The Struggle for Ethnic Studies

On Tuesday, students in Arizona chained themselves together and occupied the board room where the Tucson Unified School District meeting was to be held. They opposed a scheduled vote which would have further marginalized their Mexican American Studies program. The same day, at UC Berkeley, students began a multi-day protest and hunger strike to protect Ethnic Studies, responding to the forced consolidation and downsizing plan of the administration.

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“Somos Más Americanos”

Here’s the best and most famous Norteño/conjunto band in the world–Los Tigres del Norte. They are performing their song “Somos Más Americanos” (We are More American), from their upcoming MTV unplugged special. They are joined by Zack de la Rocha.

As the lyrics go: Aunque le duela al vecino (Though it hurts our neighbor) / Somos más americanos (We are more American) / Que todititos los gringos (Than absolutely all the gringos).

I don’t know how long the video will be up since the others have been pulled down. So get it while it’s hot!

Birthers and Brawlers

The White House released President Obama’s “Certificate of Live Birth” today. This “official” document adds to the others, including the “Certification of Live Birth,” which had already been released, as well as the mountain of other evidence which proves the man was born in Hawaii.

This won’t fully extinguish the so-called “birthers” from proclaiming their doubt and continuing their efforts to “free the United States” from the “foreign takeover” that is the Obama Presidency. Simply put: a “movement” based on a preponderant lack of critical analysis can not be defeated by evidence. There is no way to sufficiently disprove something that had no reasonable proof of being true in the first place. Since their “belief” is really based on racial fear and the desire for their myth to be true, many will hold steadfast to their cause.

No matter what we believe about this “controversy” now is a useful time to (re)reflect on what it all means. Why is it this president has had to face this particular charge? Why is there a constituency in this country who continued to believe this myth in the face of evidence to the contrary? Why are there people who believe it now? Why have their been politicians who have used this as a rallying point for their own gain?

We live in a time and place where the effects of racism are palpable and yet hard to fully comprehend. One of the reasons for this is the complexity of some of the ways race acts to frame inequity in our present. Another reason is that we have been robbed of the tools to analyze even the simplest of its manifestations.

This is one of the latter occasions. If we are smart about it, we will use it as a teachable moment for ourselves, a time to critically reflect on the ways racism reproduces itself, generation after generation, because we cling to parts of the past and recast them anew for our present moments.

21st CENTURY U.S. RACISM

The fundamental assumption of our criminal justice system is that (at least most of) the people who find themselves in it are criminals deserving of their punishment. Relying on our notions of free will (they chose to commit a crime) and egoism (I haven’t struggled to NOT commit a crime so they shouldn’t have had a hard time either), we have faith that the broad contours of the system work, at least at the task of apprehending and incarcerating criminals.

What we often don’t consider is how our “individual decisions” are framed by a context–one that shapes not only motivation and possibility, but literally what our individual decisions mean.

Drug and alcohol addiction do not present themselves in higher rates in poor communities of color. Rich whites and poor Blacks and Latinos are as likely to be addicted as are poor whites and Asians, and rich Blacks and Latinos, and so on. A near avalanche of studies shows this. Addiction presents itself in society the way you would expect when you consider it a disease.

So, Americans tend to misuse illegal drugs at a rate equivalent to their share of the overall population. Yet African Americans and Latinos are far more likely to be imprisoned for drug offenses than whites. In the case of African Americans, they are 13 times as likely.

A complex convergence of policies and societal forces work together to constitute this disparity. Penalties for more expensive drugs (like cocaine) are less severe than penalties for cheaper drugs (like crack); whites are more likely than others to be offered mandated treatment as their sentence rather than prison time; studies show charges for the same drug offenses are brought more frequently and with harsher consequences for men of color; and so on.

But I’m not just trying to get you to think about racial inequality in the charging and sentencing of drug offenders.

The recent NAACP report “Misplaced Priorities: Over Incarcerate, Under Educate” presents the scope of the problem. There are currently 2.3 million people in the US who are incarcerated. Most of them (6 out of 10) are people of color.

The total imprisoned population in the US is 25% of the world total population of prisoners. Though the US represents only 5% of the world’s population we house 25% of its prisoners.

As the report suggests, we have created a prison system that is essentially “warehousing” addicts and people with mental health issues.  We are spending a disproportionate amount of money to imprison a small percentage of our overall population that comes from a small handful of communities as well.  As the report shows, prison rates are highest in a small handful of communities where populations of color predominate and education resources atrophy.  We are seemingly comfortable with the fact that it is more likely for a young black or Latino male living today to end up in prison than in a 4-year college.

If you believe that everyone who is in prison is there as a result of an equitable system that is controlled only by their free choice, then you have to account for your fundamental assumption that men of color are more dangerous than white men.  (and, in case you’re not feeling racist yet, there is not substantiated research to show that they are.)

The NACCP report can be accessed by CLICKING HERE.

MONDAY BLUES (04.25.11)

The master of the blues, Mr. B.B. King, here performing “Sweet Little Angel” from his legendary 1965 album “Live at the Regal” (recorded on November 21, 1964 at the Regal Theater in Chicago).  The crowd makes this one of the most enduring blues albums of all time.

The video has restricted playback, but click HERE and you can listen for yourself.

Latinos & Presidential Shootings

Regular readers of Latino Like Me might remember an earlier post on JFK’s last night alive.

In it I discuss how the night before he was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, the President spent the evening at an event hosted by the League of Latin American Citizens, or LULAC. Along with LBJ and both their wives, the President spoke before LULAC, the oldest and, arguably, the most successful Mexican American civil rights organization in the U.S.  The long and the short of it is that Kennedy spent his last night as President addressing Latino issues.

Now you can understand why this slideshow from CNN took me by surprise.

The images commemorate the 30th anniversary of the shooting of Ronald Reagan, on March 30, 1981. If you click to the second image you will see a copy of the President’s itinerary printed in a newspaper found in the hotel room of John W. Hinckley Jr.–Reagan’s would be assassin.

Notice anything?

It seems that the morning of the 30th, just before he went to the Hilton Hotel to give a speech, Reagan met with “Hispanic supporters.”  Upon exiting the hotel, after his speech, Reagan was shot by Hinckley in the chest.

Just an interesting little historical coincidence.

Monday Blues (04.18.11)

Chavela Vargas turned 92 yesterday. Born in Costa Rica, she migrated to Mexico at the age of 15 and, in time, became a well-regarded singer in small bars and cantinas. At the age of 32 she began her professional recording career, a career that has now spanned sixty years.

She is a powerful figure in the world of Mexican ranchera music but in many ways inhabits a symbolism far greater than just that. As transgressor of gender norms who often took to dressing like a man; to her connections to other legendary figures like José Alfredo Jiménez and Frida Khalo (she was one of the artist’s lovers); to her struggles and recoveries through bouts with alcohol; to her sexuality (she publicly confirmed her lesbianism in her 80s); and her ups and downs in her own professional career, accented with a late-in-life resurgence, she is Mexico.

She is the most fitting person to perform the first ranchera selection on “Monday Blues,” here singing “Un Mundo Raro”