“On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam”

“On Two Fronts: Latinos & Vietnam” is a new documentary examining the impact of the Vietnam War on Latino families.  Directed by Mylène Moreno, “On Two Fronts” premiered on PBS last week.

As a historian who is currently at work on a book on the same topic, and as a Chicano who is the son of a Vietnam veteran, I was honored to be interviewed for the film. My work also contributed to the education materials they produced to make the film useful to K-12 classrooms.

You can access all the classroom resources–which are aligned to the Common Core standards–by visiting the main website for the film.)

For the next month, you can watch the film in its entirety online at PBS. I hope you check it out and share it with friends and family.

“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.

Border Blow Back

The Immigration Policy Center recently published the findings of their current study of illegal immigration at the border.


On the heels of the Department of Homeland Security’s release of figures showing “apprehensions of undocumented immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border are at their lowest level since 1973,” the IPC findings suggest the scope of the impact the current economic depression is having on immigration.

Most powerfully, they document a “reduced circularity in migration,” that is, a reduction in the return migration of unauthorized immigrants already in the US.  They explain this phenomenon as an “unintended consequence” to present-day border enforcement tactics and strategies.

You can read the full IPC “Fact Check”–“Keeping Migrants Here: The Unintended Consequences of U.S. Border Enforcement”–by clicking here.


Race-blind Republicans on the Attack

You knew this was coming.  I mean, you knew, right?

From today’s Los Angeles Times comes this article discussing the ways Conservatives are continuing to attack the landmark Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the courts.

Conservative legal foundations and the Republican governor of Georgia, challenging key parts of the Voting Rights Act, filed briefs in the Supreme Court this month pointing to racial progress and a high black turnout in the fall election. They said Obama’s victory heralded the emergence of a colorblind society in which special legal safeguards for minorities are no longer required.

This is the latest phase of a continuing war Conservatives have been waging since, let me see…yes, since 1965! Sadly, it has been achieving success in small ways in recent years.  (As I have warned before, these small ways are exactly how these groups plan legal strategies, so, yes, you should be worried.)

The new and tragic element in today’s story is that they are now using the election of Barack Obama as proof that we have reached a colorblind society which no longer needs things like the Voting Rights Act. Ward Connerly–everybody’s favorite opportunist who uses his black face to give “moral authenticity” to organized attempts to undo the gains of the Civil Rights Era–said “If we can’t get rid of these laws now with Obama, I don’t know what yardstick we’re going to use.”

Hmmmm.  How about we use the yard stick that says race is no longer a factor in creating social, political, and economic inequality?  Yeah, that sounds good!

Mr. Connerly doesn’t read a lot, so maybe he doesn’t know, but the casual and everyday violence of racial segregation and discrimination remain very much alive.  Most Americans continue to live in racially-homogenous communities.1 Most of this nation’s children sit in classes almost entirely made up of children of their own race, learning in spaces even more segregated than they were a generation ago.2

Studies show a continuing gap in household income for Black and Latino families—with Blacks earning only 62% and Latinos only 72% of the average white family.  Household net worth is a better measure of the wealth disparity in our society, but that data is no better.  The median white household is more than 8 times as wealthy as the average Latino household and more than 17 times as wealthy as the average African American one.3 Black and brown poverty continue to outpace white poverty, in both cases by a factor of more than two to one.4

Of the more than 2 million people incarcerated in the United States, about 40% are Black and 20% are Latino, though both groups only represent about 15% of the general population.5 When contrasted with their rates of college enrollment, an African American or Latino young person is 3 times as likely to end up in prison as they are in college.

But these kinds of harsh realities really don’t matter to Conservatives. For some, they are indicators of laziness and criminality within communities of color, not of the persistence of white supremacy. For others, they just ignore this reality altogether.

Shannon Goessling, the director of the Southeastern Legal Foundation, one of the well-funded armies in this war, made the conservative case succinctly when she said: “The question now is, at what point do we as a society wipe the slate clean and accept that we are equals with equal rights, equal treatment and equal expectations, and special treatment shouldn’t be provided to anyone?” Interesting how they label laws designed to assure the condition of equal rights as “special treatment.”

Here’s a joke for you: What do these folks call it when “special treatment” is no longer law and the discriminatory practices which seem to have all the inertia in this political system find solace without opposition or recognition?  Answer? They call that “success!”


1 John Iceland and Daniel H. Weinberg, with Erika Steinmetz, “Racial and Ethnic Residential Segregation in the United States: 1980-2000,” Census 2000 Special Reports, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2002).
2 Gary Orfield, Reviving the Goal of an Integrated Society: A 21st Century Challenge (Los Angeles, CA: The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA, 2009).
3 Alfred O. Gottschalck, “Net Worth and the Assets of Households: 2002,” Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2008), 13. These figures exclude wealth derived from home equity.
4 Carmen DeNavas-Walt, Bernadette D. Proctor, and Jessica C. Smith, “Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2007,” Current Population Reports, U.S. Census Bureau (Washington D.C.: Government Printing Office, 2008), 6 and 13.
5 U.S. Census Bureau, “Census Bureau Releases New Data on Residents of Adult Correctional Facilities, Nursing Homes and Other Group Quarters,” press release, September 27, 1007. Available from . Accessed on October 12, 2007.

Courts Leave Arizona’s Immigration Laws Alone

The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals declined to hear any challenges to Arizona’s state laws penalizing businesses who “knowingly hire” undocumented or unauthorized workers.

Here are the few details from the Arizona Republic:

In September, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the law in ruling that the state could suspend or revoke the business licenses of employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers.

On Monday, a larger sampling of 9th Circuit judges declined further review of the case.

Arizona’s employer-sanctions law took effect in January 2008. To date, no employers have been prosecuted under the law.

Opponents of the statute – including the Arizona Contractors Association, Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Chicanos Por La Causa – remain hopeful that it will be struck down. They point to employer-sanctions laws in other states that await court rulings regarding their constitutionality, and a possible future appeal of state-imposed immigration laws to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The opinion of the court can be downloaded here.

The plaintiffs had argued Arizona’s laws violate federal laws by going further in penalizing employers than IRCA does, and by compelling businesses to use the E-Verify system (even though federal laws make it an option only). They also argued these laws have the potential to cause discriminatory hiring practices.

The court didn’t disagree as much as they emphasized the appeal was really based on supposition, since no actual discrimination is being alleged and no employer had been deprived of their state license under the law.

They did say there was no overstepping by Arizona regarding the compulsory use of E-Verify, despite its persistent problems.

The Oppression We Condone

Imagine a young, college student loading a bong and taking a hit. Then, imagine somewhere else, another person bites into a salad and swallows a small tomato. Neither person thinks they are hurting anyone by their actions. Neither thinks for a moment their action is connected to other people.

But both are wrong.

Two tragic articles bring this home. The first is a piece on the drug war in Mexico, featured in the latest issue of Foreign Policy.

“Mexico’s hillbilly drug smugglers have morphed into a raging insurgency. Violence claimed more lives there last year alone than all the Americans killed in the war in Iraq. And there’s no end in sight.”

It is a sad reminder of the brutal human cost that comes with the criminalization of drugs and drug use, yes, but it is also damning of U.S. consumption.  Even if marijuana and other drugs were legal in the U.S., the scale of our consumption would still create and nurture many of the power dynamics currently at play in the hemisphere.

If you doubt that, read this article on the production of tomatoes in South Florida. Featured in Gourmet magazine, it details the presence of modern slavery in the U.S.

“If you have eaten a tomato this winter, chances are very good that it was picked by a person who lives in virtual slavery. “

This perfectly legal food is  produced in ways which view their Latino laborers as nothing more than an ingredient to production, like dirt, water, or seed.  While this situation is both simple and complicated, the suffering is undeniable.

Halting our consumption of items which produce human suffering is a small change anybody can make.  Consumption feeds the continuation of the systems in question, both of which exact immeasurable human costs.  But that won’t do much to change the real problem.

James Baldwin once wrote of the indifference of whites to black suffering saying “It is their innocence that constitutes the crime.” What he meant is that “not knowing” isn’t a sign of innocence. Not when we live in a world where suffering is so easily evident.  Instead, it’s a sign of our guilt because it is the product of effort–effort to not know, effort to not associate yourself as linked to another you know is in pain, effort to preserve your need (for whatever) at the cost of others’ needs for human dignity and life.

When we open our eyes and see that the suffering of others is our suffering, then we are prepared to begin the hard work of creating the kinds of change called for in these situations.  What would you do to stop the abuse of your brother?  What would you do to save the life of your sister?

The article in Gourmet came to my attenton via Harvesting Justice, the wonderful blog of the non-profit advocacy group Farmworker Justice.