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.

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.