About Secret History

Commentary on Latin America.
Mostly about Mexico - but not always.
Designed to encourage readers to learn about
the apparently "secret history" of 500 million people
spread across two continents
- but not always.
You can always count on a little snark.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

In the last years of the Porfirio Diaz dictatorship, Bishop Banegas y Galvan of Querétaro made the following observation, inteded to chasten the wealthy in Mexico: “You rich men, there is no other way open: either you must open your hearts to charity and reduce the hours of work and increase wages, or you are accumulating hatred and resentment . . . and your riches and yourselves will be buried.” It isn't like we're talking about a flood of Liberation Theology in Mexico in 1900 - even the very conservative Catholic church recognized a disaster coming down the pike when they saw it.

The recent disaster in the Pena Nieto campaign for the presidency of Mexico has given Mexicans another taste of Porfirian-style disdain (let's face it, it is pura PRI-ista, but a historian has to eat, no?). In response the mocking that fluff-boy PN got for his inability to talk about books that have shaped his life, PN's daughter re-tweeted a comment saying "hello to all the idiots in the proletariate that only know how to crticize those they envy." No shocker that a PRI-bot has created a nasty well of anti-worker / anti-peasantry / anti-most-people-in-Mexico sentinment in his home. This is a dangerous time for the PRI to be engaged in such hijinks. With violence in Mexico beyond intolerable levels making the PAN non-viable in 2012, there could be a political response to dig AMLO's credibility out of the ground and "bury" the men of wealth ... and their petty daughters.

Lest the US get smug, spend five minutes on Faux News or looking at the pictures of the Wells Fargo "Homeless" themed party of foreclosure and PN's daughter looks down-right charitable.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Freedom University - F.U.[,] Georgia.

Lorgia Garcia Pena, Pamela Voekel, Bethany Moreton, and Betina Kaplan are four professors at the University of Georgia in Athens that have decided to take on the the not-so-peachy state and the UGA Board of Regents' decision to ban undocumented students from the state's top three campuses. Freedom University is a clandestine (at least the classroom is Bat-Cave secret to protect the alumnos) school for undocumented students where the four profesoras teach on Sundays at no cost to the students and for no benefit to themselves. And I will give my (FWIW) plug for the group: Voekel was my undergraduate advisor and Moreton was a teaching assistant (both at the University of Montana) that I had the benefit of learning from. Voekel is a top flight writer and a PhD out of UT Austin. Moreton is a Yale PhD and the author of a fantastic book on Wal-Mart. Both of them are incredible thinkers and great teachers, and the students at Freedom U. are getting one heck of an education - for free.

Huffington Post did a bit on Freedom University a few months back, and now CNN has run a piece in English and Spanish on the group. CNN does a great job of crunching the numbers and showing that even though the undocumented might be tax payers AND still paying 3X the price to attend a Georgia school, the regents have banned the "flood" (27 students in all) of undocumented students to make sure that every seat in the class room goes to a Georgia citizen. Seriuosly? Watch the CNN interview and see what kind of students Georgia is excluding.

If you feel like donating to the cause (either books or money), visit the group's web site see here. Freedom University.

To see the CNN bits, visit here for Spanish. Visit here for English. To read the HuffPost piece, see here.

And, hey, go F.U. [,] Georgia.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Evergreen(card) State

Washington's famously conservative East Side (the area east of the Cascades) is reaping the fruit of campaigns to remove undocumented workers from the state. Recent ICE raids have had a chilling effect on the number of workers in the state for apple picking, and at the end of October signs abounded from Wenatchee to Yakima begging for workers - at $10 an hour. When few were forthcoming, pickers called on prison labor - which cost pickers $22 per hour (after the cost of security, etc.). Sow the wind... .

Force, Manda Bala, and Chile

Aside from the upheaval of moving and changing jobs, I've also been distracted from blogging by some long exchanges on Face Book with "friends" in that medium. In one recent exchange a computer programmer from Iowa informed me that all taxation is forced, but that force is justified for security, like police, jails, and the army, but not for "forced" charity. Enter the protests in Chile.

As students in Chile are agitating for the continued funding of education, that nation is getting a taste of what you get when you don't provide education for your population: chaos in the streets. Right now, Chile is "lucky" to experience that in the form of protests, but if the "reforms" to education in Chile take place that transfer some universities to the private sector and make an education beyond the reach of Chile's poorest, the unrest in the streets will be crime, not protest. Enter Manda Bala.

The 2007 documentary from Jason Kohn portrays the kidnapping industry of Sao Paulo laid on top of the corruption of one of Brazil's most powerful politicians - Jader Barbalho. In this case, Barbalho's preying on the poor by stealing funding for programs has fueled the poverty that drives the poor to prey on the wealthy. The wealthy, in turn, are willing to spend millions on security to keep themselves safe, but not the programs and innovations in society that would keep the kidnappers from preying on the they, the wealthy. What a cycle of life. Enter the United States and that computer programmer from Iowa.

There is yet another reason the United States needs to look south to their neighbors: has the investment in so-called "justified" force changed Brazil? Are the changes laid out by Pinera in Chile going to provide a long-term benefit for the nation? As we slowly privatize our education system in the United States - for that is what we are doing as we cut off funding and force students into usurious deals with the banks - are we going to see more economic freedom, or are we simply going to see the jails swell? Considering how U.S. minorities have been denied access to education and experience disproportionate jailing, I think we do have something to fear - in both the short and long term.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Collective Memory

Historians are guardians of our collective memory - something like keepers of the flame of identity. Why, then, are academic historians so frowned on by society in general? I suppose that our contrarian projects (and nature, at times) makes it look less like we are keeping flames and more like we are peeing on the fire.

Monday, September 12, 2011

(Un)employed In Mexico

It looks like the unemployment rate in Mexico has fallen to just under 5%. Back in July when the numbers started to show the number of Mexicans returning to Mexico was hitting agriculture and construction, the U.S. news media began to take notice. Now the numbers look like they've dipped below 5% - something that could have consequences for both the U.S. and Mexico. Not only might the U.S. begin to see an even sharper rise in food prices due to weather patterns, but that problem might be made worse by labor costs as the cheap labor of undocumented pickers is hard to replace.

For Mexico, it might mean a slow-down in productivity if there aren't enough workers to contribute. It might also mean a hike in prices: Businesses like to see unemployment at around 5% to help keep labor costs down. Mexico has already wrestled with higher food prices over the last few years, can it handle another hike? On the up side (well, maybe), this from the Mexican consul in sacramento:

"It's now easier to buy homes on credit, find a job and access higher education in Mexico," Sacramento's Mexican consul general, Carlos González Gutiérrez, said Wednesday. "We have become a middle-class country." (see more here)

On a down note, sales of port-a-border will fall:

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Same Sex With A Different Demographic

It looks like living in the PacNW will provide a lot of fodder for the blog as we gear up once more. This from Oregon and KUOW:

Gay marriage supporters in Oregon are trying to win over support from the
Latino community. They're targeting Spanish speakers in a new radio ad campaign.
The ads mark the first concentrated effort to build support for gay marriage
among the Hispanic community in Oregon.

Jeana Frazzini is executive director of Basic Rights Oregon. She says the
effort comes as the organization considers whether to take a same-sex marriage
initiative to the ballot next year.
"We keep an eye towards the eventual
policy victory that we need to achieve, but through that work seek to change the
hearts and minds of folks broadly in Oregon communities," Frazzini says.

Frazzini says her group has done some polling on the issue among
Hispanics, but she wouldn't release the numbers. Latinos nationally have
historically opposed gay marriage.

It looks like folks in Oregon understand what Californians did not: Latino votes count. Remember, while heaping up a plate-o-hate at the Mormons for their lobbying and $$$ re: Prop 8 in California, it was a large Latino and African American vote that helped put it over the top.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Phew - I'm Back!

Well, I haven't dropped out of the blogosphere - I've just been out and about with students for the last few weeks. I'll also be starting a new job in Washington state in a few weeks ... but I should be back in the saddle full-time shortly.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Back in the USSAr - izona: No Papers For You!

Gestapo-zona, um, Arizona has passed a new law that stops the state from accepting identity cards from foreign consulates. No longer can you use consular IDs to get a drivers license, or even a library card. The Matricula Consular is attacked by supporters of the new law as a sham because the consulate is often not meticulous in verifying the identity of the person that applies for the card. Critics of the law point out that this will leave migrants to Arizona with no ID whatsoever and have the net effect of removing migrants from the legal social system - in other words, they will stop reporting crimes or supporting local law enforcement of anhttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gify kind.

Interestingly, private businesses are allowed to accept the IDs. So much for the conservative idea of following the lead of business (mostly because business generally only sees the color green).

Boycott Arizona, folks. I've steered my student trip away from Arizona this summer, and I refuse to attend academic conferences in the state. See the hilarious take on the boycott in the Gawker.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

No Mas Sangre in an Upside Down World

Upside Down World does it again.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Go Away, Says Georgia (to its economy)

Georgia has passed a "tough" new immigration law that allows state and local law enforcement to get involved with the immigration status of people they are questioning as well as fines and jail time for those associated with migrants. While it might hurt the agricultural, construction, and general service economy of Georgia, it seems that there is one segment of the population that will profit: private prisons.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Agricultural Crisis for US?

How did I miss this? The House Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement met in mid April and decided that unless reforms happen quickly to increase the flow of agricultural labor from Latin America that agriculture in the US is facing a crisis. From Washington State to Florida, from NY State to Central Valley in Cali, a shortage in pickers, diggers, pluckers, and plowers could lead to a sever crises for US food security.

Reports CNN:

According to the U.S. Department of Labor's National Agricultural Workers Survey, which canvasses hired farm workers, over the period of 2007 to 2009, 48% of farm workers in the country admitted they were in the United States illegally.

The agricultural industry has repeatedly asked the federal government to streamline and expedite the H-2A visa program as its labor needs have grown over the years.

Lee Wicker, deputy director of the North Carolina Growers Association -- an organization with 600 grower members and the largest H-2A program user in the country -- said the current program is ineffective. Wicker called it "costly, time-consuming, and flawed. Farmers have to complete a lengthy labor certification process that's slow, bureaucratic, and frustrating."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Paying Workers: Bad For Buisness in Honduras

A year after minimum wage hikes in Honduras, owners of maquiladoras are making their case for "more incentives" to bring back the nearly 16,000 jobs they say they have lost to El Salvador and Nicaragua where wages are lower. Says La Prensa, business leaders are appealing to the state for various mechanisms to help them weather salary adjustments. Minister of Labor, Felicito Avila, said the most important thing Honduras has to offer business is a nation of law and order (unless you are a democratically elected president). I would point out that back in December the maquila organizations were trumpeting their ability to create 20,000 new jobs for 2011 in Honduras. Looks like the only folks that have been able to tell the future here are the activists that started saying back in the late 1980s that maquilas / Free Trade Zones would create a dog-eat-dog situation in Central America where wages spiraled into a downward trend.

Check out the National Labour Committee's look at "slavery" in Central America. The twenty-four cent per hour DROP in wages in Honduras is telling (from .57 to .33).

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

From the Mouths of Babes (or Ants)

I am pretty convinced that Roberto Blancarte's prediction of the demise of Catholicism in Mexico is a bit on the "jumping the gun" side, considering the incredibly strong youth movement in the country. As David Espinosa demonstrated with his work on Jesuit education and Mexico's youth, the construction of powerful networks are built that later reinforce Catholic power. Add that to Roderic Camp's research on the strength of Mexican camarillas (political families), and I am pretty sure that the enthusiasm of Mexico's Catholic youth will work to maintain Catholic power in the country.

This is not a simple game of numbers, as the Charismatic movement within Catholicism successfully lures back the converts as well as maintains the attention of the youth. Even the use of technology is an effective arrow in the quiver of the Roman Catholic Church and their youth. For example, last summer I was doing research in Tepalcingo, Morelos - as remote a municipio as it gets in Morelos. What kept the youth organized? Facebook. Conversion to Protestantism (and to no religion at all) may be growing in Mexico, but the idea that Catholicism will dip below a majority in the country is unthinkable.

Check out this clip of youth who describe themselves as the "escuadron hormiga of the army of Maria" (the ant squadron from Maria's Army) from the media operation out of Guadalajara Radio Maria.

The ant reference is interesting. Those in tune with modern Mexican politics should immediately catch the use of hormiga as similar to that being used by Subcomandante Marcos and the EZLN: the "small" folks working together can accomplish incredible tasks - so watch out. Considering the grassroots politics mobilizing across ever since 1985 and the Mexico City earthquake, I certainly think Mexico has something to teach us about the power of the ants - from every political and religious persuasion.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tazed by ICE - And Now In A Coma

The LA Weekly carries the story of long-time LA resident, sound engineer, father, and band singer Jose Gutierrez who was recently deported to Mexico (where he has no family). Upon trying to return to the US through a checkpoint he was tazed and "hit his head," placing him in a coma in a Phoenix hospital. And, ICE says his family in LA - the one that they claim was not enough reason for him to stay in the US - gets to cover his medical bills.

Read the whole story here.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Dear Gringos: Declutter the Other

I've mentioned before the idea that Latin America can serve as something of a model neighbor for the United States. The region has much to teach the northern neighbors, from community cohesion and family values to an amazing entrepreneurial spirit and ingenious creativity. The folks over at the 2backpackers.com (blog?) might mention another reason to pay attention to Latin America (of course, after you take a look at their quote, I will be problematizing the situation). At any rate, this is what they had to say about returning to the states after their massive Central / South America backpacking trip:
After retrieving only a few of our 10 or so Rubbermaid bins from storage at my brother’s attic, it quickly became apparent that we have too much stuff. This is after selling half our stuff at yard sales and on eBay prior to leaving on our trip. During our travels over the last year we have lived out of large backpacks, nothing more. The experience made us realize we don’t need all this stuff and it’s rather frustrating to own it now. We admit, we wouldn’t have realized how little we really needed if we didn’t spend the last year backpacking.
True enough. And this is their final philosophical reflection:
We aren’t shocked, but we are more aware of the culture in the United States and it’s quite different from those living in Central and South America. We are grateful for the opportunities this country has given us, but we aren’t so proud of the way we live in it. Now is the time to change and live with a little less, actually much less. Less stuff and less stress, we believe.
But let's "unpack" this for a moment (my students hate me when I say that). These folks have been living out of a backpack for months. Is their new conversion to simplicity to be found suddenly in the magic of the lives of Latin Americans? I would pretty much argue that their conversion comes from their own lifestyle, and not from some perception of Latin America as the pristine native-child, a land of noble savages and Chief Seattle's waiting for daily communion with Gaia. Backpack across the Unites States and Canada and you're going to make that conversion to simplicity as well.

Admiring the genius of Latin Americans that do a lot with a little and create miracles under difficult circumstances is an understandable approach. I would urge some caution, however, if the next stop on that train is to say that the wealthy and the leadership in Latin America don't need to undertake any sort of reforms for the general welfare of the population. Sure, you might say, Hugo Chavez can run around wasting the petroleum wealth of his country on strange schemes while the urban poor experience massive housing shortages in Caracas - because those Latin Americans just don't need that much. Hallelujah for Calderon for his money-pit war on narcotics in Mexico, because focusing on the welfare issues of citizens that DON'T directly affect the suburban youth of the United States is a waste of time - those Mexicans can do so much with so little. I once had a conversation with a retired norte americano that had stables as part of his sprawling complex. He sure would like to pay the stable hands more, he said, but to do so would just drive the cost of living up for the workers because then they would expect more out of life. "They are so good at doing without - I'd hate to ruin that for them." That, and his other retired friends would lynch him for driving up the cost of labor. It is an interesting dynamic. It reminds me of Gilbert Osofsky's arguments about the Harlem Renaissance: there was no need to carry out reforms in Harlem or improve the lives of working class African Americans because, after all, they were a "singin' race" - they could just sing and dance their cares away.

In sum, emulating the resourceful creativity to do more with less of the working, middle, and poor classes of Latin America is a good idea, but don't lose track of the point that if a family could stop using their chest of drawers (found in a local dump) as a baby bed, a dinner table, and a work bench that they would do it in a heart beat.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Protections on Private Property

During the Carlos Salinas de Gortari administration the technocrats and the president rushed to amend the 1917 Constitution to "protect" private property ownership from the threat of expropriation of land. Communal property - ejidos - were out of control according to the technocrats and their US counterparts in business, and that stripping the state of the power to seize private property was a way to guarantee US investment in Mexico. In the United States, they argued, private property is sacrosanct. Well, unless...

Oil companies blazing a trail across the mid-western United States to build an oil pipeline are threatening private land owners with eminent domain to force the sale of land. And who is doing the bullying? TransCanada - the Canadian oil giant that wants to build the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas. Caray. Up the road in Montana the legislature is trying to pry federal land out of the hands of the US government so that they can offer the property up for the use of mining and oil companies. I suppose that during this 100 year celebration of the Mexican Revolution that US land owners get a firsthand exposure to the bullying that brought about the rebellion of their southern neighbors.

The stripping of community land as well as private land from the hands of small agriculturalists and the public is no new story. I suggest to readers in Montana and Nebraska the fine titles of Thread of Blood, by Ana Maria Alonso, We Come to Object by Arturo Warman, and David Correia in the Radical History Review on the Gorras Blancas of New Mexico and the loss of land in that state (Issue 108, Fall 2010). I guess they'll have something to read after they've been kicked off their farms - well, during that fifteen minute break at the Motel 6 where they'll work making beds for the pipeline workers passing through town.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Mary and Her Disgusting Blogging

Mary Scriver over at the Prairie Mary blog has a great essay this week about the complexity of race and indigenous identity in relation to ideas of "disgust" and "disgusting." Well connected to the Piegan of the Rocky Mountain front of Montana in towns like Heart Butte and Browning, Mary is a great observer of how Indians are portrayed and "dealt with" by the local white population. You can't help but read Mary's thoughts and think of the treatment of the Tarahumara in Chihuahua or the poor indigenous beggars in Mexico's cities. Says Mary of the ways people use to talk about "dirty Indians":
Today’s civilized people do not use such words. They come from hierarchal [sic] assumptions based on the European empires, particularly the English, who used stigma to control their subject countries. But contemporary Native American people must still emphasize their professional, educated, and meticulously conventional qualities in order to get respect. Even the school children respond to the advertising-driven obsession with cleanliness, not smelling, “proper” clothes and other appearance markers that are meant to prevent disgust.
I like Mary's blog because it does a great job of reminding me of the similarities between Latin America and the United States. And while the ideas are there, you get a bit of Foucault in Mary's post without having to put up with his language - a real bonus! At any rate, the following passage certainly reminds me of the situation for the indigenous in Guerrero, Oaxaca, and Chiapas:
In the practical world, a stigmatized person is thought to deserve punishment for the original sin of being dark-skinned or poor. A couple of decades ago an enrolled Blackfeet drunk (oh, disgusting!) pestered around a bar until the bar owner simply shot him dead. The tribal people started out being indignant but pretty soon they drifted back to the bar, saying that the drunk asked for it with his disgusting behavior. Times have changed. Not long ago three brothers who liked violence picked out what they thought was a likely victim in the parking lot of a bar at quitting time: a drunk Indian ranch hand. But in the middle of their melee, another Indian -- a tribal council member and his wife -- tried to stop it, so the fun-lovers turned their fists and boots on them. The interveners were not powerless. They knew how to use the law. The brothers are serving jail time. But even the tribal council member was accused of the disgusting practice of hanging around in a bar until closing time.
I blogged about this incident of Mexican brothers beating Montana Indians and using the phrase "dirty Indian" while doing it in 2009.

Mennonite Move Blasts Chihuahua Economy

As if the tough times in Ciudad Juarez weren't enough of a strain on the economy of the state of Chihuahua, MX, over a thousand ultra-conservative Altkolonier Mennonites near Cuauhtémoc have announced they are headed to Quintana Roo. The group repersents about 40,000 kilograms of daily cheese production as well as livestock, equipment, and cash valued at, according to the Heraldo de Chihuahua, between six-hundred million and a billion pesos in value - hundreds of millions of US dollars. The paper cites internal divisions as well as problems with access to water and health care within the communities.

Much of the infrastructure currently in place in northern Chihuahua was put in place originally by Mennonites who donated thousands of dollars and labor for the construction of roads, schools, water, etc., after their 1921 arrival. The Plaza of Cuauhtémoc, the largest seat of the Mennonites in Mexico, contains not only the standard array of the busts of Mexican heroes like Benito Juarez or Ignacio Allende, but also busts of Mennonite settlers and Chinese Chihuahuans. In short, it is a town that recognizes the truly international construction of this agro-industrial border region.

Never fear, however, that this exodus of the Altkolonier marks a departure of Mennonites from the area in general. Since the 1940s the Mennonites have been gradually modernizing in the area, and the vast plantations of wheat and apples in the area - fed on the illegally punched wells deep into the aquifers of the altiplano - are owned by Mennonites that use electricity and drive motorized vehicles. While the departure of the Altkolonier is a strain, I think we'll see a number of ejidal groups that abut their property make a play for the ground as well as moves by the liberal Mennonites to buy up the property - if the Altkolonier will well to them. The division between the two groups is fairly ugly (the conservatives are convinced that a drug re-hab facility owned by modernists is a brainwashing facility), with the liberals making the following statement about the conservatives:
"Ellos por ignorancia no aceptan muchas cosas, como la luz y los carros, pero tampoco permiten que sus hijos menores de 12 años acudan a misa, no utilizan métodos anticonceptivos y no les enseñan español a sus hijos como una manera de evitar que salgan de su comunidad y se relacionen con otras personas"

(Because of ignorance those people don't accept a number of things, like light and motorized vehicles, and they even deny children under twelve the right to attend church meetings, they don't use contraception, and they don't teach their children Spanish as a way to avoid leaving the community and forming relationships with other people.)
The above photo is one of Larry Towell's on the Mennonites. Buy his book.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nature, Huevos, and Wealth

At the heart of the political philosophers is the question of the nature of man. Are we, as Hobbes says, evil and depraved animals standing around waiting to kill each other until a stronger power steps in and improves our “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short” existence? Or are we, as Locke argued, social beings capable of knowing right and wrong and using our freedoms to form a social contract for our mutual benefit? Or are we, as Montesquieu offers, all born equal, but in need of the protection of society to protect that equality? And finally, what does this have to do with the blog on Mexico and Latin America?

Both the United States (1787) and Mexico (1824, 1857, 1917) drew more heavily on Locke and Montesquieu than Hobbes in their creation of liberal constitutions. As a result, both created systems whereby the equality of humanity was established and where people were considered participants working together to protect each other rather than miscreant children in need of a good ear-boxing by an all-powerful state. Explicit in these systems is the rule of law – the equal application of the law to all parties, regardless of political power, sex, religion, geographic location, or economic status.

However, as Greg Grandin masterfully points out in his heart-breaking Empire’s Workshop, Hobbes is the new vogue among the pseudo-free market set and, I might add, the rule of law is a pretext for Leviathan to pound the populace into submission. While I accept the sincerity of Milton Friedman’s vision that man’s greed can be harnessed in some ways to drive them to create a better society as well as his emphasis on freedom, I object to the death of Montesquieu as a result. I also object to the application of Locke to the wealthy (they are good, kind, social beings that need freedom of choice) with the simultaneous application of Hobbes to the poor (the really are too stupid to make their own choices and must be beaten into submission). While that transition in the United States has been gradual over a long period of time, Mexico shows us well how this transition has played out over a short period of time.

Mexico’s decidedly Roman-style legal system allows a great deal of flexibility in the power of the judge to make decisions based on the situation rather than on a flat application of the law. While this might not be the legal Utopia of the rule of law, it is an interesting nod to the concept of mercy tempering justice, and at the end of the day has the potential for creating a humane legal system. Law exists to protect, not to “send a message” or intimidate. In Mexico, the general repercussion of this has been the creation of a society that focuses on the humane interaction between vecinos (in the non-legal sense) and the realistic view of the law where the rich and poor alike have access to legal flexibility. Not all crimes may be solved, but society existed with less anxiety, and contributes to those lovely indexes of Mexican happiness versus US happiness. Add to that a state that recognizes the legal right of corporate bodies (particularly in labor and religion) to organize, and you have a system that allows the individual to find the protection of their equality as Montesquieu envisioned. What about bribery? I would echo the thoughts of others that rightly point out that bribery, greasing the wheels of the local level to the highest perches of governance, is also something of an equalizer. In the United States, where only the rich can legally play the bribery game, the poor are at a decided disadvantage.

Starting with the technocrats of the 80s and running through the PANistas of today, Mexico has sought to follow the advice of economists and business owners to improve the rule of law to increase investment in the country. This is an attractive idea with the potential to protect the rights of all – if that is what it really meant. Unfortunately, what is passing as the application of the rule of law is really a philosophical change in the concept of governing Mexico. Starting with Salinas de Gortari, the flexibility surrounding the 1917 Constitution was eliminated – at least for the poor – and the Mexican state became not the guarantor of rights for all, but the Hobbesian enforcer, working to guarantee rights – for corporations. While American and Mexican businesses are considered rational and thinking entities capable of making their own choice and, therefore, legitimate in their shaping of society, Mexican citizens are considered irrational in their choice to regulate the actions of corporations and the effect those companies have on their lives (consider the assaults on those that cry for protection of water quality in maquila zones). They are also increasingly denied the ability to effectively organize to protect their interests (see the example of workers in maquilas), while corporations are certainly not denied that ability (see the Salinas mining interests in northern Mexico). When presented in an interview for the documentary One Percent with the data on poverty and the problems people face as the wealthier grow wealthier, Milton Friedman said “you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.”

I agree with Milton Friedman that choice is important. I agree with Milton Friedman when he said that the wealthy grow wealthy because they do offer something for the population that the public wants. What I disagree with is the protection of that offering at the expense of other goods and services, such as a real protection from crime, equal access to the mechanisms of capitalism that allow for a measure of upward mobility (such as quality education or equal protection of private property), and equal access to the freedoms of political participation. If breaking eggs to make omelets is an acceptable practice, then those in power should be prepared to find that one day the majority is going to order a different style of omelet. Hopefully, in the Mexico of the upcoming elections in 2012, Mexicans will have the huevos to return to a state that protects the rights of all, demilitarizes the society, and makes the United States pay for their own drug “war.”

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Why Latin America: A Personal Reflection

My students always ask. Every semester. Without fail. They all want to know how I became interested in Mexico and Latin America. So, here is an incredibly self-indulgent response to my students on why I chose to make Latin America part of my life.

My interest in Latin America developed while I was living in the San Gabriel Valley of LA and East LA, fresh out of Montana and a year of college. Sure, some people take time off of school and go to Europe to find themselves. I ended up in LA.

At first my new neighbors represented the exotic other: the plucked and plucky cholas, the vatos with the shaved heads and the dickies, the old men that talked about Chihuahua and tried to teach me norteño swears, and, of course, the food. It was Edward Said writ small, mestizo style. Then I met a guy from El Salvador with screwed up thumbs - from where he had been hung up all night after breaking a curfew. I may have been from Montana, but I had never had my head in the ground. I knew my country sponsored what went on in his, and I wasn't sure if I wanted to throw up or scream. I guess I did nothing, which is what most of us do.

After that, the similarities came fast and furious. Plates of barbacoa and tacos de chivo drew out conversations about the goats I had raised for milk and meat on our small farm in Montana. Small, for Montana, at almost 200 acres; a respectable rancho for some of the folks I met from Oaxaca and Guerrero. Growing up I'd worked packing mules, bucking hay, building fence, janitorial, car part sales ... all the jobs that helped keep me in St. Vincent DePaul's (and at times K-Mart's) finest, and ones that connected me to the rural people I met turned urban service workers. Conversations with Chileans about mining and smelting connected them to the mines and smelters of my own state - the home of the great Anaconda that had strangled both our families and had led us all to new homes. At the end of the day, I found myself having more in common with the migrants from Latin America than I did with the middle-class Anglo families that I rented rooms from.

When I returned to Montana I couldn't shake the memories of the people I'd met. I connected to classes on Latin America, solidarity groups and movements - the usual suspects. Frankly, I've never been sure if all of those activities to try and "save" Latin America ever did much for Latin America, or if it did more for our own consciences. I knew that we were programmed to a particular response to "save" the other when one solidarity group brought campesinos and free trade zone workers - yes, real campesinos - for us to talk to. For good reason it felt like a zoo or a circus, and I certainly had to question all that we were up to. Latin American Ishis on display - trying desperately not to share his fate. I grew up a campesino. My father lost his job to free trade. Did I need to see these brown faces to avoid looking at my own story?

And so before me, I thought, were two paths: one to look at Latin America as the kitschy exotic playground for my escape from anglolandia or, the destitute child of poverty crying for my saving graces. Ever at the periphery - first as escape or second as pleading subaltern - I had come to an inability to see two continents as human.

With time and travel, I learned to drop both of those paths. Mexico, and Latin America in general, have become something of a home. I know I don't "get" everything that goes on, and I know better now that the region needs nothing from me except to be a good neighbor - a thing that we all need from each other. At times that might mean I need to get involved with a cause (neighbors help each other out), and at times it might mean I need to keep my yap shut. But at the end of the day, there are no pretexts or fantasies about our co-existence.

I've found that probably the best thing I could do was to try and help other folks in the United States develop an appreciation of Latin America (an understanding might be too tall of an order for the class room), not as a place that needed saving or as a place to play out escapist fantasy, but as a region of "carne y hueso" with creative and intelligent ways of navigating the vagaries of this world. So, students, the next time you ask me why, I'll invite you to know more, and then you'll understand - but only for yourself.

Monday, April 4, 2011

What I Learned About Porn in Latin America

Apparently a new porn site has gone online in Latin America, as far as I can tell, in Argentina. The key words that lead to the site "Latin Secrets Ar Chica" leads to a post I put up last year about Miss Bolivia dancing a Peruvian dance (the Diablada) and causing all sorts of cultural conflict. At any rate, visits to this site have taken off, sadly, as a result to look for exploited, objectified women.
Everything is an opportunity to learn, though. I've discovered that there is at least some shame left in men in Latin America. Searches overwhelmingly come to my site for that topic M-F, 10am to 6pm... when most men in Latin America are at work. Searches for that term disappear on weekends.

This post, of course, will probably get pounded by the porn hounds. Sigh.

Blancarte: Catholicism on the Dust Heap of History

Famed analyst of religion in Mexico, Roberto Blancarte, has declared that Catholicism is destined for abandonment in Mexico ("el catolicismo esta destinado a ser abandonado"). His pessimism comes from the latest numbers from INEGI that shows the number of Catholics in Mexico dropping after yet another census, now claiming about 84% of the population - a drop of roughly 4 to 5% in the last decade. Says Blancarte, "as long as the church continues with its boring liturgy, as long as its representatives fail to respond to the needs of the people and maintain their criticism of contraceptives or the condom, or as long as sex education is bad, the people are going to grow farther and farther away." (mientras la Iglesia continúe con sus liturgias aburridas, mientras sus representantes no respondan a las necesidades de la gente, y mantengan sus críticas hacia el uso de anticonceptivos o del condón, o que la educación sexual es mala, la gente se va a alejar más y más).

I respectfully disagree with two aspects of his analysis. First, he claims that the Catholic church needs liberating influences to retain the flock... but where are Catholics going? The three largest non-Catholic groups in Mexico are the Luz del Mundo, the Jehova's Witnesses, and the Latter-day Saints (Mormons): all three of which are far more conservative than Catholicism (and, frankly, their services aren't exactly rock concerts of entertainment is a factor). They are also religions that maintain a fair amount of rigid and predictable ceremony in their worship. I would suggest that the madre iglesia is losing members that find the social doctrine of Catholicism too liberal - let alone the few remnants of liberation theology still bouncing around out there. In terms of sex, however, he may be spot on regarding contraception and new concepts of marital conjugal relations as beneficial instead of cause for shame.

Second, I think his failure to mention the politics and scandals of the Catholic church is an important oversight. If people feel their contributions will be misused or their sense of sexual identity assaulted, they will vote with their feet. As Max Weber points out, patriarchy is only functional when the patriarch wields power from a position of higher moral ground... as soon as that erodes the followers either do away with the patriarch or they go find a new one.

I would also point out that research from Bolivia, Chile, Brazil, Guatemala, and Haiti has all shown that while you can see mass conversion, retention of that conversion is only around 40%. Most of the rest will drift back to Catholicism. However, one thing I liked about Blancarte's analysis is that it does rightly show that 5% of Mexicans profess no religion - but that does not necessarily mean atheism. As the Catholics have feared for years, many leave the church, try out another religion (or several), and eventually drift out of organized religion completely.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Lumberjack Terrorists (?)

Nacogdoches likes bud, apparently. Last week the university police arrested over twenty dealers in Nacogdoches, Texas on the Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) campus, the majority of whom are students dealing in marijuana, X, prescription drugs and some cocaine. Go, Lumberjacks (I gleefully note that the lumberjack is also the mascot of Humboldt State).

Last night, Laura Carlsen of the Americas Program came to campus at SFA to speak on the effects of the war on drugs in Mexico.

This morning I read Rich Grabman's post at Mexfiles on the hullabaloo about the idea of narcotraficantes as terrorists.

I'd like to put all three together and see if there is an "up" side to having Texas designate narcos as terrorists (considering the down side is a possible US invasion of Mexico or at least the usurpation of Mexican sovereignty).

1) The children of the middle class would be considered funders of terrorism every time they get caught with a bag, and instead of getting a warning - as is the norm with white offenders - they might be carted off to Guantanamo (well, at least a federal pen). Maybe faced with the same realities of the incarceration of youth that affects the Latino and African American community you might see some move toward dealing with narcotics as a health issue.
Among young people incarcerated in juvenile facilities for the first time on a drug charge, the rate of commitment among Black youth is 48 times that of Whites, while the rate for Latino youth is 13 times that of Whites. www.drugpolicy.org
2) Citibank, Wachovia, and other banks might not be able to weasel out of scrutiny if the charges are funding terrorists.

3) The NRA becomes not just an advocate for the right to own weapons (which I happen to agree with), but their policy on limitless purchase of weapons (which I happen to disagree with) will tag them as supporters of terrorism and break their lobby power (another thing I happen to disagree with). As long as the NRA pushes for fewer controls on guns ownership or at least good registration, weapons will fuel terror in Mexico. At this point, of course, I have to mention the CBS story on the ATF intentionally letting guns cross the border.

Carlsen mentioned that before she came to Nacogdoches she had been at the UT campus down in McAllen, TX. There, the students are the victims of the border violence, often subjected to kidnapping, extortion, and random shootings and so suffering from PTSD at incredible rates. On our campus, students are not the victims of the situation, but the perpetrators, feeding the hard drugs market, advocating for no controls on weapons, and actively supporting the politicians that keep the US from recognizing its responsibility. This is no vague and general implication of participation by being guilty of association (the tired "all yankees are bad garbage), but the real instance of actively funding the deaths of Mexicans and supporting the policies that make it possible.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Secret Race, Hidden Demographic

David Emmons, professor emeritus of history at the University of Montana has argued for decades that the United States made "Irish" and made "Italians." You come to the United States and instead of being from Cork or Milan, you're Irish and Italian. Myself and others have made that observation about Mexico, as well - that traveling to the United States for work in the 1940s contributed to the hardening of a national identity in Mexicans in competition with the regional identity: in Mexico you may be Tapatio or Chilango, but in the US you are Mexican. Again, I only say contributed to the process of a hardening national identity that I think we can trace back to the US invasion and other incursions of Mexican sovereignty by European powers.

At any rate, the folks in the popular media are wrapping their head around ethnicity and race as constructed ideas, and National Public Radio just ran a piece about the growth of Hispanics in the United States. What may have changed is not the number of Hispanics but the number of people self-identifying as Hispanic. In on example from the piece, NPR mentions that first generation Hispanics may self-identify as white while their children will identify as Hispanic because of the construct of race they have received in the US. Read (or listen) to more, here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Fast Pass to Mexico (with an extra side of snark)

As Harry Shearer advises - read the trades. It looks like maquiladora managers are angling to get businesses to come back to Mexico from Eastern Europe and China because, as maquiladora fix-it man Rick Thompson says:
Yes, the violence is a concern and a few companies have decided not to locate in Juarez but most are forging ahead. In the end, economics, not fear, has been the determining factor for a company’s decision.
Rick, you see, works in Juarez and is interested in getting business back into the border town. To do so, he offers practical advice:
There are some standard precautions I take that could be applied to many foreign locations. I spend the night in the closest safe and secure place possible – in this case, El Paso – and commute over the border daily. I don’t go out late at night and I stay away from the worst part of Juarez where most of the violence happens. I drive an ordinary car and advise others to leave the Escalade at home.
You see, Juarez is cool... if you live in Texas. At any rate, it appears the biggest fear for businesses is not violence or workers being robbed on the bus to the maquila, but labor laws and perceptions of Mexico:
You have to consider the pro-labor laws in Mexico, or any other country being considered, especially if you are in a highly seasonal business. If you lay someone off in Mexico, there’s a three months minimum severance, plus a month for every year of service.

You have to get along with your new employees. Historically, Mexicans had a reputation for taking siestas and two-hour lunches. That’s in the past. Companies along the border are copies of U.S. companies, with sophisticated lean manufacturing and Six Sigma programs. Mexicans are very hard workers. New technology can sometimes be a challenge, but is improving all the time. All my staff spoke English in Mexico. This is night and day compared to Hungary or China.
Oh, and if you are worried about that wait to cross the border because of all that "inspection" silliness, Homeland Security offers a fast pass for those crossing the boarder called SENTRI. Just buy a SENTRI pass and hop in the SENTRI line and your wait to cross into Mexico is 10 minutes, not an hour. It is all part of the "Trusted Traveler" programs offered by DHS.

Monday, March 28, 2011

White Supremacists Kill Immigration (Emergency Drill)

This from the Des Moines Register:
An anti-terrorism drill based on a fictional scenario involving white supremacists angry over an influx of minorities and illegal immigrants was canceled Friday after officials of the school that was hosting the training exercise said they received threatening phone calls and emails.

Kevin Elwood, superintendent of Treynor school district, said the schools received about 100 emails from across the United States, as well as some angry phone calls.He said one caller left a particularly disturbing voice-mail message.

"They basically indicated that if we went through with this type of a drill that potentially that type of an incident could become a reality in our school district," Elwood said.
It is unclear if future drills on chemical spills will be can canceled due to pressure by DuPont or if Al'Qaeda was able to get the TSA to back off.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Bye Bye (Sez) Brazil

I missed this coverage in the mainstream US press regarding Pres. Obama's visit to Brazil, but apparently the welcome was not so friendly "Down Rio Way." Says the Daily Mail:
Barack Obama's visit to Brazil had a very unpromising start after police had to quell riots against the U.S. in Rio de Janeiro with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Police cracked down on the crowd after protesters hurled a Molotov cocktail at the consulate door, the O Globo newspaper reported on its website.
I was alerted to the story by one of my students who was present at the riot and was surprised to see the protests. Apparently much of the language of "Obama Go Home" (Fora Obama) centered on his seeing a sanitized version of Brazil while he was there, as well as their desire to have him lift the blockade against Cuba. There may still be a bit of lefty-resilience left in Brazil after all.

To be balanced, however, I should note my student said he heard far more women yelling how sexy they thought Obama was than being a Yankee devil.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Dying to Be Like the US

For now the death of a Texas prosecutor in Mexico is looking like a suicide - not exactly an uncommon occurrence in the United States.

Mexico is apparently experiencing its own movement to be "more like the United States" with not only a (slight) rise in teen narcotics use but a 275% rise in suicides. Economic pressures (including immigration problems), the absence of a social support network, and failed relationships top the list of causes. I suppose the "Annex Mexico" folks will see this as a positive sign.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Texas Abuzz

Two things have the news wires in Texas buzzing today: a bunch of people that didn't go to Mexico and one man that did - and never came home.

Galveston and the Padre Island areas are both reporting huge numbers of visitors for spring break. Though college students + booze still equaled a stabbing. More here. As a side note, I was at the beach in Sabine pass this week and I could run from Louisiana to Galveston without seeing soul. Don't ever tell me Spring Break is just about a trip to the beach. As the Chicago Sun-Times puts it, this is more about sex and suds than sun and surf. Of course one look at Gulf water at any beach will tell you that. The baby dolphins washed up on the beach were particularly scenic.

The other thing that has garnered far more attention is the death of prosecutor in Cameron County that was found dead in Matamoros. Though no foul play is suspected, every paper in Texas seems to be running the story with the statement that the investigation is ongoing (and without the statement from the DA that says no foul play is suspected). Nevertheless, a 26-year-old guy goes to Matamoros and he happens to be the prosecutor in Texas, one might be excused for thinking that more is up than a hit and run or a sudden heart attack.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Utah? Really. Utah?

At some point you have to decide if you are a blood and race nationalist or a free market advocate - and I think the folks in Utah have reached that point. Earlier this week a set of immigration reform bills passed the Utah legislature - generally in the top three red states in the country (with Idaho and Oklahoma) - and it seems to be getting a mixed reception. As State Rep. Bill Wright commented, Utah has come to the point where they realize that the economic welfare of their state - and its population growth - is dependent on migrant labor:

"I'm of the opinion that we really don't have the ability as a society to remove that large a portion of a segment from our society — either the cost, or just the damage it would do," Wright says.

"A lot of these people are intertwined in our society. They have financial obligations: They have bank notes; they've bought houses; they contribute; they have jobs," he says.

Operating from that premise, Wright's guest-worker permit law says that if you pay a fine, have no criminal record and are working, you can stay in Utah.

The solution seems to be the product of Utah's business community, the state Republican Party, and the LDS (Mormon) Church. Read more about the Utah Compact, here. See what the Mormons said about the compact, here.

Utahns - generally very Tea Party in nature - seem to be the angriest about this, and seem to be showing how little concern they have for the position of their own church - after all, aren't Mormons supposed to abstain from tea (insert rim shot). At any rate, I enjoyed this bit of irony from a comment posted in the Deseret News ... though I am sure the author is unaware of it. I wonder what country will take him in - and if he will wait for a visa, etc. before he goes.
My senator an representative don't give a darn what the majority wants: tough crackdown and deportation of illegals. The "utah solution" is a total travesty and an insult to the citizens. After trying so hard to have the legislature do the right and honnorable thing it is now clear to me that the only recourse left is to move to another country. BTW, I don't expect it to be better there, but that's the point. I don't expect to be betrayed by the government. [sic on all the errors in this one]

Friday, March 11, 2011

Heart of the New Heartland? Corazones Hispanicos.

The population of the center of the US moved to Texas this week - Texas, Missouri, that is. Why? Growth in the Mountain west has pulled the population west, even as California has seen minimal population growth. What is driving the growth in the Mountain West?
"In seven of the eight Mountain states, Hispanics accounted for nearly 50 percent or more of the population gains among children under 18. Montana, which had a population loss of children, was the exception."
And this fun little nugget...
"In Arizona, which gains a House seat, Hispanics accounted for roughly half of the state's population increase since 2000, according to census estimates."
So, essentially Arizona is going to pull a Texas: use the Hispanic population growth to justify new seats in the House then gerrymander the districts to disenfranchise those same people. Sigh.

If Montana is low on growth I'd be happy to move back.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Women of Guatemala

International Woman's Day (March 8) saw a variety of feminine related social issues in a prominent position in Guatemala.

Starting from "los ricos" down, the announcement of the First Lady of Guatemala Sandra Torres de Colom that she will run for president is raising few eyebrows of surprise, thought it is causing some constitutional consternation: relatives of the President are not allowed to run for public office. At any rate, Torres de Colom is already figuring second in most polls behind School of the Americas grad Otto Perez Molina. Perhaps we could even look at the story of the presidential race as allegorical. Why?

Violence against women in Guatemala has been out of control for decades, with nearly 700 murders being documented in 2010 alone. The AP is quoting activists as blaming the general devolution of society during the Civil War for the creation of a culture of violence, particularly against women. Not surprising for a society where the military trained soldiers by having them raise puppies then having the same soldier kill the puppies and drink the blood. I'm sure the people - particularly the women - of Guatemala have much to look forward to if Otto Perez Moliona and his "Mano Dura, Cabeza y Corazon" coalition takes office.

And finally, the archbishop of Guatemala, Oscar Julian Vian Morales, was interviewed by PBS this week and was questioned about reproduction and violence. On reproduction, the archbishop mostly toed the party line, though he was vague enough with his statements regarding contraception as a way to save human life that a poor Catholic might interpret child-bearing and starving to death in such a way that they might find consolation from el padre. In terms of the violence against women, the Archbishop refused to take a hard line on that issue as well, stating that women and men can attend classes to learn to "give her the place she really deserves." I know what he means to say, but it really does sound like putting women in their place, no?

All in all, Guatemala seems like the place destined to make Ciudad Juarez look attractive this season. Poor Guatemala, so far from God, so close to ... Guatemala.

*The snark implied by the photo is, yes, intended.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Grandin, Gabriel, and the Recycled Hate

Greg Grandin's book, Empire's Workshop, should be assigned reading for any member of U.S. society that has decided that there is a grand threat to American security by every member of Islamic society (or the Chinese army in Mexico). Over the course of 251 riveting pages, Grandin lays out the connection between the United States and Latin America, and how the U.S. has relied on Lat Am as a place to build and test its overseas empire. He starts with a focus on the Good Neighbor Policy, then shifts into the Cold War - mostly the Reagan years - and looks at how different groups have used issues in Latin America to build their coalitions back in the United States. Most compelling is his argument that the same folks that built Reagan's team on Latin America in the 80s - the folks that brought you Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua - are the same people that are today bringing you Iraq, Afghanistan, and the "war" on terrorism. Case in point... .

Brigitte Gabriel, an immigrant to the US from Lebanon and a Maronite Christian (or former Maronite - I'm unclear on that point) is currently touring the US to packed crowds shilling her book and telling Americans that Islam has permeated every level of American society, including the FBI, the CIA, and American education. Sound like HUAC in the 50s or Reagan in the 80s? She cut her teeth as a reporter for Pat Robertson's CBN - the same folks funding and participating in the Contra war crimes ACT! For America (exclamation point required). The NYT reports that ACT! has 500 chapters around the country (150,000 members), going after school curricula that might mention anything positive regarding Islam. One member even taught a class on Islam at an Oregon community college before students got him shut down.

There is a movement in the conspiracy right wing that "leftist" governments create disasters in order to more greatly control society. Looking at first the hysteria in the 80s over communists in Latin America, the 90s over Clinton's penis, and now in 21st century and Islam, I wonder if there isn't a grain of truth in that from the point of view of our Straussian friends in the right - who, true to form of their muse - see that "there is only one natural right - the right of the superior to rule over the inferior." Such a goal is only possible if populist boogeymen like the fear of Sharia law in Oklahoma (???) or Muslims taking over South Dakota keep the eyes of the working class off the real problems in American society. I once explained Gramscian hegemony to a class of graduate students, and one of them perked his ears up and said "Oh, so Gramsci explains why all the trailer houses and shacks in East Texas have Republican signs on the lawn." Something like that, only I might go so far as to say that in this game even the Republican party is the victim of a discourse of Straussian duplicity.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Next Huerta? Hollywood on the Brazos

I've heard multiple times over the years that the Chicano / Latino civil rights movement needs an energizing central figure to bring cohesion and coherence to such a large and diverse group with equally fissiporous issues. Who could be that uniting force? Who will step up as the Hispanic Reagan (um ... the ability to unite different groups, not the imperialism part), bringing together Miami's Dominicans and Californias Chicanos - Austin Tejanos and Bernallio españoles? Well, a Hollywood soap opera star, of course. Eva Longoria no-longer-Parker recently (March 2) made a splash in Texas by joining in a rally to protest budget cuts to the elderly and handicapped that will total nearly $1 billion dollars.

Parker drew attention to herself just over a year ago by enrolling in Cal State Northridge's Chicano Studies MA program, and in 2006 by supporting protests against deportations and Bush "reforms" on border and immigration issues. A native Tejana (from a Tejano family with deep roots in Mexican and Spanish Texas) with connections to the Hollywood elite, it is doubtful she possesses the sort of radical stomach for change that a Bert Corona or Dolores Huerta brought to the table, and if she does one wonders if she would be willing to trade main-stream acceptance for Martin Sheen-esque marginality due to activism. Nevertheless, pert, pretty, and appropriately mestiza, she might at least draw some attention from her Anglo fan base that still thinks the ALMA Awards are somehow a diverse celebration of all Latinos. But really, check the photo below... is she just giving a finger-wave to somebody at Cannes, or is there a solidarity power salute in there somewhere?

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Salvador Abascal: Prophet or Crank?

In the late 30s and the early 1940s (until Dec. of 1941), the most powerful man in Mexico outside of the ruling party was Salvador Abascal. Called a caudillo by some, he rose to become the leader of the Union Nacional Sinarquista - UNS. The group operated as an anti-political, quasi-fascist organization based on Catholicism and corporatism and the idea that the Mexican Revolution had impoverished Mexico worse than Porfirio Diaz. As he grew the ranks of the UNS to well over 500,000 members (I've seen the figure of 600,000), he inspired fear in the heart of Rome's priests (Abascal believed Catholic practice was a local matter), other members of the UNS (who feared his influence), and the loathing of Manuel Avila Camacho and Miguel Aleman who feared he posed a real non-violent threat to the Revolutionary Family's control of the peasantry and the Catholic middle class.

As expected, Abascal was no fan of non-Catholic religion, and he often argued that the introduction of Protestantism into Mexico would lead to the division of society and a collapse of family and community unity. Of course this has been one of the talking points of the Madre Iglesia for centuries, and such a statement from a medieval mind like Abascal is no shock. However, while looking at many of the headlines in Latin America over the last week, one has to begin to give Abascal more "props" than as a simple conservative Catholic crank.

Headlines out of Argentina discuss a murder in Santa Rosa where a man murdered his daughter over a religious dispute. Brazil is abuzz with the increasing influence of the Pentecostal community in going after the minimal protections there for gay society. In Chile the Concilio Nacional de Iglesias Evangelicas has ranked higher than the Catholic church in discriminatory behavior and the rejection of human rights. A glance at the United States will even see evangelical and pentecostal groups cheering on the idea of leaving the Union so that they can impose their own theocratic moralities. While Abascal would be right there with the Pentecostals in degrading the human rights of homosexuals or religious movements that disagree with him, I think he has hit on an important idea that Protestantism tends toward the division of civil society.

I have a grad student who is a vocal, vocal, vocal Baptist (as in witness to people during class Baptist) that once made a joke on Matthew 18:20 (where two or three are gathered in my name) saying "Where two are three are gathered in my name, there also are two or three potential Pentecostal churches."

While I certainly agree that people can - at at times should - stand by their ideas of absolute truth, I find it entirely unreasonable to demand that others adhere to those norms. If they would like to believe that everybody is bound for Hell then so be it, but if they insist on the dissolution of civil society, the disintegration of the community, and the movement away from national entities that have the potential to protect the rights of all, I think we have moved beyond religious dispute into entirely dangerous areas of national and civil security. As Tariq Ali so eloquently calls it (in a book that is not so good otherwise), we have something of a "Clash of Fundamentalisms" on our hands.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Vodka and Visions: Zoning Hispanic Pentecostals

Tooele, Utah, (pronounced too-WILL-uh) has a problem. And, yes, I do mean beyond being the site of the US Military chemical weapon storage and disposal facility. Tooele can't seem to get their Hispanic store-front churches and their alcohol-licensed establishments worked out. What?

Hispanic pentecostal churches in Latin America and the United States tend to use homes and small rental properties, usually in crumbling down town areas, as places of worship. From the Azusa Street Revival of the early 1900s to modern-day East L.A. and the San Gabriel Valley, pentecostal and evangelical churches rely on cheap rents in high working-class Hispanic zones for sacred space. Being affordable is an issue, but so, too, is the convenience of being near a population that may not have access to private vehicles for traveling to Sunday and mid-week services. Pick a decaying down town area and watch the pattern: first come the lawyer's offices, then the pawn shops and check loan offices, and finally, the churches.

In Utah, this is a problem because apparently you cannot sell alcohol within so-many feet of a religious establishment. However, because of the 2000 Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act you cannot ban a religious institution from land use. Thus, as Toole is trying to revitalize a crumbling down town with restaurants, it is running up against a wall of pentecostal Hispanic churches that have occupied the so-called "prime" real estate of the area.

I think this raises an interesting side issue of the religious right in the United States. While crying for the absolute freedom of business to do what it wants, there is a simultaneous cry for the absolute freedom of religious practice (well, WASP practice), and I think this issue points out one of the problems of the "big tent" the Republicans are trying to create. How can you protect the explosive growth of Hispanic evangelicals and Pentecostals in the US - natural moral allies of the religious right - while at the same time promoting immoral (by their own definition of practice) business. This is like trying to have Liberation Theology curates and the United Fruit Company in the same party.

Thanks, Tooele, for an interesting thought point of the day.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Having a Ball in Latin America

Latin America isn't just the place for Canadian Mennonites, US Mormons, beat poets, and billionaire embezzlers to seek refuge. In the 1920s to the 1940s it was also a place of refuge for many members of the old Negro Leagues.

The passing of Cecil Kaiser on Monday (Feb. 14) reminds readers of his obituary that not only did the Negro Leagues cover the United States and Canada, but many of the players also participated in baseball in Latin America. Says historian Bob Kendrick "Players would go (to Latin America) after the season in the States and be treated like heroes. They would stay in the finest hotels, eat in the finest restaurants and then come back to the States and be treated as second-class citizens." As the Library of Congress points out: "In Cuba, Mexico, and other parts of Latin America, professional baseball was not segregated. Many blacks played baseball there in the winter as well as in Negro Leagues in the United States in the summer."

Matt Restall's recent book, Black Mexico, contains an intriguing chapter by Alva Moore Stevenson on her African American / Mexican family - formed when her grandfather Daniel went to Mexico to work on railroads and married a woman that worked for Villa. They then settled on the border and joined many of the families that were bi-racial (consider El Paso, Texas, and the number of African American soldiers married to Mexican American or Mexican women).

The connection between African Americans and Latin America has barely been explored for the modern era. There is a large and academic focus on African immigrants (slaves and descendants of slaves) in the colonial era, but the studies and their quality seem to trickle off as we move out of Brazil and the Caribbean in the modern era.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The OTHER Missionaries

US Evangelicals travel to Mexico to distribute food, sing songs, and build houses. That's why many Mexicans come to the US, as well.

That aside, I might point out that some Mexicans find the United States the target of their own missionary work. The Iglesia Luz Del Mundo has sent missionaries to the United States since at least the 1950s. Similarly, Mexican missionaries have been coming to the US from the LDS (Mormon) church for decades as well, and not just the gringos refritos of Colonia Juarez in Chihauhua, but "Mexicanos de Raza y Sangre," as well.

It isn't just Mexicans who come to convert the heathen Americans. Members of Daniel Comboni's institute of missionaries have been arriving in the US since 1939 to "consolidate" and "convert" the Catholic gospel message, and Evangelical Venezuelan singer / preacher Rafael Saracual felt called to come to the US to preach, teach and convert. And they are certainly not alone.

Aside from leading conservative brain (snark intended) Chuck Norris' comments about President Obama as a Muslim Missionary, I'm not sure most Norteamericanos consider the United States and themselves as a destination for conversion. But if I was a dedicated Mexican Evangelical, sitting in Mexico surrounded by family and civility, and I looked at a country where going to the mall or school could get you shot, where most children are exposed to pornography before literature, and where bigotry and hate are considered "free speech" I might be moved to pack up and come to the US to convert the heathens.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

US Evangelicals - Doin' It Franciscan Style

US evangelicals may be in something of a pickle as they look for spring break ministry options this year. Evangelicals have turned to Mexico for decades for "short time" ministries where couples, school groups, or friends get together, build houses out of garage doors in T.J., pass out Wonder Bread and cheese sandwiches, teach Bible school, and return to the states the following week. The crisis? The death of evangelical Nancy Davis near Reynosa has some groups cancelling their trips. In fact, just before the shooting, the Dallas Morning News religion blog began a discussion of how to make things better in Mexico - without actually going to Mexico. Changing US policy and gun laws as well as reducing demand for drugs in the US topped the responses of many theologians. Americans, listen to your pastors.

I see that an Oklahoma Church is going to Mexico to "spread the word" to Catholics via ... Passion Plays. It seems Mexicans may not be familiar with acting out the gospels, so teenagers from Tulsa are going to help them out with that. Did some pastor get his hands on Sahagun's field guide to converting Mexicans?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Cock-A-Doodle Karma

Mess with the rooster and you get the spurs. That's what Jose Luis Ochoa found out this week as he was murdered by a fighting cock. Yes, I know.
Ochoa and the other spectators fled when authorities arrived at the scene of the fight, Sgt. Martin King told the Bakersfield Californian. Deputies found five dead roosters and other evidence of cockfighting at the location, he said.

An autopsy concluded Ochoa died of an accidental "sharp force injury" to his right calf.

"I have never seen this type of incident," King, a 24-year veteran of the sheriff's department, told the newspaper.

Sheriff's spokesman Ray Pruitt said it was unclear if a delay in seeking medical attention contributed to Ochoa's death. More here.
So, if you plan on being in Feria San Marcos in Aguascalientes this spring and on catching one of the cockfights (or in the trailer park behind the grocery story beside my "house"), stay, um, sharp.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Rivera Sells Rivieras

Well, I guess Diego Rivera is selling Chrysler 200s. About 35 seconds in, notice his mural at the Art Institute in Detroit. Mexico's most famous "soft" communist is now selling luxury cars.

I guess this is exactly what Gramsci was talking about, no?

Top Smear: Part Deux

The Mexico Section of the Latin American Studies Association has lodged the following protests against the BBC for their portrayal of Mexico in the press.
Statement by the Mexico Section
of the Latin American Studies Association
The Mexico Section of the international Latin American Studies Association condemns in the strongest possible terms the derogatory and racist remarks made about the people of Mexico by television presenters Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May in the 30 January 2011 ‘Top Gear’ programme segment ostensibly dedicated to an assessment of the Mastretta MXT sports car. Denigrating an entire people by assigning them presumed innate characteristics from a position of asserted superiority is conduct unbecoming any responsible media outlet, and it is entirely unacceptable for a public service broadcaster.

We call upon the BBC to acknowledge unambiguously its error in this matter and to issue a full, unreserved and public apology. Furthermore, we urge the BBC to reflect on the wisdom and effectiveness of basing humour on tired and false stereotypes of ‘national character,’ and to strengthen its programme guidelines so as to preclude any recurrence of distasteful episodes of this kind.

This statement was approved by a majority vote of the Mexico Section’s executive council. This is not an official policy statement of the Latin American Studies Association, which neither endorses nor rejects the views expressed.

Professor Sandra Kuntz-Ficker Professor, El Colegio de México

Kevin J. Middlebrook University of London
To be fair, the debate in the section seemed to split the group, many of whom made the valid point that with all the problems facing Mexico in the present day, a little racist language from racist little pasty Englishmen would make no difference. Some make the point that the attack on Mexico hurts the nations "brand" (my words) and does irreparable damage to the nation when it needs service dollar $$$ the most.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Top Smear

Top Gear, voted the most popular "factual" show in the UK, is feeling the heat from the ambassador of Mexico. Reports the BBC:
Reviewing the Mastretta on Sunday's show, Hammond said: "Mexican cars are just going to be lazy, feckless, flatulent, overweight, leaning against a fence asleep looking at a cactus with a blanket with a hole in the middle on as a coat."

The presenters, known for their edgy jibes, then described Mexican food as "refried sick".

Clarkson said he was confident he would not receive any complaints about their comments because the Mexican ambassador would be asleep.
Since when do the English, of all people, get to complain about physical inadequacy, odd clothing, and bad food? Replies the Ambassador to the UK, Eduardo Medina Mora:
"The presenters of the programme resorted to outrageous, vulgar and inexcusable insults to stir bigoted feelings against the Mexican people, their culture, as well as their official representative in the United Kingdom," he wrote.

"These offensive, xenophobic and humiliating remarks only serve to reinforce negative stereotypes and perpetuate prejudice against Mexico and its people."

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Hey, Dummy

I'm currently following the FaceBook comments of a colleague and friend who is a specialist in Egypt and who has family in Egypt as well. She has been able to synthesize all the information out there as well as add some insider information from her own knowledge as well as that of her husband who is an Egyptian human rights lawyer and film maker. It has been very informative. But here's the rub... .

Recently, this link was offered: A Guide on How Not to Say Stupid Stuff About Egypt.

Both informative as well as extremely offensive, the post lays out some truly important items about Egypt. Unfortunately, the title really says it all: unless you know what specialists in Egypt know, you are stupid. This has me thinking about the blogosphere - my own and certainly many of the ones that I follow - and the tone that people take when reporting on the misconceptions of Latin America in general. How often to blogs on Latin America manage to do what the author of Stupid Stuff About Egypt does and simultaneously rebuke Americans for not knowing all there is to know about the situation as well as showing interest and trying to learn more about the situation.

For example, I am concerned about the results of the popular uprising because (from a Latin American historical perspective) we have seen dozens of popular movements end in pseudo-democracy and/or military rule while under the gaze of the Washington Consensus. What will come next? I am also excited to see Al Jazeera grab a wider following. They have always managed to have a fairly interesting perspective on Latin America, and I would hope that this would introduce them to American markets in a more aggressive manner. Why should those less familiar with Al Jazeera get rebuked for saying they are excited to see it get more play in the US (according to the blogger, commenting on the success of AJ in covering the protests is stupid). Come on, what is that blogger going to ask me about Hugo Chavez or violence in Mexico?

Do bloggers on Latin America cross this line as well? Do we enter into the land of preachy, pedantic, priggish little shrews that decry ignorance while rebuking the kinds of beginner questions that open the door for us to teach the "truth" about our region? Maybe this is a good, long look in the mirror that we can get from lifting our heads up from out of our little niches (as Prof. McNeill warned us all to do) and understanding that we all need a broader knowledge about the world, and that we have more of a duty to cut back on the elitist, preachy, smug language that drives people from the classrooms - all it does is reveal who the real dunce is.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt and Latin America

The end of the Washington consensus in Latin America has created a decade of progress (warts and all), and the world is holding its breath as Egyptians challenge another segment of U.S. domination. Regarding Egypt in Latin America:

- Venezuelans of Egyptian descent temporarily occupied the Egyptian embassy. There were no injuries, and President Chavez moved quickly to preserve the diplomatic integrity of the embassy.
- The official gov't line has been to remain silent on the issue, encouraging "peace" but Chavez remains silent on the protests for democracy.

- Kristina Kirchner recently toured the Middle East, and it appears there are still some Argentine journalists still in Cairo. One says that Cairo feels like Buenos Aires in 2001.

- Irony is the dish of the day for Cuba. January 27 saw Cuba's ambassador to Egypt in Liberty Park (???) in Cairo to celebrate the calls for independence and freedom of Jose Marti. Otherwise, everybody in Cuba seems to be looking at El Paso, TX these days.

- While everybody is probably looking at Sundays elections in Guererro, there are a few Mexicans in Cairo that would find even that state a welcome retreat, according to El Universal.


I've been a bit perplexed at the lack of solidarity being expressed with Egypt in Latin America. The United States and Canada are alight with protests, but the corner of the world that can most easily empathize with long lasting US supported dictatorships presiding over democracies in name only, there seems to be minimal support.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

A Question of Security: Great Resources

Hardly a day goes by when I don't hear either the phrase "pick up a history book" or "I can just go read a history book to know you are wrong." I hear it on the radio and television, I read it in the news and on the internet, I hear it at the local farmer's market from the Piney Woods hippies and the aging Klansmen. And then I check out a copy of the Washington Post this morning:
Glacial Melt in Peru Becomes More Than a Climate Issue

HUARAZ, Peru - Glacier melt hasn't caused a national crisis in Peru, yet. But high in the Andes, rising temperatures and changes in water supply over the last 40 years have decimated crops, killed fish stocks and forced villages to question how they will survive for another generation.
The story goes on to interview the head of the CIA who sees the situation in Peru as a critical moment in (drum roll) US national security. And he should. Millions of displaced people in a region just now getting back on its feet would be a disaster for the hemisphere.

If Peru and its allies don't fund and create projects to conserve water, improve decrepit water infrastructure and regulate runoff from glaciers within five years, the disappearance of Andean glaciers could lead to social and economic disaster, said Alberto Hart, climate change adviser at Peru's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

"This will become a problem for the United States," he said. "When you have a dysfunctional country, you have a problem for the entire region."

The reporting on this glacial melt is a part of what is called the National Security Journalism initiative. I would highly suggest a look at their site, as well as an interesting interactive chart on security and climate change. I also found their documents page interesting, with climate security information from the CIA to the Navy, from the World Bank to university scientists.

I guess if we want to know what happens when regions create massive displacement, all we have to do is pick up a history book.