“Where did it go?”

from Saturday Night Live

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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.