“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.

My “book tour”

I’ll be in the Bay Area this week to talk about my book, Latinos at the Golden Gate. It’s the first of four trips I’m making to the city to share my work and sign some books for those who are interested. It’s also my first trip back since the book came out.

This week I’ll be giving two informal talks on the book, covering the history of Latina/o community in San Francisco from the Gold Rush to the 1970s. I’d love to see you there if you can make it!

Wednesday, January 15 @ 7:30PM
I’m the first spring 2014 public talk event sponsored by Shaping SF. My talk will be at the Eric Quezada Center, in the heart of the Mission District, at 518 Valencia. The event is free and open to the public. For more info you can visit their website.

Thursday, January 16 @ 7:00PM
I’m also speaking in Berkeley, at the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment (2521 Channing Way). This event is part of the California Studies Dinner Seminar series. The dinner and discussion are both free (although they ask for a small donation for drinks) but an RSVP is required. You can find out the details by visiting their website.

I don’t think they’ll be selling books at either event but if you bring a copy I’d be happy to sign it!

Hope to see you this week!

“Out of Many, Uno”

A piece I wrote was released today on the University of North Carolina Press (UNC) Blog.

In “Out of Many, Uno,” I draw some connections between the history of Latinos in San Francisco–the story of my book, Latinos at the Golden Gate (published by UNC Press)–and the larger, unfolding story of the 21st century United States.

While the political emergence of Latinos surprised many in the mainstream media, it’s been a closely watched process for those who study the nation’s second-largest racial/ethnic group. Mexican American and Puerto Rican voters have played decisive roles in particular local elections for generations. And, for the last decade, in a handful of states that have traditionally served as “gateways” for Latin American migrants to the United States—California, Texas, New York, and Florida in particular—a statewide candidate who ignores Latino voters does so at their own peril.

These local and regional patterns are now playing out at a national level. On a near daily basis we are peppered with evidence that the political establishment is refocusing its future efforts on attracting more Latino voters. In addition to tailoring their messages to Latino audiences (like this 2011 DNC video for the Obama campaign), they are also increasingly concerned about their image among Latino voters. As one conservative put it: “You can’t call someone ugly and expect them to go to the prom with you.”

As with most “new” things, however, the mainstream United States still has a lot to learn about this growing segment of its population. Perhaps the most common misconception that remains, even in this period of increasing attention, is the belief that there is naturally such as thing as a “Latino.”

To read the entire piece, visit the UNC Press Blog.

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Latinos in San Francisco

My book—Latinos at the Golden Gate—should be ready to ship out in a matter of days. If you’re interested in buying a copy, you can get a 20% discount off the cover price by ordering directly from UNC Press.

Just click on the book’s order page and enter the code 0120DIS at checkout.

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My book arrived!

Look what I got in the mail today!

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I’m not sure I have the words to describe how this feels. I’m also sure that those feelings will keep coming and changing with all that it to come in the months ahead.

Latinos are here to get your daughters pregnant!

NBC has announced its fall 2013 line-up and it includes a show featuring a Latino family!

The show–called “Welcome to the Family”–stars young up-and-comer Joseph Haro (who’s had roles on “Glee” and “Awkward”) and Ricardo Chavira (of “Desperate Housewives”). Normally, I would be praising this as a step forward, especially for a network that hasn’t done much to represent non-white characters since Bill Cosby. But then I saw this preview for the show:

This show is a prolonged and recycled version of “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” with one huge twist–it confirms rather than seeks to dispel some of the prominent and racist stereotypes Latinos face in the US.

Latinos are the second largest ethnic/racial group in the US, second only to what the Census labels “non-Hispanic whites.” Television does not reflect this basic reality. I don’t think anybody would disagree that this is a major problem–not only for entertainment but for our collective need to forge a healthy, multiracial society. The images we encounter in the media are part of that evolving recipe.

NBC has had a hard time presenting a more diversified face reflective of the present and future. When they have it’s usually been in small ways that also come with fulfilling a larger stereotype. For example, I would cringe every time I saw a Latino gangbanger on “Law and Order,” a show that also featured (for a time) a very human Latino character (Reynaldo “Rey” Curtis) played by Benjamin Bratt.

Show’s like “Friends” or “ER”–both which took place in cities with large Latino populations–only rarely ever featured brown faces as part of their worlds. When they did, it was cause for celebration. I can remember how excited I was when ER nurse Chuny Marquez (played by Laura Cerón) had her own story arc in the top-rated NBC drama.

NBC should be the best poised for a real integration of Latinos. They are the worst network by ratings, putting them in a position of very little to lose by taking a chance. They also own Univision, the major Spanish-language network of the US. With projects like NBC Latino they have shown a desire to not only tap into the Latino consumer market, but to do so by providing them products that meet our particular needs and experiences.

“Welcome to the Family” is not that show. It is a show that portrays the integration values of the 1960s with the un-interrogated race awareness of the 21st century. In our present day context–when racialized fears helped frame massive deportations, structural poverty and under-education, and social marginalization–it feels like a bigger set-back than any advance.

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.

“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.

Who is telling Latinos not to vote?

His name is Robert de Posada, and he is a Republican.  He is also the President of a group calling themselves “Latinos for Reform” who, judging from their new ad campaign, are either idiots or morally bankrupt.

The following ad was scheduled to begin running on Univision in Nevada, Florida, and other Latino-rich states.  Univision–who had run the radio version on some of its Nevada stations and who had already accepted an $80,000 ad buy in to begin running the ad on their television network–has now said they will not air the ad.  Telemundo has also agreed not to show it.

For those who don’t speak Spanish, the ad is telling Latinos not to vote in order to send a message to politicians–Democratic politicians who haven’t followed through with their promises to reform immigration.

The idiot de Posada claims he is sincere, and is all just an “effort to express Hispanic frustration with the Democrats failure to deliver on immigration reform.”  The President and other Democrats think  it is a ploy to elect more Republicans.

This is one of the dirtiest and most demeaning political tricks I have seen in a long time.

Here is the English version.

Miami Vice (25 years ago today)

Miami Vice premiered on NBC 25 years ago today, on September 16, 1984.  The show that became synonymous with the decade of the 80s both reflected the visual and emotional aesthetic of its times as it simultaneously shaped them.

It was a seemingly superficial concept, encapsulated by Brandon Tartikoff’s two-word vision of “MTV cops.” But the end result was much more than that.  While music and stylized cinematography provided high-profile features of the show, its stories helped reshaped what adult TV looked and felt like.  Michael Mann, executive producer of the series, chose to set the show in Miami, giving it ample opportunity to showcase women in bikinis, neon lights, and nightclubs.  It also provided a dark, gritty, urban backdrop and the specter of drugs.

And Latinos.  Latinos (as actors or characters or both) figured prominently in the show from day one.  Lead actor Philip Michael Thomas was not Latino, but he played “Ricardo Tubbs,” a former NYC cop who has Latin roots of some kind.  In the first four episodes, Lieutenant Lou Rodriguez was played by Gregory Sierra.  He was replaced with Edward James Olmos in the role of Lieutenant Martin Castillo.  Saundra Santiago played Detective Gina Calabrese; while bit player Martin Ferrero appeared frequently as Izzy Moreno.  Taking place in Miami, and frequently revolving around the business of drug smuggling, Latinos appeared in most episodes as shady, dark figures and other kinds of criminal-looking types.

Surprisingly, the show never finished a season higher than the ninth spot in the overall ratings, achieving that feat in its 2nd season.  It tapered off big time in the ratings after that, finishing 23rd, 36th, and 53rd in the final three seasons, respectively.  But the ratings don’t reflect the show’s impact on the culture.  Don Johnson became a household name after 1984.  The theme song by Jan Hammer went to number 1 on the charts.  The show spawned original hit singles from Glen Frey, and made bigger hits out of songs by Phil Collins and Dire Straits.

And the stories!  My favorite episode just might be “Out Where the Buses Don’t Run,” the third episode of the second season.  From beginning to end it suggests what made the show great–the style, the music, the actors.  And the plot is just about as dark a story as I had ever seen on TV.  The complexity it represented stuck with me, but not half as much as the final scene.  I can still remember watching it.

If you want to spend the time, the entire 48 minute episode can be viewed below from Hulu.
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