[For those new to UMX, The Weekly Immigration Wire is my weekly (paid) article I write for The Media Consortium. It is a column that runs on a few other sites (see end of post) and is written with a more formal voice than other blog posts found on this site.]
by Nezua, TMC MediaWire Blogger
On Tuesday, President Obama announced Sonia Sotomayor as his pick to replace Supreme Court Justice David Souter. Sotomayor could be the first Latina appointed to the Supreme Court. Predictably, attacks and slurs from the Right are already flying. Regardless, Sotomayor would be an excellent choice for the Supreme Court, signaling to Latino/as that the White House is aware of our need for more representation in government.
Reporting on Sotomayor’s nomination, the Washington Independent’s Daphne Eviatar notes that, while the choice doesn’t push the envelope in terms of liberalness, it does indicate that Obama was “willing to stand up to unfounded criticism of Sotomayor as a far-left liberal.” Interestingly enough, President George H. W. Bush originally nominated Sotomayor for the district court, and her life reads like Many GOP-adored tales of hard work leading to success.
Which leads one to wonder why are they attacking Sotomayor’s nomination with such vitriol, by painting her as a “radical, judicial activist/scary Latina feminist/underqualified diversity pick“? As Michelle Chen reports for RaceWire, Sotomayor has a reputation for “principled independence suffused with real-world experience” and the GOP’s squawking is a typical barrage of “hypocrisy, shrill animosity and racist code words.”
Sotomayor describes herself as a “Newyorican,” which is someone who has been born in New York City from parents hailing from Puerto Rico. While her nomination sparked controversy as to whether or not one can technically “immigrate” from Puerto Rico, there is no denying the country’s colonial history. Many see Sotomayor’s nomination as a success story for immigrants. She certainly does.
New America Media’s Roberto Lovato writes that despite the GOP’s desire to overlook Sotomayor’s uplifting and quintessentially “American” story, the Republican party would do well to use this opportunity very carefully. Sotomayor’s nomination provides an opportunity to draw a line between the GOP that bled Latino/a votes due to their immigration stance and what they hope to become. According to Lovato, Sotomayor—and we—should view the confirmation hearings as “nothing less than a trial to determine whether the GOP is ready to make restitution for its role in a number of judicial and political wrongdoings perpetrated in the Bush era.”
But it doesn’t seem that the Republican party is very concerned with the Latino/Hispanic vote, let alone common decency, judging by the desperate moves of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, an immigrant himself. In an attempt to clean up the state deficit, Schwarzenegger would “eliminate four programs that provide money and food to more than 100,000 legal immigrants,” many “elderly and disabled.” This action will hurt many people who are a vital part of our social fabric.
Daphne Eviatar, writing for the Center for Independent Media, reports on the perversely-named “Secure Communities” initiative, in which ICE officals are quoted defending a program that aims to deport those ticketed for so much as a red light. Under this soon to be expanded program, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) plans to deport “tens of thousands” of immigrants in 2010. Under the Secure Communities initiative, even a legal immigrant could be deported if accused and not able to hire or enlist legal representation.
Secure Communities “represents a new comprehensive approach to remove all criminal aliens held in the United States prisons and jails.” Even the phrase “criminal aliens” conjures up visions of hooded creatures with sinister intent…and maybe dangling antennae. Little is required to sweep an immigrant into the detention system and classify them as “criminal.” It can be nothing more than an overstayed visa, or being profiled at a 7-11 by ICE officials looking to make quota. It’s all part of a thriving detention industry: DHS projects a budget for new detention centers, including the needed number of arrests (400,000 are planned for next year) to fund and staff said centers. As a result, arrests are made for any infraction, imagined or real, the beds are filled, the lawyers can’t be afforded and aren’t provided, workers and family members are deported, the budgets justified, the checks cut, and the detention center industry looms larger every day.
In Deportation While U Wait, RaceWire’s Michelle Chen reports that ICE has found a way to further expedite the process. “At one downtown Los Angeles courthouse,” Chen writes, “Officials have found an efficient way to cut through the red tape: kicking people out of the country without waiting for a decision from the judge.” If there is a previous deportation order in their records, ICE rules on their own and deports the man or woman. But we should be careful to rush to judgment as often, “what looks on paper like a justifiable deportation often masks the nuances of individual hardships and structural problems that limit immigrants’ ability to press their legal cases.”
In the Colorado Independent, Erin Rosa reports that the Obama Administration is moving forward with plans to end the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which funds local jails and state prisons to house undocumented immigrants. Rosa notes that Colorado “netted $3.1 million from the program last year, and $3.3 million in 2007.” The White House defends the move by saying the resources can “better be used to enhance federal enforcement efforts.”
There are many people waiting to see those “enhanced” efforts in the shape of legislation. There is hope these efforts will improve the quality of peoples’ lives, not DHS’s budget. Many people who harbor those hopes demonstrated in Postville, Iowa in memory of the ICE raid that shattered the community a year ago. Lynda Waddington writes of this year’s difference in attitude for the Iowa Independent. In 2008, emotions were raw and more anger was expressed, but this year, there was “a specific focus and call for comprehensive immigration reform.”
YOU KNOW what everyone is talking about! Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor! And it’s great news. I like to see a smart Latina make her way into this possibility (and in fact there needs to be more women in general in that court, you know?) though such a move does not, of course, undo the White House’s actions/inactions in other areas that hurt Latin America. But we know that. And this is exciting to see for a few reasons. Also, I have to add, it’s really nice to see my Puerto Rican amigas so happy today. (Just as it is offputting to hear a few strange conversations that are flitting around out there about the hair of her honor! Ah, one “type” of Latin@ getting up in the world always gets us alll throwing punches for a minute! But let’s be happy for her and prove Rushlimbo wrong about this dividing Latin@s.)
And who better to celebrate with, but this Interesting cat?
[For those new to UMX, The Weekly Immigration Wire is my weekly (paid) article I write for The Media Consortium. It is a column that runs on a few other sites (see end of post).]
by Nezua, TMC MediaWire Blogger
Celebrated stories of early American pioneers, explorers, and immigrants typically center around men of fortitude and bravery. Depictions of modern-day migrants are still very male-centric, and this cultural lens is a default in most cases. But women play a central and overlooked role in today’s immigration story. Even when not directly highlighted, women often bear the weight of keeping families together and helping them grow stronger.
New America Media has just released the results of a poll titled “Women Immigrants: Stewards of the 21st Century.” NAM surveyed 1,002 female immigrants from Latin American, Asian, African, and Arab countries. According to Sandy Close and Richard Rodriguez, “The story that has not been told is the story of the woman immigrant. This poll is an effort to capture her narrative, and what becomes clear in the responses–many to questions that seemed on their face to have nothing to do with family per se–is that the gold thread giving meaning to her life is family stewardship.”
The poll reveals that the typical model of migration, in which the man left to find work and send home money, has changed. Women are assuming head of the household duties, even if in their prior situation they were in less of a leadership role. The women interviewed for the poll named “securing family stability” as the most important motivator for seeking U.S. citizenship.
NAM also features a number of articles that break down the poll’s findings. Some feature short videos such as the one below, titledFamily, Work and Progress — Latina Immigrants Speak. In this video, Latinas talk about why they came to the U.S. The reasons range from political asylum to simply being able to raise and feed their children. These are hard-hitting pieces because we can see and hear people tell their own story in their own words.
A common line spouted by those in favor of a strong enforcement agenda is that immigrants come here to ‘steal’ or ‘take’ our jobs. The focus is on an abstract, shadowy fence-hopper from Latin America who encroaches on turf and swipes resources. Ironically, there is never a mention of NAFTA and the effect it has had on the Latin American economy in these particular discussions! Perhaps no families would need to migrate north if unfair economic practices hadn’t taken so many jobs from Mexico, Guatemala, and the rest of Latin America.
Quite different than recycled stock footage of a man sliding over a busted-up border fence, NAM’s poll and videos present the truth in its plain and sorry reality. While it may make for less thrilling copy, it’s important to hear a mother talk about leaving a child behind so that she can forge a better path for them both, or about being alone in a strange place with nobody to help; about spending as much on long-distance phone calls to your children as you would on bringing them across the border.
These stories are important. Watching and reading human dramas that demand emotional engagement combat the anti-immigration punditry’s characterization of immigrants. As a result, a question forms that won’t go away: Why are these women alone in their struggle? If they were perceived as U.S. citizens, we would move mountains to come to their aid. It isn’t surprising that some Feminists strongly support immigration, though there is an ongoing debate.
Enforcement tactics are also devastating on a large scale. Writing for the American Forum, Dr. Erik Camayd-Freixas paints a clear picture of how the tactics deployed supposedly in the name of U.S. “security” do nothing to secure either happiness, safety, or a sound economy.
In Wiretap, 15-year-old Lupe Carreno tells about the day ICE took her father from her own home, and what that means to her life today: “When they began to walk down the stairs with my dad, it hit me. This could be the last time I see him for a long time. I looked away. I didn’t want to see them take my dad. When I looked down the stairs and didn’t see them anymore, I cried. My mom and my aunt told me not to cry, but this made me cry even more. The whole event only took 15 minutes.”
Lupe’s family has medical problems, but her father’s insurance is no longer there. The enforcement agenda has transformed a happy, cohesive family unit into a fractured cluster of pain and fear. Lupe lives in uncertainty now and worries her mother may be deported any day.
As in Lupe’s case, there are weaknesses in the system that do not provide for those with medical needs. Such as in the case of Xiu Ping Jiang, a Chinese immigrant who fled to the U.S. after being forcibly sterilized for having a second child. In Immigration Limbo for the Mentally Ill, Wiretap’s Brittany Shoot tells how Jiang was separated from her children by immigration officers, and shortly after, fell into a depression. Being an immigrant, she had no state-funded legal counsel to represent her. “This has caused her case to be drawn out for more than a year while she languishes in a detention center,” Shoot writes. “With a history of attempted suicide, her family members in the States grow increasingly fearful that they will lose their fragile sister inside the system.”
Will telling Xiu Ping Jiang’s story produce more than “[o]ne day of frenzied blogging” following the original reportage? Shoot seems to doubt it.
Returning to New America Media, we have the story What Am I Without My Leg? Eglis, an undocumented immigrant, lost her leg to an uninsured driver and is struggling to live with the consequences. Eglis’ story is a brutal example of the healthcare gap for immigrant women.
Finally, the Colorado Independent reports on a bill sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein D-Calif. that would create “a special ‘blue card’ status for undocumented immigrants who’ve worked a minimum number of hours in the agriculture sector in the past two years.” Some immigration advocates would call this a success. But true progress includes acknowledging in law and public dialogue what such a move truly indicates: That immigrants are not a threat to our nation, but in fact, a crucial and needed part of our way of life. Without them, we fall apart. This is what happens when you remove a mother from a family. This is what happens when you remove a workforce from a factory in Postville, Iowa. And this is what will happen if we continue to punish or forcibly remove immigrants from our nation.
“Necesito gritar!” bellows Adele Nieves in response to the question she poses with her spoken word piece entitled “Why Do You Speak?”, which is the first track on the album. Through the unrestrained strength and rage smoldering behind every word, Adele provides a call to action against the overwhelming powers of erasure, invisibility, and silence that is exhaustively pushed upon women of color for centuries.
You should scan the site to understand what it’s about. But it’s about a ton of good stuff, like learning, love, funky media, radical positivity and ideas like this:
The AMC supports learning of all different kinds and at all different levels. The workshops are hands-on and participatory. Knowledge is passed horizontally rather than from the top down. Everyone teaches and everyone learns. At the AMC, media creation is not only about personal expression, but about transformation – of ourselves and the structures of power around us. We create media that exposes, investigates, resists, heals, builds confidence and radical hope, incites dialogue and debate. We do it ourselves and as communities, connecting across geographic and generational boundaries.
It’s very reasonably priced, and just has a great vibe. I am trying to hook up a Sanctuary table there, let’s see what happens.
Finally, Science writer, poet, and friend Chris Clark has put together a community site/blog called “The Clade,” and if you’re down with environmental topics and activism that is related, definitely make this a visiting place. Chris is a fantastic writer, a cat with real heart, and I’m sure this project of his will be the source of some good energy and definitely some good information, and now and then even some elegant verbiage, I’d bet.
Have a great weekend! Hope you are getting lots of sun, too….
I will be in Atlanta, Georgia for the NAM National Ethnic Media Expo & Awards event June 3 -5 to receive this award on behalf of my compas and separately, to do some talking on New Media as I’ve learned to use it and think of it.
If you live nearby, holla at me so we can meet up! And of course, gracias to New America Media. You cats do some fine work, and moreover, ya sure know a good thing when you see it.
[For those new to UMX, The Weekly Immigration Wire is my weekly (paid) article I write for The Media Consortium. It is a column that runs on a few other sites (see end of post).]
The Latino/a community has had ample reason to hope that President Obama would take on immigration reform in a humane manner. While Obama is undeniably centrist in his political approach, and has long been fond of language stressing punitive solutions to the immigration issue, he certainly seems to understand that “America is changing and we can’t be threatened by it.” Enforcement policies are becoming a threat, not only to immigrants, but the country at large.
AlterNet picks up on a position paper authored by the Sanctuary’s founding editors (of which I am one) on the Luis Ramirez killing and subsequent court case. The article ties the crime and Shanendoah jury’s decision to a larger pattern of dehumanization aimed at Latinos/as, and analyzes “[h]ow effortlessly a subhuman category of being is constructed and subsequently reviled.”
It’s a disturbing lens for examining current immigration-related news, but useful. If a person is deemed criminal by nature of their appearance, name, and culture, then the larger public will feel comfortable treating them in ways they would never condone for themselves. This process unfolds when the nation is made fearful by hack punditry and politicians who continually employ aggressive verbiage and dishonest framing of the realities we face.
Nina Jacinto, writing for WireTap, thinks it crucial that communities of color “continue the conversation about Luis Ramirez, in order to find some kind of justice” in the situation. “[R]acial injustice may continue to exist subversively in many parts of the country,” Jacinto writes, “But in many areas, hate crimes against people of color go beyond language, can become violent, and end in death.”
Using a lens that positions immigrants as the Other and less-than, it’s easy to understand why some staunchly oppose the DREAM act, which grants temporary citizenship to people brought here as children, who have lived in the U.S. at least five years, received high school educations and are of “good moral character,” as Public News Service reports. Supporters of the DREAM act view its opposition as cruel; a punishment leveled on children who have done nothing wrong. But if one had no interest in seeing those children become an educated part of U.S. culture, opposing the DREAM ACT makes perfect sense.
It is hard to make sense, however, of continuing enforcement measures that clearly wreak havoc on a state’s economic well being. Arizona is harming its own economy via an extremely heavy-handed enforcement approach towards communities that keep the state healthy. Doug Ramsey interviewed Alessandra Soler-Meetze, director of ACLU-Arizona for Public News Service. She claims that “[w]e have relied on punitive measures that have targeted not just recent immigrants, but long-time legal residents and even U.S. citizens, simply because of the color of their skin.” This creates an aura of discrimination that bleeds consequences into surrounding communities.
This aura is visible in the comment threads of almost any immigration-related article online. Commenters show nothing but hostility towards mothers who are losing their children and jobs. They demonstrate absolutely no empathy. This atmosphere is cultivated by enforcement measures like those enacted in Arizona. As Leslie Savan writes in AlterNet, Mexicans have been “the prime target of the most rancid typecasting” in the discussion that plays out in the media. And “once the type has been cast, it has jumped easily to Latinos of any origins.”
A year has passed since the devastating Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in Postville, Iowa. New America Media’s A Year Later Iowa Raid Haunts Immigrants covers how some workers were treated during the raids, and what their lives are like in the aftermath. Veronica Cumez, a “soft-spoken 33-year-old mother of three” was hit on the head by a ICE agent during the raid, then yanked from her hiding place. Now, as she awaits the final outcome of her case, she lives wearing an electronic ankle bracelet that reminds her of her status at every turn.
Besides anxiety, loneliness is also a major ingredient of her new life. In the weeks and months after the raid, an entire network of kin from her village in Guatemala, San José Calderas, including three brothers-in-law, were either arrested and deported or abandoned Postville.
In 2006, Barack Obama confessed a limit to his own mental prowess:
It’s hard to imagine that we want to live in a country where we would have police and immigration officials coming into people’s homes and taking away the father of a family, sending him back to Mexico, leaving a mother and child behind.
But this is where we live. And when the talk is constantly about how borders are unsafe, how Mexicans are bringing Swine Flu to our communities, or how immigrants are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens, of course events will play out violently.
In U.S. Women Migrants Protest Abuse in County Jails, Feministing’s Courtney Martin writes of how one woman’s arm was allegedly broken by Maricopa County Sheriff’s guards. And in a letter signed by many women (one who tells of her jaw being broken during an ICE raid) the situation is made starkly clear. “Please help us,” plead the women. “[W]e’re in a tunnel without end, treated like dogs.”
And yet, Democrats hem and haw, afraid to take a firm moral stance on what so many humans in the nation are living through. Less than a week after the annual May Day marches, and at the end of President Obama’s first 100 days, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano “carefully skirted repeated questions” about whether the forthcoming Immigration reform should include “broader opportunities for legalization of the 11 million or so undocumented immigrants living in the United States,” according to the Colorado Independent.
The administration views the immigration issue as “controversial and politically dicey.” It’s too bad that our representative are not comfortable coming out in strong support of human rights as they apply to all these situations.
There is a major problem with continuing a public dialogue stressing dangerous borders, plays tough with phrases like “going to the back of the line” and rounding up and deporting people. These “solutions” ignore one of the most important causes of the problems. There is an imbalance in the economic exhange between the U.S. and nations like Mexico.
Fortunately, there are those who fight such injustice. You will find these people at the very roots of the situation, such as students who start hunger strikes to protest the “violence and terrorism” aimed at the Latino/a community and hope to inspire “those in higher power to say that they can’t close their eyes to the injustices we see day after day.”
And as Yes! Magazine reports, May Day marches filled the streets of over 125 cities this year. Author Colette Cosner reminds us that the “hope of the May Day marches resides not in the media coverage nor the government’s lack of response, but rather in how it connected people in the community in their efforts for further actions.”
Finally, as the film Made in L.A. made clear, it is often mothers who fight the hardest against the injustices that affect their families. RaceWire’s Julianne Hing reports on Elvira Arellano, who was deported in 2007. Now in Mexico, Arellano is running for a seat in the Mexican Congress. “I am going to seek laws in Congress that protect women, and also that protect undocumented Central Americans who are treated like criminals in Mexico,” Arellano said.
We’ve taken our time with it, writing it over a few days. We have been very disappointed overall with how this story is being framed. This is not just another “hate crime.” This is not a disparate event to be mingled and mixed with every biased attack. As La Mala puts it over at VivirLatino:
Seems li[k]e every org and their mother want to take the recent injustice in the Luis Ramirez murder case and use it for toned down cries for justice separated from the multiple places that breed the kind of hate and disrespect that led to the crossroads we as a community find ourselves at now.
This is not just a tool to be used to leverage the current hate crime bill before the House and then call it even. This crime and subsequent unjust court ruling is a call to look over an entire system which has built a permission into our culture, an imperative and a directive to harm that is now being taken up all over and resulting in killings like that of Luis Ramirez.
THREE THINGS immediately shock the conscious soul upon learning about the murder of Luis Ramirez. The simple manner in which he died is the first of those.
Ramirez, a father of three, was beaten to death in the streets of Pennsylvania by as many as seven young men who were at the end of a night of drinking. The motive? Judging by the slurs heaped upon him along with the many blows to his body: apparently nothing more than being out at night while Mexican. The teens who ganged up on Ramirez came upon him walking with a young woman, reportedly his girlfriend’s sister. Obviously bringing threat, they asked him what he was doing out at that time of day. Then they set upon him. In the end it was a final hard kick to the skull which left the 25-year-old father convulsing on the concrete with fatal brain damage.
The police arrived shortly after the attack but rather than jump into hot pursuit of the white criminals, they chose instead to search Latino eyewitnesses for weapons, claiming that following the guilty parties simply wasn’t their “priority.”Ramirez’s attackers weren’t arrested for another two weeks, even though eyewitnesses at the scene knew who they were without a doubt.
The second stomach-churner is the jury’s decision to exonerate Ramirez’s killers from the charges of third-degree murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, and ethnic intimidation, leaving to stand only the reduced charge of simple assault. This, despite the testimony of Eileen Burke, a retired police officer at the scene. Burke testified that at the end, the murderers yelled to Ramirez’ girlfriend “You effin bitch, tell your effin Mexican friends get the eff out of Shenandoah or you’re gonna be laying effin next to him.” This, despite two of the accused men themselves admitting to yelling “go home you Mexican [expletive]” at the scene of the crime.
Yet somehow, in the face of these facts, the all-white jury ruled there was no evidence of “ethnic intimidation.” According to aCNN report, town residents were quick to explain and downplay the actions of this violent group of “star students and football players” as “just an alcohol-fueled confrontation among kids.” They furthered their argument by reciting “a litany of attacks allegedly perpetrated by Latinos against Anglos.” Perhaps they could have saved time and breath by saying The spics had it coming.
The third, overarching, shocking reality thrown into sharp relief by the murder of Luis Ramirez is how easily an environment of violently xenophobic rhetoric and targeted hate has normalized a modern-day lynching to the point that it is absorbed and diluted with barely a blip into the everyday news cycle and into public consciousness. How effortlessly a subhuman category of being is constructed and subsequently reviled. How a verdict has been passed on just how to deal with this synthesized Creature, and how effective that virulent messaging has been evidenced in a death like this one and in a pattern that plays out in various towns, cities, and states across the country. Seemingly unconnected cells of hatred hammer the dominant culture’s sentence down upon a targeted group, and the system nods and winks when all is done.
The process of defining a subhuman class and institutionalizing discrimination and violence against that group is not new. How quickly and conveniently some of us allow our collective memory to cover its own tracks. Parasite, diseased, leeching, dangerous, over-breeding, vermin. These terms and this imagery have been deployed for ages, on various groups of people, on various pieces of land, in the service of various endeavors; and always to bring about the same ends. To demonize and dehumanize a group of people so that other people come to understand that the social compact with the demonized group is broken; that discrimination and violence against the dehumanized class now carries no moral consequence. That is the meaning of this latest ruling by an all-white jury in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. Racial murder of a Mexican carries the same consequence as walking up to a white person and punching them in the belly: simple assault.
The notion of a categorically subhuman class of persons who exists below the rules and obligations the rest of humanity warrants is as simple as it is ugly. Ugly like the prison at Guantánamo, where unfortunate bodies from the Middle East are deprived of anything resembling the law, ideals, or morality most Americans feel they deserve by mere existence. Ugly like Abu Ghraib. Ugly like the prisons in Baghdad and Bagram, where atrocities appear to be the norm. Even as our government promised that it was “fighting Them There” in order to prevent “Them” from coming “Here”, an ideology of dehumanizing terror was propagating and swelling in our own ranks and within our own borders; an ideology which devalues “Hajis” in the same way that it foists hatred upon Mexicans and all others who sound or appear somehow Latin American.
The murder of Luis Ramirez-like the murders of Marcelo Lucero and Wilter Sanchez and Jose Sucuhañay-are but logical steps in the process of defining a subhuman class of ALIEN and inciting anti-Latino violence, which will continue unless marked changes are made in our society. Changes in the immigration dialogue. Changes in the way pundits frame and discuss the issue. Perhaps even more importantly, changes to the fashion in which both Republicans and Democrats pitch and move legislation. The entire “Enforcement Agenda” that directly links immigration status (and thus all Latinos) to criminality, discussed coolly by seemingly rational voices on both Right and Left, is but the socially and politically acceptable umbrella which shields crimes like the murder of Luis Ramirez. The ubiquitous message resonating from coast to coast of this continent, across which peoples of Latin American descent have been migrating back and forth for thousands of years, is that we are in the crosshairs. And that we deserve to be in those hair-trigger sights.
Though it is necessary and a good thing, it is not enough to pass H.S. 1913, the current Hate Crimes bill that has cleared the Senate and is now headed for the House. Nor is it adequate to simply pass the D.R.E.A.M Act (though, again necessary, so please sign), and/or to legalize the immigrants who are working and raising families in the US, and be done with it. These things must be done, and soon. But we must not rest there.
First, we must demand a satisfactory accounting find its way to this unresolved injustice. (Please sign the petitionto add your voice.) Next, we must be honest about what has happened here in our nation; about how this gathering animosity has manifested in various ways to result in a targeting of one class of people; about how segments of our current culture and business world stand to profit from maintaining the status quo, despite the harm. We must think of how we can personally lend a hand in changing this in our own communities and social circles. Finally, we must change on a much larger scale, very particular and practical elements of this manifestation.
Continuing to reinforce and advocate for the image of a permanent criminal and essentially subhuman class of people by maintaining Immigrations Customs and Enforcement (ICE) in its current form; the raids that rake psychological gashes into entire communities, the booming detention center industry, stopgap measures like 287g, virulently anti-Spanish language and anti-Mexican rhetoric blasted out over acceptable media outlets, as well as continuing to build up a heavily militarized border-this can end in nothing but more violence against and deaths of Latinos/as in the US, and on a growing scale.
There are those who turn away from trying to alter the course of something seemingly so large, or who simply grow more cynical and bitter with each new injustice. They would have you believe the US will never learn, that this government and this culture are incapable of remembering or acting on the very important lessons from which we bear national scars already; lessons that would prevent us from repeating yet another harm against yet another group of people of color; but in new ways and in a new year.
The Sanctuary Editors reject such a view in favor of self-empowered, self-organized social change. We know it will not be easy to turn this tide. But we must. Such a change is incumbent upon all of us and we will all pay a price if we do not succeed, with both a further loss of life, and our own humanity. We must pass humane legislation, and demand that true justice play out in our courts. We must insure that civil rights be protected. We must loudly expose and forcefully challenge any pundits or politicians who are constructing a subhuman class with their words and actions, and as bloggers and activists who fight for human rights, we must hold our fellow activists equally accountable to take a strong stand on the right side of the bright line drawn by this tragedy. Luis Ramirez will never come back to his family. Let us ensure that his life was not lost in vain.
ON MAY FIRST, I chose to draw a line. May first happens to be an important day to me, for all the reasons you might imagine, and I’ve drawn a line on that day before. I didn’t plan it this time…but it snuck up on me. A feeling, a question, an understanding…a decision.
What is a Latin@ in today’s era—to me? What sort of a Latinos and Latinas do I want to affiliate and align myself with? What type of Latin@ would I rather simply smile and walk on by? And do these standards apply to other people of color?
Now, I know there are various ways to celebrate and define Latinidad as you see, feel, and live it. And I’m not here to be a gatekeeper or get into the “coconut” discussion. [slider title=”†“]For those that don’t know, “coconut” is a very derogatory term one could use for a Latino/Hispanic person who is not, in some way, authentic. It’s an insult that means “brown on the outside, white on the inside.” It’s not a popular discussion amongst those of us who are trying to work day in and out in some way to make things better for gente. If it were just used for people who harm gente when they should help them—e.g., Alberto Gonzales—it would be fine. But as “Coconut” is used, the idea divides and the end result of these types of discussions is not positive or in any way unifying. It becomes a slur used to designate someone an outsider, and the values used to judge are varying and subjective. I’m talking about something a little different. I’m talking about people who draw that line by their own (in)action.[/slider] This may be related, or even a variant…but I’d like to avoid the word and simplistic name calling as that does not illustrate my point well.
Initially, I was happy to know and see and support all and any kind of raza; Latin@s of any stripe, from any place, involved in any work. And overall, I still am. But there is a certain kind of Latino/a that recently I decided I just don’t have much respect for. And I certainly won’t try to aggravate or hinder them; it’s not like that. I still want Latino/as overall to succeed and often if I can help, I will. Even this kind. But that doesn’t mean I have to spend any amount time and energy there.
This comes about over an arc that spans years, and is built of many incidents and thoughts and moments. But I think I can make clear the idea by telling you about a couple moments that brought it all, finally, to a boil.
There was a person on Twitter and their name was something like “LatinoOrganizer” or “LatinoMaster.” Well, it wasn’t actually either of these, but I’m not here to pick a fight or embarrass any individual. On the other hand, it’s important to my point that I get across that their name indicates this feel: they were someone there to lead the way on Latin@ issues. Which, by itself, is fine by me. Love the energy, raza needs pasión y energía and this is very positive to me.
Now, over time (and very slowly) I began to see that the issues they wrote on or highlighted were never dealing with immigration. And sure, sure—as the presente.org people made sure to tell me when they contacted me to see if I was interested in the job of nat’l Campaign Director: “Latinos diverge on the issue.” (Sort of funny when a couple white guys tell you this authoritatively, but whatever. It is true after all.) So I didn’t think much more of it, just made a tiny note in my mind. It wasn’t a negative note. It was a curious one. A note that said “let’s keep an eye and see what their position is on this.”
And so it was a week or two later, on May 1—oh most auspicious of blog-birthdays—that I thought about it once more and it suddenly became as clear as the floor fading away from under my feet on US Airlines at forty thousand feet above sea level: they were avoiding the issue.
Now dunk your nuance bagel into my exposition-brew and nibble: Am I saying, once again, that every person involved in social justice type actions need to pay attention to these issues? Not this time. (Not saying that is not true, it’s just not my focus here and now.) Am I saying that even offline, any person of Latin American descent needs to be working in some way to better conditions for raza? Firstly, I’m not saying anyone needs to do anything. I know this type of post can get one on the defensive so let me again underline my main point: I am talking about how I feel about working with/spending time with others. And where I’ll be. That’s all. Not what you should do. After all, there are plenty of raza out there with their hands full feeding families and keeping a job with no extra time or energy, and thats working for a better world as it is. So, no. But if you want to apply these thoughts to yourself and your life….I won’t stop you.
Maybe I’m talking about a mindset more than anything else. Maybe if this person’s Twitter name were something else…and if they weren’t positioning themselves to be a representative or central focus for Latin@s with a blog and activities…and if so many people weren’t suffering behind the apartheid desert wall and if wasn’t becoming acceptable to see and treat migrants and mexican@s and latin@s as subhuman and deserving of a different set of rules, law, medicine, and morality…and if our women weren’t suffering some of the worst atrocities behind the standing war(s and I include US social behaviors/patterns against Latin@s) on Latin America and her children… and maybe if the workers who are being abused and exploited weren’t at the same time making it possible for us to have the comforts we do…then I wouldn’t care.
But when I looked out at my Twitter list and saw all types and colors of people talking about May Day—for these are the people I want to be around and herein lies the corazón of this post—this Latino® person (there was more than one, in truth) stuck out like a…snowflake in a cup of cocoa, and there I go using colorism to make my point. But if I imply that this person was a cool, frosty spot in a warm blend of brown, it remains the glosario-tastic version of Brown™, of course, because as I said: many “whites” were marching in actuality and virtually, that day. And my feeling at this supposed-Latino’s total ignoring of the moment and day and the issues and livelihoods and lives at stake points the way more than anything else that skin color/genes is less important than action and heart and demonstrated conscious intention. Even in these matters.
I could not justify the blatant avoidance of such a dire issue in someone otherwise (apparently) engaged in activism, political action, and “para la gente.” So I cut them loose.
There were at least three I stopped following on that day, or shortly before. One I had been reading for a while now. And all this person spoke of were comforts. Midtown. Massages. Luxuries. Lawsuits. Book signings. Personal glory. Just another person, just another American®, could have been any color, embarked upon the sociopathic “American Dream”; a philosophy which justifies every kilowatt of every spotlight moment and the accumulation and use of energy at the expense of all others….and never looks back or thinks twice about the stagehands sweeping up or working the switches.
In another case, I felt it would be best to go to the person’s site to make sure I was not missing something. What did I find? Almost every face on their roster of bloggers was light-skinned, and many light haired. Latin@s after all, are not beholden to any demographic. I’m making another point, not the colorist one it might seem. My point is that if you can pass—if you lack accent and marked darkness and other traits that the the US dominant culture devalues as less “white” than others—you are nonetheless beholden to support your people. That’s my thought. And to tell you the truth, I feel there is a focus is on you and a weight on you to do so. Because you have somewhat of a choice, depending on your situation. And that is a choice that has been stolen from the others by the maintenance and reification of a corrupt system of benefit and entitlement…which favors you arbitrarily. And when that’s the case, yes, it would be easy to turn and simply be All Things Latino when it comes to superficial flavor; to throw in a word here and there of Español but to skirt far away from anything icky or sticky or brown or “controversial.”
Doing so marks you, to me, as someone riding the backs of raza in not too different a way than the dominant culture does. Which marks you, to me, as something worse, even.
I try to understand it, but do not. To an activist type, what makes you “Latino” if you sever yourself from the land and people of Latin America? What makes you “Latino” if you stand discrete and distinct from not only the atrocities your own country wreaks upon your ancestral homeland, but the struggle to change them? What makes you “Latino” if all the books you read and suggest to others steer away from the politics that ensnare and exploit others who are “Latino”? What even makes you a “Latino” at all if you claim no solidarity with those who suffer from anti-Latino hate even in your own nation?
This remains Nezua’s blog. It is not Gospel. You are free to form your own opinion. You are even free to leave it in the comments below. This is simply the decision at which I have arrived. And I don’t care if you come from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guatemala, México or Arizona. Perhaps it is up for debate before that moment you identify as “Latino/a” but once you do, and once you put yourself out there and in any way reap benefit from today’s cultural gold rush—this new economy of both catering to and exploiting raza—you owe the rest of those people to which you are connecting yourself. You owe some kind of foot en la lucha, some hand, some voice. Something.
Don’t you think so?
I’ve been coming to this post for a while, as I said. And by now I know the feeling when the Universe is whispering in my ear. I just let things simmer. They begin to add up. I can almost see the post forming, the ideas congealing, reaching around, making more sense, roots growing deeper until they reach my heart and I understand what it is I am seeing, or feeling, or knowing.
Another of those events also took place on Twitter. Do you know about FollowFriday? It’s a tradition of recommending people you read on Twitter, to other people who read you. And on a Friday, someone I “follow” shouted out their variation of the tradition and did so as a “samesex” followfriday. Which…I guess meant that all the people recommended were gay? I was on that list. I am not gay, but there was no point saying anything at that juncture, I just sort of smiled and kept going. [slider] There’s a funny thing I’ve seen happen. Gays and women have so little widespread support (relatively speaking, and we’d have to add transgendered people and disabled as well as others I’m sure I’m not including but feel free to add in comments) in their fight that if you speak out regularly for their issues, people begin thinking you are either a woman or gay. Because (the unspoken belief goes) why else would you be fighting for their rights? (It is also true that sometimes the “a” at the end of my nick causes ambiguity, as in Spanish it would indicate femininity or the feminine gender of a word). [/slider] So, a tuff, black, queer added me, I thought she was cool but I had a feeling she wouldn’t stick around due mostly to her first tweet before adding me which was “I don’t know about followfriday. Just because we’re all queer doesn’t mean our politics match” which was of course true, and I felt, then, probably prescient on her part. But I am happy to get along with others, other marginalized peeps, other artists, and she was both. I figured it would play out as it should, and I hoped she wouldn’t be mad when she learned that I was not gay. Should I say something? I wondered, feeling a tiny bit like I had accidentally deceived her. Even though I had nothing to do with it. But this issue never arose as a central issue, or not directly. It was something else that rose up, and when it did, I heard that cosmic whisper again.
At one point she asked (this may have even been the next tweet, I don’t remember but it was soon after) “Do people of color always have to focus on oppression in their art?”
I wrote “Definitely not. But…don’t they owe it on some level to be enjoined in la lucha?” And she replied something about an “Essentialist Straitjacket.” I sort of joked and admitted I didn’t understand the words. “I don’t know what either a fullmetal or strait essentialist jacket is!” And hoped if she wanted me to know, she’d explain. [slider] I do think people with education should know how to use their knowledge in a way that others can connect to. If you stick behind lingo, it’s a wall, a gate, it’s using knowledge purposefully as a weapon or a privilege, instead of a bridge or something expansive. [/slider] But she didn’t answer, only answered someone else in a sort of carom shot that she really preferred or respected those who escaped this “Essentialist Straitjacket’ mindset. Shortly after, she unfollowed me.
I was hurt, I’ll admit it. I sensed from the start we wouldn’t last, but it still hurt to be rejected. And especially, I felt, in a way where I was being mistyped. I’ll always wonder if it was other things that put her off and this straitjacket idea was a symbol or a convenient point to make a break, but even if so, it stings when you put down my art and equate it with some stilted, victimized mindblemish. Does the Sanctuary art feel as if it’s “About Oppression”? Does my Scary (book) art feel as if its About Oppression? Are all the grafix in this blog About Oppression? No way. And more importantly, I come back to the point of this post.
Fancy college words or not, a person of color is a person of color. And I don’t know which people of color nowadays aren’t fighting a battle. Against oppression. It is not some thing in the past that you can choose to acknowledge or not. ICE raids, ICE jails, la migra ripping up birth certificates, all-white juries acquitting white murderers who bash in the skulls of gente, invasion and occupation of the Middle East, sex trafficking and rape of vulnerable brown girls and women (and violence/sex-violence against all women, and gays just as much), songs and films and phrases and language that normalize and glorify this very same violence—these things are all part of the same battle. And even if you can’t hear the bombs and bullets and screams in the cozy room where you sign your books, it doesnt mean you are not a deserter from the fight.
I don’t know what Essentialist Straitjackets look like. But I know what it looks like when a person of color cashes in on being of that color either in their online persona or company name/business persona and then opts to ignore the suffering that others in that group fight every day. And I hope the reader at this point understands that while these two incidents were symbols to my mind and heart, this post is not about them personally. I don’t mean it that way at all. I know that I could meet either of these individuals and be happy to see them, and further, I can allow that we both may have different views on that day or the same ones but with different feelings.
I want to focus on the larger points.
If you are lucky enough to be living in such a way/place that you are not being targeted, do not the mightily skewed prison statistics upset you? (And is anyone in your family locked up?) Does not the rape and murder in disproportionate numbers rile you? (And has anyone in your family/friends been attacked behind hate or racism?) I am not saying don’t celebrate beauty or positivity. I am not talking about the slant on the topic. Be bright if you want, uplift and underline those who rise above and conquer the hate. But do you know why I want to hang out less and less with those who identify as “white” for the most part? It’s not the skin tint. (I’m not dark, just a bit honeyed, after all.) [slider] And here I barely resist the ridiculous urge to list/link all the amazing lightskinned activists I know and work with, or telling you how beautiful my children are (of varying tints but mostly light) but I am going to trust your intelligence enough to know that this is not about that. [/slider] Because too often, these people also have that same mindset.
I don’t need to pay attention to that. That issue doesn’t concern me. I’m here to look out for mine. Run along with your pet issue….
This was probably my very own attitude once upon a time. Or a variation of it. And to be honest, I think it can be a natural reaction of being deprived of “yours” for a long time. [slider title=”***”] This ain’t a free Get Off the Hook Card, because of course that attitude can also simply be a sign of total ignorance and selfishness and the mark of a shallow soul. [/slider]But it is the cramped clench of a hand holding on hard, and it must open in time or become locked closed. And it’s been a process of coming to awareness, returning to this fundamental. As I’ve written about before…at NYU and feeling connected more to the janitorial help than my peers. It’s not all about race…it’s not all about class. It’s about both and more. And it’s been a journey with many bends in the path that have ultimately led me to this proclamation. And so perhaps more than anything else, this line I draw is one where I leave an old self behind.
Today, if I don’t need to pay attention to that is your attitude (and mind you: I’m not saying this was the case with the Twitter person, I don’t know them half as well as the one person imagined they knew me); if this is how you see the world, then we are at odds on every topic. Because this fight—and the need for warriors in this fight—is everywhere, at every time, and it bleeds into and is fed by everything. And if you are lucky enough to live without the marks and wounds and scars that the soldader@s in this fight collect, and you are far enough from the dust and din that you have many measured moments of light and peace and rest, and if you don’t use some of those moments to get closer to the fight? I think the bottom line is that you and I may simply be on different sides.
Back to the root. This is the radical positivity I use as my compass. This is the vision that I have. Not a never-ending wearying battle, not an eternal tightlipped scowl. Not moping and hoping and weeping and keeping the feeling of being a victim alive. But a joy filled heart on a sun-drenched field with fight in my bones and light in my eyes. And on each side, gente who won’t disappear when it’s time to meet the teeth and barbs and projectile harm that the opposition will never tire of slinging. It’s not About Oppression. It’s about truth. It’s about Love. It’s about knowing who you are, what you owe, and where you belong…and to whom.
HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY and Feliz Dia de las Madres to all you mothers out there, who so often are the ones making sure to keep the children safe and strong. My own mother was the constant in my life. And even after nana (my maternal grandmother) split with her husband (my grandfather) it was nana who took us in. And she took us in because my mother needed a place to live, after splitting with my own father. In my nanita’s case (paternal grandmother), mi abuelo Felipe died and once again, it was a mother who took care of her son. On my mother’s side, it was Mollie who jumped on a ship and came to the US, fleeing nazi violence in Eastern Europe. All down la linea on both sides…it is women who moved us forward when we may have faltered.
The men never seem to last long, for many varied reasons. Tatarabuelo Alejo, the Zapata-esque pulquería worker, died shortly after 40. My abuelo, Felipe Emilio, died early of diabetes and it was mi abuela (Lucha Quintana) who kept things going. My own father had jungles in México to explore or maybe Califas needed him more. But these things happen in a world. Today we focus on the women: they sacrifice so much to take care of us…and too often receive blame for what goes wrong. In the better moments, the children give back, remembering what they owe. As was with the case with cousins Geno, Roberto, y Vicente who joined the US Army to bring us into the US. That’s how Nanita got her green card. And there is good reason Mexicanos celebrate la Madre.
Like the earth, like the waters, like the sky—like mama nature herself who loves us down to our bones and even when we’re bad, or wrong, or all alone…
[For those new to UMX, The Weekly Immigration Wire is my weekly (paid) article I write for The Media Consortium. It is a column that runs on a few other sites (see end of post).]
This week’s Wire [originally titled Weekly Immigration Wire: Fighting H1N1 Hype] focuses on the opportunities for change that crisis can introduce. From the H1N1 “Swine” flu’s declining fervor to 2009’s May Day marches for worker rights and immigrant solidarity; from the tragic killing of Luis Ramirez to legislative movement on immigration, these are tumultuous times. But it is precisely such conflict and challenge that provides the best opportunities to make lasting change.
Last week, we highlighted how anti-immigration voices were exploiting the nation’s fear of the H1N1 flu to their own advantage. While still no joke (except in biting satire), the flu is an overhyped event used by Republicans to push an anti-immigration agenda, according to the Colorado Independent’s Daphne Eviater. While not all immigration comes from Mexico, the country and its people are often used as convenient scapegoats.
Mexico is suffering most from both the virus and an intensifying conservative backlash, as New America Media (NAM) revealed in several articles this week. As if the confluence of these forces weren’t enough, an April 27th earthquake struck Mexico, adding to the atmosphere “in an almost surrealistic fashion,” writes NAM’s Kent Paterson. At least truths are beginning to surface as to the flu’s origin:
News reports link the possible start of the health crisis to a huge, runaway U.S. pig farm located in the Veracruz-Puebla borderlands. The farm in question is owned in part by U.S.-based Smithfield Foods, the largest hog and pork producer in the world and a company with a record for environmental violations on this side of the border.
Will the government or agricultural industry look into the complaints against Smithfield farms’ with the fervor of anti-immigrant pundits? Unfortunate events like the H1N1 flu can be opportunities to make positive changes to the systems involved. The agricultural sector and its crowded animal farms are clearly in need of reform.
Many supporters of workers’ rights and humane immigration reform came together on May 1. Yes! Magazine’s Colette Cosner explains why solidarity around immigration reform is stronger this year, and why May Day is so inspiring. Workers are standing united, rather than divided: “Work-place raids are being preceded by union drives,” Cosner writes. “Traditional labor groups are recognizing that these raids hinder their organizing capabilities. So too do the immigrant rights activists now see the unions as an integral part their work-place security. … The united platform is spun from our collective desire to live lives free of fear. This fundamental concept is the backbone of each of the May Day demands.”
Fearmongering from the Right has been crowding sense from the airwaves, and it’s a distraction from issues that matter. Such was the case for Luis Ramirez, a recent hate crime casualty. RaceWire’s Michelle Chen tells his story, which echoes civil rights-era cases in its iconic extremes of race-based violence and subsequent lack of justice:
Harsh words between Luis Ramirez, 25, and a group of four local boys, including the convicted teens Derrick Donchak, 19, and Brandon Piekarsky, 17 … escalated into anti-Mexican epithets and a physical confrontation. Despite efforts by his friends to intervene, Ramirez was soon lying on the sidewalk, his skull cracked open by a kick to the head, and his assailants had bolted off into the night.
This brutal murder ended with simple assault charges for the white teenage assailants. The all-white jury threw out charges of third degree murder, aggravated assault, reckless endangerment and ethnic intimidation. Equally amazing is the eyewitness account that reveals willful police negligence in pursuing the killers. The Mexican American community and growing numbers of human rights and immigration activists are springing into motion to demand accountability.
The Ramirez murder is, like the H1N1 flu, another opportunity to examine what protections are in place to guard human health and life. As Chen notes, the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crime Prevention Act has passed the house and will soon be before the Senate. It would be a grievous error and abdication of opportunity to not pass this into law, given the ubiquitous waves of hostility aimed at immigrants as well as gays, transgendered people, and others.
RaceWire also covers the Supreme Court’s May 4 ruling that nullifies another injustice: Charging immigrants who use a sequence of numbers in place of an actual Social Security number with willful identity theft. In To catch a thief: SCOTUS on undocumented workers, Michelle Chen discusses the ruling, which sides with Mexican immigrant Flores-Figueroa, who worked at a steel plant in Illinois. Flores-Figueroa was flagged, then arrested, when he tried to arrange his situation more legitimately. While the case has changed law for so many other immigrants, Flores-Figueroa will most likely be deported, once done serving his time.
Finally, do take a moment to celebrate the spirit and actions of Arizona public defender Isabel Garcia, profiled recently for In These Times. Garcia’s fight against injustice is well-documented. She works tirelessly to change to the surreal and perilous game that is played out in the borderlandshuman rights struggle. Garcia was the first non-Mexican to receive the National Human Rights Award from the Comisión Nacional de los Derechos Humanos de Mexico, but refused to speak at the acceptance ceremony because her speech about the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border was censored. Garcia is not concerned with image, but with changing the standards of living on the borderlands. Let’s hope that while President Obama buys time to negotiate a humane solution to the immigration issue, he keeps this in mind.
I WROTE A POST the other day on the new poster by Shepard Fairey and Ernesto Yerena, and essentially it was about how my initial impression was of a white artist appropriating culture in the newest culture-hungry OBEYGIANT art operation. I made various comments about the poster art, both complimenting elements of it (I love Fairey’s style, which borrows hugely from Russian Constructivism though he’d like the borrowing to stop there) as well as criticizing elements of the composition. These were not emotional “Eh, I just don’t like it” type comments; they were grounded in a cultural perspective as well as springing from my own artistic eye. I didn’t feel it necessary to temper my critique, because hey, it’s just one cat’s opinion. Little did I know I’d get the pushback I did.
As I have returned to this issue and this post and these people with as much nuance as I can manage, I expect commenters to do the same. If they cannot engage the ideas here thoughtfully, I will simply block them. I had enough arguing back and forth yesterday though I do very much thank those commenters, too. They forced me to delve deeper and to flesh out the ideas that I intuited right away, but had not yet the background “research” as was said, to argue comprehensively. I have done the research now, and I’m sure they will be satisfied that I took their advice.
Overall, the folks at ObeyGiant and/or ObeyGiant Forums did not care for my critique one bit, and they showed up to accuse me of various things, among those that I was reacting out of jealousy, ignorance, fear, and vanity. (In the same comment I was admonished to stop being divisive and feel the love!) The comments were in turns scornful, dismissive, and furious that I dared “spread misinformation.”
One commentor, “almanegra” wrote “[j]ust don’t start trying to spread misinformation that the whole operation was simply driven by a single factor, profit” as well as “you should really look into where the money is actually going as opposed to assuming that the image was purely profit driven.”
Reading back, I can see that it could read that way. No, I don’t really think it’s that simple. So not that I thought my opinion on it mattered so much, but okay. Ahem, for the record: I don’t think Shepard Fairey’s intentions can be said to be purely profit driven. Profits from the posters go to “creating materials for the May Day marches and donations for immigration reform organizations” and that doesn’t seem very profitable, does it. Of course if the “materials” are more of these posters, then the profits are essentially going back into creating what are highly-visible advertisements for the Shepard Fairey brand, as well. But we’ll push that aside for the moment. Finally, the cat who talked to me about the poster one-on-one says he works with Shepard Fairey and he’s an all right guy. So I have no reason to disbelieve that.
However, do notice that these comments seem mostly concerned that I was smearing Shepard Fairey’s motives; and that I was claiming the event was purely for profit. Of everything I said in my post, this is what was really raising hackles. Of course we know how important it is to Whiteness to maintain a public appearance of perfection and how averse it is in having its public image besmirched or its reputation sullied. On other hand, this panic-like flurry of comments could be simple fear of a brand being threatened or the anger that arises when having one’s altruistic motives questioned. Those things make sense, too.
Regardless: my question is where is the outrage to defend the name and integrity of Fairey’s supposed “partner” in this work, Ernesto Yerena? All this outrage is responding to the idea that I dare impugn the motives and reputation of Shepard Fairey.
The point was raised that Ernesto’s part in the making of the poster was being overlooked, but it was tiny compared to the focus on Fairey’s reputation, and in fact, was mentioned in the service of clearing Fairey of the charge of being an outsider looking in; not in the service of celebrating Ernesto Yerena and what his story and reality is. One problem with Whiteness is that it refuses to be de-centered in any area it appears. In this way, Whiteness is like a cognitive disease. It refuses to arrange importance rationally or by any meritocratic ranking, but instead arbitrarily and relentlessly places the feelings and point of view of Whiteness central to any arrangement of credit or concern.
Now I’m talking about a lot of things here. We see that this is not a simple poster discussion. Yes, we’re talking about artistic/symbolic elements in a work of art, but also about appropriation, Whiteness, Tokenism, the immigration movement, capitalism…
I’m happy that something is helping move the immigrant movement forward. So please know that. I really am. The people who suggest this is about petty jealousy reveal their own smallness. And those commenters who say I’m stirring up divisions where they shouldn’t be, well…I just wrote a blog post. I’m not the one who showed up here in numbers to argue back and forth and call names! So…who is being divisive? Again, we are talking about many things. Sometimes what I discuss here is idea based. These ideas can exist along with practical realities in the world; my commentary does not negate those. But some shapes are important to point out. And let’s be real. You are not really so worried about division amongst activists, but about image of the Fairey brand among youth who read me. In fact, I could read that concern in the words that were spoken to me personally.
The artist I spoke to on the phone from Obey Giant was very cool (and I’ll talk about him more soon) but posed the situation as if I were being “separatist.” He was very nice about it, but the assumption in his words was that I was interested in a pure divide between races. “I used to be separatist, but I don’t want to alienate white people anymore, my girlfriend is white… I want to reach the largest possible group.” And yes, I understand that. But see, I am not “separatist,” either. So just let me clear that up! I don’t want a little girl on a poster with a middle finger in the air, or an “I hate white people” pin! And my points were not about excluding white people. There is no need to interpret what I said as anti-white people. Just because it was anti-appropriation.
This is the kind of thing one has to draw out carefully. So I’ll try.
We can assume that ObeyGiant is already sensitized to being accused of cultural appropriation. We can assume this because a) cultural appropriation is sort of what Fairey does as a “style,” and because b), Fairey defends himself from it on his Wikipedia page.
"It’s not like I’m just jumping on some cool rebel cause for the sake of exploiting it for profit." —Shepard Fairey
So for me to accuse him of the same thing (and without even having researched, as I was admonished by these commenters; “Next time do a little research!”) surely touched a nerve.
Commenter “A1″ wrote
I understand the fear that a white dude who has gained lots of popularity is exploiting a culture for profit and fame, but you have to believe me that this is not the case with this project. Don’t be hung up on the race of the guy who’s name is attached to this.
But I am hung up on whose name is attached to the project. See…that’s the very point, in part, that I’m making.
I’m hung up on that fact that Ernesto was the face of the artist when it comes to signing posters for the brown crowds while also being the one who was in the hole for the money that it took to make the posters, and at the same time being left off the credit side as another “Shepard Fairey” iconic work is produced and celebrated by the larger culture.
I’ll draw out these thoughts more in a minute. I did speak with Ernesto on the phone, after all. But that is my core complaint. And it is in line with all the things I always talk about when I write online, and have for over three years, now.
Now, while I was chastised by the commenters yesterday for daring to accuse Shepard Fairey of having cash as a motive (cash in hand or measured in increased visibility and reputation, nobody made clear), at the same time, I heard the complaint that I was not properly appreciative of how much money was sunk into such a risky venture!
Commenter A1: I don’t think you understand how much time, money, and effort went into carrying out this project that tackles an issue that most people would be too scared to approach. I respect Shepard Fairey for being willing to attach himself to an issue that many find to be too controversial, and would rather avoid.
Or that I was not properly appreciative of the bravery that Shepard Fairey showed by risking his reputation to touch a controversial issue.
Again, I’m happy Shepard is on board and is helping. Beautiful. Of course, you know that I feel gente need to rely on each other, boost up each other, rise from within. As much as possible, and the more often, the better. I’m not a cookie dispenser for the brave altruists. If I were, you’d now be reading theunapologeticcookiedispenser.org. And you’re not. This wasn’t about how “good” or “bad” the artist was; what his moral fiber is. Or if I gave that impression, I should not have. This is about a shape that plays out between unequal powers, and about community, and about culture. It’s also about a person’s own experience and right to define themselves, so we’ll hear out another view soon. Ernesto’s—the artist who apprentices for Shepard Fairey and who contributed to this poster art.
But let’s address one last commenter before I talk about my conversation with him and my own thoughts and feelings on the entire complex issue of appropriation, tokenism, and the power structures that necessitate these dynamics.
ButchM writes to another commentor on my site:
Also, you are missing the point when you are defending the critique of the work. I don’t think people are concerned with the evaluation but rather the false premise that this was Shepard’s design. It was primarily Ernesto Yerna’s [sic] with input from Zach and Shepard. Ernesto is an apprentice of Shepard’s so his work has a similar flavor. You can criticize it all you want but just know that you are speaking about one of Ernesto’s designs. So that really invalidates the charges of “outsider perspective” or “whitness [sic] problem.”
“It is primarily Ernesto Yerna’s [sic] work”
Is this true? No, it is not. Ernesto told me personally (and I have the audio) that the work was “more or less 50-50.” So, no, ButchM; it is not “primarily Ernesto (you had his last name wrong) Yerena’s work.”
The particulars? Ernesto told me personally that he took the photo, and that Shepard Fairey then took “at least a couple hours” to render that photo down to a style that only showed its minimal contours and detail.
Clearly not cultural appropriation.
I think you will recognize this look of simplified contour and detail I speak of in Fairey’s past work.
Another case of Not Cultural Appropriation?
Last time Shepard Fairey didn't take his own foto and the AP got pissed! This time Ernesto's photos were used to draw from.
"Guns and Roses"
Ernesto said he then traced what Shepard Fairey had done “which didn’t take that much [work]” And he added two other color layers.
And no, until someone dropped a link yesterday to cimarrones.org, no I had not seen the other poster that the Fairey/Yerena had made, (below) showing a man with the fist properly raised in the air. Which is good. The fist in the air symbol is not something you can water down, really, as was done in the other version. No offense to Ernesto, if that was his call. But I stand by my comments that the halfway raised fist is about as effective a symbol as a photo of a man about to turn his back and run away from a line of tanks that are facing him. If Immigrant Girl is not intended to be a fighter but “what we are fighting for” as the commenter said yesterday…then put her fist down. And give her a parent on either side. Whole families not shattered by raids and separated by bars or borders—that is “what we are fighting for,” not one little girl.
And the “We Are Human” just does not work for me for the reasons I stated, as well as were stated in comments. This is the name of the campaign, and I find it utterly tone-deaf, though it tries. It sounds like Fairey tried to do his contour-reducing trick on the slogan “No One is Illegal”; make it punchy and short. I don’t care if that’s accurate, really, or how it came about. But I will tell you that multiple activists/raza reacted instantly negatively to it, without even hearing my critique. So take it as you will.
And of course I’m glad gente at la marcha are happy to have free signs, and I’m not surprised! But a mass of people claiming to be humans in the street….what’s the message? Take us to your leader? Don’t mind the saucers, we are Homo Sapiens?
It’s just a weird phrase that, as was said by a compa, “sets the bar way too low.”
The Anti-Racism March in Maricopa County on Saturday, May 2, 2009 | Foto by Juan Luis Garcia
Ernesto told me that he was in debt to Fairey until they sold enough posters/screenprints to pay off what it cost to make the posters. (“He wouldn’t have made me pay it back even if we didn’t” he added kindly). He also told me he got to choose the colors. Finally he told me (and I don’t know if Fairey knows this, but I doublechecked with Ernesto to make sure it was okay to quote it) that he chose the colors of the Aztlán flag, the Anahuac people. (I love the colors he chose, but those aren’t the colors of the Aztlán flag that I know of, so maybe I have the wrong flag).
Nota: “Anahuac” refers to the Mexica movement, and the Mexica movement bases its purpose in that we are descended from the indigenous of this land and the borders that came later are invalid. Obviously, this is a hardcore stance, a smaller demographic subscribes to it, and many who do, don’t talk about it aloud as it can alarm those who disagree with the overall idea. The art and statements of the Mexica movement are why one commenter on my last Fairey post tried to sneer and deride UMX by calling it a “defacto MySpace page.” Because often you will see that art and those statements displayed by people on MySpace, gente trying to stand proud instead of being shat upon through the White Lens. People on MySpace are generally younger and more comfortable with speaking pure ideal because they don’t have to worry as much about negotiating the compromises that come with a visible career, etc.
Ernesto Yerena, LA Artist working here on a Zach de la Rocha print | Foto by Juan Luis Garcia.
Ernesto was in a tricky spot talking about some of these things. Just as he was in taking part in the art and how confrontational to make it. He talked about not wanting to alienate white people as I wrote above (I didn’t butt in to tell him my family has “white people” in it) and of compromise, too. “I’ll take help where I can get it [to reach these goals].” (“Though I’m totally happy with how it turned out” he added with barely any pause.)
And he is going to be in a tricky spot, when these types of conversations come down. And I understand that and will talk more about this soon. I relate to a lot of it.
My thoughts on Ernesto are that he is a good cat, a sweet guy, a real soul, a Xicano who comes from la comunidad, and who is keeping it as real as he can. He’s 22, he’s doing hard work for the community, he’s a talented vato, and he is walking a fine line—as gente must do when we negotiate these structures of power and opportunity. Finally, he is deeply committed to the cause for reasons more personal than I’ll even state here. So yes, there is no doubt that Ernesto is raza.
Is the charge of a Whiteness Problem invalid?
No, and this will be my final statement here.
On Ernesto’s navigating the outstretched hand of opportunity?
The tricky thing about attacking the Appropriation/Token dynamic is that it is a huge offense to a person of color to be called a token. I know, because I’ve faced this same dynamic. When I was granted a ticket and costs to attend YearlyKos 07 as one of the Chicago 17, I needed to explore what opportunities were opening up in front of me. I felt this was in my path for a reason, and it was, in the end. But I didn’t know what it was. However, I trusted my fate and my path. I knew where my heart was and what it was about. I resented like crazy those who thought they knew better, that I was “selling out” or in some way less a person of color because of my decision. I was prompted to go by many readers and more importantly, I wanted to do this. I felt I could further the cause of what I was doing. I was exercising my free will, I was being recognized for my talents and influence, and I was being brought in as someone who was known to write fiery, unrelentingly ideal-based blog posts. What compromise was I making? But some of my readers disagreed with me and I lost what I thought were some friends by taking that opportunity. Of course, true gente stuck by me. My close amigos. Even if they thought what I was doing was…a mistake, or playing into a Token situation. And some understood that I was going where I needed to and trusted it would all be fine. (And it was all fine, and learning what I did there prompted me in the direction that helped lead to The Sanctuary’s existence.) But I felt a horrible pressure all the while I was making my own way. Pressure from the white funders to tell a story they liked, one that framed them as benificent and kind and altruistic, which is how they saw themselves to be. And pressure from certain factions of my own readership to completely turn away from all things Whiteosphere in the most extreme way possible—to not even go. So I was being forced to defend my integrity as a person of color. By people of color. One commenter even said “don’t be a token!” As it was not meant smartly, sort of dropped both meaning well and clumsiliy, I took it to be coming from outside conversations that were now reaching me.
So I feel bad that Ernesto’s call to me—even if prompted to do it by others at ObeyGiant—served the purpose of his having to defend his cred, his cultural integrity to me. On one hand he was making sure to tell me they were good to him, not taking advantage, really helpful and really open to him; he was also assuring me of his agreement with certain cultural beliefs and allegiances…and that is not what I needed to hear or wanted him to feel he had to tell me. This is what can happen when white structures take you in and use you in certain ways. Not to say you aren’t getting things out of it, too. But sadly, you are the one who ends up being pointed at by your fellow people of color and having to defend yourself and at the same time getting taken advantage of in one way or another from the other side.
It is a painful spot to be in.
It’s very tricky to address a tokenizing system while understanding that the people involved are simply trying to live and find their way to do what they love and believe in, may not see themselves as “tokens,” and must navigate an inequal power structure that may only hand you opportunities once you concede certain things, or hand your more or bigger ones depending on what shape you take, what words you use, how close you hue to a political line, etc. I don’t like calling people “tokens” and I don’t really feel I have that right and that is not what I’m doing here so much as exploring the inequality that exists in these setups that often earn these names. I wouldn’t blame an artist for doing her/his best to spread his/her message in the way that felt right to their own soul. Just as I wouldn’t scorn those holding up the posters and marching. They don’t care or want to hear about “appropriation”; they just want to escape persecution and have their families intact. But as I said, I write often about ideas that can coexist with realities on the ground.
When I spoke yesterday of how I wanted art that people called “icons of the movement” to come from la comunidad, ButchM sarcastically commented “Psst. His [Ernesto’s] name is on it. He personally signed every single one of the s/n edition. How do you not know even know that before your wrote an article about it? Seriously.” And then linked me to cimarrones.org.
You tell me. Do you see Ernesto’s name on the poster? Well, maybe we can’t read it from here. I don’t see it. Though mostblogs or sites touting the art immediately think of this as “Shepard Fairey” work, I was happy to note that at least some sites do purposely put Ernesto’s name in the credit when talking about this art.
But if you go to ObeyGiant as well as any other site that has grabbed the ObeyGiant press release, you’ll notice something interesting.
The two blurbs being used to sell the poster of mi gente, of nuestra gente—Ernesto and my people—are Shepard Fairey talking about his European immigrant ancestors, and Zach de la Rocha’s star-power endorsement. Don’t get me wrong, I crankRATM like nobody’s business! And I agree that de la Rocha was an inspiration years ago, too, with his music about social injustice. And still is. And por supuesto I’m glad that Shepard Fairey relates to today’s immigrant story in his way.
But where is Ernesto’s blurb?
When Ernesto talked to me, one of the first things he spoke about was his background, his roots. What situation his family is in now. How he has spent time in border towns and how much this issue means to his heart. It was real rap, and it was moving. But why, if he owns a ’50-50′ share in credit of who made this art, is his story not included in selling the poster? Why, if his presence should negate the charge that this poster is cultural appropriation that furthers Shepard’s visibility and career without fairly repaying or crediting the Brown™—is Ernesto’s story not part of the story of this art’s birth?
Why does Shepard Fairey lead the promo with his story of white immigration while Ernesto’s modern-day ties to this very issue and these very people are omitted?
If there is a clear answer to this that escapes the charges of Whiteness centering itself or cultural appropriation, I can’t imagine what it is.
HERE WE ARE AGAIN! Cinco de Mayo, the bastard stepchild of holidays. The holiday that Mexican@s celebrate in small numbers, Average Americans® celebrate in vast, Corona-drenched masses, and that the bloggerati never hesitate to scoff at in order to show how much more in the know they are! Oh, pobrecito Cinco de Mayo!
But this year the Latino Politics blog is determined to ruin my fun! Reminding me of how gente are affected disproportionately by alcohol marketing and the industry…
… Dr. Keryn Pasch stated, “According to previous studies, Hispanic youth are at higher risk for alcohol use than either white or African American youth. Exposure to alcohol advertising has been shown to increase alcohol use and intention to use alcohol, and marketers are aggressively capitalizing on the rapidly growing Hispanic population, targeting their marketing efforts at this group.”
Additionally, the study found that alcohol advertising is uniquely catered to specific ethnic groups. Alcohol consumption advertising near schools with 20% or more Hispanic students tends to use the culture of the neighborhood. So with Latino communities, you see more ads incorporating Mexican flags, sports heroes, and celebrities. These carefully crafted ads build brand recognition with young people, putting them at an increased risk for substance abuse from an early age.
According to the US Health and Human Services for people 12 years and older, Hispanics have a 10% rate of substance abuse, which is lower than Native Americans (19%), but higher than the rate for whites (9.2%) and African-Americans (9%). Substance abuse providers have historically seen more substance abuse in acculturated Latinos than in those who are recent immigrants. However, they are now seeing more immigrants turning to alcohol and substance abuse in coping with difficult immigrant experiences. We have already seen an increase in violent crime targeting Latinos, and often alcohol accompanies these incidences.
Ouch. When you tie this to the fact that more people of color will be targeted by the police and shot by the police and incarcerated by the police and often alcohol is involved in those incidents as well as in the hate crime attacks that rain down upon raza…. It’s a bit of an ugly picture that begins to form.
And then, just as we are ready to get down and crack a few Negra Modelos on Cinco de Mayo con nuestra querida raza, we are forced to remember who is affiliated and who benefits from these alcohol giants and their finely-targeted marketing.
In large part, organizations like MALDEF, NCLR, and even LULAC are not grassroots in terms of their donor databases. In Los Angeles , the MALDEF office is in a building sponsored by Anheuser-Busch, as is evidenced by its wall signage. NCLR is corporate partner with Coors Brewing Company and Miller Brewing Company. LULAC’s corporate alliance partners include both Anheuser-Busch and Coors. These organizations have been built and bolstered by donations from the very companies who cleverly target our young people.
Oh. What a tangled mess. These are the very organizations that work in the service (or at least under the banner) of helping our people. This is becoming very disappointing to think about.
Especially disappointing is that NCLR’s policy page “deals primarily with obesity and nutrition, but noticeably absent is any information about alcoholism.”
I want, here, to thank the Latino Politics blog for keepin’ it real. That’s one UMX fist in the air for ya, simón!
Sooner or later, or even over and over, there will be a hard choice in how much compromise to make in the path of helping your own people. This is a windswept path, and one you must travel alone. Walk it carefully and choose thoughtfully. We see how these compromises potentially lead to perversion of the very honorable goal they seek to attain.
Happy Cinco de Mayo! Let us drink or dance or both, but let us at least try to keep this festive spirit alive in the name of resistance in the face of great odds! And no, that doesn’t apply to resisting the neighbors when they tell you to turn it down! Okay, yes it does! GO!
Update: Given the symbolism of the holiday, I find this latest symbol of enforcement of FeCal upon the people of México just a bit disturbing:
For the first time in decades, the re-enactment of the Battle of Puebla, Mexico’s May 5, 1862 victory over French forces, was called off to avoid contagion-prone crowds. It was replaced by a somber ceremony featuring President Felipe Calderon, other officials and a small number of soldiers. Surrounding streets were empty.