The US is afraid of Cuba

One of the hopes many people had with the election of Barack Obama was some improvement in the diplomatic relations between the US and Latin America.  The past thirty years have been among the worst of the previous century with regards to this varied issue, though hardly were they unusual in terms of the pattern set by the preceding hundred years. At nearly every turn the US has pursued a base form of self-interest, most often to the direct benefit of large corporations, at the expense of human rights, democracy, and sovereignty. (For a better understanding of the history of these relations, I highly recommend Greg Grandin’s Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism.)

The Cold War might have at times seemed like an exception to this, but it was not. The question of whether or not a communist or socialist government was good for parts of Latin America (which is itself a perversion, since the only question for anyone outside of a nation is whether or not the government came to power legitimately) was never entertained by the US. If it was communist, it was bad. The US never worked to make those government work better; it just naturally saw these interest as counter to their own.

So far–between Honduras, Venezuela, Bolivia, Colombia, Mexico, and, to an extent, Brazil–the US in the age of Obama has seen little improvement over the past. A reminder of this is yesterday’s announcement of the list of 14 countries whose travelers will undergo automatic full-body searches when entering the US. Among the list is Afghanistan, Algeria, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. Oh yeah, and Cuba.


That’s right, Cuba. Whether or not you like Castro or think the last 50 years of Cuban history have been more of an improvement or more of a tragedy when compared to the past, you can not legitimately think Cuba is a hotbed of Islamic terrorists, or any terrorists for that matter. We have more of a threat–numerically and by percentage–from Canada than we do from Cuba. And yet Cuba finds itself on this list, the governmental equivalent of racial profiling.

Washington Post writer Eugene Robinson has an interesting (though uneven) opinion piece in today’s paper. You can read it here. In part, he says:

Yet Cuba is on the list because the State Department still considers it — along with Iran, Sudan and Syria — to be a state sponsor of terrorism.

Really? Despite the fact that the U.S. Interests Section in Havana was one of the few American diplomatic posts in the world to remain open for normal business, with no apparent increased security, in the days after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks?

The Obama administration has made many admirable moves to bring U.S. foreign policy into closer alignment with objective reality. But progress toward a fact-based relationship with Cuba has been tentative and halting, at best. Obvious steps that could only serve U.S. interests — and, in the process, almost surely make Cuba a more open society — remain untaken.

Sandro de América is dead

He was known as the El Elvis argentino and El Gitano but millions more knew him as Sandro de América. Roberto Sánchez, who crooned to a generation and became one of the biggest stars of popular music and cinema in Latin America, has died.

You might not have heard of Sandro. While he was one of the biggest selling Spanish-language musical artists in history (outselling all others in the world in 1969), and the star of 16 films and several telenovelas, he was not widely known outside of the Spanish-speaking world. He began his career as something of an Elvis impersonator, singing tunes by the King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and the Rolling Stones in the mid-1960s.  As he ventured into his own signature tunes, he gained famed as one of the stars of popular/youth music in Argentina, the man who hybridized Anglo-Saxon rock with Spanish romance and pop.

While you might not “see” Elvis in his style, he captured the essence of that 60s male crooner, sex-symbol, rock idol archetype  an image he projected to his adoring fans (known as “las chicas”).  In an English-language context, he was much like a Robert Goulet, Tom Jones, or Englebert Humperdink, people who appropriated a popular musical image and style and made a career out of it.  Here he is with one of his biggest hits, “Rosa, Rosa”:

But in terms of his popular impact and longevity, he was bigger than all the Elvis-derived performers rolled together.  Here he is as a middle-aged man, performing his biggest hit (“Quiero Llenarme de ti”) to the grown-up “chicas” at his famous 25th anniversary performance:

Sandro–who received a lung and heart transplant last November–died of an infection.  He was 64.

The “Border Beat” (January 1, 2010)

2010 will likely be a year filled with immigration news as the US Congress begins debate on some form of immigration-related legislation. Passage of some form of legislation is not assured; although something (at the very minimum) is likely. As with most pressing issues in the present configuration of domestic politics, ideological absolutism and obstructionism will be major forces of contention. So, if something does pass, we can all be confident it will be less than ideal.

So let’s start off the new year right, shall we? The “Border Beat” is back with all the Chicano/Latino/Hispanic news you might have missed the previous week.

• “Eight Things President Obama Can Do To Reform Our Immigration System Without Waiting For Congressional Action ” (Immigration Daily)

Immigration lawyer Harry DeMill breaks it down and reminds us that 2009 could have been an important year in immigration history if Mr. Obama had so willed it.

• “Town Divides Over Law Aimed at Day Laborers” (NY Times)
Oyster Bay, NY, has passed a law meant to be a restrictive measure against “day laborers.” Included in the statute are a host of now-forbidden tactics these hopeful workers employ to get the attention of a possible employer, such as “waving arms or signs.” This article is a powerful glimpse into the divergent ways people see immigrant workers in the US, as well as the sticky result: the prospect of getting arrested for “waving while Latino.”

• “Sotomayor keeps community bonds tight” (USA Today)
Ah! Say what you want about our newest Supreme Court Justice but she is defining the modern-day meaning of what it means to keep it real. If all Latina and Latino officials who won position and influence remained this grounded, then we wouldn’t be doing this blog, now would we?

• “Rose parade float to celebrate Mexico’s bicentennial” (Orange County Register, Calif.)
What would the annual Rose Parade be without controversy? Well, it would be like most years. But this year, because Mexicans and Girl Scouts (and likely Girl Scout Mexicans) are decorating a float to honor Mexico, people in the OC are freaking out. As a historian, let me warn you, when they freak out, we all suffer (Reagan anyone?).

• “White House prepares for immigration overhaul battle” (LA Times)
Rep. Luis Gutierrez introduced immigration legislation to the House last month (H.R. 4321) but the real movement on this legislation will come from the White House and the Senate. This overview is as good as any providing the strategic leaks the White House is making about what the legislation will entail and presenting the subtext beneath everything: how to get Republican votes. Without key Republicans, this whole thing will languish like carrion for the mid-year elections.

• “Outgoing mayor enrolls Morristown into immigration program to deputize officers” (, New Jersey)
Immigration (and Latino profiling) have become issues in nearly every part of this country. Much of the “legitimate” debate at the local level is similar to this: whether or not a town’s law enforcement should participate in the 287(g) program. In case you’re wondering, they should not. Unless you think immigration detention and deportation is more important than actual serious crimes, there is not a local law agency anywhere that can afford to swap out like this. But we’re not talking law enforcement; we’re talking politics.

• “U.S. government moving to deport longtime legal residents with criminal convictions” (San Jose Mercury News)
Things never are as simple and clear as they might seem to the “liberal” mind. Law and order and right and wrong get a little fuzzy in the world of immigration politics. Check it out.

• “The semantic debate over ‘illegal’ immigrants is a waste of time” (Mercury News)
I hate to always pick on Ruben Navarrette Jr. because I always love to see a brown kid get a job. But brother! In his latest opinion piece he spends time using language to defend the use of the term “illegal immigrant” by saying we shouldn’t be wasting our time with the debate over language. Excuse me–???? Well, this little brown beaner should know that words do matter, especially when they are given context and power by usage.

Debates over language are merely avenues into understanding the underlying power dynamics of the “real” issue. In the case of immigration, the wholesale ascription of the term “illegal immigrant” to ANY immigrant who is not a LPR (“legal permanent resident”) is useless legally and politically. It acts as if each case is the same, when the problem at hand is exactly the way the law acts as if each case is the same. And, yes, it borders on racist when it acts as a barrier to any debate and discussion and becomes used as a substitute for “Mexican” or “Latin American.”

But that’s just the humble opinion of a person who works with words for a living.

They made it to 2010

You know what sucks? When you are a wonderfully talented and culturally-significant performer who nobody thinks about, until you die. I don’t remember reading one blog post anywhere on Soupy Sales, Henry Gibson, Karl Malden, Dom DeLuise, or Bea Arthur until they died. Well, that’s about to change.

Every New Year’s Eve, I promise to write a post about three celebrities who lived to see to upcoming year. Each will be somebody who had an impact on me in some significant way and also happened to live long enough that people might be surprised to hear they are still around.

So–while they are still alive–let me say how much I always enjoyed the comedic work of Phyllis Diller, singing talents of Lena Horne, and cooky talent of Carol Channing.

Born in 1917, Diller is one of the most important comedic actors alive. She is a trailblazer for women in the comedic arts, making her first stand up appearances in the 1950s, when it was almost unheard of for women to be in that line of work. And her work set the standard for what female comics could do. Rosanne Barr’s “domestic goddess” is derived from Diller’s own musings on being a housewife in postwar America. As a kid I loved her work in films like Boy Did I Get the Wrong Number! and, of course, in Mad Monster Party.

Born a month before Diller, in June 1917, Lena Horne is about as real-deal “American treasure” as you’re going to get. I can’t condense her historical and cultural significance into a paragraph so let me just say she did it all. From her time on stage at the Cotton Club, to a major recording artist, to a star of numerous films, she had it all–looks, a voice, and decent acting chops. Check out her most famous appearance in Stormy Weather to see how much the camera loved Lena Horne. I did, too. As a small kid I knew her first as the spokesperson for Sanka coffee. Even then, older than my own abuelita, I had a crush on Ms. Horne.

And Carol Channing. What can I say about Carol Channing. Unlike the other two, you can still catch a glimpse of Carol Channing every once in awhile. Born in 1922, Channing is best known as the titular character in Hello Dolly, for which she won a Tony. She was a fixture on Broadway, and received a lifetime achievement award for her work on the stage. But she is also a cultural force. Channing was a fixture of TV game shows and talk shows in my youth, never far from Johnny Carson’s couch or the corner square down from Paul Lynde. She has spent much of her recent life as an outspoken supporter for Gay Right’s and seems to embrace the kitsch quality to her iconic status. And here’s a tidbit she revealed in her autobiography: she’s also biracial!

So there you have it. Three giants of the American screen, stage, and recording studio who made it to 2010.