Monday Blues (02.28.11)

Susan Tedeschi (Boston, MA, 1970-) performing “Wait For Me” (written by Felix Reyes) at Austin City Limits (2003).

JFK’s Last Night Alive

JFK spent his last night alive with a room full of Mexican Americans!

The above photo was taken at the Rice Hotel, in Houston, on the evening of November 21, 1963.  JFK and LBJ and their wives were the guests of honor at an event sponsored by LULAC, the League of United Latin American Citizens.  Both the President and Vice President addressed the gathering of Mexican American activists.  The First Lady even offered some brief remarks in Spanish.

Considering I am a historian of the 20th century US, with a specialty in the history of Latinos, and with a fixation on the Kennedy assassination that stretches back to my childhood, I am unbelievably surprised that I didn’t know this before!

The story came to my attention because of a man named Roy Botello.  The 88-year-old, Mexican American from Texas was in the crowd that night and took some 8mm home movies of the evenings festivities.  The film was “sitting in a chest of drawers” in his living room for all these years.  Botello recently decided to donate the film to the Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza, in Dallas, the museum dedicated to the assassination.

You can read more about the story here.

What is a movement?

On September 16, 1965, the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) voted to join a strike of grape pickers begun by the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC). AWOC and the NFWA were distinct organizations–the constituency of the first were primarily Filipinos and the latter, Mexican. AWOC also had legal status and the support of the AFL-CIO, of which they were a part.

The NFWA saw itself as more than a labor movement. Its founded and leader–César Estrada Chávez–envisioned his efforts as a poor people movement, something that could fundamentally attack the inequitable power system which determined the poor quality of famrworkers’ lives. Though they didn’t plan on a strike in 1965, their larger project was threatened by being placed in the position of strike breakers. Their primary goal–recognition–would ultimately be served by the dynamic leadership role they played in the ensuing 5-year struggle.

In the same month they voted to join the strike, their English/Spanish newspaper–El Malcriado–began publishing pieces to help educate the Mexican famrworkers about the moment in which they found themselves. One piece asked “What is a movement?” It answered:

It is when there are enough people with one idea so that their actions are together like the huge wave of water, which nothing can stop.

The NFWA and AWOC merged in 1966 to form the United Farm Workers (UFW).

Monday Blues (02.21.11)

Sammy Davis Jr. (New York, 1925-1990) might not be thought of by anybody as a performer of the blues. As a dancer and a vocalist, however, he drew heavily from his upbringing on the Vaudevillian stage, from a performance space that drew from every African American tradition of the early 20th century and molded it into something dynamically new. The blues and jazz were fundamental parts of that, as were the dance traditions of the stage. At his most popular, of course, his art existed in the mainstream culture, most often coexisting with European American traditions in a performative space that suggested the pluralistic or multicultural visions many of us have.

As you may know from reading this blog, I consider him to be the best showman of the 20th century United States. He was–and remains–without rival.

Here he is performing his classic love song to the great Bill “Bojangles” Robinson (though the song itself, written by performer Jerry Jeff Walker, was not about the famed dance man at all).

Incidentally, Davis was known (at times notoriously) as trangressor of racial/ethnic boundaries, from his conversion to Judaism in the 50s to his marriage to May Britt, a white woman, in 1960. Yet his pluralistic and hybrid artistic legacy mirrored his own “roots.” His mother was Latina (either Puerto Rican or Cuban, depending on the source).

Rep. Jackie Speier on Abortion

The Republican-controlled House of Representatives voted to remove federal funding from Planned Parenthood yesterday. California Representative Jackie Speier made an impromptu speech on the floor against it.

If you seek an example of patriarchy you need look no further than our government, where a bunch of men sit around passing laws trying to forcibly make medical decisions for women.

Monday Blues (02.14.11)

I know it’s not technically “the blues” but it is the day of love.

Fernando Delgadillo (Nalcapan de Júarez, Mexico, 1965-) is one of the best know independent musical artists in Mexico, a 21st century voice in the nueva canción tradition. This musical movement is not disconnected from US musical influences, but its most important elements have more to do with Latin American culture and politics than anything. Rooted in the 20th century artistic movements for change, the folk style coupled with deeply metaphorical lyrics has produced some of the best and most complex songs of emotion in the world.

Here he performs on of his best know tunes, “Entre Pairos y Derivas,” a play on nautical imagery and meaning. When my wife and I saw him perform 9 years ago this month–in his first (and as far as I can tell only) US performance–every song was exactly like this, with the entire audience signing along at the top of their lungs.

“Minorities” are the Future Majority

I found this little article about non-white and immigrant voters in Virginia interesting. It doesn’t say much in its content–other than provide a sounding off board for a bunch of trite and recycled political “knowledge” about Latinos, et. al.–but its very publication says an awful lot.

When it comes down to it, Latino and Asian immigrants and their offspring are an unavoidable contingent of the electorate in a growing number of states. Both traditional Democrat and Republican structures are geared toward reaching out to white voters and one of the struggles both parties are grappling with is how to reorganize themselves in small and creative ways to reach the non-white voter. The first step is in taking as fact certain ubiquitous assumptions about these voters and then build from there. In this piece, the oldest assumptions about the Latino electorate are provided as the established contours of the battle ground: Latinos (and others) are socially conservative with liberal tendencies around immigration and race. They can go Dem but they can also go Republican.

In places like California and Texas, where the presence of these “minorities” is as old as the presence of the “majority”–and where demographic change has put us on a course to meaningfully flip those labels in a generation’s time–such infant “debates” as the one from Virginia seem almost silly. With more than 80 years of political activity and growth, Latino voters have acted in ways that would seem to confirm the above generalizations. That is, until the last decade.

We are in a critical moment of political realignment when it comes to the Latino electorate. Two things are emerging: 1) Latino voters are increasingly acting as a unified voting bloc; and 2) they are moving solidly Democratic. One thing drives this trend: xenophobia and racial violence all couched as part of the “immigration debate.”

The national Democratic Party and the national Republican Party are tied for doing nothing much when it comes to federal reforms related to immigration. But one party is clearing making at least failed overtures to the Latino electorate on this count. At the same time the other party is actively courting the contingent within its electorate that represents the equivalent of the White Citizens Council to Latinos today.

The article from Virginia is interesting for the unspoken tension it possesses. Local and regional party organizations are not always in step with their national party when it comes to these stances or their unwillingness to reach out to Latinos. But intentions in this environment get you very little.

In the 1990s, when California Republicans launched into their massive crusade against “illegal immigrants” the Latino population naturalized in huge numbers, registered to vote, and turned our sometimes red and sometimes blue state into a solidly blue chunk of political change. The same is happening in Texas, though to a more measured result. Within 10 years the same will happen to Arizona.

They key here is that Latino voters are not all that up for grabs. The Republicans are losing the contest for their hearts and loyalties because they aren’t even really playing. The Democrats, who struggle to be successful on this front, look like golden gods by comparison.

We are not just “minority” voters. We are increasingly a significant part of a plurality, even in time the majority. The more political “experts” get their heads around that, the more likely they will have a job in 20 years.