English only?

[I feel very fortunate that Nick Belardes invited me to participate in his blog. This is my first attempt to write something more literary. The story first appeared here.]

It was autumn in suburban Richmond. Cheerful, acute voices overwhelmed the muted sounds of falling leaves.

“Córrele Guillermo,” yelled Elena to her toddler. “Te tengo aquí unas galletitas.”

Just next to her, a round, middle-aged face surfaced from behind a USA Today. With deepening, fresh wrinkles, he glanced and gruntled, “In this park we only speak English!”

The mother turned slightly. Taking a cookie from a Mickey Mouse tupperware, she calmly said, “I’m sorry sir. In this park you only speak English. We speak Spanish and English, and perhaps some French or Portuguese if we really try.”

The stranger had no language to reply. He again sank his face into his paper’s sports pages.

Remembering UT student media with UT Watch


This is an addition to my electronic resources list that deserves its special mention. I might be biased because I studied at UT, but UT Watch is a great resource in many ways. Its archive of “student publications, theses, dissertations, and research guides” is full of interesting resources and memories of a history of student public engagement at many levels. Engagement in the sense of activism, of establishing connections, of thinking, speaking acting and responding. The writing is serious and engaged.

The archive has a rather complete PDF collection of many student documents and publications, including Polemicist (1989-1992), The Other Texan (1992-1993), Tejas (1989-1996), (sub)TEX (1994-1995), The Working Stiff Journal (1998-2000), Issue (2003-5) and The Rag (1966-1977). Continue reading

Migration reform on all fronts: Speaking, legislating, and acting for Immigration Reform as the year ends

Image by @ndlon

Colorlines began November with a mixed review of October’s movement on Immigration Reform, reporting that despite the bipartisan Senate’s “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act” being stuck in the House, “Immigration Activists Continue to Fight on All Fronts.” Much was being said about paralysis, but in the streets, the prisons and the corridors of power, people were acting. Coming out of the government shutdown and coinciding with the calamitous unveiling of the Affordable Care Act web site, at times immigration seemed to float off the margins, but its advocates kept pushing it to the center stage again and again. President Obama focused his October 24 press conference on immigration reform, but for many his engagement seems “too little, too late” in the legislative front, and “too much, too often” when it comes to the deportation and incarceration of the undocumented. Continue reading

Enfranchising the Disenfranchised — A Case for Resident Voting Rights


Photo by Ho John Lee

On October 26 a Boston Globe headline immediately called my attention: “Many in East Boston Can’t Vote on Casino Referendum”. As the city prepared to elect a new mayor to replace the twenty-year incumbent Thomas Menino, the permitting of a new casino in East Boston was a far more important issue for many. For some it represented economic opportunities and for others it seemed a threat, bringing unwanted traffic and vice to the region. The stakes were very high for local residents, but, as the article reported,

census figures show that almost half of the adults in this immigrant enclave will not cast a ballot about the casino, the mayoral race, or anything else — because they cannot.

They are not US citizens.

The vote went on, the casino initiative failed, but the fact that “about 46 percent of the adults in East Boston cannot vote” on matters that directly affect their livelihood and quality of life raises very important questions about democracy and representation, at least at the very local level. Continue reading

Not only MVP. Big Papi deserves the Red Sox C

Big Papi leads the team

Big Papi leads the team

For any Red Sox fan the 2013 season has been truly remarkable. Finishing 2012 among MLB’s worst seven teams, they now find themselves within one game of clinching the World Series, sharing MLB’s highest win percentage with the Cardinals.

This season will be remembered for many reasons, including the way the Red Sox played as a team, with premier and bench teammates playing their roles in the team’s best interest, without personality conflicts marring the efforts of the whole. The solidarity among players has been visible in their beards, reminiscent of the House of David barnstorming teams from the first half of the past century.

The playoffs were memorable, with grand slams by David Ortiz and Shane Victorino being just some of the highlights. And the World Series has not been less exciting. Games 3 and 4 will leave baseball fans with unprecedented memories, including a game-ending obstruction call in game 3 and the equally surprising game-ending pickoff of Kolten Wong in game 4.

These have been spectacular plays, changing within seconds the outcome of crucial games. But baseball is a game of both instant moments and the long haul. And in the latter David Ortiz is distinguishing himself in the record books. Five games into the series Big Papi has been batting an impressive 0.733 with a 0.750 OBP, placing him only behind Billy Hatcher whose numbers were 0.750/0.800 in the 1990 World Series. Continue reading

Migration and Exile in Latin American Music

“A los mojados les dedico mi canción”, Los Tigres del Norte

On Sunday, October 20 Mexico’s La Jornada ran several stories on the US Latin@ experience. Among them was one focusing on migration songs. The piece focuses mainly on Mexican corridos, a genre which, as Américo Paredes and María Herrera-Sobek have shown in their groundbreaking works, has been a vehicle to document the experiences of migrants and borderlands inhabitants almost since the moment of the US occupation of northern Mexico. Within the limitations of a short newspaper article, it discusses a good sample of this repertoire. Inspired by it, I’d like to share some of the actual songs discussed in the article and add a new dimension to it, incorporating others about migration and exile from other Spanish-speaking traditions. The list of this kind of songs is very long and I will not do justice to all, but I offer this as a sample of the music that exists. Some of them appear as embedded videos, others as hyperlinks within the text. Continue reading

La Bestia’s tragedy, one more graphic example of our broken immigration system

La Bestia derailed

La Bestia derailed (photo by Reuters)

On Sunday, August 25 the infamous train “La Bestia” (“The Beast”) crashed in the Mexican state of Tabasco. Early media reports indicate that at least 5 people died and 35 were injured, 16 gravely, with the death toll likely to rise. Emergency workers were attempting to reach the remote site, and soon after the accident President Enrique Peña Nieto expressed his condolences for those affected through his Twitter account.

While the accident is shocking and its human toll terrible, Sunday’s incident is just one in the long list of tragedies associated with this train, regularly used by undocumented Central American migrants as they attempt to make their way to the United States through Mexican territory. A recent film by Pedro Ultreras documents the terrible travel conditions and the many risks associated with a journey on “La Bestia” for passengers who literally risk life and limb in this dangerous venture. Continue reading

Remembering the San Patricios, “the Irish soldiers of Mexico”

Plaque commemorating the San Patricio Martyrs in Mexico City.

Plaque commemorating the San Patricio Martyrs in Mexico City.

As US troops invaded Mexico City, the August 20, 1847 battle of Churubusco marked an important turning point in the city’s defense. Today the results of that war are known to many (but, not surprisingly, not to all). In its aftermath the territory comprising the current states of California, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Utah, and other regions (about half of Mexico’s territory) was ceded to the United States.

A lesser known chapter of this war is the role played by a battalion of Irish soldiers, recent immigrants to the United States, who deserted the US army to fight on the side of their fellow-Catholic Mexicans. As the references embedded in this post indicate, religion was not the only reason for these Irish to change sides. Questioning of the Polk administration’s expansionist and racist policies was also central to their defection. Continue reading

On musical reinterpretation

One of the things that calls my attention is the way in which songs are taken on by different cultures and traditions. Here are some of my favorite examples.

The Peruvian waltz, “Que nadie sepa mi sufrir” by Argentineans Angel Cabral and Enrique Dizeo, here interpreted by Agustín Irusta:


But made internationally famous as “La foule” by Edith Piaf: Continue reading

The #Dream9 “Publicity Stunt” to Improve the Immigration Reform Debate

#Dream9 at Nogales Border Crossing

#Dream9 at Nogales Border Crossing (from “In These Times”)

As Congress enjoys a well-deserved vacation and lobbyists of all persuasions are on high-gear pushing many causes, including different approaches to Immigration Reform, 9 DREAMers – Claudia Amaro, Mario Félix, Adriana Gil Díaz, Luis León, Lulú Martínez, Lizbeth Mateo, María Peniche, Ceferino Santiago and Marco Saavedra – have taken the immigration debate to a new front at the Eloy Detention Center in Arizona, a facility owned by Corrections Corporation of America, the self-proclaimed

private corrections management provider of choice for federal, state and local agencies since 1983… the fifth-largest corrections system in the nation, behind only the federal government and three states… hous[ing] more than 80,000 inmates in more than 60 facilities… with a total bed capacity of more than 90,000.

Dressed in caps and gowns, the nine attempted to enter the United States through the Nogales border crossing on July 22 only to be detained. Six of the nine had either been deported or forced to leave the US earlier, while three of them – Martínez, Mateo and Saavedra – purposefully left the US with the specific purpose of participating in this event.

On July 17 Lizbeth Mateo posted this video from Mexico explaining her reasons to purposefully leave the US. Continue reading