Justice for LGBT Immigrants

The Uniting American Families Act” (H.R. 1024 and S. 424), introduced to Congress in February, is slated for a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on June 3rd.


The bill–sponsored by Jerrold Nadler (NY-8) in the House and Patrick Leahy (VT) in the Senate–would allow U.S. citizens (and Legal Permanent Residents) to sponsor their long-term, same-sex partner (or what the bill calls “permanent partner”) for immigration.

The need for the law highlights but one of the many ways the U.S. formally privileges “straight” citizens over LGBT ones.  The former don’t have to choose between family and country.

So far, the bill is largely unknown among its potential supporters in the population, although professional advocates and organizations like Immigration Equality are doing their part.  Of course, the bill is already getting a lot of bottom-up chatter from the anti-same-sex-equality sectors of the population on their blogs and in their newsletters.

“The Uniting American Families Act” isn’t a special piece of legislation when it comes to immigration.  It works within existing laws, extending mechanisms of proof of relationship for same-sex partners as well as the same penalties for lying about their relationship.  In short, it doesn’t really “rock the immigration boat.”  But the bill isn’t intended to address the lack of a humane and just immigration system.

This is a necessary attempt to extend one of the most cherished values in our system of government–equality–to the processes of legal immigration.  It is an attempt by legislators in the U.S. to keep pace with the 19 countries in the world that already provide for this measure of equal treatment and recognition. And, at heart, it is about simple fairness.

Scholar and Teacher Ronald Takaki (1939-2009)

Ron Takaki has passed away.  He died Tuesday, May 26, 2009, at his home in Berkeley.


If you don’t know who he was and what he contributed to the world of academia, there are ample ways for you to learn.  This graduation address he delivered toward the end of his life gives you more than a few of the details of his personal life. The basics of his professional life are as impressive.  Born and raised in a the working-class environment of Hawai’i, he went on to become one of the most distinguished historians of race and ethnicity in the modern era.  As an Asian American he served as the founding faculty member of UCLA’s Black Studies program, and then went on to help develop the Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies at Cal, where he taught for almost 40 years.  In addition to teaching well over 20,000 students in his career, he is responsible for an assortment of scholarly literature, pioneering works in Asian American history, and the multicultural U.S. past.

But all that falls short of telling you what you need to know about the man.  As a person who was privileged to call him “mentor” during my graduate career at Berkeley, I was always impressed by his down-to-earth personality, warmth, and caring.  He was a rare combination of strengths: a cutting edge and world-renowned scholar who was also as good a teacher as you will ever see.

He wasn’t a humble man, but he wasn’t out of line with his lack of humility either.  He knew the value of his work and his place in letters.  In the classroom, he taught by connecting you to the vibrancy of a field of knowledge that was alive and in development.  He appropriately made his work part of that field.  In graduate seminars on research, he made his own process visible, showing you how he went from idea to book in record time.  He worked from the belief that you could learn something from hearing and seeing how a “master” performed his art.  He was right.

As a scholar, he produced pertinent, cutting-edge work for four decades.  His work was the perfect embodiment of the conception academia has of itself.  It spoke to our present conditions as much as our past and provided road maps for how we could become a more whole, more equitable, and more just society. While other academics pretend their work is important and necessary, Ron had the brilliance of never having to pretend. His best-selling book, A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America, recently premiered in a new and updated edition.  It will be the effort for which he is most remembered.  His best, and the one of which he spoke most fondly, was 1979’s Iron Cages : Race and Culture in 19th-Century America.

Ron had a tremendous impact on my work and on the work of my friends at Berkeley.  Those of us who had his advice (and signature) as part of our dissertations would be forever branded as “Takaki-ites.”  It is a badge I wear proudly, for you see, for Ron it was all about the “voices.”  His work represented the voices and experiences of those silenced and forgotten.  He did that, not for a present-day class of people who had the power to remember and to be remembered, but for those of whom he wrote, and those like them in our present.  He was a humanist in the fullest and most meaningful sense of that word, a model of public intellectual behavior to which we should all aspire.

While I am saddened by his death, I also am left with a sense of pride and appreciation.  This is not only for having the chance to know him and work with him, but more for the fact that I get to work in the profession of which he was a part; for living in a world that has benefited from his work and will continue to do so for generations to come.  In so many ways, and in untold ways we have yet to see, Ron Takaki left this world better than he found it.

We are all the better for his life, and the lesser for his passing.  The official campus announcement of his death can be found on the UC Berkeley website, along with a more in-depth obituary.

UPDATE (5/28/09): Various obituaries are now also appearing in newspapers around the nation, such as the Los Angeles Times, the Oakland Tribune, and the Honolulu Advertiser.


The Radical Right vs. Sotomayor

And so it begins.

But a scant few hours after her name is made public, Sonia Sotomayor–Barack Obama’s pick to fill the vacancy left by Justice David Souter on the Supreme Court–is the target of the radical right in their campaign to obstruct, slander, and emerge victorious in the war of emotions as opposed to ideas.

The porcine Rush Limbaugh began his attack today on his radio show. Recycling the litany of arguments devised in backroom meetings where strategists hold firm to the belief that if you say it enough it becomes true, the bloated host declaring her dumb, emotional, anti-Constitutional, and a reverse racist. In defense of the rights of “white men,” Limbelch chortled:

So she’s not the brain that they’re portraying her to be, she’s not a constitutional jurist. She is an affirmative action case extraordinaire and she has put down white men in favor of Latina women.

You can read more of his comments here.  If you wonder how he could have possibly learned so much about her in a short amount of time, reading all hr court decisions and analyzing them down to a concise and informed position on the matter all in about one hour, well, then you’re probably not reading this now, are you?


Same-Sex Marriage and a Latina on the Supreme Court

Today has been a big day in legal news, though not an entirely surprising one.

In a move everyone expected, the California State Supreme Court upheld the legality of Proposition 8, the anti-same-sex marriage act passed by voters in November 2008.  As they declared the legality of the measure and the manner of it passage into Constitutional law, they also upheld the legaility of the more than 18000 marriages which took place between the time the same court made same-sex unions legal and the voters disagreed.  You can read the story here.

This is a sad day for the cause of equal rights, but there have been many such days in the history of this nation.  Progressive movement forward has never been a foregone conclusion, it has always come from the deliberate and focused action of groups of people engaged in movement.  For this issue, there was no broad-based and collective movement before November 8, 2008.  There is now.  I doubt my 3-year old son will reach kindergarten before there is a voter-mandated change in the Golden State.


Today also marks a moment of tentative success of movements past with the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court of the United States of America.  If her nomination is confirmed by the Senate this fall, Sotomayor will become the first Latina to serve on the highest court of the land.

There is a long road ahead of the successful nomination of the Bronx-born, Nuyorican to the Court.  But it is a reflection of the success of generations of people who actively fought for recognition, representation, and a chance to participate as full members of a society.  It is the product of movements for change, ones that desired Latinos or Latinas in positions of power and ones that fought for bigger and more systemic changes.

One step backward, a small shuffle forward?


Rappers, ‘Bling,’ and the Economy

From today’s Wall Street Journal comes this story of the recession/depression and its reflection in the everyday world of rap music.

In “Culture of Bling Clangs to Earth as the Recession Melts Rappers’ Ice” reporter Migue Bustillo tells us:

The recession is cramping the style of hip-hop artists and wannabes — many of whom are finding it difficult to afford the diamond-encrusted pendants and heavy gold chains they have long used to project an aura of outsized wealth.

In an attempt to keep up appearances, celebrity jewelers say rappers are asking them to make medallions with less-precious stones and metals. Some even whisper that the artists have begun requesting cubic zirconia, the synthetic diamond stand-in and QVC staple.

Hip-hop luminaries with the cash to keep it real are appalled. Bling aficionados fret that the art of “ice” is being watered down.

The article quotes 50 cent who, reflective of the culture equating flashy jewelry and wealth with power, essentially “outed” a rival rapper for his fake image (and talent). Real jewelry, in this instance, became shorthand for authentic rap.

You can read the whole story here, but the WSJ will probably make you pay for it by the end of the week.

This is an interesting story, but a strange one to find in the WSJ.  I was a bit hesitant to read it, expecting to find  something akin to the attitude expressed in one of the comments: “Nice, they actually look more foolish now than they did before.”  But, after reading the piece, I foud another reason why a bsiness-mined news daily would run such a story: rappers are a lot like everyone else actively participating in a fantasy capitalist motivated world.

So much of the mainstream (non-rap) culture is tied up in apperances and image.  Uncertain economic times means, first, people can’t often pretend to be more wealthy than they are with the same amount of ease as they could before.  Not being able to afford real flashy jewelry–or the newest BMW, or piece of technology, or whatever–is tantamount to advertising your non-exceptionalness.  And who wants to be regular?

The commodified and commercialized version of hip-hop culture is trapped in a masculinist contest that says alot about both how people value wealth and power as well as how frighteningly impotent they feel (or fear feeling).

Bustillo reports: “You gotta understand, it is every rapper’s fear to be exposed as a fraud,” said Gregory Lewis of Brooklyn, who posts conversations with artists on the Internet under the alias “Doggie Diamonds, the interview king.” “If you admit you wear fake jewelry, it is over for you. It’s like bragging you drive a Lamborghini when you really drive a Toyota.”

25 years ago today a man came from the future

Have you ever tried to cook enchiladas and bake a coffee cake at the same time?  It doesn’t work.  You end up with bad dinner and dessert, or even worse–sweet enchilada coffee cake!  Well, that’s why I haven’t been writing much on the blog lately, because other, more serious, more “finish or else you lose your job” kind of writing is taking my time.

But I couldn’t let the day pass without some mention.  After all, today is the 25th anniversary of May 12, 1984.

You can watch the scene here.

This scene, from James Cameron’s 1984 classic Terminator, has it all:  sci-fi technology; butt; humor at the expense of a hobo; time travel; the inference of gay, alley sex; and a killer Casio™ keyboard score right out of a John Carpenter movie.  It drips with the 80s.

Hardcore sci-fi/Terminator fans will note that “12th, May, Thursday” in 1984 was really “12th, May, Saturday.”  Rumor has it the movie was set to film in 1983–when it was a Thursday–but due to Schwarzeneggar’s contractual obligations to Conan, had to be postponed.  They never updated the day in the script.  I say, when a naked man steals your gun and points it at you, you are bound to get a few facts wrong during an impromptu quiz.  Eh…

After seeing the new Star Trek movie last week, Terminator has been on my mind.  In it, Kyle Reese (the naked man you see above) is sent back from the future by a man named John Connor to save Sarah Connor.  Sarah is the future mother of John Connor, the leader of the resistance in the war against the machines.  In that future, the machines have sent one of their own back to kill her, thereby hoping to extinguish the resistance (by making sure their leader is never born).  What we learn in the movie, of course, is that Kyle Reese is the one who gets Sarah Connor pregnant.  He is the father of John Connor.

But how could John Connor be alive to send his father back in time so that he would be born if he wasn’t already alive?

Ah! Because time is connected but not dependent.  Instead of a Back to the Future space-time continuum, we have a series of dots in time/space where new lines of dots can emerge from the others and not change the course of the ones already in existence.  Sound familiar?

So Skynet was sending back a Terminator to 1984 to kill that Sarah Connor so as to kill off the possibility of a John Connor being born in the future that comes from then.  Get it?  Skynet was so fucking pissed off, it sent a machine back in time to do something that would have no effect whatsoever on its own present reality.  It just wanted to fuck it up for another human reality.

Aw, forget it.  Just bask in the glow of commemorating an anniversary of something that happened in cinematic fiction.


Changing the question on race

I’ve had a few “race discussions” this week, both online and in person. The continuing saga of the HINI flu, as well as the tragic jury decision in the murder of Luis Ramirez, have been the stage of these discussions. The dance is an old one.

This week has reminded me of how far we as a society have yet to go with respect to race. Let me try to distill this down as cogently as possible and say that much of the difficulties I witnessed this week have to do with the way we ask questions about race in our daily lives as a precursor to establishing analytical conclusions.

As I tried to say in an earlier post, I don’t think the useful question in the trial of Luis Ramirez’ murderers is whether or not the decision was “racist.”  That’s a loaded question, culturally, but it is also a simplistic and very problematic one.  The answer tells us less of what we really want to know (how race works in our daily lives and institutions) than it creates a platform for indignation or anger.  Additionally, it assumes the foundational stance of white privilege, which is a negation of race and its consequences in our lives.  In asking “if” we are inherently positioning the answer to be as likely to be true as false.  Historical knowledge makes this the equivalent of asking “Is the world flat?”

The more useful question is, as I suggest above, how is race involved in our daily lives.  This leaves open a small space for those who fear confronting the situation by allowing them to try to establish a credible explanation for how it does not, but, more importantly, it focuses our gaze toward understanding the problem and finding ways to fix it.

Few of us who work on race issues were surprised when professional fear-mongers began spewing their misinformation campaign linking the spread of the H1N1 virus (“swine” flu) to “illegal” immigration from Mexico.  It is important to note that no rational person should think this.  There is not only not evidence to prove it, the evidence we have of cross-border migrations, as I said elsewhere, actually makes it unlikely.

Spain Swine Flu

The way this movement manipulates information to play to people’s worst tendencies, nurturing their fears and pushing them toward hate, is all-too familiar.  It is, sadly, an “American tradition” stretching back for almost two centuries.  That isn’t to say there aren’t other traditions, nobler ones contesting the less savory.  But it remains so.

If we stop to have to re-prove this well-established understanding to serve the lowest common denominator with respect to racial understanding, we do nothing than stunt our more general understanding.  Many people of color who possess this understanding live with repeated interjections of frustration because those who don’t know are always in the habit of making us explain it all.

But “it” is out there already.  That you do not know is not an accident or a natural exhibition of the condition of learning (“we don’t know until we learn”).  It is by design.  You don’t know these things because of a host of forces, many of which you contribute to nurturing on a daily basis.

My point is, race is a factor.  As a teacher, I can explain it to you, and I will do so with joy:

Part of the U.S. imperial project of the 19th and 20th centuries has been related the Spanish-speaking South.  From the habitual desire to take Cuba (beginning before Jefferson); to the U.S. war with Mexico (1846-48); to the work of the State Department on the behalf of U.S. transportation, agricultural, and manufacturing interests, the U.S. and its economic tentacles have had a firm grip over the social, political, and economic histories of parts of Latin America.

Those forms of imperialism–where a foreign power (like the U.S.) can exercise an inordinate amount of power over another sovereign nation (like Mexico)–have everything to do with the way the U.S. thinks about Mexico and Mexicans.  As David Weber argued in his 30 year-old essay “Scarce More than Apes’: Historical Roots of Anglo-American Stereotypes of Mexicans,” the historically constructed ideas of Mexican “otherness”–the inferiority, the filth, the genetic and cultural backwardness–sets the stage for how we receive and make sense of everything related to them.  This includes things like the “swine flu.”

But, as a person of color living in this place at this time, recognize, I am not always happy that you don’t know already.


Manny Ramirez and Baseball’s Soul

Today is a scandalous day in Los Angeles, but not a surprising one. Fan-favorite Manny Ramirez, the cornerstone of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the resident “star” of the team, has been suspended for 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance.

The profound lack of surprise in this matter has little to do with the Dodgers or with Ramirez. Really, it has everything to do with the reality of baseball. You can only be truly surprised at today’s news if you continue to hold on to some fantasy image of the sport as being untainted from drugs and money and “business.” At the risk of sounding too pessimistic, let me paraphrase a Jim Rome analysis: just assume EVERYONE did it and then be surprised when you learn one of them did not.

This isn’t an apology for Ramirez. Not at all. As a fan, as a Latino, and as somebody with a small obsession for popular culture, I got as excited as anybody last year when he arrived. I was both pleased and moved by his ability to turn to the Spanish-language press and become a bona fide “Latino Dodger,” like one we haven’t seen since the days of Fernando. L.A. loves cultural movements and fads, especially when it is tied to wining, and Manny didn’t let us down. Now, we have to share in the burden of his failure because we, as fans, don’t get to see him play for fifty days.

Still, my disappointment is tempered by the way I see the sport now versus the way I see it as a fan, as a historian, or “as it was.” I don’t pretend to think the game of baseball was “pure” or more “wholesome” in an era long since passed. There were addictions, immoralities, and just plain bad shit that followed the game. You see, baseball—like any enterprise involving people—is human. Ty Cobb was an asshole. Mickey Mantle an alcoholic. Babe Ruth was an asshole and an alcoholic. I’m sure it wasn’t just fans who threatened to kill or hurt Jackie Robinson. And these are just the easy ones!

Baseball was and probably always has been all-too human. The Ramirez controversy, perhaps, is a reflection of that. But I think it is something more, too.

Steven Rubio, a friend of mine who maintains one of the most interesting and diverse blogs out there, wrote an interesting piece yesterday. As an avid fan of the SF Giants (the Dooku to my Yoda) he wondered whether or not professional players are more fans of their team or of the game they play. You can read my comment to his piece, where I probably gave in to the romance and sentimentality of the sport more than anything else. Because, my dear friends, I fear most professional players today are fans of themselves before their team or the game itself.

Again, I don’t mean to sound overly pessimistic, but this is the “business” of baseball. High contracts are but infinitesimal slices of the big pie of money that comes with modern-day baseball. The business side of the sport has been fucking up the human side of it for a long time now. You can see the small instances of it just in my lifetime, from the players’ union fights of the 1970s up to the drug scandals of today.

For the Dodgers, that change came quickly but much later than it did for almost everybody else.  When the O’Malley family finally reliquished control and sold the team in 1998, the era of the family-owned team came to an end.  For goodness sakes, from 1954 to 1996 we had only two managers!  How many popes were there in that period?  Dodger stadium–with it signature colors and blank spaces free from advertising–changed.  The team culture changed.  The ways decisions about who stayed and who went also changed.  The Dodgers went corporate.

The business of it all nurtures players’ self-conceptions as products which need to increase their market values. Drug use is but one part of that. Organized baseball’s avoidance to dealing with the drugs is another. Barry Bonds, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, and the whole lot of them are worse for it. So are we. In some ways, so is the game.

I remember Don Drysdale very fondly. One of the finest pitchers in Dodger and baseball history, I knew him best as one of the regular Dodgers’ broadcast commentators until his unexpected death in July 1993. One of the truly wonderful things about the man was that he was a Dodger fan, through and through. Every once in awhile, when a player got hit by a pitch, Drysdale would explain the way it worked in his time. If one of yours got hit, one of theirs—on the very first pitch the next inning—got hit harder. If they got his mid section, you got the head. If your player had to leave the game, well, you get the picture. (By the way, Drysdale ended up #15 on the pitchers all-time list of most “Hit By Pitches” with 154 in only 13 seasons and a bit over 3400 innings pitched.)

There’s nothing “pure” or “wholesome” about Drysdale’s baseball strategy. Frankly, there’s nothing even tactically smart about it from the perspective of the game. But, if you think about it, in doing what he did, Don Drysdale was being a loyal fan.  He was protecting his team and taking the emotional and even childish aspect of play to its natural adult extreme.  This wasn’t “business.”  This was business.

And that’s what I’m left with today.  Not surprise, not sorrow, not even loss.  Just the same.  Wishing the game of baseball I get to share with my two kids was a little more human and a lot less of everything else.


Luis Ramirez and American Racism

On Friday, May 1, while thousands of people in the U.S. were marching for immigrants’ rights, an “all-white” jury in Pennsylvania acquitted two “white” teens of killing a Mexican immigrant.

Derrick Donchak, 19, and Brandon Piekarsky, 17—along with Colin Walsh, 18, who did not stand trial but pleaded guilty to federal charges—beat up Luis Ramirez on July 12, 2008 in Shenandoah, PA.  They left him with his head so severely beaten that his brains were slowly leaking from his skull.  On July 14, Ramirez, who was an undocumented immigrant, died from his injuries.


There were accusations of racial epithets being used and of the crime being motivated by Ramirez’ ethnicity and race. One witness testified another youth who accompanied the accused teens shouted “This is Shenandoah. This is America. Go back to Mexico.”  Others accused Ramirez of being violent and of instigating the conflict himself.

Now a jury found Piekarsky not guilty of third-degree murder; not guilty of voluntary manslaughter; and not guilty of involuntary manslaughter. They found Donchak not guilty of aggravated assault and not guilty of assault with a deadly weapon. They found both guilty of assault. Without criminal records both are not likely to serve any time in prison.

For some coverage of the verdict, see the local Morning Call and CNN.

Some people are asking if the verdict is racist.  They want to know if these two boys were acquitted because of their race, or because of the race of the man they killed.  They wonder if immigration figures into it.

They are asking the wrong questions.

Shenandoah, the accused, the jury, the judge, the prosecutor, the witnesses, the police, the reporters, the people who sat and heard testimony, me, and you, we all have somethings in common.  We live in a society with a long tradition of nurturing a belief in the superiority of one “race” (the so-called “white”) over all others.  We live in a society with a long tradition of elaborating on the particular inferiority of each “other race.”  We live in a society with a long tradition of thinking of the nonwhite and the nonwhite immigrant and threats, as not human, and as inherently criminal.

These are not the only traditions in our society.  They are not equally encountered and inherited by each of us.  They do not absolve us of independent thought, or of the ability to interrogate and dismantle them.

But they are there.  Much more than  ideas, prejudices, and thoughts, they are the rationales our daily interactions with each other, and for our own interactions with systems of power.  They have been a shorthand for ordering our lives, for defining “we” and “they.”  They have played a role in helping you define yourself, who you are and who you are not.

In her book “Why Are All The Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”: A Psychologist Explains the Development of Racial Identity, Beverly Daniel Tatum equates this to smog. We may not have created it, but we are born into a world polluted by it. Whether or not we like it, all of us—both people of color and “whites”—breathe it in.

Likewise, it is each of our responsibilities to do something about it.

LatinoLikeMe featured a few posts on the murder and subsequent flurry of national media attention. Even without doing much more than re-posting a story from another news source, they became heavily trafficked posts for this blog. They also inspired a host of comments. Read the ones below this post, for an example of the way certain people were moved.

You see, here’s the thing: none of the so-called “facts” here matter. No matter what “side” you are on, there should be no legal protection for beating a man until his brains seep out of his head. Irregardless of whose testimony you believe, we are all products of a reality which sympathizes “whites,” criminalizes Latinos, and dehumanizes immigrants.

I didn’t know Luis Ramirez. He might have been an asshole, he might have been a saint. In a few years, maybe more, most people not directly affected by this case will have forgotten about him, if they ever knew who he was to begin with. But that’s not really the point.

None of us should ever forget what these events tell us about ourselves, as individuals and as a society. As I wrote last summer:

“In the end, stories like this tell us far more about ourselves than about the victims or perpetrators–whether in how we make sense of it, identify with it, or seek to incorporate its balance into our lives.”