of the border.  In this respect, we may be more like the Mexican people than different: we both find our governments doing little to serve our best interests.

The U.S. White Supremacist Present

I am often confronted with people’s disbelief at the continued entrenched and embedded character of white supremacy in this nation’s present. Here is a palpable example of it in its everyday form.

240,000 dollars awarded to man forced to cover Arab T-shirt

NEW YORK (AFP) – An airline passenger forced to cover his T-shirt because it displayed Arabic script has been awarded 240,000 dollars in compensation, campaigners said Monday.

Raed Jarrar received the pay out on Friday from two US Transportation Security Authority officials and from JetBlue Airways following the August 2006 incident at New York’s JFK Airport, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) announced.

“The outcome of this case is a victory for free speech and a blow to the discriminatory practice of racial profiling,” said Aden Fine, a lawyer with ACLU.

Jarrar, a US resident, was apprehended as he waited to board a JetBlue flight from New York to Oakland, California, and told to remove his shirt, which had written on it in Arabic: “We will not be silent.”

He was told other passengers felt uncomfortable because an Arabic-inscribed T-shirt in an airport was like “wearing a T-shirt at a bank stating, I am a robber,'” the ACLU said.

Jarrar eventually agreed to cover his shirt with another provided by JetBlue. He was allowed aboard but his seat was changed from the front to the back of the aircraft.

Last week, nine Muslims, including three children, were ordered off a domestic US flight after passengers heard what they believed were suspicious remarks about security.

Although the passengers, eight of them US citizens, were cleared by the FBI, they were reportedly still barred from the AirTran flight.

Security has been at a high level in US airports since the September 11, 2001 hijacked airliner attacks against the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

However, rights groups and representatives of the Muslim community say the security measures have led to frequent discrimination and harassment.


The result of the court case is a sign of hope that there are remedies for people who have to suffer the effects of a white supremacist culture, but the ability of a group of people to be able to violate a person’s (and far more than one person’s) ability to travel based on nothing other than a fear of racial/cultural difference is the embodiment of white supremacy. Which standard is given the “right” to socially police others? Which is seen as the potential threat? How incomprehensible would it be for a group of people of color to get an airline official or an FAA employee to keep a person off a flight for looking suspiciously white?

Is this racism? Yes. This is the kind of racism that runs deep in our culture. Are the people on those flights who complain about Arab-looking passengers racists? Yes. They are reflection of this culture and its values and practices. Are they evil? Well, no. They probably don’t intentionally do anything bad or purposefully racist at all. They merely have to reflect “common sense” standards as taught to them in this culture. But, in these cases, the maintenance and support of the status quo becomes the maintenance of a racist present.


A big h/t to Juan Tornoe who posted the following link on his blog.  [For those of you who are more private sector-minded, Tornoe is a Latino marketing consultant who edits the blog Hispanic Trending.]

Wordle is an online service that generates a word cloud from a source you give it.  This is what looks like:


This is what the current chapter I am writing looks like:


Now, back to work.

The “Border Beat” (January 5, 2009)

The first “Border Beat” of the new year has a little something for everybody: averted political scandal; drug smuggling; religion; labor importation; and blood.

• “WWII guest workers from Mexico apply for back pay” (Arizona Republic)
During WWII, in order to combat an increasing labor shortage, the U.S. and Mexico entered into an agreement called the Emergency Labor Program. For two decades, some version of the “temporary” program existed to provide affordable labor to (mostly) Western agricultural interests. Sadly, these workers were never given the full pay promised to them. In the late 1990s, a decades-old quest of surviving workers to get their back pay entered the courts. It seems their struggle may be over; it also seems, for most, justice will never be served.

• “Obama faces Mexican drug war” (Washington Times)
The drug-related violence in Mexico and the U.S. is one of many issues the next President inherits which is both a growing catastrophe and a complex of few easy answers, politically that is. The nature of this context of violence is exceedingly reflective of the kinds transnational connections which bind us as a globe: government funding here, death there; and drug demand here, drug supply there. But they are also a reflection of the collapsing of divisions that have provided an illusion of our distance.

• “U.S. dioceses recruit foreign priests” (SF Chronicle)
This is a delightfully in-depth article relating the the inability of the U.S. Catholic Church to meet its own “labor” needs. At the same time, the Church is reflecting a kind of U.S. cultural arrogance which views its needs as more pressing than those of the rest of the (Catholic) world. For those interested in the intersections of immigration, religion, and culture, this is a must-read.

• “Tijuana’s bloodiest year” (San Diego Union-Tribune)
This is a more Mexico-centered detail of the drug violence at the border. The human cost of the current situation is tragic to a degree possessing a sense of urgency. In addition to the numbers, I was equally drawn to the description of the killers:

Mexican authorities say that the killers are typically between 18 and 25, members of broken families lured by easy money into a life of crime, recruited in Tijuana and other parts of Mexico. They belong to a new generation of criminals operating with fewers (sic) controls as drug cartels evolve from traditional hierarchies to networks of smaller, semi-independent cells.

• “U.S. smooths away an illegal border crossing wrinkle” (LA Times)
The border initiatives of the United States literally alter the earth. They’ve filled “Smuggler’s Gulch”:

The canyon has been all but wiped off the landscape, its steep walls carved into gentle slopes, its depths filled with 35,000 truckloads of dirt as the federal government nears completion of an extensive border reinforcement project at the southwesternmost point of the United States.

• “California Supreme Court to take on state law granting in-state tuition to illegal immigrants” (LA Times)
It looks like California’s monumental educational access measure AB 540–which allowed undocumented students who had been long-term residents to pay in-state tuition at state universities and colleges–will face judicial review.

And, finally…

• “Richardson Won’t Pursue Cabinet Post” (NY Times)
Bill Richardson has withdrawn his nomination to head the Commerce Department. That leaves only two Obama cabinet appointments who are Latino. We’ll see who he names in Richardson’s place.