Feminism and the high court

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Sonia Sotomayor’s statement about being a “wise Latina woman”:

I’m sure she meant no more than what I mean when I say: Yes, women bring a different life experience to the table. All of our differences make the conference better. That I’m a woman, that’s part of it, that I’m Jewish, that’s part of it, that I grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y., and I went to summer camp in the Adirondacks, all these things are part of me.

In an amazingly candid interview with the New York Times, Ginsburg spoke out being the only woman on the court, the Sotomayor nomination, and a host of other related issues. It is a rare and illuminating opportunity to hear such talk from a sitting Justice. Check it out.


Suburban Moms Come to the Rescue

Let’s get 2009 off to a nice start, shall we?

From today’s Washington Post comes word of the politically-franchised and powerful, mistaking themselves as the politically marginalized, and then seizing their well-protected political status to get involved.  On the constructive side, no less.

There is a new force in the vehemently anti-immigrant Prince William County, and that force is an SUV filled with stay-at-home moms.  A loose group of engaged women have “gone to the matresses” against local politicians and their xenophobic constituencies by presenting a humanistic and compassionate voice for immigrants rights.  They have a blog, too.  One that gets more daily hits than mine.

For one of the group’s informal leaders, involvement seemed a no brainer.  She is married to an immigrant.

“It was as if they were saying he wasn’t making a contribution or worthy of being here,” she said of the county’s foray into illegal immigration. “It was like saying it was a mistake to allow him to gain legal status and it would be a mistake to do it for this new group.”

Another became involved after hearing her children sing a Prince William County playground rhyme:

“I don’t want to go to Mexico no more. . . . There’s a big, fat guy at the door. . . . If you open it up, he’ll [urinate] on the floor. . . . I don’t want to go to Mexico no more.”

Hmmmm. Sounds like college. Oh please, I kid!

The story is an interesting and significant one.  All the humor and internal contradictions aside, these women are (though they might not know it) THE political force within this nation’s electorate.  If more people did what they are doing then things would be better.

For those who might want to dig a little deeper, it is interesting how gender is at work in both the reporter’s depiction of these women and their own narrative of their rise to power.  For some, this is about protecting the children.  For others, it is about dispelling myths of political inactivity.  As I suggest above, however, this is the political equivalent of being a well-armed and well-trained Marine who thinks they are a pacifist.  They might be amazed at the way they can jump in and kill somebody in three seconds, but should they?

The bigger story within this story is the way these women are beginning to see this issue as a way to form a more politically-engaged kind of life for themselves.  This is a characteristic of the Obama Era in U.S. political culture, to be sure.  But it also speaks to the growing irrelevance of immigration as an issue, for the time being.  An economy in the tank, declining numbers of immigrants, and an assumed change in the policing preactices of ICE with a change in D.C., might spell death for the hopes of human rights activists (like me) to see the passage of meaningful, equitable, and humanistic immigration reform.

Guatemaltecas Find Feminism in Fútbol

The Los Angeles Times has clearly become the New York Times of Latino news. They provide consistent coverage of the political and economic issues facing Latinos and their immigrant inclusion in U.S. society. They are one of perhaps four papers representing the sources for news on immigration. And, what they do best that their counterparts simply can’t, is provide a glimpse into the ways Latin American-descent life is experienced in the 21st century U.S.

A recent and highly enjoyable example of this is the recent article “Guatemalan women kick aside constraints in the U.S.” It tells the story of Guatemalan immigrant women who have found the freedom and opportunity to play soccer, when in their home country women’s participation in the sport is frowned upon. Check it out.

This is an example of how the migration experience can lead to an increase in women’s opportunities for self-fulfillment. Reader should also be aware that there are as many instance (if not more) where the opposite is true. The lesson? Patriarchy, like feminism, is possible everywhere.

What I find most appealing about this example is that these women have found a form of feminist practice here in the U.S. due to the broader social allowance and sense of independence they encounter living and working here. But, the practice they find and participate within is uniquely Latin American–or at least not U.S. American.


The “Border Beat” (June 30, 2008)

As we inch closer to the Democratic and Republican conventions, and with those closer to the November elections, we’ll all be hearing more and more talk about and to Latinos. The issue of immigration works as a rallying point for certain sectors of both parties’ constituencies, acting as the target of political rhetoric meant to move you to vote. At the same time, the numerical realities of electoral politics mean the growing, younger, and as yet unknown political quantity of the “Latino electorate” is as popular as a boat in a flood.

Some thoughts as you dive into the “Border Beat.”

  • McCain and Obama each try to convince NALEAO that they will be our mejor amigo (AP/Yahoo);
  • Is America worried that Latinos are too fertile? (Tucson Citizen/USA Today);
  • USA Today is surprisingly sharp in discussing Latino birth rates and the rise of their presence in rural America…and they have maps!
  • Latinos mobilize in North Carolina, that’s right, NORTH CAROLINA! (ENCToday.com);
  • Women among the rising ranks of undocumented workers, a powerful lesson in what multiple oppression looks like (Houston Chronicle); and
  • Frida Kahlo returns to San Francisco (OC Register).

The second to last article I spotlight today is a simple report from the Houston Chronicle on the rising numbers of women among the flow of undocumented workers into the United States. While the story may be simple, the forces at work are anything but.

Traditionally, with the exception of political refugees, immigration to the United States has been two things almost without exception: young and male. Not only is the actual process physical arduous, but the gendered economic realities of immigration often presented opportunities for males to benefit from wages in el norte while it required women to maintain the “domestic economy” back in the “homeland.”

As those of us in the worlds of Chicano and Latino Studies know, immigration from Mexico and other parts of Latin America has been bucking this trend for some time. For the past few years, numbers reported by the Pew Hispanic Center have shown women account for almost half of the immigration flow from the South. Now, as ICE conducts weekly raids on worksites across the U.S., we have further proof of this.

This trend is a powerful reminder of the ways migrants are, in the words of noted Chicano scholar Ernesto Galarza, “ecological victims.” Their journey is dictated by economic necessity. This is not only a necessity framed by their own household circumstance in Latin America, but also the larger system which desires their body for labor and nurtures their movement from one part of the world to another, from abject poverty to first-world poverty.

Women are a rising share of the undocumented population because they occupy a position of diminished rights within global economic and political systems. This isn’t just a condition of the so-called Third World, it is a reality of the U.S. as well. The millions of Spanish-speaking women working in sweatshops in downtown Los Angeles are living proof of that. But there are others as well, women of all languages and hues and, yes, even economic classes.

The UN estimates that there are currently more than 12 million people working in “forced labor,” or “modern slavery” [see International Labour Organization]. Of these, the overwhelming majority are either adult women or children (both boys and girls). More than 20,000 of these slaves are working now in the U.S. While most of the women in this nation, and most of the immigrant women in this nation, are not slaves, millions of foreign-born women do find themselves working in an economic circumstance of little flexibility or freedom. They work in coercive environments which seek to employ them for the very reason that they are women with diminished political and economic rights.

Land of the free, indeed.