I’m happy to be visiting the students at California State University San Bernardino on Tuesday, November 3, to talk about history and movements.
If you’re a part of that community I hope to see you later today!
About a week ago, I was asked to participate in the #MoreThanALabel campaign, an effort by the MSW Program at Simmons College to promote positive immigrant-related discourse in the United States.
It’s not mystery that this is something dear to my heart, both intellectually and personally. It’s what I care about as a professor, through work that focuses on the history of Latin American-descent migrants and their descendants. It’s what I care about as a Chicano, as the member of a family and larger community that is both immigrant and native-born. And it’s what I care about as a person, as a human being who sees the unnecessary suffering of people as they make terribly difficult decisions to migrate and, ultimately, take up the struggle of creating lives in new often hostile places.
For those in the United States who care about immigrants––especially those who are part of the majority (white, native-born) society––there is work to be done. If we really care about doing something to combat the labels and stigmas that affect the lives of immigrants in our country, we have to start by looking in the mirror.
We need to check our fears and assumptions. We need to open ourselves to learning about the diversity of immigrant experiences. We need to promote the creation of new immigration systems that are designed to meet 21st century challenges. And we need to forcefully and affirmatively commit ourselves to the social value of humanism.
Being a humanist in the 21st century means learning about the world. It means grappling with the complexity of things like capitalism and neoliberalism, systems that link much of us together in ways that are powerful and, often, invisible to our understanding. It means being empathic, extending ourselves to understand the lives, the desires, the struggles of others, even when those are nearly impossible to fully understand.
It also means changing how we think about the nation that is the United States.
There is no a person in the United States today who is not benefiting from the work of immigrants. Not one of us will go the day without eating something that is planted, picked, packed, or processed by a Spanish-speaking migrant. And that’s just one, life-giving form of work. The work immigrants is so diverse that it relates to each of our lives in countless different ways, each day. The common link of all this labor is simple: The United States does not survive without immigrant labor.
That is a good starting point, but its not a very humanistic one. We’re not going to combat the racism and xenophobia making immigrant lives so difficult by shouting “We need them for cheap labor so we can benefit from them!”
What we need to do is to learn about these relationships between our own lives and the lives of immigrants. We need to think about the ethics and morality that come with them. Is it right to benefit from the suffering of others? Is it right to support a system that labels some “acceptable” and others “illegal”? And finally we need to find a way to humanistically “flip” the power imbalance that makes migration such an oppressive system in our present.
We do that by accepting that global migrants deserve the same inalienable rights as do all other human beings in the world. We do that by making sure our political systems nurture and protect those rights.
And we do it by living our own, individual and personal lives in ways that show it.
It’s official now: Latinos outnumber whites in the state of California, making us the largest ethnic group in the Golden State.
The switch happebed sometime last year but the numbers only became official last week. With 14.99 million Latinos in California, there are more of us than there are so-called “non-Hispanic whites,” who number about 14.92 million.
It’s a gradual change but one that will continue throughout the foreseeable future. Aside from immigration, whites in California are old and dying and not reproducing much while Latinos are younger and reproducing at higher rates. We are the future source of the natural birth rate, too. There are twice as many Latinos under 18 (4.8 million) than whites (2.4 million) ensuring that we will make up the majority of the next generation of native-born Californians.
More than 80% of the Latino population in the state is ethnically Mexican, meaning our collective story is rooted to this just one country, whether we are a US-born “Mexican American” or a foreign-born mexicano. That means that sometime in the next few decades it is likely that the ethnic Mexican population alone will outnumber whites in California.
Our youth–coupled with a long legacy of segregation and political disenfranchisement–means that our demographic ascendency doesn’t necessarily translate into political power. That, too, will likely come, but it will take more time, political organizing, and, perhaps, a willingness for the emerging “white minority” to relinquish some of its hold over the reigns of power. If not, every year that passes will make the Californian political system look more and more like some kind of 21st century apartheid state, albeit one that projects a kind of benevolence.
All these changes are important and, in my eyes, good. But there are limits to our demographic ascendancy.
How many Californians will go through their day never once speaking to a Latino? How many live in communities where Latinos are nearly invisible? How many work in places that make this demographic reality look false? How many are educated in classrooms that do not reflect this emerging majority? How many will be surrounded by Latinos–will have their lawns cut, food cooked, and houses cleaned by Latinos–but never have a conversation with even one?
I am Chicano (Mexican American). I live in a Mexican-majority city, in a Mexican-majority neighborhood, next to my Mexican American neighbors. My kids attend a Mexican-majority school. When we go to any store, we see and engage with other Mexicans/Chicanos.
When I go to work, I am one of two US-born, Mexican Americans on the faculty of my college. The Latino share of our student population is a national-leader for liberal arts colleges but is still only about 1 in 6. Unless they speak with the gardening or housekeeping staff, most of my colleagues can go their entire day on campus never speaking to a member of the emerging majority of this state.
What’s worse, this is hardly a unique condition.
We are the the largest ethnic group in California but we remain segregated, marginalized, and disproportionately confined to the invisible corners of mainstream society. The reality of the demographics should be–it must be–a wake up call for us all that the meaningful reality of a multiethnic, multiracial society is still before us.
And there is work to be done.
The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences—the group who selects nominees and winners of the Oscars—is about to grow by some 276 members, and some notable Latinas and Latinos are on the list!
The Academy has been under recent scrutiny for its lack of diversity. A 2012 article in the LA Times estimated that nearly 94% of the select and largely secretive group were white. A staggering 77% were male. African Americans comprised about 2% of the nearly 6000 member organization while Latinos were less than 2%.
Those numbers are about to change. In a year when the Academy lifted is usual quota for new invitees, 276 industry artists and professionals have been invited to become members of the Academy—100 more than last year. Among them are some notable people of color, including a fair share of Latinas and Latinos.
Rosario Dawson and Jennifer Lopez are part of the new class, as is character actor Michael Peña. Everybody’s favorite vato Danny Trejo is a much-deserved invitee. Working actors Miriam Colon, Geno Silva, and Alma Martinez were also recognized for their pathbreaking work. A number of Latinas and Latinos are also part of the non-acting categories of the invitee list.
I am particularly happy to hear of the inclusion of Alma Martinez. I had the distinct pleasure of being her colleague for some years while she worked at Pomona College. The first Mexican American character to be featured in a storyline on a daytime soap, Martinez was a part of the original cast of the historic Chicano production “Zoot Suit.” When the play made its way to the silver screen, she reprised her role.
Alma Martinez has been working in the industry ever since. She’s not only a mountain of talent and an amazing actress she’s also a trailblazer in this very male and very white world of entertainment. As she has carved out her career she also earned a reputation as an open and caring mentor for others. This is a much-deserved recognition and an exciting event for all Latina and Latino actors.
Latinos are an important part of the movie world. Not only are we a large a ever-growing segment of the film viewing public, but we are also an important part of the community of artists who make the movies. In front of the camera and behind it, in ways recorded and gone unrecognized, Latinos have long contributed to the Hollywood. (For goodness sakes! The model for the Oscar statuette was mexicano screen legend Emilio Fernández!)
It’s only fitting that the Academy expand its ranks and diversify by including more Latinas and Latinos, as well as the many other people of color who will now join this fabled group.
¡Felicidades a todos los nuevos miembros de la Academia!
Today I begin my 30th semester as a teacher in higher education. With any luck, it will also be my last as an untenured, assistant professor.
A new school year always brings with it a mix of emotions and stresses. One consistent for me for the better part of the last decade is the very specific excitement that comes with the fall semester’s beginning and the fresh crop of students enrolled in my intro-level Chicano/Latino history course.
As a class, it is the very reason I chose my vocation. The power and meaning that comes with being able to create an academic space that is collaborative, critical, and focused on narrating the diverse experiences of people of Latin American descent in the US is an overtly political act, and a very necessary one. So much so is this the case in our present moment that it is a point I need only casually make for my students this morning. As Chicanas/os and Latinas/os living in the US at this time, they are brutally aware of the consequences of “not knowing” and the stark lack of human compassion that is nurtured by this.
When we put it in those terms, however, that politics is inherently about people. And that is perhaps what sustains me most throughout the year. What we are going to do today and throughout the semester is not just learn, but build the greater likelihood of a more just, more humane, and more decent future for us all…
one mind at a time.
The US Census released the California population data from the 2010 Census today. Here are some of the more interesting figures:
Non-Hispanic whites have dropped to about 40% of the total state population. This means that within the next decade, with natural reproduction and death rates what they are, California will become a Latino majority state.
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).
For the fourth and final installment of the “Latino Like Me Presents: Latino History Month 2010″™ series I wanted to go into the past to provide you a historical primary source that is both a window into our collective past as well as our collective present.
And so we turn to the legendary Bernardo Vega.
Born in Puerto Rico, in 1885, Vega worked as a tobaquero, a cigar maker. Tobaqueros were skilled workers on the islands of the Caribbean, as well as a highly politicized class. In each workshop a man called “El Lector” was paid to read newspapers and political treatises to the workers, providing them something of a sustained education as they rolled their hand-crafted cigars.
In the late 19th century, when Puerto Rico and Cuba were both Spanish colonies, tobaqueros were among the first migrants to the US from the Lain American Caribbean. They settled in parts of the US South and Northeast, and helped organize political groups to agitate for an end to Spanish colonialism. The groups they established became the roots of future Puerto Rican and Cuban communities for the next century.
In 1916, Vega became part of that community when he arrived in New York City.
What makes Vega an important figure is that he wrote about his life experiences. Published after his death, The Memoirs of Bernardo Vega is less a personal story of one man than a record of early 20th-century Puerto Rican life, in particular in the mainland US. Among the more exciting elements of his text are the detailed descriptions of this early community, both passionate about their island home as well as the political realities of daily life in the belly of the US empire.
Vega, like other politically-minded people, had ideas about the world he witnessed, many times identifying and analyzing important issues facing Latinos in the US. This passage, from that seminal text, is one example:
The constant growth of the Puerto Rican community gave rise to riots, controversy, hatred. But there is one fact that stands out: at a time when there were no more than half a million of us, our impact on cultural life in the United States was far stronger than that of the 4 million Mexican-Americans. And the reason is clear: though they shared with us the same cultural origins, people of Mexican extraction, involved as they were in agricultural labor, found themselves scattered throughout the American Southwest. The Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, settled in the large urban centers, especially in New York, where in spite of everything the circumstances were more conducive to cultural interaction and enrichment, whether we wanted or that way or not.
Vega’s analysis is perceptive and, on many levels, true.
In this time period, and for the next two generations, Puerto Ricans were concentrated largely in one urban center–New York. The “impact” they had on affairs in that city (and somewhat beyond) is partially a result of their concentration, but also a result of their political and cultural organization. Even when their numbers were few, Puerto Ricans came to the US and set out to do the work of community organizing, and they were successful.
The fact that much of this organization took root in New York city–the most important city in the US–provided other advantages. New York’s position within US economic, political, and cultural matters only increased throughout the 20th century, and by having a voice within the Big Apple, Puerto Ricans had a voice in the nation writ large.
Where Vega missed the mark is in his lack of acknowledgment of one key difference between the migration of Puerto Ricans and the millions of Mexicans in the Southwest. Puerto Ricans migrated to the US as citizens, vested with full political rights upon their arrival. This isn’t to say they did not face harsh racism and multiple forms of discrimination. But, as voters, they could garner the attention of politicians in ways that Mexican Americans could not.
Ethnic Mexicans in the Southwest were numerous and diffuse, but they were also clustered in key urban centers. By 1930, Los Angeles had become the second-largest Mexican city in the world, second only to Mexico City itself. But in the early 20th century, most in the ethnic Mexican community were first-generation, non-citizen immigrants.
As the number of US-born Mexican Americans came to represent half and, then, a majority of the population as a whole, they did so with the largest share of their population under the age of 21. For much of the century, then, ethnic Mexicans were primarily a non-eligible to vote majority population. Accordingly, as late as the mid-20th century, Mexican Americans struggled to exert any political force at all, living as they were in a political system that had little motivation to cater to them.
My analysis is not meant to disparage Vega as much as to point out the people we call “Latino” and “Latina” have much in common, as well as much that distinguishes their historical and present-day realities. Citizenship and regional migration patterns are but two. We could also have discussed gender, race, nationality, class and a host of other forces which have carved out divergent experiences.
The final lesson is not a pessimistic one. This “diversity within commonality” is at the heart of Latino America. It is the source of a tremendous opportunity for us all to learn about the contours of US imperialism in “on the ground”, concrete ways. It is also an opportunity for us, as Latinos, to better learn about ourselves and, in the process, create something new.
The US national project has been simultaneously tragic and hopeful. Far from a fulfillment of its most enduring ideals, the US–as experienced by indigenous Americans, African slaves, and waves of immigrants–has been as much a story of conquest and oppression as freedom and liberty. But the space between those two poles, the lived reality of millions of us now and then, continues to breed a hope that something better can be realized.
The hope of this something better requires a deliberate and purposeful re-imagining of ourselves in ways that incorporate difference, acknowledge past and current struggles, and embrace true equity.
This is the example we set as Latinos in the US. We forge a pathway to this new nation by our current struggles to do exactly the same within our own “community.” The mere fact that this word can be used to describe us–however conditional it might be–should be embraced as a sign of hope for everyone.
We have been so important to the past of this nation. We are vitally important to it if it is to have a future.
We’ve been discussing Puerto Rico for the past week in my Chicano/Latino Histories class so perhaps it’s a good time for us here at LatinoLikeMe to do the same.
In 1898, as a result of a war with Spain, the United States became a formal imperial power, taking possession of Cuba, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico (as well as a host of other islands in the South Pacific). From 1898 to 1900 the US ruled the island as an occupying force. Then, with the passage of the Organic Act of 1900—also known as the Foraker Act—Congress provided for a prolonged condition of imperial rule for the island, under the illusion of representative democracy.
Puerto Rico’s colonial government consisted of a Governor, an Executive Council of 11, and a House of Delegates comprised of 35 members. However, it was the US President who appointed the Governor, with the approval of the Senate. Then the Governor, with the oversight of the President, appointed the Executive Council of 11, providing that 5 members were “native inhabitants of Porto Rico.” Puerto Ricans elected the House of Delegates, but the President, the island Governor, and the Congress all had veto power over anything they passed.
The people of the island had no voice in the United States political system, even though the US had all power over them. They were allowed to elect a nonvoting resident commissioner who represented them to Congress, but this position held little sway.
In 1917, the US Congress extended US citizenship to the people of Puerto Rico, a move Puerto Ricans received with mixed feelings. Some supported the move, envisioning it as a step toward statehood. Some opposed it, seeing it as an impediment to full independence.
The Unionist Party on the island fell in the opposition camp. Originally dedicated to independence for their island, the Unionists amended their platform to more affirmatively support increase “autonomy,” a move made to garner more support in Washington. That didn’t stop their overall dream, however.
Luis Muñoz Rivera (pictured below) was one of the founders of the Unionists, serving as their party head. He also served as the nonvoting representative of Puerto Rico to the Congress. In 1916, as Congress debated citizenship and other matters, he made his views on the matter clear, while also phrasing his stance in as politic a way as possible:
We, the Unionists, believe that from the standpoint of American national interest this question of citizenship should be left undecided for the present, in order to prevent a possible embarrassment in the international policies of this country as a result of premature action—an international policy which includes at the present time open tendencies toward closer relations and a better understanding with the Latin Republics of South and Central America and the West Indies.
I believe that, in view of the divided opinion on the subject existing in Porto Rico, this Congress will lose nothing by waiting for future events to determine or indicate in a more precise manner the path that should hereafter be followed in this matter. No one expects Porto Rico to continue always a colony. Statehood or independence appear at the present time to be very remote measures. To declare now American citizenship for the Porto Ricans does not answer any practical purpose, especially when this Congress is about to promise independence to the Filipinos and when a former Congress granted independence to the Cubans. Neither Cuba or the Philippine Islands is superior to Porto Rico as regards the ability to maintain a national life of its own. They are both larger in territory, but not more civilized or wealthier in proportion to their respective areas.
The US-appointed governor of the island, Arthur Yager, supported citizenship in his testimony, while he also made it clear to the House of Representatives committee that, in his view, independence was “absurd.” When asked If the island was “in a condition of development such as would enable them to carry on a representative government,” Yager replied “Oh, no.”
Well, the tools with which we have to carry on self-government are dangerous and difficult tools, an no people without some experience and development could handle those tool without danger to themselves. I do not believe that there is any Latin American country on the continent now, with perhaps the exception of those older and stronger nations south of the equator, where they can hold an absolutely fair election, and without a fair election you can not have self-government. I do not believe there has ever been a perfectly fair election in many Latin American countries, as, for example, in Santo Domingo.
In 1917, Congress passed the so-called Jones Act, extending US citizenship to Puerto Ricans. Though Puerto Rico is now called a “Commonwealth,” it remains in, nearly every sense, a colony of the United States.
The dA Center for the Arts will be hosting the “Nacio En Aztlan” Chicano art show this month. Organized and curated by Pomona’s own Frank Garcia, it is an exciting opportunity to see art work from some well-known and up-and-coming Chicana and Chicano artists, all right here in our very own backyard.
The annual show is a great chance to meet other locals who care about Pomona, the arts, and Chicanos. There are an assortment of events attached to it, which are great ways to enjoy some company, some snacks, and some art. I suggest you contact the dA directly to find out more.
The dA Center for the Arts is located at 252-D South Main Street, in the Arts Colony in downtown Pomona.