Why do I blog?

I started this blog (on another hosting platform) in August 2007. My first posts had nothing in particular that tied them together other than the fact they came from me. I wrote about Elvis, music, movies, and Latinos in the news. After moving over to WordPress, I started to focus only on issues of political or cultural importance, keeping this as a space where I could try and find ways of bridging the gap between the academy and the public. After making that decision my volume of posts decreased, but (I think) the quality got better.

During the 2008-09 school year, I was on sabbatical from my job. I work as an Assistant Professor of History and Latino Studies at a small liberal arts college in Southern California, and one of the benefits/demands of that job is that I get time off from teaching and committee work to produce research. While blogging doesn’t count, I found ample time to do so. My time off from the regular demands of my job coincided with a presidential election cycle that involved a Black man, a woman, and a Vietnam veteran–all with the issue of immigration looming in the background. Needless to say, I rarely struggled to find something to write about.

During the past four months I have been back at my teaching job, trying to balance family (I have two kids, a 4 and a 2 year old) with my increased research/writing demands, and teaching and committees, and grading and reading, and. . . The end result is that compared to a year ago, my volume of blog posts has gone down to a trickle.

I haven’t run out of things to say. I just find that I don’t have the time to say most of what I want to say, about the things I generally talk about here.

In the meantime, though, LatinoLikeMe has kind of blossomed in its readership. The sheer volume of posts I do have up, on such a wide variety of topics, means that people visit here everyday to read something. Right now, this blog gets about 14,000 hits a month, which is 13,073 more hits than it got in its entire first year. Whether or not most stay, I don’t know. But some do, as the steady stream of complimentary comments attests. It nice to know people enjoy reading something you wrote.

All this is to say, I find myself at a crossroads. I’m not considering closing shop, but I am thinking it might be okay for me to write with a bit less constraint than in the past, maybe use this space as more of a kind of journal than I have. Then again, what I do already seems to be reaching people, even if I can’t add to it with the frequency with which I would like.

I dunno.

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“The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace…”

President Barack Obama accepted the Nobel Prize for Peace today. As he acknowledged at the start of his address, the seeming contradiction of a wartime President receiving a distinction such as this was on the minds of many in the world.

His address was an eloquent rationalization for war. I don’t know any other way to say it. To many, undoubtedly, it made sense. To many more–most of those in the world who suffer under the effects of war–it would seem gross and incomprehensible for him to say what he did say.

While you can easily access the full-text of the speech at the White House, let me share with you the heart of his rationalization, and the critical center of his thinking I find so unsatisfactory:

We must begin by acknowledging the hard truth that we will not eradicate violent conflict in our lifetimes. There will be times when nations — acting individually or in concert — will find the use of force not only necessary but morally justified.

I make this statement mindful of what Martin Luther King said in this same ceremony years ago — “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones.” As someone who stands here as a direct consequence of Dr. King’s life’s work, I am living testimony to the moral force of nonviolence. I know there is nothing weak — nothing passive — nothing naive — in the creed and lives of Gandhi and King.

But as a head of state sworn to protect and defend my nation, I cannot be guided by their examples alone. I face the world as it is, and cannot stand idle in the face of threats to the American people. For make no mistake: Evil does exist in the world. A nonviolent movement could not have halted Hitler’s armies. Negotiations cannot convince al Qaeda’s leaders to lay down their arms. To say that force is sometimes necessary is not a call to cynicism — it is a recognition of history; the imperfections of man and the limits of reason.

What we must begin to consider is that “peace” is not merely the absence of war. While my concerns as a scholar are far more focused on what this means for everyday people living life on this planet–the freedom to be free from starvation as well as other forms of cultural, spiritual, political, and physical violence–it is equally true for the realm of big government diplomacy.

No, a “nonviolent movement” would not have halted Hitler’s armies in 1939. But a truly peaceful form of national and international diplomacy would have never allowed such a condition to materialize in the first place. If we live in a world where inequalities and inequities are not only allowed to exist but are indifferently and passively fostered and condoned, then we live in a world that will continue to see the worst in our species rise up.

Peace is not simple. Peace is not singular. But make no mistake about it: peace is both possible, realistic, and urgently needed.

We are human beings

It is amazing to me how the liberal ethos of the bureaucratic systems we produce so effectively negates people’s humanity. It shoves it to the side and places it outside of consideration. What’s worse, it then rationalizes this negation as not only necessary, but good.

But it’s not. When we turn off our ability to sympathize with people’s human struggles and needs as they move or are moved through these unnatural processes and institutions, we don’t just deny them the compassionate respect of personhood, we kill a little bit of it in ourselves, too.

Let me give you an example that fills in for the host of things I am thinking about today. It comes from page 5 of a report from Amnesty International called “Jailed Without Justice.” Published in spring 2009, it is a sobering yet important read. (A complete PDF of the report can be downloaded here.)

A 34-year-old Mexican mother of three told Amnesty International that she was arrested at her home in front of her 3-year-old autistic US citizen son by local police and jailed for 24 days. According to her attorney, she was arrested for failure to appear for a petty theft offense. She was taken to jail “handcuffed to other people on the way” and interrogated that evening by an ICE officer. She told Amnesty International that she does not speak English and had no idea why she was being held. She also told Amnesty International that ICE officers said that it was her fault she was being separated from her family and she should just accept an order of deportation.

The last line–her account of an ICE officer blaming her for her own situation–is exactly the point I am trying to make. I think it is reflective of the way a lot of “fair and balanced” people would think. That’s just the way the system is, after all. If she didn’t want to be treated that way, she should have appeared in court on her petty theft charge, not migrated to the US without papers, and so on.

The problem is the way we shape a reality where this conclusion seems rationale, safe, fair, and uncontested. It is not. It is a product of our inability to shut off our sensors to her human needs, fears, and hopes. It is fundamentally based on our choice to she her not as a person but as a subject.

Many argue this is the necessary condition to make “justice blind.” Let me suggest it also places true and meaningful justice out of our reach for if this is a world where people’s lives are reduced to a set of so-called “facts,” then what have we gained?