Get Out – The mad late review.

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Before we all die I just want to say…

I saw Get Out the weekend it came out. I posted my review on Facebook and I figured I should put my reaction to this movie on here with a few additional remarks. I think it’s amazing that this movie is doing so well at the box office and while it’s not a perfect movie (very few movies are), it perfectly illustrates a feeling that many people of color have when navigating white spaces.

Light spoilers ahead.

Racism is scary. Bottom line, I learned early in my career I needed to be careful of who I can trust. I remember being at work receptions at Syracuse University where it was me and a few brown folk and we would look relieved to see each other.

Sure it wasn’t a look of… “did they get you yet?” but more of, “you still here?”

There’s a certain familiarity I took from this movie, particularly the way Chris was able to call his friend which allowed him code switch from one reality to another. This allowed him to stay true to himself and it quite possibly saved his life. Which leads me to think about my friends or lack there of. I may need to friend someone who works for TSA. That’s not awkward right? To ask a someone to hang out after they patted you down at the airport? lol

When someone asked me why I felt the need to become a Latino representative at SU,  it was because I didn’t want to lose myself. I didn’t want to fall down that rabbit hole (see what I did there?) of not remembering where I came from. As a young person of color working at PWI, there were so many things going on that it was hard to maintain myself worth and my self identity. Sure, I had self esteem issues, but who doesn’t? The point is that my identity became real important really quickly and that is what lead me to connect with so many students.

I often relate these experience to my time in Syracuse because New York City is different. The racism is still there but it gets hidden in the lights. To be honest, most of us are so busy just trying to pay rent that searching out passive racism is not the top of our lists. However, NYPD choking out a black man on the street for selling loose cigarettes will remind us the type of world we live in.

Syracuse snuggly fits right into Central New York and if you ever take a trip there you wouldn’t notice much is out of place. But, travel to near by Cooperstown (as I did last year) by way of the small roads you will see that America Trump is talking to. Yet, Get Out represents the progressive, almost color-blind, liberals who say they want to create change but want to be in the front of that line when change happens. They are the ones ordering $6 coffees and $8 chopped cheese sandwiches.

This isn’t just a movie about how scary passive racism is, this is about losing our identity to American assimilation of black and brown bodies and gentrification of our cultures and spirits.

Trust me I feel more comfortable in the South Bronx than I do in Skaneateles, NY.

So when someone asks if I will ever move back there…

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The Punchline

BLMI laugh. Everyday I laugh because someone or something inevitably happens that proves various points that I’ve been making. This doesn’t make me smarter this just means I’m observant. The thing is… I laugh because I see where we are in this world and it’s a joke to even think for a minute that people will be able to accept difference in other people.

When Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek there was this thought that at some point in the near future “mankind” would put aside it’s petty differences and we would view each other as equals thus spawning an age of peace where we would embark on exploring the galaxy. How funny is that? His vision may not have been wrong in the sense that of our evolution as a people may be based on us accepting diversity.

That is the punchline. That is our ultimate fate and the reality is that the world around us is crumbling and no one really cares because it’s not making them money. It’s not cost effective to accept diversity, or to lower our carbon emissions, or pay women equal wages, or to save the bees, or consider transgender rights, or to simply have affordable healthcare. It’s certainly not cost effective to hold our police officers accountable. Which means the world as we know it will probably end and not by some meteor that killed off the dinosaurs. Our world is ending because people simply forgot what it is to be human.

I laugh when people on my Facebook wall want to talk about how I point fingers or I incite people with posts about racism. I fucking crack up when people think that we’re delusional (meanwhile they eat, sleep, and drink Fox News) because we must believe everything we see and we must follow Al Sharpton. Then it hit me, people are terrified. CNN was amazed at how the protestors in NYC last week were so peaceful and moved with such purpose. They searched for a leader. Take me to your leader. Why are they searching? Because there is this thought in the back of people’s minds that we must have a leader because thousands of people can’t possible do any of this on their own. I laugh.

Having a leader means that people can focus on a person to blame or perhaps someone to take down in the media. Many people think Al Sharpton is a joke and are happy to rip him as the leader of everything thing black, but guess what? People of color are smarter now than ever. Some of us are highly educated with various opinions. Let’s not forget that African Americans got the right to vote in 1965. August 6th 2015 with mark 50 years. FIFTY YEARS. That is not that long ago. We may have needed a leader then but we don’t need one now because we are all leaders and that is some scary shit to the majority.

I laugh at people who suggest that we have progressed and moved on, that people are using the race card for selfish reasons. That makes zero sense because I’m quite sure that all of us would rather be doing something else instead of reminding the world that Black Lives Matter.

So have we truly progressed? Technologically we have done things that we’ve only seen in movies as kids and it’s amazing. Modern medicine has kept us alive longer than ever. We have a space station… A SPACE STATION. That shit is awesome, but you know what?

It all means nothing. Why?

World Hunger. MONEY. Racism. MONEY. Cancer. MONEY. HIV/Aids. MONEY. Sexism. MONEY. Patriarchy. MONEY. White Privilege. MONEY. Climate Change. MONEY. Gender Bias. MONEY. Pesticides. MONEY. I laugh because I hear the walk in music of Ted DiBiase.

Roddenberry might just be a genius. We cannot evolve until we solve our issues and actually BE human.

Protect & Serve? I Have Some Answers.

10599415_10101795369337306_5780719047339870187_nI wrote an article for the Huffington Post asking some questions about Police Brutality in this country. After looking at the events in Ferguson last night. I might have some answers to my own questions.

Are we at war? Yes we are. It is very apparent that the lives of Black people are not valued. We have become targets, actually we always were.

Although the real question is what kind of war is it? Are we talking about the war on guns? Are we talking about the war on crime? Or are we talking about the war on drugs? None of the above. We are talking about a war on Black people. A war on the oppressed. There has been a lot of rhetoric over the past year about people wanting to take back their country. There is no other way to express this and don’t think for a second that because we have a Black President that it changes the status quo in the country. The Civil Rights causes in the 1950/60s never went away.

Did we somehow get transported to District 11? Are we now giving up our youth as tribute so that the rest of the country can feel safe? I was being sarcastic when I asked this but it certainly does not seem far from the truth. I’m tired of seeing lists of all the black people that die unnecessarily in the country. I’m tired of seeing police (or people who think they are above the law) get away with atrocities. I’m tired of our people getting criminalized.

Is it normal for law enforcement in Los Angeles to beat a Black woman on the side of the road? The definition of normal is conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected. The sad thing is that none of what we are seeing is all that surprising. It is shocking but almost expected because we are used it.

Are we being dehumanized? Absolutely. It’s like an older version of cops and robbers where you don’t really care about the criminal. As long as we’re viewed as animals then we will subjected to this kind of brutal and unrelenting behavior from police officers who are heavily militarized. There is no way this happens in the streets of Apple Valley or The Hamptons. We are seen as less human which makes us easier to kill.

The motto of many police departments across the United States is “Serve and Protect” right? Who is being served and who is being protected? Someone commented on my article saying: Police are not here to protect you. There is no legal obligation for the police to protect you. Isn’t that the damn truth. I knew this already because we will never see these scenes in suburbia. A man can shoot up a theater in Colorado and be given the chance to live his life in jail where he gets three meals a day and be deemed as having mental issues. I can tell you right now, the police are not here to serve or protect us, or as another commenter would put it: Protect the 1% and their possessions and keep the 99% in line, very simple.

Mike Brown. John Crawford. Eric Garner. Marlene Pinnock. Ezell Ford. Dante Parker. Rosan Miller. Denise Stewart.

Pink is Oppressive

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Yeah, I know. This isn’t pink, but I will get to that.

I recently spent some time in Disney. While I’m not one to fall for the theme of the Magic Kingdom, which is dreams do come true, I did have a great time. The numerous amounts of things to do kept me busy pretty much all day. Rides, shopping, food, parades, and fireworks pretty much defined my days. However, the woman and I were not going to fall for the subliminal messages of it all.

Pink is oppressive became a battle cry of sorts that the woman made sure she said whenever there were too many images on what Disney thought little girls should aspire to be. I started to really think about all the images that have been fed to us. I always try to make a point of recognizing an absence.

Let’s not get into the fact that Walt Disney World is a business and the sole purpose of that business it get as much money as possible from its costumers. If you go to any of their theme parks understanding this, you should have a pretty good time. I need to preface all of this by saying (again) that we had a great time at Disney. We had a game plan and a budget that we followed (not to mention we walked the length of the park about three times which makes for a great workout).

20140506-151357.jpgWith all that being said, I did have a problem with much of the imagery when it comes to women. Granted, we are not talking about Game of Thrones here but we are taking about a belief that dreams can come true but first don a princess dress and wait for your Prince (Joffery) to arrive. I thought about that when it came time for me to buy something for my god-daughter. Do I really want her to be a princess that wears pink? No, I would rather she be a warrior, a Wonder Woman. Actually, I would rather she be Michonne, but more importantly, I would want her to be able to make that choice without the subliminals.

It was my woman who really pointed out a set of dolls that were all Disney princess and the one that looked the saddest was Pocahontas. It was almost as I if she was saying to the world that she didn’t belong in such a place with her lack of crown and her brown skin. Which now brings me to my next point and biggest gripe.

Downtown Disney is an amazing area that has a plethora of places to eat and shop. Admission is free so if its a pretty nice place to get your Disney on without having to pay $100 a ticket. So within this sea of capitalism is a place that sort of put a light in my eyes, The Lego Store. Legos are one of those things that take me back to my youth. While I was not a talented builder, they were a staple of my childhood. So, as an adult, I’ve had to fight the urge to buy The Sith Interceptor or the Millennium Falcon because while it would look really cool, where the hell would I put it, much less have time to build it?

20140506-151128.jpgAnyway, so we go into this grand store and there are Legos everywhere. Box sets of just about everything from Avengers to Lord of the Rings on the shelves. There are massive Lego statues of Buzz Lightyear with Woody and The Hulk. Of course, the place is swarming with kids. Just when I was getting the point that I was thinking how much I would bring my non-existent children to this place, I see this kiosk where you can build your own little Lego person. The nerd in me is thinking this is greatest thing ever (next to building your own droid). There is only one problem, all the Lego people are white.

Each little cubby hole in this kiosk is filled with parts: heads (with different facial expressions), toros, legs or dresses, hats or helmets, weapons, etc. So if you want to build a firefighter, police officer, or a combination of the two you have the tools. There were gender specific parts so you can match them up and switch things around but yet I am pulling way because I know I cannot build my “replica”. In my mind, it wont be me. Of course the little kids around me don’t care. The black kid next to me is having fun and so are the Latino kids on the other side of the kiosk and I suppose in many ways people will say that it’s not big deal.

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This is our Lego replicas. Something is off…

Well, that’s wrong. It is a HUGE deal. First, I don’t want to hear the argument that Lego “skins” are generic and represent everyone because they don’t. If they did then Nick Fury from the Avengers would not be brown. Is it that hard to add brown faces to the kiosk? Disney gets visitors from around the world, is it that difficult to be diverse? Of course not but there is a sense that I got much like the “pink is oppressive” feeling my girlfriend had. I really thought about buying a Star Wars box with Mace Windu so I can have the brown parts I want. The thing is, too many companies are trying to sell a homogenized product which is much more disturbing than just being color blind. You almost get this assimilation is futile feeling these days because despite everything that happens there is only one color that matters and that is green.

Money is the only thing that matters and it’s the only thing that separates us once you get past the oppression of racism because beyond that is an invisible wall of classism with a strong undercurrent of patriarchy…and THAT is what Disney maybe be truly about.

Clipping Oblivious Racism

ows_139865886478565One thing you should know about me is that I like to point out some things when it comes to race and discrimination. I often like to talk about how there is this belief that racism doesn’t really exist and the varying degrees in which people view race and oppression. The last few days we’ve been witnesses to the shit show that is The L.A. Clippers ownership. No one is surprised by this which is, in itself, a horrible thing to admit. Yet, The Clippers’ players did what so many of us who have worked for someone who is racist wished, they protested.

Here is the issue that I have with all this (besides the obvious), the anti-racists and all the other people that think racism is a thing of the past have someone to point to. Everyone is always ready to talk about the obvious racism instead of the oblivious racism. Donald Sterling has become the villain that we all can rally against and have discussions about, which is good but this is the chance to really talk about the racist people (and the policies) we don’t see at the work place.

Interestingly enough this comes at a time when the Supreme Court has ruled that Affirmative Action is now in the hands of the states. People like Justice Roberts think that people can just stop being racist. Perhaps there is an on and off switch that I’m not aware of but if this incident with Donald Sterling has taught us anything, institutional racism starts at the top. I’m sure that are many of business executives in high levels of business that feel the same way and even if there are many that do not share these sentiments, I betting that very few would fight against this thought process.

x1zxepjjeto5hjc2fvetSo I applaud The Clippers for their protest and the NBA players in general for showing a sense of unity. My fear is that this will be pushed under the rug eventually. This may all blow over because not enough of the right people are saying anything. Where are the other owners? They can express their “discontent” privately but we need to hear them publicly. Their silence only proves my point and I’m not talking about the silence about the latest  racist remarks via TMZ either. There has been an ongoing issue with Donald Sterling and the way he has treated black employees and tenants of his buildings. No one has said a thing and in fact, the NAACP has given him awards (Best Plantation Owner).

The old boy network protects their own. He may get admonished and take a public relations beating but guess what? If he does sells the team, it will be for BILLIONS of dollars and he will still win in terms of monetary equity. So while we may point to this man as the enemy and deem him to be the worst of all racists today, it’s really just a blip on his radar. This is why institutional racism is so much more dangerous than the obvious forms because men like him in the long run lose nothing.

I wish I had an easy answer but racism in all its forms is indeed a complicated issue. Now is the time to figure out what side you’re on because people are taking notes. One thing is for sure, there is no place for racism is this society, but are are we willing to fight it in every form or only when it rears it head via a celebrity?

The Unlikey Muse: Bigotry in Comic Books

1912229_10202493266268143_1977853857_n“If there’s a book that you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet,
then you must write it.” ―Toni Morrison

The one thing that I’m personally learning this month is that there are a plethora of people who feel the need to create work because there is absence of something or because there is a void that needs to be filled. With that being said, here is today’s guest blogger, Denny Upkins:

They say necessity is the mother of all invention and by extension, creativity. As a storyteller I’ve certainly found that to be true for the narratives I penned.

As a queer geek of color, I’ve learned early on that geek culture is for white people for a number of reasons, and to be a PoC or an LGBTQ means to be treated like a pariah.

More than that, countless marginalized characters are endlessly undercut and buried due to the rampant bigotry that pervades the media. Extraordinary characters such as Storm (the First Lady of Marvel), Renee Montoya, Regina Mills, Freedom Ring, Midnighter, Cassandra Cain and countless others who have been lightning rods for racism, misogyny, and/or homophobia by fandom and the industry alike.

But as any artist will tell you, inspiration can often come in the unlikeliest of forms.

My online better half and partner in crime, playwright Shawn Harris and I were having a discussion one day about how bigotry can often be the best muse. We’re often empowered to tell the tales that white supremacy, homophobia, and patriarchy refuses to acknowledge. For example, if the comic book world is hellbent on not giving the proper shine to Cassandra Cain and Midnighter, then I would simply have to pen an original adventure honoring the spirit of these heroes and hopefully in the process educate, entertain, and empower neglected and marginalized audiences.

Make no mistake, this is about power. It always has been. Not only is there power in the narrative but power in controlling the narrative. Why do you think so many whites work tirelessly to block us out of spec fiction or the media in general? Power. Case in point, there’s a reason why even though the m/m slash romance genre for and about queer males, it is dominated and run by cis-gendered white women. It’s difficult to be heterosexist, homophobic and fetishistic about queer males in a genre where we’re empowered to share our truths. This is why harassment, stalking and death threats of queer males is the norm with these sociopaths in that genre. See how it intersects?

Ask yourself this. Even though X-Men is based on the Civil Rights struggle of blacks (ie OUR STORY), how many black writers have actually written for Marvel’s flagship title? For that matter, how many writers of color? Again, power.

And while their bigotry has paid off for a season, it will ultimately prove to be media’s undoing. Insiders can’t understand why Hollywood continues to hemorrhage money while Kickstarters, web series and other online media initiatives continue to gain ground. To quote Jack Harkness, it’s the 21st century, everything changes. The internet allows us to exchange ideas, information, and other resources to circumvent a crumbling and corrupt image(1)industry. We get to share our stories our way and connect with our audiences on our terms. In other words, we take our power back and excel in the face of adversity as people of color tend to do.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another epic adventure to write.

And they say there’s no new tale to tell.

Again…Race is Everything.

I just needed to take some time out to point something out to people that think or believe that racism is over or doesn’t exist. I wanted to take my personal time away from work and doing the book thing to send a message to those who think white privilege is something that was made up by a bunch of Black/Latino people who complain too much. I wanted to take this time to explain to all the the knuckle heads of any color, race, sexual orientation, gender, and religion that everything is about race.

It’s simple. The moment we (or you) decided to internalize the imagery of Jesus being a white man despite the fact that the story of the bible takes place in the current day Middle East is when we (or you) began to think that anyone of a darker color was inferior. If God is white then how are we in his image right? Let me put it in modern terms for those who are not in the religion thing. When we (or you) decided to internalize the standard of beauty to a unhealthy looking, less than a hundred pound, frame of a (normally) white model that will never eat rice and beans (or wont keep it down). If that doesn’t work for you then think about the fact that we have Black president that constantly gets disrespected in ways his predecessors never have.

How about the lack of Black coaches in the NFL? How about the fact that it is ok the swoon over a show called Scandal? (Omg! what is wrong with that show?) Wait… let me make it simple. How about we (or you) think about how a college educated person of color can sound white (or be called articulate)? Or if we decided to go camping or go see the symphony that could be considered a white thing to do. Is that not good enough?

How about we (or you) think about how Blacks and Latinos are the face of the Welfare system when the majority of people who are on it are white? Let’s think about the stop and frisk policies that focus on people of color. Better yet, look up the statistical ratios of Black/Latino males in jail versus those in college? Do you really believe that we are predestined to be criminals?

I can go on and on about this and quite frankly the list will be too long. So do me a favor and read a book. If Fox News is where you get your information than you are already lost and they are retrofitting the Vader armor for you.

Let me take a moment to laugh because the people who need to read this will probably never care to read it. If they do stumble upon this, they will make more excuses and think that people like me are delusional which only proves my point. If you can seriously dismiss things that are said about race in general than you have bought into the system of oppression and white supremacy.

This is not hate speech. It is my speech and the speech of people like me who see the world for what it is. For now I will just leave you with this picture below to symbolize our (yes you too) oppression:

birdcageroundgfairy004aConsider a birdcage. If you look very closely at just one wire in the cage, you cannot see the other wires. If your conception of what is before you is determined by this myopic focus, you could look at that one wire, up and down the length of it, and be unable to see why a bird would not just fly around the wire any time it wanted to go somewhere. Furthermore, even if, one day at a time, you myopically inspected each wire, you still could not see why a bird would have trouble going past the wires to get anywhere. There is no physical property of any one wire, nothing that the closest scrutiny could discover, that will reveal how a bird could be inhibited or harmed by it except in the most accidental way. It is only when you step back, stop looking at the wires one by one, microscopically, and take a macroscopic view of the whole cage, that you can see why the bird does not go anywhere; and then you will see it in a moment. It will require no great subtlety of mental powers. It is perfectly obvious that the bird is surrounded by a network of systematically related barriers, none one of which would be the least hindrance to its flight, but which, by their relations to each other, are as confining as the solid walls of a dungeon. – Marilyn Frye “Oppression”

Halloween: The Death of Cultural Sensitivity

tumblr_mvf6t2i0UC1r0jlbgo3_500Consider this a follow up to Blackface is the New Black?

The Halloween shenanigans are not just about blackface. They are about the caricaturization of other cultures. The amount of blackface is appalling as it is because there is a stark realization that cultural sensitivity is just about dead. Along with that death comes a very real lack of understanding as to why certain things might be viewed as insensitive. I get the excuse that people don’t know and regardless of understanding that excuse, there is no tolerance for it. This is 2013–the age of information–which means you should know the history.

212909_v1The fact that I can read an article about offensive costumes and have people question why a guy dressed as a taco with a sombrero is considered offensive is insane to me. It brings home the point I’ve made time and time again that most people think that all Latinos are Mexican. Not only that, consider that the immigration debate and how Mexicans are viewed as “aliens” (something not human) in this country. Put it all together in your mind and realize that there’s a lack of respect for the culture.

I personally don’t understand it and maybe because Halloween was not all that fun for me as a kid. I was always at the mercy of what my parents got me for a costume. I would have the cheap, full-bodied, plastic onesie of what ever superhero and a plastic mask with slits for the mouth and eyes. I really had no choice as to what race of superhero I wanted to be because they were all white. Yeah, I could have been a Thundercat but I wanted Mumra but that was a just horrible looking costume. I would’ve loved to be Voltron but none of the stores in the Bronx sold these things. Anyway, the point is that Halloween was always a day to dress up like cartoon character or a hero and score some serious candy. Sure, people dressed as monsters and stuff but never did I see anyone come dressed as Michael Jackson with their face painted. More importantly, people would dress up as Mike for the fashion of the jacket with a thousand zippers and a glittery glove.

o-ZIMMERMAN-HALLOWEEN-COSTUME-570However, as I mentioned in the article above, maybe blackface and cultural insensitivity is something that has always happened and with the advent of the internet, we are just noticing it more and more.  I suppose there are people in this country that have never seen a person of color up close. So there is very much this “alien” view of us. I’m pretty sure there are photo albums of a some suburban family that contains pictures of them in some sort of blackface because they liked The Cosby Show, or The Jefferson’s. I’m also willing to bet some serious money there are old photos of people attempting to look like Speedy Gonzalez.

The questions are, where is the sense in any this? How do people think it is ok to paint their skin? It’s almost like there is some sort of desire to be Black or Latino. Here is the issue, (as Paul Mooney once said) everyone wants to be Black, but nobody wants to be Black. People of color have a rich culture that looks so good on the outside but try catching a cab, or being followed in department store. Try finding positive role models in the media, try walking down the street without having someone wanting to touch your hair. It seems all good until your child is shot for no other reason than being Black. Now imagine seeing pictures of idiots dressed as your dead son pop up all over the internet. Sounds fun right?

Halloween has become a dark day for many of us because people’s stupidity is out there for the world to see. This is a coming out party for the closeted racist and we all know it. I don’t feel bad for those people who have lost their jobs and who’s lives have been turned upside down because Black Twitter went in on them. This is 2013 and people are tired of having to teach others civility when none is shown to us.

Latino Heritage Month: A History of Citizenship & Education

la-times_february-19-1946_400x450This may be the first time in about 10 years that I am not directly involved with planning some type of Latino Heritage Month activity on a campus I am employed in. While that may sound like a tragedy in some way given my past involvement, It really isn’t. Perhaps because I reside in New York City, where there are literally millions of Latinos, maybe I don’t have that same sense of urgency as I did as Syracuse. I noticed that Barnard College and Columbia University already has established programming for students to take part and that is what makes me smile.

This is not say that the work is done and I am over it but I think that I need to have a different, more personal, approach to Latino Heritage Month. Many times we call for action without reflection. We get angry over things that occur and we tweet about it and post Facebook statuses but then everything sorta dies down after a few days. I do contemplate if that is because we never really take to reflect on what is really happening in the world. We become more reactionary to much of what happens.

Those reactions distracts us from doing what is going on. So I would like to offer a history lesson on how Latinos had to fight for the education we enjoy today. This is part of a graduate paper I wrote last year. Warning – this is lengthy but I do think it’s worth it:

With California and Texas becoming states in the mid-1800s, there was a need for the United States to determine what it was going to do with the Mexican and Native American populations that it acquired with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The Mexican population quickly became racialized by the standard of the United States, which meant that light skinned Mexicans were considered Caucasian and darker individuals (such as Native American and Afro-Mexicans) were considered Black.

This is important to recognize because this is where many Mexicans drew the line in the fight for equal opportunity. They felt that they did not fall within the racialized context of black and white. In general, most of the separation from the majority was cultural like many of the other immigrants that came before them. Immigrants from Europe that came to the U.S. earlier the century (Germans, Irish, and Italians) went through a similar plight of dealing with culture and language.  However, European Immigrants never had to fight that hard to become assimilated into the American culture and as a result lost many customs and cultural traditions that Latinos fight hard to maintain.

After the Spanish American War in 1898 resulted in the Treaty of Paris (in which Puerto Rico was acquired along with Guam and the Philippines), the United States maintained the attitude that the Latino population needed to become more Americanized by getting a better education and thus learning English. Mexicans in the west were struggling with equal rights in terms of land ownership, while Puerto Ricans and Cubans were dealing with Americanization in the north east. American politicians felt that Puerto Rico, in particular, would benefit from a better education as long as they learned English first. Cuba also fell within the protection of the United States before Fidel Castro assumed power.

The Mexican Revolutionary War from 1910 to 1920 forced many Mexicans to cross the border into the United States to escape the fighting and the bloodshed. This meant a cheaper workforce with the influx of people, but it also meant an educational challenge for school districts. Many districts in California created spaces in schools just to hold separate Mexican classes to address the needs of this new population. The focus was to Americanize Mexican children while teaching them vocational skills needed to make them a part of the workforce. Despite initial protest from parents, the Santa Ana Board of Education was the first to open a Mexican only school in 1919. The rationale being that this separate facility was in the best interest of the children.

In 1917, the Jones Act was passed that allowed Puerto Ricans to be American Citizens, which led to a large influx of Puerto Ricans into the United States. This declaration of citizenship came after years of political struggle over what exactly Puerto Rico was. While statehood was not granted, Puerto Ricans could still enjoy the status of being an American Citizen even though they are often not treated as such. Here is where many of the political issues for Puerto Ricans and Mexicans differ. Mexicans were fighting hard to cross the boarders to be naturalized to escape a war of revolution while Puerto Ricans slowly losing their ability to self-govern.

When thinking about segregation, cases like Brown v. Board of Education in Topeka Kansas in 1954 were critical. However, in 1946 Mendez v. Westminster in California is a landmark court case that changed the landscape for Latinos in Education and set the stage for the latter court case. The most import part of the fight for social inclusion is that most of the struggles for equality in school are mostly invisible. African Americans struggles for desegregation are well documented and well discussed in the history of the United States; however, Mexican Americans have been fighting the legality of segregation since the 1930s. History largely acknowledges the plight of African Americans making it difficult to really see and understand the roles that Latinos, particularly Mexicans played during the segregation era.

Cases like the Independent School District v. Salvatierra in Texas (1930) showed that segregation of Mexicans was indeed happening because of race. However, school districts could get away with this if the basis of the separation was based on lack of English language proficiency. The issue was that the Texas State constitution, which was ratified in 1876, stated that segregation of Whites and colored children was allowed. However, the term “colored” was only meant for “Negros.” Since Mexicans are not mentioned in the Constitution, the court ruled that Mexicans were considered white and thus segregation against them was illegal. The significance of this case was that the lawyers who defended Salvatierra were from the newly established League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC). This case provided them with crucial experience they would need in the upcoming years.

In 1931, the Alvarez v. Lemon Grove School District was held in court in California. This can be argued as being the first real victory against segregation. The Lemon Grove District sought to build a separate school for Mexicans due to overcrowding. The District never informed the parents of this, thus never gained support from the Mexican community. In turn the parents protested and refused to have their children attend this new school that was called La Caballeriza (the stable) by much of the community. These parents wanted to maintain their right to send their children to same schools that Whites sent their children to.

The judge ruled in favor of Alvarez on the basis that the separate school for Mexican children would not be conducive to their Americanization. It was believed that this new school would severely retard their comprehension of the English Language because they would have no one to speak proper English to. He also believed that allowing Spanish speaking children to learn English and mingle with other English speaking students would allow them the best way to be Americanized. In addition, it was also found that California law had no such provisions that allowed for the district to make such a decision.

For years, California was deeply rooted in the idea of segregation. As the Mexican population increased, so was the increased demand of Anglos to create a residential and educational segregation. In 1927 the California Attorney General pushed for Mexicans to be considered as Native Americans whereby placing them under the mandate of de jure segregation. The notion that Mexicans were “colored” and should not have the same equalities as White people seemed to go against the ruling cited in Lemon Grove Case. However, when California Legislature passed a law to segregate Mexicans because they were considered Native Americans, the 1935 School code did not specifically mention them by name:

The governing board of the School district shall have all power to establish separate schools for Indian [sic] children, excepting children who are the wards of the U.S. government and the children of all other Indians who are the descendants of the original American Indians of the U.S, and for the children of Chinese, Japanese, or Mongolian parentage.

Because Mexicans were not mentioned specially, as was the case with other races, school districts in California found it difficult to legally segregate them. Mexicans did not consider themselves Native American, which created a loophole within the legislation.

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A picture of the Zoot Suit Riots

Despite the inequities within the school system and the labor market, World War II was a time in which many Latinos went overseas. It was estimated that over 65,000 Puerto Ricans served in a segregated military. Due to their citizenship, Puerto Rican men were required to register and serve.  Most of them served from the 65th Infantry Regiment. World War II gave many Mexicans pride in their US citizenship. The general number of Mexican Americans that served is unknown because many were counted as White soldiers. However, despite their participation in the war, Mexicans were constantly being linked to issues of crime as much as African Americans were. The zoot suit riots in 1943, where American sailors would drive the streets of Los Angeles looking to strip Mexican youth of their clothing, marked a time of racial tension in California. The battle in the courtroom for equality became even more crucial as racial tensions were mounting outside the classroom.

In 1943, the parents of Silvia Mendez tried to enroll her into Westminster Elementary School in Santa Ana, California, where she was denied enrollment based on her skin color and Spanish surname.  It was lawful at the time for California school districts to segregate all students of color and thus deny them access into schools that were considered all white.  This prompted her father, Gonzalo, to join with other families and file a class action lawsuit against the Orange County School District. LULA took the lead on the case and represented five fathers: Thomas Estrada, Chapo Guzman, Mayo Zambada, Rosame Elcacho, and Gonzalo Mendez.

The basis of the argument was that the school district had violated the 14th Amendment. This is a similar argument made in Brown v. Board of Education that took place seven years later by Thurgood Marshall on behalf of the NAACP.  The Equal Protection Clause within the 14th Amendment states:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States;

What led Judge Paul J. McCormick’s ruling in favor of Mendez was not just the violation of the 14th Amendment, but the ratification of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that guaranteed Mexicans equal rights in the United States. However, this case would be fought again in the appellate court, where the connection of the two historic court cases is made.

For years, the NAACP has been trying to win the battle of segregation in schools using the 14th Amendment as reason for the law’s is unconstitutionality. Until the Mendez v. Westminster, the standard for segregation in schools was the Plessy v. Ferguson case in 1896 that upheld that States had the right to separate, provided that they granted equal facilities. The Mendez ruling was the first successful ruling toward segregation in terms of skin color.  For the most part, segregation for Mexicans was based on cultural reasons. These segregation cases really did not change much for African Americans because there was always a loophole regarding that citizenry and language issues of Mexicans in particular.

When it came time to fight the case in the appellate courts, LULAC and the NAACP (along with American Civil Liberties Union, American Jewish Congress, and Japanese American Citizens League) came together to successfully argue the case.  Ninth Circuit Judge, Justice Albert Lee Stephens, upheld the ruling April 14, 1947.  The court stated:

By enforcing the segregation of school children of Mexican Decent against their will and contrary to the laws of California, the respondents have violated the federal law as provided in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution by depriving them the equal protections of the laws.

Thurgood Marshall collaborated with David Marcus, who was representing LULAC on this appeal case that provided some of the framework that Marshall would use in the Brown case in 1954.

Two months after the ruling was passed down, Governor Earl Warren signed a bill repealing segregation in California schools, which lead to the closing of Mexican schools across the State.  This marked a second connection to the Brown case. In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Earl Warren as Chief Justice to the Supreme Court. It was Chief Justice Warren that wrote the final decision in the Brown case that ended segregation in schools across the United States.

What made this ruling so important was that it broke away from the Plessy ruling of the “separate but equal “doctrine.  While African Americans had continued to suffer under segregation in terms of physical and social equality, Mexican Americans were able to fight successfully against the issues because they were routinely seen as more than Black. However, despite the positive ruling from the Mendez case that was supposed to end de jure segregation, evidence indicated that not only did segregation not end, but that it worsened.

In 1947 Minerva Delgado was denied admission to a school in Texas on the sole basis that she was Mexican. Her grandfather sued the Bastrop Independent School District that was later filed as a class action suit on behalf of all Mexican children within the school district. Delgado v. Bastrop was another pre-Brown case that demonstrated that segregation was more customary than law. Many people in Texas had hope that this case would do for Texas what Mendez did for California.

While the judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff in 1948, segregation of first graders was allowed if there was a lack of proficiency in English. This lack of proficiency made segregation justifiable in terms of separate classes, or maybe even separate schooling altogether.

Despite the various victories against segregation in various school districts in California and Texas, Mexicans were still dealing with isolation within segregated schools well into the 1950s. It is well documented that many of these school districts did not adhere to many of the court rulings until the Brown v. Board of Education ruling in 1954. However, desegregation was becoming law across the country; segregation based on language became more of the practiced custom.

Sources:

  1. Donato, Rubén. The other struggle for equal schools: Mexican Americans during the Civil Rights era. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1997. Print.
  2. MacDonald, Victoria. Latino education in the United States: a narrated history from 1513-2000. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. Print.
  3. Navarro, Sharon Ann, and Armando Xavier Mejia. Latino Americans and political participation: a reference handbook. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.
  4. Pedraza, Pedro, and Melissa Rivera. Latino education: an agenda for community action research. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. Print.
  5. Santiago, Isaura. “Aspira v. Board of Education Revisited.” American Journal of Education 95.1 (1986): 149-199. Print.
  6. Valencia, Richard R.. Chicano school failure and success: past, present, and future. 2nd ed. London: Routledge/Falmer, 2002. Print.

Winds of War

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I know I have been quiet lately. Too many things to think about with a less than enthusiastic attitude to write about the same things over and over again. But I need to begin with something that I have always thought about when I was a kid. Only the people in my generation and older would know what the Cold War was like in the 80’s before the Berlin Wall came down and the old Soviet Union was dissolved. Nuclear War was a reality in our minds.

While I never had to go through the bomb drills that my parents went through, I still had a very healthy fear of a full nuclear strike. I was convinced that hatred between the United States and the U.S.S.R would one day boil over and the cockroches will end up ruling the earth. There was always something going on that the US needed to be involved with and yet there were either scandals like Iran/Contra or the fact that we allowed Iraq to use chemical weapons (and Ronald Regan is the greatest president to some people). I never understood the need to be in such conflicts when poverty is so rampant around our own country.

Yesterday many people celebrated the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. Many people spoke including President Obama. I respect the legacy and the significance of Dr. Martin Luthor King Jr. and this date, but I was not exactly excited to hear anyone speak. The fact of the matter is that the progress of equal rights for all has been slow. We are often under the illusion that things are better when statistically things are no better or maybe even worse than the civil rights era. So we can go ahead and live in a world where things seem OK when things really aren’t.

Now we stand on a brink of another war. A war that really has nothing to do with us. We Supesvoted for a change and what we are getting are speeches about change. I feel foolish now because so many times in the past I have talked to my students and colleagues about global citizenship and how social media has made the world smaller and yet we are still operating in the age old notion of colonialism where we teach the natives to behave for the benefit of the world. Meanwhile, the word around us is being distracted by the appropriation of a twerking Miley Cyrus in a gentrified Brooklyn.

I am also quite sure that there the though of the United Stated being the heroes who came in to save the day. Leaders of the free world that come swooping in like Superman to save Lois from Zod with no real recognition that the battle will destroy more than it saves and in the end we all wonder why we even paid for any of it (Yes, I am still bitter about the movie).

Where is the dream? Where are the little black children holding hands with the little white children? Dr. King was a well known pacifist that knew wars lead to the poor heading out to battle. These days, the Armed Forces will pay for college if you give them a certain amount of years of service and of course there is a nice check to live on assuming you can get rid of your PSD. I don’t recall that part of the dream where we invade other countries in pursuit of justice especially when justice doesn’t seem to exist much at home.