I want a new governor

At first I thought this was a picture of my uncle wandering around because he lost the remote control, again. (Tío Bill!  Barney Miller hasn’t been on for years!)  But then I looked closer.

I’m telling you, the Cyberdyne Systems 101 models just don’t hold up well over time.  I think we should trade in our T-850 for a T-1000, at least, glitches and all.

p.s. Interesting that his name includes the words “war,” “zen,” and “egg.”  Coincidence??

Got food? Thank a farmworker.

March 29 – April 4, 2009 is National Farmworker Awareness Week.

We demand just living and working conditions for farmworkers and an end to unfair treatment under the law. We demand fairly harvested food.

Farm work is the third most dangerous job in the U.S., yet the people who plant and harvest our fruits and vegetables lack many of the basic worker protections that most of us take for granted. Things like overtime, unemployment insurance, even protection when joining a union are not guaranteed under federal law.

We are connected to farmworkers everyday because we all consume food– much of it planted and harvested by farmworkers, yet farmworkers remain largely invisible and continue to live and work in unacceptable conditions.

For more information, visit the campaign website.

César Chávez Day (2009)

March 31st marks the observance of César Chávez Day.  To commemorate the occasion, I’d like to offer a few words about who the man was, why we mark his life, and the dangers involved in so doing.

Who was Chávez?
Born March 31, 1927, the holiday is meant to coincide with the birthday of this legendary union organizer.  Chávez, who founded the United Farm Workers (UFW)–a union representing the labor rights of agricultural workers–died in April 1993.  Legislation creating a day in honor of his life and legacy first came into law in California in 2000.  Today, César Chávez Day is an official holiday in eight states (California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Michigan) and a supported day of recognition in countless towns and cities.

Chávez was born near Yuma, Arizona, the son of two land-owning Mexicans.  For the first ten years of his life, he lived on his family’s farm as they made a simple living off what they produced.  As a child in school, he encountered the kinds of discrimination typical of most Mexicans of his generation: he was called racist and derogatory names by white children and teachers, and he was reprimanded for speaking Spanish.  As he remembered, “When we spoke Spanish, the teacher swooped down on us. I remember the ruler whistling through the air as its edge came down sharply across my knuckles.”

In 1937, after having been evicted from their land, the Chávez family survived the Depression by packing up their things in a car and joining the ranks of the hundreds of thousands who became migrant laborers.  Finding a new home in California, the young Chávez and his family worked in the fields as migrants, waking before dawn to work stooped over in the dirt and moving with the seasons to a new place and a new crop.

After serving in the Navy during WWII, Chavez returned to the mainland to marry his sweetheart and begin the transition from field worker to advocate. After working for some years in the fields surrounding San Jose, in 1952 he began working with the Community Service Organization (CSO), a community-based movement seeking to empower Mexican Americans through voting and community mobilization.  Working on electoral issues, police brutality, and education, the CSO formed under the guidance of legendary organizer Fred Ross.  Feeling a strong pull toward migrant workers in the fields, after a decade, Chávez left the CSO in order to devote his full attention to the agricultural worker.

Then as now, agricultural workers were exempt from the standards of the National Labor Relations Board, federally-mandated regulations which protected workers’ rights to unionize.  Thus, before working on solutions to the many problems farmworkers faced (low pay, discrimination, physical abuse, exposure to toxins, etc.), Chávez had to first secure their right to form a union.  This drove him to apply his CSO skills in creating the National Farm Workers Association.  After years of hard work, Chávez and his fellow organizations Dolores Huerta and Gilbert Medina, could boast a fledgling union of representing some 1200 Mexican American families.  Still, no formal contracts with employers existed.

In 1965, the mostly Filipino union of farmworkers–the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC)–decided to strike in Delano, California, where they worked picking grapes.  Timing their grape strike at the time of harvest–September–Chávez’ NFWA had to make the decision to support it or act as scab labor.  The result was the merging of the two unions into the United Farm Workers (UFW). Chávez became the union’s president, a position he held for the rest of his life.  And, in those first days at the helm, the famous Delano Grape Strike began.  It lasted for some five years.

The story of the strike is as legendary as the man himself, who by the late sixties had become the most widely recognized face of Mexican America.  After winning contracts from most of the employers in the industry, Chávez and the union tackled other sectors of agricultural production–melons, lettuce, berries, to name a few.  Winning ontracts that last only for a few years, the union found itself constantly fighting to preserve their gains.

Sometimes they were helped by government leaders.  Most often, they were not.  When Democrat Jerry Brown became governor of California, he helped protect the rights of farmworkers to organize into unions of their choosing, and fought for the passage of the Agricultural Labor Relations Act.  In 1982, when the governorship went Republican with the election of George Deukmejian, the various elements of enforcing those rights were diluted.  And so it goes up to the present day, only as strong as the interests behind the governor’s appointees.

The UFW grew to about 40,000 union members at its height.  Chávez was an effective leader, making the movement about moral justice as much as anything else.  His campaigns were nonviolent, though the farmworkers faced violence at every turn.  While the UFW stood for labor rights, they were never far from the broader movement for civil and human rights.  Representing people by their location in the workforce, Chávez also made heavy use of religious and cultural symbols making the UFW very much a Mexican union.

He was not perfect.  In their first decades, the UFW vigorously opposed undocumented labor, seeing it (rightly) as a mechanism to break strikes and undermine the position of the union.  Under this perception, the union called immigration officers to round up and deport laborers at various times.  By the 1980s, the UFW had changed its tune, recognizing the mutual and shared cause for human rights stood as a morally more significant matter than legal distinctions.

Chávez fought for the rights of workers with his very body and soul.  He used the Gandhian tactic of the fast to bring both attention and moral focus to the movement.  As he said, “When we are really honest with ourselves we must admit that our lives are all that really belong to us. So, it how we use our lives that determines what kind of men we are. It is my deepest belief that only by giving our lives do we find life.”

Due to his repeated use of the technique, his work in the fields, and his unyielding work on behalf of others, he died in 1993.

Why a day for him?
Chávez is more than a labor leader.  Formal, organized labor often opposed his efforts, seeing the unionization of the agricultural sector and of the Mexican and Filipino worker as inconsequential.  Chávez did not.  He saw it as the height of service.  He struggle to improve the lives of the most oppressed, to make them better, more just, more human and humane.  For those reasons alone, a day for his is a worthwhile effort.

He is also, arguably, the most high-profile Latino in U.S. history.  In a time of racial progress and change, he became the embodiment of the kinds of forward-looking struggles for basic economic rights people associated with the most favorable of movements.  For these reasons, he deserves his day.

But that doesn’t mean his holiday is the most fitting-way to pay tribute to his life, legacy, and memory.  His work and position within history led to the movement to secure a holiday in his name.  The UFW did not support this effort at first.  They knew Chávez would have been the last person to be in favor of a day commemorating his life.  It eclipses the farmworkers for whom he gave his life.  It marginalizes their struggle in the name of his own.  It is also a gross contradiction.  The official holiday (March 31st) will be a day off from work for State employees in eight states.  But what about farmworkers?

A more fitting tribute to Chávez would have been the passage of legislation making the lives of farmworkers better.  It could have been about securing the federal protection for them (and domestic workers) to form unions–the only two sectors of the economy left beyond the reach of the NLRB.  It could have been more workplace and health security for workers.  It could have been a lot.

What can we do?
There is always a danger in formalizing commemoration for a person whose movement demanded a major change in the status quo.  They risk creating a distance between the fight “then” and the real life lived “now.”  As is the case with the holiday celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., it creates a false sense of accomplishment, when, in reality, the fight they inspired is still very much unresolved.

I will celebrate this day by doing what I do, reading and writing about the causes of human social justice.  I will do something to help others think about the struggles to which Chávez gave his life.  I will stop before I eat today and remember, eat time I chew, there is a pair of hands, an aching back, a name, a life, a human body filled with dreams that brought this food from the dirt to my mouth.

I will also do something to bring attention to the ongoing struggles of workers.  I hope you do the same.

Erik Estrada smokes pot in Shenandoah: Hispanic or Latino?

My apologies for a post related to nothing but this blog, but…

I took a look at my blog stats today and noticed that two posts I wrote on the fly as “funny” pieces have now registered more hits than almost all of the thoughtful posts I spend lots of time thinking about and composing.  Why?  Well, about half of the daily visitors to this blog (about 150 or so) find it via the search terms “marijuana” and “smoke marijuana.”  A few find it by typing in the words “erik estrada.”

I don’t know what this says about the world, this blog, or me, but so it is.  That makes my post on Michael Phelps’ bong incident the most popular post ever on Latino Like Me.   Two short but significant (to me, at least) posts are numbers two and three: last summer’s hate crime in Shenandoah (PA) holds on to the number 2 spot, while the question “Hispanic vs. Latino: What’s in a Name?“comes in third.  (And that last one was really just a hat tip to the insightful post by Daniel Cubias at the HuffingtonPost.)  But this is the weird thing.  For some reason, Erik Estrada’s escapades in Muncie, Indiana are starting to propel that post upwards, with a bullet.

I guess I understand the blog traffic due to pot.  It’s just funny that, assuming this rate doesn’t change much, in a year or so more people will have visited my blog for the one post about pot than for all the other posts combined.  The murder of Luis Ramirez and the “identity question” are also understandable (questions seeking clarification on the terms “Hispanic,” “Latino,” and “Chicano” are my favorite to tackle on Yahoo Answers).  But what is up with Ponch?

Secretary Clinton meets Guadalupe

On her diplomatic trip to México last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid an unexpected visit to the basilica wherein resides the visage of la Vírgen–I mean the Virgin–Our Lady of Guadalupe.

As reported by the Catholic News Agency (and everybody else in the Spanish-speaking world), Clinton visited the shrine and asked the basilica’s rector, Msgr. Diego Monroy, “Who painted it?” The surprised priest replied, “God!”

The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is perhaps the most well-known and culturally significant in all of Latin America.  Certainly this is the case in Mexico, where she is the de facto “patroness saint” of the nation.  From the northern border of our southern neighbor to the tip of Chile, most nations in Latin America worship some version of the “Virgin Mother.”

As the story is told, a young indio is on the hill called Tepeyec (in the former capitol of the “Aztec Empire”) where he is visited by an apparition of the Virgin (the mother of God).  She has a message for him and the folks down below, and—yadda, yadda, yadda—to prove it, she makes roses grow on the hillside even though they are out of season.  The young man—named Juan Diego—collects the roses in his sarape and carries them down to the disbelieving priests below.  When he unfurled his sarape, sending the roses to the ground, upon it was the image of the Virgin Mother.


Old Mexican ladies will often tell you how scientists have done tests on it and they can’t figure out what the image is made of.  “It’s certainly not painted,” they’ll say.  They’ll tell you how the most advanced microscopes have been used to find that inside of her eyes is the exact image you can see on Juan Diego’s cloak, and inside of those, the same.  They’ll tell you how people have been healed by merely looking in its direction, and how she rewards her faithful (many of whom you can see climbing the hill, while praying the rosary, on their knees!).  Every Mexican home I have ever been into has at least one picture of her hanging and one statuette for good measure.  In my house, we had one in each bedroom.

This is big, huuuuuuuuge Mexican stuff.  And, while I’m happy Clinton helped us pony-up to our role in the drug war now plaguing Mexico, it might have been nice for her team to have given her the heads up on Our Lady.

I’m just saying…

Debugging the Silicon Dream

The California Studies Association is having their annual conference on April 24, 2009 at De Anza College, in Cupertino.

The CSA has been around for over 20 years.  A lively mix of academics, activists, and public servants, it brings together people with an interest in California issues as it seeks to nurture a progressive agenda on the same.


This year’s conference theme–“Debugging the Silicon Dream: Real Life in a Virtual World“–promises to be a stimulating exploration on the gulf between the California “tech dream” and the lived realities it both relies upon and produces.  I will be chairing a panel on immigration to the region, probing the ways California’s present and future continue to rely upon immigrants while not providing for their human needs.  We’ll be looking at how immigration shapes identity; how immigrants participate in local labor politics; and how local service providers create meaningful ways to better meet immigrants’ needs.

Admission is FREE to all students with a valid I.D. and with a suggested contribution of $35 to all others. I know for a fact nobody will be turned away, however, that $35 paid in advance via pre-registration will guarantee you food for the day and one year’s membership in the CSA (normally $35).  Nice deal, no?

César Chávez and your day off

Today numerous places in the 8 states that officially recognize Céasar Chávez day are observing that holiday with a day off.  The actual holiday is on March 31st, the day of Chávez’ birth.  Unfortunately, like MLK day and other holidays, an “observance day”–a tactic devised to give people a three-day weekend and a non-interrupted work week–is quickly becoming the trend.

Next Tuesday, I’ll have some things to say about the life and legacy of Chávez but, in the meantime, let me just say that the use of Chávez’ memory to create a three-day weekend is kind of grotesque, especially considering the people he struggled for (farmworkers) don’t have today, or even tomorrow, off.

So work me beauties, and be thankful that you work in a place where you can read a blog go to the bathroom when you want, and not develop crippling, life-shortening back ailments.  (Of course, only if you do work in such a place.)

U.S. admits role in Mexican violence

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, currently in Mexico in advance of the President’s scheduled trip next month, made some candid and rather surprising comments on Wednesday.  As reported in the Los Angeles Times:

Clinton said the U.S. has a duty to help since it is a major consumer of illicit drugs and a key supplier of weapons smuggled to cartel hit men.

“We know very well that the drug traffickers are motivated by the demand for illegal drugs in the United States, that they are armed by the transport of weapons from the United States to Mexico,” Clinton said during a news conference with Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa. “We see this as a responsibility to assist the Mexican government and people.”

This is a truly meaningful first step toward altering the current problematic relationship between the United States and Mexico. Both Clinton and Obama should be commended for it.

I don’t pretend, however, to think it will represent a fundamental shift in that relationship–one plagued by the vestiges of economic and cultural imperialism (which is, itself, a two-way street).  She is there to tout the Merida Initiative, and the thrust of her public “admission” was to contextualize the U.S. support of Mexico’s continuing war on drugs and crime.  But this acknowledgment is something significant for the moral legitimacy of the many sustained efforts to nurture a more equitable and humane condition of life on both sides of the border.

They want his “policies” to fail

Courtesy of CNN’s Political Ticker, Fred Thompson–politician turned actor turned failed politician–has added his grizzled voice to the now well-organized choir of Republicans who want Obama’s “policies” to fail (not him, as Jabba the Limbaugh chortled earlier this year).

I have three points related to this view held by Thompson, Jindal, and all the others.

1. Socialism.  While Freddie avoided the “s” word in his proclamation, others have been making liberal use of it.  I am ALL in favor of a little socialism in this nation, especially as we are bearing witness to an economic phenomenon that is anything but an aberration of capitalism.  But, raising the tax three percent on gazillionaires and investing in children and the future of the economy is not socialism.  If you think it is–I mean really think it is–then you don’t read enough.

2. “The Road.” These Republican voices have been rationalizing their perspective by saying they don’t want to head down a road of a huge debt, high inflation, and a host of other things, that nobody wants.  If you really think Obama wants those things, then you don’t read enough.  (I will add Bill Moyers and others make a very historically-sound argument why many Conservatives do want those.)  We know why they say this: because if these policies just worked, then Republicans would be saying they’d rather be wrong and not know it than know it.  As long as they aren’t proven wrong, they can keep mobilizing people on their faulty ideas.

3. Old white men.  I’m tired of caring about what old white guys want and don’t want.  We’ve done that for two centuries already and it hasn’t been all that great for the rest of us. (And no, Jindal is not an exception.)

George Lopez heads to late night

From today’s Variety,Chicano comedian George Lopez has signed on to produce and star in a late-night talkshow on TBS.

There’s still a TBS?

Lopez will  air starting this fall, at 11 p.m., Mondays through Thursdays.  He will follow the standard late night format, with interview guests and musical and comedy acts.