Happy Labor Day

Every Labor Day, I try to keep in mind those that work so that I may live.  This includes everybody who performs what are generally “invisible” tasks in our daily lives, from the workers who pick up my garbage to those who make sure our house has running water.  It also includes those I think of as “producers of life.”

There are over two million people in this nation right now who work planting, growing, harvesting, and processing the food you and I consume on a daily basis.  They are overwhelmingly from Latin America, poor, and subject to gross inequities in their daily work lives.  From pay to the provision of something as simple as shade, their rights in the workplace are not only consistently violated but they are not always even assured by the “laws” of the nation within which they work.  And, in a very literal and symbolic way, they are the people whose labor assures the reproduction of the human race.  They are “producers of life.”

Today, from the advocacy organization Farmworker Justice comes this Labor Day news relating to the Department of Labor and “guestworkers,” many of whom toil in the fields and processing plants so that we can eat.  As posted on their blog, Harvesting Justice:

The Labor Department today announced new proposed rules for the nation’s agricultural guestworker program which would largely reverse the Bush Administration’s harmful changes which slashed wages and vital worker protections in the program.

The H-2A agricultural guestworker program is supposed to ensure that U.S. workers are offered decent wages and working conditions before employers are permitted to hire foreign guestworkers based on claimed labor shortages, but the Bush Administration’s changes gave agricultural employers access to cheap foreign labor with little government oversight. The new proposal would restore the guarantee that US workers will be hired before foreign workers; a protection that was weakened under the Bush regulations.

The new proposal would also restore the wage system used under the previous regulations which will overcome wage cuts that US and foreign workers experienced during 2009 due to the Bush Administration’s changes; many workers lost about $2.00 per hour under the Bush rules. H-2A workers in North Carolina, for example, earned $8.85/hr last year under the old regulations. This year under the Bush rules, they are getting only $7.25/hr. Under the wage rate calculation of the previous rules, these workers would be earning $9.34/hr this year.

You can read the full post here. You can download the Farmworker Justice statement (in MS Word) on these changes by clicking here.

Happy Labor Day.  May there come a time when the value of everyone’s work is appreciated and recognized for the role it plays in our daily lives.

Creative & Tasty Ways to Kill Yourself

Ladies and gentlemen!  Damas y caballeros! It is my pleasure, no, my honor, to present to you…

DEEP FRIED BUTTER!!!

As detailed in this pleasant and panic-free story from NBC’s Today Show, this “invention” is set to premiere at the Texas State Fair later this month.

Let me save you the experience of reading the entire article (an act which might induce a heart attack all by itself) to summarize the highlights:

1. The inventor–Abel Gonzalez Jr.–is Chicano (but of course!).

2. Gonzalez won the Texas State Fair’s “Most Creative Fried Food Award” in 2006 for his previous invention of “fried Coke.”

3. Gonzalez coats the butter with a tasty crust because, as he says, “Nobody just grabs a stick of butter and eats it. That would be gross.”

4. A Texan “nutritionist,” who thinks it is bad to ban any food and, instead, advocates a moderation policy, says even this has “some” nutrition. “Fried butter has fats, and you need some fats. The dough would have some carbohydrates.”

My brain is as overloaded as the average American’s arteries right now in trying to make “sense” of this.  Should Latinos consider Gonzalez a covert re-conquistador, taking back Aztlan in a slow-motion act of heart attack?  No, too easy.  Should we not be concerned, since this “food” will really only affect Texans and, as we all know, there’s way too many of them anyway? No.  And what about the children?!? Oh!!  The CHILDREN!!!

In all seriousness, the fact that there is a competition to invent things like this is a testament to our current state of imperial decline.  This is like the Romans sitting around…wait a minute.  I just realized the only things I remembered about the Romans are from Mel Brooks. Well, that just shows you how far they fell.

Funny, though, that the oblivious excess of the whole thing is so hyperbolic as to also be uniquely “American.”  And what does that say?

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.

A Chicano in Space

I’ve been busy this past month, so forgive the delay, but THERE’S A CHICANO IN SPACE!!!

NASA astronaut José Hernández is currently in space on the shuttle Discovery, the second to last mission for the Space Shuttle program.  The 13-day trip has the crew docking with the International Space Station, to which they are currently (as of the writing of this article) attached.

Hernández is a former migrant laborer, and he is the first of this distinction in space.  The child of Mexican migrants, he and his family lived in both La Piedad, Michoacán as well as various parts of California (primarily Stockton) as they followed “the circuit” (la corrida)–traveling north every March for field work, moving with the crops, and the returning to Mexico in November.  Hernández was born here, in California, during one of the family’s labor stops (pun intended).

Agricultural work is a brutal form of labor and, as in the case of the Hernández family, it often involves the children.  Of course, the most profound toll on children is the lack of stability “the circuit” provides.

Hernández overcame the educational limits built into his upbringing and, with lots of luck, support, and hard work, is now the first “former-migrant-farm-laborer” in space.

You can read about him and his journey in this article (written in Spanish).

ADD: My apologies.  It appears there are currently TWO Chicanos in Space.  Hernández is joined by astronaut Danny Olivas as well.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.

The start of another school year

I’m a college professor, in case you didn’t know.

Today marks the start of another fall semester for me.  My “Chicano/Latino Histories” class meets this morning and, due to a campus event, my first-year seminar “American Inequality” will meet on Thursday for the first time.

I’ve been on sabbatical for the past year, so this is my first time in a classroom in 15 months.  I’m looking forward to it, in particular to see where I’ve grown rusty.  I’m also a little bit nervous, as is typical for me, the product of the mix of excitement, the unknown, and the need to get amped up before a public performance.

Teaching is one of the most enjoyable and most rewarding things I do.  I consider it a luxury to be able to earn a living for me and my family by learning and finding ways to help others learn.  It’s also a thrill to be able to engage young people who are at a critical time in their lives, often enjoying their own luxury of making decisions about what to retain from their upbringing as they chart out a purposeful future as an “independent adult.”

As I get ready to step into the Chicano Studies classroom, I am also cognizant of the special place these classes have in the academy.  As my students will learn in a few minutes, Chicano Studies is the product of social movements which sought to change the academy, making it more responsive to the surrounding world and accountable to the knowledge it produces.

At no point in its history in higher education has Chicano Studies NOT been threatened.  In economic times like these, when colleges are shrinking classes and enrollments–and when working-class and poor students (who are disproportionately black and brown in this region) will find it harder to get into college, afford to stay in college, and find the support to succeed in college–I am acutely aware of the importance of classes like the one it is my honor to teach.

All this is to say, I don’t know where LatinoLikeMe is going to go in these months ahead.  I’ve used my sabbatical to make some deep in roads in my scholarly work and those need to continue.  That means something has to give, and that just might be this blog.  Maybe I’ll compensate by writing more of this kind of thing, of making it into something of a personal/professional journal instead of the “information” format I envisioned and tried to maintain.  We’ll see.

Now, I gotta go blow some minds.

Read more LATINO LIKE ME.