Monday Blues

Keb’ Mo’ (Los Angeles, 1951-) performing “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Two Trains Running” (originally by Muddy Waters, from a special devoted in tribute to him).

I’m not sure what kind of props Keb’ Mo’ gets in the blues world. It sometimes seems he’s more popular with the PBS/NPR white folk crowd than the more blue-centric/”purist” folk out there. I have often wondered how much of that comes from the fact that he isn’t from the South or from Chicago or any other place in the nation with a clear blues legacy. To those who would deride him, I’d say he can more “authentically” represent the foundation of those blues than an Eric Clapton or other Englishman (who don’t get the same push back from the purists) ever could, even when he creates these hybrid “retro meets new generation” blues works.

As a little teaser, this clip ends with Bo Diddley doing Muddy’s “I’m A Man.”

DREAM Act: the silver lining

UPDATE: The DREAM Act did fail cloiture, 55 votes for and 41 against.

The DREAM Act goes up for a cloture vote in about an hour from now. It will not meet the 60 vote threshold to move to the Senate floor for consideration.

So, the DREAM is dead again. I’m sure it will be back but don’t hold your breathe for that resurrection to come before 2012.

Here are my thoughts on all of that.

A lot of you might be wondering why Harry Reid would schedule a vote on the DREAM Act he knew would fail. The answer to that question is the silver lining to this whole mess.

First, Reid kept it in play as leverage. I expect DADT to get its 60 votes today, clearing the way for it’s passage. We might not ever know, but the two together might have created a context where the one could pass.

Second, there was always a possibility something would get worked out to get 60 votes. It was slim, but “possible” in the textbook sense of politics.

Third–and this is the most important–even in a failed vote the DREAM Act won. To understand that, you have to understand this.

One of the historic problems it has faced is never having forced people to go on the record. Politicians could support it and then do nothing, or support it and then back away, and never have to firm up their stance.

But now a gaggle of Republicans are on record against a measure that has wide support among Latinos. Harry Reid and the Democrats get the benefit of their vote and the GOP gets the negative consequence of theirs.

Forcing the Republican anti-Latino and anti-immigrant hand–especially when it makes them contradict their traditional legal values (criminalizing children “for the actions of their parents”)–is a win in the longterm.

Now we just need to remember in 2012.

A Year in The Life (The Facebook Edition)

There’s the Facebook app a lot of my friends are using which compiles all of your state updates over the past year and then generates a list of the words you used the most on Facebook in that year. I assume it takes out common articles and stuff like that and, since I have nothing else to judge it by, I assume it is correct in its results.

I don’t like Facebook apps (mostly because of the way they post status updates even if you don’t want them) but I used this one just to see what the results were.

Here’s the top ten:

1. Kids
2. Don’t
3. Know
4. Chicano
5. Baby
6. Sandoval
7. Studies
8. Class
9. Doing
10. Claremont

This really says a lot.

I am Vito Corleone

At the end of The Godfather, an aged and somewhat frail Vito Corleone is counseling his son, Michael–the “good son” who has now become his heir in the “family business.”

I like to drink wine more than I used to…anyway, I’m drinking more…

It’s good for you, Pop.

I don’t know…your wife and children–Are you happy with them?

The older I get, this is exactly how I feel, though instead of wine you can substitute John Prine, Chavela Vargas, and Tom Waits.

Latinos Are Human Beings

“And I thought he was foolish, this man in his seventies, who had no idea what you must do. But the fanaticism of my twenties shocks me now. As I feared it would.”

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

Let me say first that I am a supporter of “The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act”–better known as the “DREAM Act”–as I have been since I first heard about it in 2001, in its first incarnation.

That said, barring any unforeseen development in the Senate, the DREAM Act is currently dead. If it is not saved by an 11th hour miracle, it will remain so until at least after the 2012 election.

For me, my support of the DREAM Act has always been a rather complicated thing. It is not a support without qualification. It does not come from a belief that this law (should it become law) is in itself a form of justice. In fact, I willingly admit to the possibility that it may be a step backward in the cause for migrants’ rights in this nation.

My support comes from my belief that is it good policy, for that is what it is. It is policy. It is fair policy, though it could be more fair. It is productive policy, though it could do more to alleviate the inequitable distinction between the “legal” and the so-called “illegal.”

But it is just policy. It is not perfect, but policy never is. It is a creature of an imperfect realm–government–and is thus never going to surmount the shortcomings of the world of its creation.

I don’t expect the political process to produce true, equitable, humane justice. I am not so naive nor am I that optimistic in my view of power. I do expect it to not to stand in the way of what is just. I do expect it to move in the direction of what is just.

But I don’t believe it can be more than a tool in this movement–it is not the movement itself. As I do not expect the running shoe to run marathon for me, I do not ask policy to do the work only you and I can do.

True and meaningful justice in the realm of migrants’ right would entail far more than the DREAM Act endeavors to do and far less of what it promises. Humane immigration reform entails governments recognizing and protecting peoples’ innate human right to secure a livelihood, even when that entails movement across borders. It means respecting and rewarding work, especially when that work is life-reproducing. It is about not militarizing the border, not criminalizing that which you promote, and not nurturing systems that provide for the abuse of migrants.

True and meaningful justice in the realm of migrants’ rights would mean expanding, not contracting, our sense of who “counts” as a citizen. The notion that the undocumented have to prove their worthiness by being a student or in the military is offensive to me. They are here because we feast off their marginal status in our economy. Most have “proved” their worthiness long ago.

One of the causes of the DREAM Act’s imperfections in terms of migrants’ rights is its chief attribute in the realm of policy. It was and has been intentionally bi-partisan. It was designed to have as wide a reach as is possible while still securing as wide a base of political support. It is a compromise, bought by being explicitly limited, conservative in its scope, and uncontroversial in those it seeks to serve.

While I continue to do my part to advocate for what is truly and meaningfully just and right, I am not so inflexible as to ignore compromise when it can make real people’s lives better.

Now, with its death knell once again ringing, I find my support wavering. I am tired of compromising, of preparing for the imperfect, when this sacrifice produces nothing more than a recurring need for us to do so again, only to a larger extent. What is the value of compromise when it gets you nothing?

The students with whom I have worked with over the better part of the past decade make this measure a very personal one for me. Some of them have been “Dreamers”; some have been undocumented and, yet, due to one or more factors would not fall under the proposed legislation; and most have been neither, just dedicated students–in the prime of their socially conscious young lives–who have been moved to join the cause. I worry for what this kind of politics will mean for the youth working so hard to secure the measure’s passage.

I recently began thinking about what kinds of support I could offer them from my perspective as a middle-aged academic with his own history of political involvement. And then I realized, I have never been a part of a successful political cause.

My first real and sustained involvement in the political process came in 1994, when Californians passed what was called Proposition 187. Then the fight was about affirmative action, first at my university system and then statewide with Prop 209. Then it was bilingual ed with Prop 227. I have been hoping and working for immigration reform since the late 1990s.

Each time “we” lost. The issue sometimes moved toward our favor by the courts but more often this was not case. What’s worse, the terms of the battle have been entirely set by the Right.

Even at the time, the struggle to protect affirmative action seemed ironic. It was a compromise to begin with, a way for the system of power to assure a wider public that something different was being done without substantively altering the dynamics of power in our society. Thirty years later, the Left found themselves struggling (unsuccessfully) to protect this compromise as if it were progress to do so. The lessons are powerful for me.

The present moment in the history of the DREAM Act makes me want to tell young people to abandon ship. It is time we stop advocating for the middle when the other side is pulling that middle farther and farther to the right. The “center” has become a moving target in the world of immigration politics. In the time we’ve been working for our compromise, the Right has mobilized to such an extent that the bill’s original author isn’t even a supporter anymore.

This moment is a time to leave the political maneuvering to the policy people and the politicians. Those of us who stand for what is fundamentally right and moral must refocus our energies and foster movement toward our goals.

That can not happen in the current environment on a piecemeal basis. Compromise has failed. It’s time may return but the present moment is no longer it.

Now we need to set the stage for change by more actively confronting the debate at its core. Too many Americans do not recognize the basic humanity of Latinos. While we have been phone banking for compromise they have been converting more to their side–nurturing their army of hate, of fear, and of ignorance.

The targets have changed. We must recognize this and strategize with it in mind.

As a source of encouragement I offer two points. First, the unsuccessful fight on principled grounds is far more satisfying than the unsuccessful compromise. Even when we lose there are amazingly important things that are won, not the least of which is ground in the battlefield of people’s ways of knowing.

Second, almost anything is possible when we work together. History teaches us that real change only comes when people unite in mass movement. Even the great compromises of our past century were won in a context where people of conscience were actively demanding and mobilizing to secure even more.

Our day is before us if we so choose to pursue it.

History, despite its wrenching pain
Cannot be unlived, but if faced
With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon
This day breaking for you.
Give birth again
To the dream.
Women, children, men,
Take it into the palms of your hands,
Mold it into the shape of your most
Private need. Sculpt it into
The image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts
Each new hour holds new chances
For a new beginning.
Do not be wedded forever
To fear, yoked eternally
To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward,
Offering you space to place new steps of change.

From Maya Angelou, “On the
Pulse of Morning,” (1993)

DREAM Act: the silver lining

David Hidalgo (1954- ), Louie Pérez (1953- ), Cesar Rosas (1954- ), Conrad Lozano (1951- ), and Steve Berlin (1955- ), collectively known as Los Lobos (East Los Angeles, CA); and Taj Mahal (Massachusetts, 1942-) performing “Highway 51” (c. 1988).

Death, John Lennon, and Nostalgia

I don’t want to seem heartless when it comes to the death of John Lennon. While I was only 8 years old when the musical legend was gunned down, I remember it as a sad event, mostly for others, but also for me.

That said, as the 30th anniversary of his murder is being commemorated today in both the mainstream press and blogosphere alike, the thing I can’t get out of my head has little to do with the man and his death and so much more to do with the dominant generational culture.

It’s widely understood that the assassination of John Lennon represented a critical introspective moment for the Baby Boom generation. One follow-through of this line of thought is that the primary significance of his death was for them.

This is simplistic analysis, to be sure. In the big cosmic scheme of things, the story of John Lennon is nothing more than the the story of a man being shot dead in New York city on December 9, 1980. I doubt he was the only man shot dead in New York, or the world, that day. But I am also sure that it was more than one generation’s personal interest that turned this routine death into a story of significance. He had an expansive reach, having lived a life and participated in crafting a culture that touched millions (and continues to do so today).

But the heart of the Baby Boom analysis is, I think, true. His death meant something particular to them, this meaning was critically significant at that moment in history–both our collective one and their generational one.

I don’t begrudge them their nostalgia on this day, nor do I lump all those who are nostalgic and sorrowful today as being Baby Boomers. But the way this commemoration is unfolding says a lot more to me today about that generation than it does the man they remember.

If you read my blog often, you know one of my current obsessions is the way the Baby Boomer generation continues to construct themselves and their sensibilities as something that stand in stark contrast to their actions over the past 30 years. This isn’t about hippies becoming Reaganites as much as it is a core of white, upper class Americans projecting their experience onto the lives of millions who were not them but lived with them; of a generation of senior citizens who continue to live and think in ways that allow them to not confront the fact that they are senior citizens; and a ruling plurality who continues to see themselves as the marginal players in a system they have built and maintained but continue to pretend was dropped in their laps.

This hybridity of amnesia and nostalgia are all over the place today in Boomers’ reflections on the death of John Lennon. In some ways I wonder if their frame of reference and expression aren’t so dominant that many of us outside the generation have no conscious choice other than to recycle it further.

I don’t know.

In CA, the Latino Future is Now

There’s a great piece in today’s LA Times spotlighting the rift in the CA GOP over a proposed ballot initiative which would do for California what SB 1070 did for Arizona.  You can read it here.

The Republicans who favor the initiative, like others across the nation, are addicted to their game of (white) race politics and immigrant scapegoating. Those who oppose it (or at least oppose supporting it) are worried about the long-term damage to their party’s political influence.

As the piece notes, in the last election in CA:

…one in five voters was Latino; 80% of them cast ballots for Democratic Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, while 15% voted for Whitman despite her multimillion-dollar effort to woo them. Their participation, driven by labor unions who used the Arizona immigration law to pull Latinos to the polls, was nearly double what it was in the last gubernatorial contest. And those numbers are expected to grow.

Indeed, with a clear majority of the under 18-year-old population in the State of “Hispanic” origin, we are no longer a sleeping giant but a yawning and stretching one. Political power will increasingly depend upon your ability to garner Latino voters.

But far too many Republicans in this State are so myopic (and just plain hateful) to see what is staring them plainly in the face. As current Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (a Republican) laments:

“You can pull the life-support machine off the party, just pull the plug,” he said. “Because there’s no secret, if you look at obituaries and you look at the birth notices in any newspaper, I can tell you what California is going to look like in the next 10, 15, 20 years. If you continue to alienate the fastest-growing population, then you can continue to be a party that is successful in certain areas, but you won’t be able to run the state.”

The debate and political contest over immigration in California is vitally important for the rest of the nation. Unlike what you might guess, this importance is not based on premonition. While many of the Southwestern states, and a few others, will continue to trend toward the Latino plurality California now enjoys, most will not. If Latinos and other pro-immigrant constituencies (especially Asians) choose their representative wisely, CA will set the example for the rest of the nation on how a State can build strength from immigration.

Our unique and historic context is an opportunity to create a society that can withstand the loss of a white majority while continuing to hold to more basic elements of the US political system, nothing short of a fulfillment of a political vision set in motion more than two centuries ago yet, still, only imperfectly realized.