“Is Hollywood Mexican enough?”

Chris Rock is making the news these past few days because of his comments on race in Hollywood. Those comments were a lot broader than just about his experience as a Black man in the industry.

But forget whether Hollywood is black enough. A better question is: Is Hollywood Mexican enough? You’re in L.A, you’ve got to try not to hire Mexicans. It’s the most liberal town in the world, and there’s a part of it that’s kind of racist — not racist like “F— you, nigger” racist, but just an acceptance that there’s a slave state in L.A. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in L.A. that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I remember I was renting a house in Beverly Park while doing some movie, and you just see all of the Mexican people at 8 o’clock in the morning in a line driving into Beverly Park like it’s General Motors. It’s this weird town.

You’re telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that’s true?

You can check out his full essay at The Hollywood Reporter.

Oscar invites Latinos to join

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.

You can read all the names of the new invitees here.

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.

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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!

Terror on the Border

This Friday (April 20, 2012), the PBS affiliate in San Diego will air the latest episode of “Need to Know” featuring a report on the 2010 homicide of Anastacio Hernandez Rojas. The story will present never-before-seen video suggesting what many have been alleging for years–that the US Border Patrol has been using excessive force in the performance of their duties.

Rojas died only days after being beaten and tased by Border Patrol agents, which initially caused his heart to stop. Official reports attributed the use of a taser to his being combative. In video evidence received by PBS, Rojas appears to be completely subdued, handcuffed, and on the floor when an agent uses the taser against him. At the same time, he is surrounded by about a dozen other agents, who stand there watching what turned out to be the event leading to his death.

You can see a preview of the report below.

 

Latinifornia

The US Census released the California population data from the 2010 Census today. Here are some of the more interesting figures:

  • California’s total population is 37,253,957
  • About 37.6% of those people are Latino (14,013,719)
  • Some 4.8 million Californians (13%) are Asian

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.

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).

In CA, the Latino Future is Now

There’s a great piece in today’s LA Times spotlighting the rift in the CA GOP over a proposed ballot initiative which would do for California what SB 1070 did for Arizona.  You can read it here.

The Republicans who favor the initiative, like others across the nation, are addicted to their game of (white) race politics and immigrant scapegoating. Those who oppose it (or at least oppose supporting it) are worried about the long-term damage to their party’s political influence.

As the piece notes, in the last election in CA:

…one in five voters was Latino; 80% of them cast ballots for Democratic Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, while 15% voted for Whitman despite her multimillion-dollar effort to woo them. Their participation, driven by labor unions who used the Arizona immigration law to pull Latinos to the polls, was nearly double what it was in the last gubernatorial contest. And those numbers are expected to grow.

Indeed, with a clear majority of the under 18-year-old population in the State of “Hispanic” origin, we are no longer a sleeping giant but a yawning and stretching one. Political power will increasingly depend upon your ability to garner Latino voters.

But far too many Republicans in this State are so myopic (and just plain hateful) to see what is staring them plainly in the face. As current Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado (a Republican) laments:

“You can pull the life-support machine off the party, just pull the plug,” he said. “Because there’s no secret, if you look at obituaries and you look at the birth notices in any newspaper, I can tell you what California is going to look like in the next 10, 15, 20 years. If you continue to alienate the fastest-growing population, then you can continue to be a party that is successful in certain areas, but you won’t be able to run the state.”

The debate and political contest over immigration in California is vitally important for the rest of the nation. Unlike what you might guess, this importance is not based on premonition. While many of the Southwestern states, and a few others, will continue to trend toward the Latino plurality California now enjoys, most will not. If Latinos and other pro-immigrant constituencies (especially Asians) choose their representative wisely, CA will set the example for the rest of the nation on how a State can build strength from immigration.

Our unique and historic context is an opportunity to create a society that can withstand the loss of a white majority while continuing to hold to more basic elements of the US political system, nothing short of a fulfillment of a political vision set in motion more than two centuries ago yet, still, only imperfectly realized.

The Joker Voted for Nixon

Fifty years ago today, on October 8, 1960, this photo of actors Ginger Rogers and Cesar Romero ran in the LA Times.

Source

By 1960, Rogers was a household name and a Hollywood legend.  An Oscar-winning actress, she had starred in more than 70 movies, and was best known for re-defining the musical genre with her dance partner Fred Astaire.

Romero was no Rogers, but he was no lightweight either.  The New York born cubano had starred in scores of films, ranging from musicals, to comedies, to adventures.  Romero was well-known to movie goers in the 30s and 40s  as the preeminent “Latin lover.”  Later, he played everything from the “heavy” to the comedic foil.

Romero parlayed his initial type casting into a long career, from the big screen to TV.  Six years after this photo was taken, Romero’s name would be forever linked to “Batman” when he was cast as the Joker in the campy TV show starring Adam West.  Today, despite a diverse body of work spanning almost half a century, he is best know for his turn as the warped villian.

In the above photo, Romero and Rogers are attaching bumper stickers to cars.  The stickers are for Dick Nixon and Henry Cabot Lodge, the Republican nominees for President and Vice President in 1960.  One month after the Times published this, Nixon would lose the election to JFK by a mere 112,827 votes, less than 0.17% of the entire popular vote.

The election is particularly well-known in Chicano historical circles because of overt efforts by the Democratic Party to mobilize the Latino vote.  Among their tactics, the Democrats sponsored “¡Viva Kennedy!” clubs to reach out to Spanish-speaking voters in the Southwest and other parts of the nation.

They even enlisted the Senator’s wife in their targeted campaign:

This outreach effort may have been decisive for JFK.  In Texas he won over 90% of the Mexican American electorate, about 200,000 votes.  This helped give him the state and, hence, the presidency.  Overall, Kennedy won an estimated 85% of the Mexican American vote from coast to coast.

To many Mexican American politicos, the results inspired hopes of greater attention from the new administration, if not outright formal appointments.  Their hopes, however, were soon dashed.  JFK paid almost no attention to the issues facing Mexican Americans and other Latinos.

As the above picture reflects, the Republican Party might not have organized “¡Viva Nixon!” clubs across the nation but they didn’t ignore Latino voters entirely.  Romero, whose name and reputation would have been most powerfully regarded among Cuban and older Mexican voters, participated in at least a casual effort to garner some votes for “Tricky Dick.”

In subsequent years, celebrities like Romero and Ricardo Montalbán could help rally religious and conservative members of the Spanish-speaking population to vote for Nixon again and, even after that, Reagan.  Now, fifty years later, Republicans seem to have lost almost all the benefits of these early connections.

As a sustained immigration debate based firmly in racialist ways of knowing nurtures the continual exodus of Latino voters from the Republican side of the fence to the Democratic, it’s interesting to look back and see how the present reality was anything but certain in 1960.

Latino History Month #2

It’s time for your weekly “Hispanic Heritage Month” history lesson, something with a little more significance and less sponsorship than this.  Plus, you get for free what hundreds of students have to pay a high-priced college for, and I don’t even jack with your transcript when we’re done!

With the debate over Mexican immigration raging, 2010 is a time like no other in our history…or is it?  I wish.  History is a wheel of reoccurrence, a condition which is frustrating for noble-minded historians like myself, but a condition that is so nonetheless.  Among the many instances where this “debate” reared its racially-marked head in the past was the decade of the 1920s.

Back then, a swarm of xenophobes had manged to legislate the most restrictive immigration system in US history, framed by racial quotas which remained the “law of the land” until 1965.  These quotas made it easier for you to immigrate to the US if you were “white” and Northern European than if you were “swarthy” and Southern and Eastern European.  While support was diverse, both in constituency and the interests they sought to protect, a widespread base of support came from those whose goal was to limit the attack on “pure Americanism” which resulted from the infusion of so many not-quite-whites into the US.

Where were Mexicans in this formula?  Well, thanks to the political leverage of agribusiness, among other factors, they were left out of the quota system.  This didn’t sit well with the xenophobes who saw their presence as seasonal pickers in the Southwest as just as much a threat as the Jews or Italians in the East, if not more so.

The result was a regular attempt by some elites to extend the quota to Latin America and an accompanying attempt by other elites to stop them.

That’s the quick and dirty shaping the larger context of this piece, an op-ed written in 1928 and published in the LA Times (Feb. 18, 1928).  Penned by a representative of the agricultural industry, it is titled “Hands Off!” and reads, in part:

Putting up immigration bars at the border to keep Mexicans willing to perform manual labor from securing employment on the ranches and in the orchards of this country is a proposal that would bring injury to many and benefit to none. The Mexicans are good workers, the best as a class we have ever had in the Southwest. Under the present permit system, they come in when they are needed, and go back when their work has been done.

They are not wastrels, are not troublemakers. They create no race problems. They are neither political disturbers nor social menaces.

We of the Southwest know the Mexicans. They are god citizens. Many now living in Los Angeles recall when more than 70 per cent of the population was Mexican born or Mexican descent. Many of our most useful citizens are descendants of the second of third generation of the Mexicans who lived here before California was an American State. There are more than 100,000 persons of Mexican birth or descent now living in Los Angeles. Most of them are American citizens, and good ones.

California’s representatives in Congress asked for the exclusion of the Chinese and Japanese, but they have not and are not asking for the exclusion of the Mexicans. Agricultural, commercial and industrial organizations throughout the State are practically unanimous in their protest against restricting Mexican immigration to the 3 per cent quota…

…Relations between the United States and Mexico are cordial. The good will shown by the last two administrations has aided very materially in the restoration of peace and the promotion of good will in Mexico. Restriction of Mexican immigration would be regarded south of the Rio Grande as inhospitable, as unfriendly, as a reflection on the Mexican people which the Latin blood would be certain to resent

There have been no disturbances, no clashes between class and class, no general protests from California communities against the presence of Mexican laborers in any part of the South or West. Where the Mexican are employed they are welcome. They take part in cultivating and picking the cotton in California, Arizona and Texas. They pick the peaches, oranges, lemons and apricots and prepare them for shipment. They cultivate the beet fields of California, Utah and Colorado.

They are as necessary to our ranches and orchards as are the farm laborers at harvest time in the Middle West. A law prohibiting the movement of farm laborers from one State to another in the season of the wheat harvest would be about as reasonable as one preventing Mexican laborers from coming at seasonable times into the West and Southwest. These Mexicans are accustomed to life in a semitropical climate. They are children of the sun, and they perform a service for which those born in colder climates are neither suited no inclined…

If you’d like to think as a Latina/o historian, then you might want to consider the following questions to begin:

  • What are some of the reasons the author gives for not including Mexican workers under the quota system?
  • What can we infer from this argument regarding the opposition? That is, what does this tell us about how the “other side” is arguing?
  • How do ideas about racial fitness continue to frame the position here? What are those ideas? How do they benefit the argument?
  • How are Mexicans “naturalized” as part of the agricultural production process?

This position was a common one in this era, as it is today.  You might think about the ways this argument resonates with some of the ideas and positions you hear in our current public debate.

Illegal immigrants “are all over my house”

Colin Powell appeared on “Meet the Press” (9/19/10) and spoke about a Republican party he described as “waiting to emerge once again,” a party of moderates who are more balanced in their approach to several issues, including immigration.

Here is the section of his interview where he responds to the opportunistic xenophobia that is currently the preferred stance on immigration within the GOP:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Meet The Press, posted with vodpod.

In his varied defense of reforming this position, he presents an assortment of analytical assumptions, some aspects of which I find more than a little problematic or incomplete. For example, he bases part of his defense of “illegal immigration” on what we might label a utilitarian approach, arguing (in essence) that “we” need “them” to do the work that “we” need done. Powell also presents another fairly opportunistic analysis when he speaks directly to the concerns of an aging “baby boomer” population. He suggests that immigrants are the “lifeblood” of this nation, but he describes that lifeblood as an economic transfusion—the maintaining of a workforce (and implied tax base) to support an aging and retiring population of natives.

Such ways of interpreting the immigration issue are a form of progress on purely policy-oriented terms, since they can lead to a more “moderate” and more realistic immigration system, one that spends less time on criminalizing migrants than on finding pathways for their legal stability. However, they also further a mode of analysis which deprives immigrants of their right to be seen as something more than inanimate workers.

Immigrants have the right—the human right—to be seen and treated as people with desires, concerns, and needs. When we view them in these “disembodied” ways (that is, disconnecting their human selves from the values we derive from their physical selves) we create a context like we have today—where immigration policies promote inhumane forms of detention and removal and, in many cases, outright death.

Viewing immigrants as humans means acting in responsible ways. We all have a responsibility—and I would argue, this is both a moral and a legal responsibility—to recognize and safeguard everyone’s ability to fulfill their basic human needs.

I recognize this is a distinct way of understanding the “immigration issue.” It says the issue is bigger than whether or not it “benefits us” to allow them into “our” nation. It says the issue is, fundamentally, about viewing this nation as part of a larger whole, with an accompanying responsibility to act in deliberate humanistic ways.

Powell flirts with the kinds of understandings I support when he expresses the need for us to spend more effort educating “our minorities” and immigrants. Leaving along the paternalistic tone his choice of words suggests—and not at all discounting the ways his education argument can be interpreted as opportunistic—I view education as a fundamental human right. Education facilitates one’s ability to fulfill their basic human needs. It is intimately connected to a set of opportunities–to achieve meaningful social inclusion, to defend and maintain cultural rights, and to assure true participatory political power.

All this said, I welcome Powell’s stance and hope it gains more traction in our political debate. His vocal support of the Dream Act at this critical hour is the right thing to do. The same can be said for the ways he is promoting a more moderate way of approaching immigration reform. None of this is “perfect,” and it often falls short of true humanism, but who cares?

When we have people dying as a result of our policies there is a moral urgency to creating a policy context that is more just, even if that falls short of perfect.

Why Repealing Birthright Citizenship is More Difficult Than You Think

In recent months, the “movement” to repeal jus soli–or “birthright citizenship–seems to be gathering steam.

I use the term “movement” cautiously because, at heart, this is really about political posturing by the right. While there are groups of people who have consistently advocated for this kind of revision of the US Constitution, they haven’t done anything in the last half year to warrant this new attention. What has changed is the number of high-profile politicians and pundits who have made this their “cause of the day” in the hope of securing their election, re-election, and/or high ratings.

The most visible evidence of their work is a now mainstream discussion of the danger of so-called “anchor babies,” or children born to “illegal” immigrants. As this rightist argument goes, the 14th Amendment to the US Constitution–which bestows citizenship on anyone born in the US–acts as a motivation for illegal immigration by promoting a wave of pregnant migrants who come to the US to have children and then use those children to secure their own residency.

I want to point out a few things that are missing in the wider debate, “realities” which should guide your understanding of this very important issue. The first one is simple enough–this “movement” has very little chance of ever being successful.

Repealing or amending part of the US Constitution is an extremely difficult thing to do. It is prohibitive by design, since nobody wants a country where the fundamental laws of the land can change with the whims of the age. Accordingly, changing any amendment requires the rarest of political conditions. To do it, supporters of a new Amendment (which is how you amend another Amendment) would need to follow one of two courses: 1) get a two-thirds majority of both the House and the Senate to pass the Amendment, and then get three-fourths of all States to approve it; or 2) get two-thirds of all States to hold a Constitutional Convention proposing the Amendment, and then get three-fourths of all States to approve it. Neither one of these scenarios has a chance of mustering even the slightest chance of coming to pass relating to the 14th Amendment.

Now, this reality is an important one to grasp, before we engage in any other debate about the issue. The only reason this “movement” has seemingly become so successful is because politicians–from Lindsay Graham to John McCain–are spouting off about “anchor babies” and the reasonableness of having hearings on repealing jus soli. But these politicians know the process that is required of such a move. They know it has no chance of passing, let alone ever being considered by the House or Senate under this (or any recent) configuration. So why doth they protest?

So, before we continue, let’s get our head around the fact that this is an esoteric discussion being led by politicians who are trying to secure their electability among a small yet vocal fringe of their party.

The second reality passing us by is the second point I would like to make: repealing birthright citizenship opens a mess of legal complexities, many of which do not benefit the US. Supporters of this act like the issue is an easy one since all it would do it stop Mexicans from coming to the US and having their babies. What it would really do is provoke a global war on citizenship.

Let’s say a child is born in to an “illegal” parent in a United States where jus soli is not the law of the land. We say this child is not a citizen and they must be deported. But to where? Having been born in the US, they are not a citizen in any other nation of the world. Barring bureaucratic measures taken by the parent on the behalf of the child, they would now be a human being who has no citizenship.

You can’t deport them without the other nation agreeing to take them, which is highly unlikely since they have no vested interest in accepting, en masse, people they consider to be your citizens. So now you have a class of people within your national borders who are neither citizens–ostensibly deprived of rights as basic as the right to exist within your national limits–and yet who are, in fact, legally present within your nation. How do you house them? What do they get to do? What do they not get to do? Do you raise them in federal orphanages? Do they go to school? What happens when they turn 18?

How about this: let’s say we have a child born to an “illegal” mother but the father is “legal.” What about the reverse? Is the child deprived of citizenship or not? Does this differ if the “legal” parent is a naturalized US citizen, a US-born citizen, or a legal permanent resident (LPR)? What if we decide one parent who is a citizen is enough? Are there penalties for pro-creating with an “illegal”? And what about victims of rape? What about women who do not divulge the father’s name or status?

And then there is this complication: what level of “illegality” is necessary to strip a native-born child from becoming a US citizen? Only if the parent is residing in the US without authorization? Do we include people who are here “legally” but working “illegally”? What about people who were once here legally but have overstayed their visa? Does it matter when the migrant gets pregnant? Let’s say they child is conceived when the parent(s) are legal but born when one or both are not? What if the child is born on the exact day a visa expires? What if the migrant has been here for years, unauthorized, but then gets pregnant. Certainly not an “anchor baby.” And what about legal guestworkers who get pregnant and have children while they are working?

These scenarios are hardly far fetched. When you are dealing with a nation the size of the US, who actively promotes the informal importation of as many unauthorized workers as we do, these scenarios are common. They would also clog the US legal system and bring it to a standstill while we worked it all out. Whatever the solution, there would be so many ways around it and/or so many gross violations of common decency as a result, nobody would be pleased with the outcome.

Finally–and I think the most compelling reality that exposes this entire effort for the political smokescreen that it is–the advocates of repealing jus soli are basing their analysis on a bunch of misinformation. When it comes down to it, “anchor babies” do not exist in any measurable fashion. The offensive phenomenon of “stop and drop” is a myth.

This recent report from the Pew Hispanic Center is causing a stir because it estimates that better than 12% of all the children born in the US are born to “illegal immigrant parents.” This seems to statistically demonstrate the level of our “crisis.” But, the report also calculates that as many as 80% of the “illegal” parents have been in the US for one-year or longer. (In case you didn’t know, human babies take about 9 months to gestate.)

Furthermore, because of the data they used, the report does not separate between those children who have one parent who is “illegal” and those who have two. Other fairly recent reports (one, two, three) suggest the number of children with “mixed” parents (in terms of legal status) may be rather high.

So where does this leave us?

If the politicians and pundits know everything that I just described to you, then they are purposefully manipulating the information in order to strike fear in their constituencies. You might ask why they would do such a thing.

If they don’t know what I have just described to you, then they are dumb, uneducated, and/or misinformed. You might ask yourself why people who are elected to represent you don’t do the simple work of research and learning about complex issues before they take stands on them. You might also ask why people who make millions of dollars on TV talking to you about these issues don’t either.

In either case, repealing the 14th Amendment is not only a bad idea, but one that works against any stable democratic republic. And, when it comes down to it, it will do nothing to curb the flow of “illegal” immigration to the US, a phenomenon that exists because of two things: systemic poverty in Mexico and active recruitment and labor needs in the US.