Archive for November, 2007

Leno,Kimmel,Other Late-Night Jokesters–Anti-Latino Trendsetters in Liberal Hollywood

November 28, 2007

(From the Progressive Magazine –

No laughing matter

Anti-Latino humor has entered the mainstream.

Roberto Lovato

Late night funny man Conan O’Brien recently tickled his studio audience as he touched on immigration, a hot button topic heard with growing frequency on late night talk shows: “A man in Mexico weighing 1,200 pounds has lost almost half that weight and might enter the Guinness Book of World Records for most weight lost. The Mexican man lost the weight when the family inside him moved to America.” Then at the Emmys on September 16, O’Brien, who won an award, provided a clip of his writing team depicted as Latino day-laborers.

During a “New Rules” segment of his show broadcast in late August, liberal late nighter Bill Maher went to the well of immigrant humor: “New Rule: No more produce-scented shampoo: avocado, cucumber, watermelon. Gee, your hair smells like a migrant worker.”

Jay Leno, who has gone out of his way to tell people, “I’m not a conservative,” has also joined in. During a show in mid-September, he joked, “Well, police across the country now say they’re arresting more and more illegals who are prostitutes. But proponents say, ‘No, no. They’re just doing guys American hookers will not do.'”

And during a recent sketch making light of Latino criticisms of Ken Burns for his exclusion of the more than 500,000 Latino veterans in the filmmaker’s epic War documentary, Jimmy Kimmel deployed images of sombrero-wearing Speedy Gonzalez–a cartoon long considered racist by Chicano activists–yelling “Arriba. Arriba.” Kimmel’s shtick includes placing parking lot attendant Guillermo in compromising positions as when the heavily accented Latino immigrant participates in spelling bee contests with young champions. In another humiliating sketch, Kimmel begs him, “Please do not resort to violence.”

While the immigration debate in Congress ended months ago, the immigrant jokes haven’t. This is not so much because the late night hosts are at the tail end of a political trend, but because they are, in fact, at the front end of a major cultural trend: the mainstreaming of anti-immigrant sentiment.

Immigrant rights activists have concentrated much energy on challenging rightwing radio as well as blatantly racist, formerly fringe video games like “Border Patrol” in which players shoot immigrants for points. But little attention is paid to the more mainstream fare: Top-selling video games in which white good guys kill immigrant bad guys and black and Latino zombies; popular television shows like NBC’s The Office, in which immigrant characters are ridiculed for their accents, nationality, and other traits; movies like the supernatural thriller Constantine or last year’s comic hit Nacho Libre, in which immigrant characters embody evil and stupidity.

The proliferation of anti-immigrant messages in pop culture moved UCLA linguist Otto Santa Ana to study what he calls an “explosion” of anti-immigrant representations in pop culture.

“There’ve always been racist, anti-Latino stereotypes in the media, but things are getting quite bad now,” says Santa Ana, who started documenting anti-immigrant language and imagery he found in California newspapers in 1993, the year that launched the political battles around that state’s Proposition 187, which sought to deny education and social services to the undocumented and their children.

Since then, says Santa Ana, anti-immigrant themes have become more intense.

In his efforts to document these trends, Santa Ana, author of Brown Tide Rising: Metaphors of Latinos in Contemporary American Public
, and several of his students have gathered more than 100 YouTube clips that he says represent only a small portion of a growing number of “extraordinarily racist, anti-immigrant jokes and other content in sitcoms, film, standup comedy, and other mediums.” Santa Ana’s collection includes a wide spectrum of mainstream programming and movies.

“Some of the clips will make you laugh,” he says. “But once you see the stream of those clips, you stop laughing. You see ten, twenty, thirty, forty, and then you recognize that they’re actually laughing at you.”

In an episode on Fox’s popular Family Guy animated comedy, for example, a couple of bandanad, knife-wielding, Chicano-accented gangster cockroaches in a dirty motel threaten intruders by saying, “Hey, you’re on our turf, man,” and, “Hey, man, I gonna cut you up so bad, you gonna wish I no cut you up so bad.” One of the white characters responds, “I blame the schools.”

In a different episode, after Peter Griffin, the family guy, complains about another character, “He’s a bigger mooch than the Mexican Super-friends,” the scene moves to a tall, crowded building called the “Mexican Hall of Justice” that is packed with people. A white landlord walks up to Mexican Superman and says, “Hey, Mexican Superman, when you signed the lease, you said there were only going to be five of you here.”

Or take the Academy Award-winning hit Happy Feet. Santa Ana explains how the protagonist, Mumble, a blue-eyed emperor penguin, leads a group of bungling, Spanish-accented, smaller, weaker penguins known in the film as the Amigos. Mumble is exiled from his land and scapegoated by elders for allegedly causing a fish famine. Mumble then vows to find the “aliens” that, he says, are the true cause of the famine. Along the way, Mumble, says Santa Ana, has to “teach” what is right and wrong to the Amigos. “It’s striking to see these penguins speaking in Mexican accents, walking funny, and being subservient,” he says.

Santa Ana worries about the effects on his students, most of whom said at the beginning of the class that they enjoyed and even bought the Happy Feet DVD. He also worries about the effect of the $384 million blockbuster on children worldwide, many of whom will also play the Happy Feet game that is part of the gigantic and expansive world of video, a more interactive world that may portend the future of funny and not-so-funny depictions of immigrants.

Depictions of Latino immigrants do not all fall into the negative category, however. The Emmy award-winning Ugly Betty sitcom treats immigrant and immigration in a funny yet respectful manner. It’s no accident that the show is produced by immigrant Salma Hayek. A new video game, “ICED! I Can End Deportation,” developed by the New York-based nonprofit Breakthrough, turns players into undocumented immigrants as they flee from cruel border patrol agents. The same Spanish-language radio jocks who played definitive roles in last year’s immigrant mobilizations are continuing citizenship and voter registration campaigns. Comedians such as George Lopez draw attention to racial issues in much the same way African American comedians have done for decades. Columnists such as Gustavo Arellano, who writes the popular “Ask a Mexican,” similarly use judo-like methods to deflect and draw attention to an anti-immigrant streak that grows.

For his part, Santa Ana, who lives in Los Angeles, takes the long view: “In twenty or thirty years we will be absolutely astonished that people could consume these racist depictions.”

Roberto Lovato is a contributing associate editor with New America Media. He is also a frequent contributor to The Nation. His email is

Elvira Arellano & Chicago Woman Continue Bi-National, Pro-immigrant Hunger Strike

November 27, 2007

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Two Mexican immigrant women are now in the 14th day of a bi-national hunger strike. Flor Crisostomo, an undocumented resident of Chicago, and Elvira Arellano, the Mexican mother who, before being captured and deported earlier this year, came to symbolize the immigrant struggle in the U.S., have targeted politicos on both sides of the border with their calls to resolve the immigration crisis.

Crisostomo, who was put in deportation proceedings after being captured in the massive raid on IFCO systems last year, is currently staging her strike in front of the Chicago offices of Rahm Emmanuel, the anti-immigrant fundrasing and campaign chief of the Democrats. A press statement released by Crisostomo and her supporters calls on Emmanuel to “confront his responsibilities as a member of the Congressional Democratic Leadership and work to resolve the current immigration crisis in this session of Congress.”

Denouncing Emmanuel, who represents one of the most immigrant of all Congressional districts she said, “You have the responsibility to resolve this crisis. You cannot leave millions of people and millions of children at the mercy of a broken law.”

For her part, Arellano, decided to stage her strike in front of the U.S. embassy in Mexico City. She also targeted Mexican politicians so that they play a more aggressive role in defending the rights of Mexican migrants in the U.S “I believe” said Arellano, “that the Mexican government should suspend all negotiations with the United States over trade and national security until the United States fixes its broken law and treats our people with dignity. “

How to “Humanize” Immigration Raids Without Humanzing Immigrants

November 26, 2007


This story in the L.A. Times reports on recently-announced Immigration and Citizenship Enforcement (ICE) guidelines designed to “humanize immigration raids”.

While the announcement may mean some needed respite for that minority of immigrants arrested in work-site raids who are “pregnant, nursing infants or serving as sole caregivers to children or seriously ill relatives”, it does nothing for those millions that aren’t in any of these situations.

And what about the trauma immigrants experience due to beatings, gun-wielding and very violent raids, rapes in detention and even shootings perpetrated by ICE agents? Guidelines to “humanize” these ICE actions will, in all likelihood, not be forthcoming. This is, in large part, because, in order to execute such violent actions, ICE agents must learn to fundamentally dehumanize their fellow humans who happen to be migrants. Since 9-11, ICE agent boot camp has morphed into: distinguishing the “good guys” from the “bad guys,” the non-people requiring the state (and sometimes general populace)-sanctioned solution of violence. Just look at ICE’s website, a virtual immigrant rogues gallery for the 21rst century wild west. No human immigrants here.

It’s harder to beat, rape or otherwise traumatize and hurt someone if you see them as a member of your race, the human race. That’s why men (and women) with guns during the genocide era in Rwanda needed radio shock jocks there to fill the airwaves with descriptions of their perceived adversaries as “cockroaches”. Dehumanization is also why, in the U.S., mainstreamed hate radio jocks like the “Jersey Guys” provide airwave support the violent actions of ICE -the most militarized branch of government besides the Pentagon-with calls to denounce and capture immigrants in “Operation Rat a Rat/La Cucha Gotcha”.

Whether public or private, media can and does often enable violence – and legitimate the violent.

Just note, for example, what is being “humanized” in the title of the LA Times piece: “Guidelines to humanize immigration raids”. “Immigration raids”-not immigrants- are being humanized. And as you continue reading, you might note who Teresa Watanabe, the author, ascribes humanity and agency to with quotes like these,

“…. the agency’s Assistant Secretary Julie L. Myers this month issued a memo directing agents to consider releasing nursing mothers on their own recognizance and using alternatives to detention, such as electronic monitoring, as long as they pose no threat to national security or public safety. The memo said the agency’s commitment to ending the “catch and release” practice, in which illegal immigrants are released soon after apprehension, did not diminish its responsibility to recognize “meritorious” humanitarian cases, Kice said.

“ICE is committed to enforcing the law, but we’re also committed to addressing humanitarian concerns,” Kice said.

Note also how Watanabe (or maybe her editor) neglects to ask why ICE and its director Julie Myers’ holiday announcement of “humanitarian” good cheer comes at this precise moment? The article does mention how some ICE actions like the New Bedsford, Mass raid have drawn considerable fire. But might the ICE announcement also have something to do with how Myers’ humanity recently made headlines after she gave a Halloween costume award to and took a picture standing next to a white man whose costume consisted of dreadlocks, a prisoner’s outfit and black face?

Given the continued and devastating violence of ICE, given the degraded state of immigrant humanity in the public sphere, the announcement of the guidelines to “humanize” the raids is nothing more than political minstrelsy designed to put a friendlier face on an agency that’s made a multi-billion industry out of dehumanizing immigrants.

If they really wanted to a “humanize” something, they’d not just stop the raids, but shut down this increasingly violent and constitutionally racist agency down altogether.

The announcement should also be seen as a small and, perhaps even, Pyrrhic victory for immigrants rights activists. To their credit, activists have more frequently and aggressively attacked ICE for its inhumanity and violence. Such activism is urgently needed to make up for the strategic catastrophe led by DC-based groups who told many of us in media teleconferences that “moral arguments (around immigration) don’t work with the voters.”

At this point in the immigration game, concern of and about politicos and voters who can lose their humanity in the urgency and anonymity of polls and voting booths can wait. Things have degenerated to dangerous levels. Before anything, we need to get back to a fundamental concern a for humans.

Alberto Gonzales Gets Pre-Thanksgiving Just(ice) Desserts in Florida

November 21, 2007

(Thanks to Crooks and Liars for this)

Who said Florida’s a bastion of Bushism? This story from the University of Florida’s The Alligator Newspaper says that former Administration officials may not be so welcome in the Sunshine State:

In his first appearance at a university since resigning in August, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was met at UF on Monday with a mixture of cheers, boos and scattered interruptions by protesters, two of whom were arrested.

For his part, Gonzales didn’t even bother to mention the historic scandals he mired the Justice system, Latinos and the entire country in. Instead, says the Alligator,

“…he focused on encouraging students to consider a career in public service while describing his own experiences in that field.

But, the story continues,

About 15 minutes into his speech, two UF students, Richard Gutierrez and Kevin Hachey, climbed onto the stage wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods on their heads.

Symbolic justice matters. Hopefully, Gonzales saw the mirror of his crimes in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib; Regardless, let us look forward to seeing him join Henry Kissinger in the Rogues Gallery of unconvicted war criminals who must, nonetheless, watch their backs for life. Big problem for those who can’t look at themselves in the mirror either.

Thank you to the students of the University of Florida for reflecting back to Gone-zales – and to us.

Es precioso el corazon de estudiante.

NPR Interview: Blacks, Latinos and What Divides and Unites Us

November 17, 2007



If I do say so myself, I sound rancid, tired in this interview with Maria Hinojosa on NPR’s Latino USA. Thankfully, my New America Media colleague, Earl Ofari Hutchison, doesn’t. Still,there’s something there, especially in areas Earl & I agree on like the need to bust out of the box of “black-Latino tensions” that defines much reporting around the issues. Hope you like it despite tu servidor’s putrid performance.

Dueling Democrats Ignore, Ignite the Angry Brown Voter

November 16, 2007

CNN debate

As he watched tonight’s broadcast of the Democratic Debate at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV), Antonio Gonzalez didn’t much like what he saw and heard. “I’m pissed off at all of them” he said. “I’m mad.”

Like the growing number of Latinos disgusted with increasing discrimination that a majority (54%) say they experience mostly because of anti-immigrant racism, Gonzalez is dismayed at, how, for example, the top candidates responded to the ‘Yes or No’ question about drivers licenses for immigrants: Clinton “No”, Edwards “No” and Obama “Yes, but…”

“They’re all retreating from positions of principle on immigration” he said.

That such dismay exists so early among some Latino voters even in places like the Latino-heavy Democratic citadel of Los Angeles, should concern the candidates and their party. But coming from Gonzalez, whose organization, the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, has launched an unprecedented $10 million, 400 city drive to register and mobilize 500,000 new Latino voters by next year’s election, such dismay should inspire fear of a new voting block: the Angry Brown Voter.

Like the Pentagon, the Democrats need Latinos desperately. And like many a returning Iraq war veteran, Latino veterans of the immigration wars grow impatient with both parties.

If you listened closely tonight, you could hear echoes of the voter bloc that will, in the long term, counterbalance the weakening pull of the angry white voter. The only Nevadan of Latino extraction who got to ask a question, UNLV student, George Ambriz, used his opportunity to finger debate CNN’s Lou Dobbs for “insinuating” a “linkage” between terrorism and security and immigration. “No terrorist threat has come from our southern border” he said before asking, “Are they (terrorism and immigration) “intrinsically related issues”?

Combined with the Democrats’ rightward turn on immigration, such questioning from an Angry Brown Voter bodes ill for a Democratic party that touted its decision to bring the debate –and a much-anticipated early primary- to Nevada as part of its efforts to be more inclusive of Latinos.

And recent developments beyond the UNLV campus also signal the coming of the still very young (the average Latino is 26) Angry Brown Voter. From Washington to local Congressional districts, the candidates and their party are starting to hear loudly and more frequently from a group the Democrats seem to take for granted.

In response to what they perceive as DCCC Chair Rahm Emmanuel’s cowardice on immigration, local groups in his district have taken out English, Spanish and Korean language ads in local media. The ads ask, “Why is Congressman Emanuel Betraying our Friends and Families?”. Last Thursday, Members of the usually pretty loyal (and quiet) Hispanic Caucus held up debate on an important tax bill and engaged in an angry confrontation with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md. The Latino legislators were incensed at the support among some 36 of their fellow Democrats for a Republican motion many Hispanic Caucus members found very offensive. Venerated Chicano scholar and activist, Rudy Acuna, has even started circulating email messages across the country in which he asks whether Latinos should consider joining a third party. “They are pandering to Lou Dobbs. Why should we support a party that has sold out our interests?” asks Acuna.

How Latinos answer Acuna’s question has relevance in the age of the slim electoral victory. Latino-heavy swing states like Nevada, Florida, Colorado and others may well determine next year’s election. Not listening to the Angry Brown Voter may mean another Republican Red Congress – and Presidency.

Spitzer’s Latest Debacle: Democrats Offer no License to Hope

November 15, 2007

Let me step a little closer to any of you reading this by getting a little less anonymous. Please excuse me if I’m out of virtual character today.

But I’m here at my parent’s house dealing with a family crisis that forces one to hunker down and dig deep; the kind of crisis that, if you let it, let’s you know what you fear – and what you believe in.

Viewed through this lens, news of the good intentions, vacillations and, now, spinelessness of Democrats like Elliot Spitzer take on a ghoulish and cartoonish glow.

Why do some persist in placing their hope in the Democratic party? If you’re dejected, depressed and down about this latest let down, then look at yourself, not the Democrats. Really. They, like the Republicans, respond to a higher God; not the one my cousins and mother are praying without ceasing to and not the God that raises gigantic sums of money to campaign via “churches” for the candidates of the Apocalypse, but Mammon, Lord of Avarice, King of All Greedy Kings, better known as big capital.

As I’ve often said, George W. Bush must be embraced as nothing less than a cosmic gift, a Shiva-like slayer of illusions. The political system was broken long before Bush. Now, the economic egg has cracked too. Cheney and he simply put to rest any notions that this political system is fair, just or even real. Some of you sound like you believed the first siren on the rock of Clintonism.

As the era of obvious evil wanes, we will bear the brunt if we (again) swallow the blue pill of faith in the Democrats. We, no one else. This is why, in this space, I try to point to places I find hope.

The folks in the anti-immigrant camp send me long, angry and now celebratory letters telling me “Looks like you’re fighting a lost cause” and the like.

Problem is, I don’t place and haven’t, for some time, placed my hope in Donald Duck, Santa Clause and Scooby Doo or their imitators in electoral politics. I hope this will change, but, until that time, I place my hope for change in a land far, far beyond Mordor, Crytpon and Washington, DC.

The coming failure of the Democrats, whichever one of them becomes President (global capital cannot afford another angry white male to rile the planetary zeitgeist any further; so, it’s a Democratic horse race if only to unleaven the already unmanageable effects white man’s burden worldwide…more on this later), will clear the way for hope to flourish more organically, more in line with the cosmic forces (as opposed to the forces of big capital) that put the Red and Blue illusions before us in the first place. We need to deal with these partys on our terms.

If there’s hope, it really does lie with what we ourselves can do. When more of us do this (and many more are), the diseased political parties will move in line with of get out of the way of what the planet wants and needs: health.

As Predicted, Border Patrol Strikes Violently Against Peaceful Anti-Border Wall Protesters

November 13, 2007









As predicted in this post yesterday, authorities have violently attacked anti-border protesters. According to San Diego Indy Media,

No Borders Camp participants on both sides of the border demonstrated peacefully until US Border Patrol, without warning, brutally dispersed participants on the US side with point-blank rounds of pepper-spray pellets, batons, and swarm tactics leaving several badly injured.

Check out the video and pics on the attack and you’ll see Border Patrol Agents smiling sadistically as they hit, spray and hurt protesters.

More on this soon.

Latino Anti-Recruitment Efforts Paying Off: Military Enlistments Down!

November 13, 2007

This report in the Seattle Times indicates that Latino military enlistment numbers have started plummeting. According to the article,

African Americans, who joined the all-volunteer force in disproportional numbers for years, have cooled on military service recently. So have Hispanics.

The piece also asks a question that, on first glance, sounds, well, obvious and kind of dumb,

The reasons behind a recent decline in Hispanic participation are less clear.

Duuuhhhhh, mayybe it has something to do with knowing one of the dead or maimed? But this before and after question saves the piece from the vapidity of the rhetorical question:

“Does the current situation with the war on terrorism make you more likely or less likely to join the military?” a Pentagon-sponsored poll asked high schoolers in November 2002, before the invasion of Iraq. Half said less likely, 37 percent said more likely.

When the same question was asked last June, 69 percent said less likely and 17 percent said more likely.

But we should also remember that the mainstream media constitutionally refuses to acknowledge the existence, much less the effectiveness, of anti-recruitment activism battling the hundreds of millions -maybe even billions- the Pentagon recruitment machine. Latino anti-recruitment initiatives in recruit-heavy cities like Los Angeles, San Antonio and other cities must also be credited for saving young kids from the fate hidden behind embedded reporting (to see which cities go here).

And they helped bring down these numbers without the help of Latino media outlets like Hispanic, Latina Magazine, Univision and most other major print and electronic Latino media outlets. To better understand how so many Latino media outlets have become mouthpieces for the Pentagon, one of their biggest advertisers, check out this story I wrote for Utne magazine. And let’s not even talk about that other (in addition to gushing support for Alberto Gonzales) fly in the Hispanic ointment of National Council of La Raza and LULAC: their Pentagon funding and Pro-Pentagon positions.

Stil, anti-recruitment groups give us more reason to continue the work of rescuing young Latino and other recruits from drowning on the military Titanic. Gracias.

Beyond Immigration Reform(ism): Direct Action Against the Wall

November 12, 2007

Rather than resurrect the decaying body of “immigration reform(ism)”, activists in Southern California have taken an important step toward an living alternative: direct action.

Concerned about the relentless environmental and human degradation (an important connection to make) wrought by the policies embodied in the border Wall, a group calling itself “No Borders! Earth First!” took its concerns to one of the many economic interests benefiting from Wall politics: wall builders. According this post on the Indybay media center site ,

In the early morning hours of Sunday, November 11, a group calling themselves “No Borders! Earth First!” sent a clear message to the El Centro office of Granite Construction Company: Their continued construction of the US-Mexico border wall will not be accepted. The activists hung one banner reading “Save the San Pedro!” on Granite Construction’s entrance gate, and another reading “Stop Building a Wall of Death” was unfurled from the company’s roof. Activists also wheat-pasted a message to the company to the front door, demanding that they halt construction on seven miles of border wall that will cut through the San Pedro National Conservation Area in the Southern Arizona desert. Locks on the front door and entrance gate were jammed with glue, and the gate was immobilized with epoxy.

Expect local, state and federal authorities and their right wing -and “mainstream” echo chamber to make a loud, visible example of “No Borders! Earth First!”- whether or not they catch them. Also expect Democrats and DC groups to denounce these tactics too. Like boycotts, work stoppages and other direct actions, such bold initiatives do what DC-based immigration reform doesn’t: remind us it’s the (immigrant-industrial) economy, stupid.

Think what you will of them, these kinds actions point directly at and foreground the vast and growing ecology of parasitic interests feeding off the the hunted immigrant living and the desert dead; These kinds of offensive actions alter and take us beyond the Wall politics of the right and their defensive liberal enablers.

Que Muera el Muro de la Muerte!

More to follow on this important development!


November 7, 2007

On the heels of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s equivocations about driver’s licenses for the undocumented, many a pundit and political strategist has taken to calling immigration the “New Willie Horton” issue. Whether or not the comparison works, likening the anti-immigrant campaign to the 1988 campaign that turned Horton, an African American convicted of murder and rape, into the central component of a “winning” electoral strategy does make one thing painfully obvious: racism can still turn elections – and not just racism against African Americans.

To the detriment of all, failure to counter the relentless mainstreaming of such politics means that the sanctioning and institutionalization of racism against blacks will only continue deepening and expanding to include Latinos and Asians.

Consider these words from Newsday columnist, James Pinkerton,

“I’m long out of partisan campaign politics, but Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton reminds me a lot of Dukakis. As he was two decades ago, she’s from a big state, has a lot of money, is ahead in the polls — and she’s been grievously injured. This time, the issue isn’t prison furloughs, but driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants in her “home” state of New York. Clinton has broadly defended Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s unpopular plan, even as most New Yorkers have reviled it.”

Pinkerton’s decision to completely avoid using the words “Willie Horton” anywhere in his Newsday commentary by replacing them with the phrase “prison furloughs” previews what will surely be the deployment of racial codes as the “New Willie Horton” election approaches.

The turn to make immigration the “New Willie Horton” campaign follows the tried and true logic of Republican race baiters like Reagan and Bush I strategist Lee Atwater. Karl Rove mentor Atwater helped the elder Bush overcome a 17-point Dukakis lead by injecting into the campaign racist ads linking Horton to the former Massachusetts Governor. Atwater’s Horton campaign tapped into fears and myths resounding nationally thanks, in no small part, to the earlier machinations of the now gigantic right wing echo chamber.

Long before the 1988 Presidential campaign, major donors and large foundations had already begun the work of mainstreaming anti-black politics by funding multi-million dollar think tank “research” projects. Charles Murray, author of the infamous Bell Curve, for example, received fellowships and other support from the American Enterprise Institute, Manhattan Institute and the Bradley Foundation, which gave him more than $1 million. Eugenicist philanthropy also did its part as in the case of The Pioneer Fund, which contributed $3.5 million to work done years before by researchers cited in The Bell Curve. So, by the time Atwater’s Horton ads appeared, the mainstream and even some alternative media outlets had already saturated the airwaves for years with news of the “findings” that gave cover to racist sentiments towards black people.

Similarly, many of the main anti-immigrant, anti-Latino groups behind the “New Willie Horton” are getting money from some of the same funders like the Scaife, Olin and other foundations behind the mainstreaming anti-black campaigns of the 80’s. Most TV viewers and voters today have no idea that many of the main anti-immigrant voices appearing on CNN, 60 Minutes and other mainstream news shows they watch are those of individuals belonging to organizations like the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR) and other groups that received early funding from the eugenicist, anti-black, Pioneer Fund. And we can only imagine what the “new” political ads in the upcoming elections will look like.

So, when we hear the immigration issue being called “the New Willie Horton”, some of us- conservatives, liberals, progressives, African Americans and people of conscience generally -should pause; We should ask ourselves why we get that weird feeling when we hear friends -or ourselves- expressing positions around immigration that sound uncomfortably similar to those of the reborn Ku Klux Klan, neo-Nazi groups and scores of Republicans; We should also question Democratic party leaders like Rahm Emmanuel who is giving candidates like Senator Chris Dodd and “pragmatic Democrats” the green light to go anti-immigrant with his descriptions of immigration as a “third rail” of politics.

The short-term political profits gained from turning the immigration issue into a new “New Willie Horton” may or may not yield the desired dividends. We’ll see. But whether or not this resurrected racialized approach to campaigns works, it must be denounced forcefully, if only because of the long-term social liability beyond the elections. Latino, Asian, African and other immigrants have demonstrated in the polling booths and in the streets that they will not stand by and simply watch the unchecked growth of the politics of fear. The “old” Willie Horton campaign taught many of us about the relationship between racial appeals directed at a predominantly white electorate and economic recessions like that of the late 80’s.

That the “New Willie Horton” approach to immigration insinuates itself in the context of another, more intense global economic meltdown is less a unhappy coincidence than it is tragic proof of tried and true political calculation; That this “new” political race baiting takes hold alongside an unprecedented and highly racialized “global war on terror” makes it even more noxious -and dangerous- to the body politic. Failure to do anything about this politic inches all of us ever closer to the race war scenarios that are every eugenicists and racists dream.


November 6, 2007

In what can only be a breath of bad air for the aging, mostly white soldiers of the anti-immigrant movement, a report in today’s San Jose Mercury News revealed that 70% of all Mexicans in California are U.S. citizens. While this news is neither unexpected nor surprising to those of us that track both Latino demographics and the concomitant white fear it inspires, it will be to those who track Mexicans and other Latinos like hunted animals.

Predictably, mainstreamed hate groups like the Federation of Americans for Immigration Reform (FAIR) responded with their stock-and-trade “Decline of the West” discourse as in this statement by FAIR’s Ira Mehlman,

“The state generally is becoming a two-class society . . . The outlook in California, I don’t see it as being all that rosy,” Mehlman said. “What we’ve been saying all along is that unless you control this influx, what happens is wages get driven down. In this case (Mexican immigrants) are going to other places, but it is not a good thing to drive down the wages in any market.”

Such gloom and doom predictions hide the even more hideous anti-Latino fears and hate lurking deep in the bosom of white California as documented in journalist Dale Maharidge’s book, “The Coming White Minority”. Carol Swain of Venderbilt University also captures similar sentiments among whites in California and across the country. Her must-read “The New White Nationalism” correctly locates the primary barrier to integration not among blacks or Latinos, but in the ascendant white nationalism that also informs the reborn KKK and the noveaux Minutemen as well as Lou Dobbs and the increasingly-right-leaning Democrats, including “progressives” (just look at most of the reader comments on ANTYHING I’ve written about immigration for the Huffington Post or Alternet.)

For an interesting thought experiment, you might want to contrast the white gloom about migration with the rosier outlook among immigrants themselves as discussed in books like UC Berkeley prof and friend David Hayes Bautista’s La Nueva California. Bautista’s book sheds needed light on the meaning of trends like the Mexican citizenship news of the day.

Those of you not fortunate enough to live in or know the Golden State might want to follow more closely what happens in California, the bellwether for technological, demographic and political trends. Many of your cities and regions are experiencing Californiaization, a confluence of trends like the citizenship news that travel from West to East. Such dislocations – geographic, racial, political, etc.- as those of California cause great consternation among former majorities unused to being abandoned by big capital like the rest of us. Short term electoral, legislative thinking can only deepen your demise-and you’ll be driven co-dependent-like by their fear and gloomy scenarios rather than focus on your own agenda.

So, think long term, check out the sunny state of (at least some) things in California.


November 2, 2007

In another sign that Latinos have become the anti-civilizational Other of choice, a young Bronx man was sentenced yesterday under statutes designed to punish international terrorists. According to this story from the NY Times, a Bronx jury found Edgar Morales, a recreational soccer player and gang member, guilty of manslaughter in the killing of a little girl during a christening party in 2000. Morales, 25, was sentenced under anti-terrorist legislation signed by former NY Governor George Pataki right after 9-11.

The Times reporter stated that,

“..the State Supreme Court in the Bronx, jurors for the first time found a defendant guilty under New York’s statute, and he did not fit the stereotype of a terrorist.”

while Timothy Lynch, director of the Project on Criminal Justice at the Cato Institute, a conservative think tank, stated

“Lawmakers were told after Sept. 11th that we needed new laws, and it’s become kind of a bait-and-switch, because lo and behold, they are not being used against Al Qaeda, they’re being used against ordinary street crime,”

This case, first brought to the attention of many in 2005 by former Washington Post reporter, Michelle Garcia, represents another major step towards what I’ve been calling the “Alqaeda-ization” of Latino identity, the media & legal framing of Latino subgroups – immigrants, youth, etc.- as an internal threat requiring (and justifying) a multi-billion dollar militarization within the borders of the U.S.

Viewed from the optic of the national security elite, Latinos were the logical and predictable successor to the demographically tiny South Asian population as the next anti-civilizational Other, an Other justifying massive expenditures for new prisons, multi-billion-dollar “security” systems at the border, national guard deployments and other components of the industrial, anti-immigrant behemoth that daily grows.

Cases like this one make obvious that national (in)security takes us far beyond the simplistic logic echoed in beliefs like “they’re (anti-immigrantistas) racists”, “this will pass like other anti-immigrant waves in history” or “Let’s work to get a Democrat elected and then get back to the business of immigration reform”. Such notions are overridden by the business (think Halliburton prisons, CNN advertisers and Republican/Democrat political donors) of anti-migrant hate. Dealing with this and with the unprecedented levels of “White Fear” and the stunning decline of the US power are as much or more part of the immigration problematic as winning white and black votes and crafting legislation. Failure to consider these macro political and economic factors in designing pro-immigrant movement strategy leaves the movement subject to the whims of other political interests, especially those of “Hispanic vote”-hungry Democrats.

But the relentless equating of Latinos with “invaders”, “lawbreakers” and now “terrorists” now has proponents among both Republicans and Democrats, including those who supported the Kennedy, Gutierrez and other bills that made “trade-offs.” In the best of all possible “immigration reform” worlds, some of these “trade-offs” -denial of due process for immigrant detainees and the right to Habeas Corpus, not to mention the swelling of populations held in immigrant detention centers- did nothing to attack the Alqaeda-ization of Latino immigrants. Edgar Morales was convicted as a “terrorist” by a culture, a society, a global power in decline – and other Latinos are sure to follow him if more imaginative approaches to migration politics are not found.

The cheapening of Latino, especially Latino immigrant, life is inversely proportional to the inability to make others – corporations, ICE, Democrats, Republicans – pay heavily for their politics of fear.

Given this alarming situation, any future proposals for “immigration reform” should reject out of hand any talk of “necessary compromises” and “killing the worst parts of the legislation in (Congressional) committee”. Further legitimating this new mix of national security and immigration politics should never have been on any to-do list for migrant rights.

And we really should ween ourselves of the addiction to Democrats and electoral politics as stand-alone solutions. The problem is profoundly cultural and economic at its core. That Bronx jury that convicted Morales, the Lou Dobbs base, the armies of anti-immigrant activists and others are part of a culture of decline, a very violent civilization in desperate need of clashes foreign and domestic.

Indigenous and other leaders in Latin America have taught us that one of the best ways to deal with such toxic cultures is by building social movements first – and then dealing with the superficial swamp of electoral politics.

And like our families and friends in América Latina, we here in the North will rise out of this darkness to, again, inspire the planet.

Forget that and you will, like Morales and countless others, become a prisoner -in your heart.

Use the Force, Luke. Look what you’re up against.

November 1, 2007

No need to go to movies and cry at the fight against evil taking place on screen. There’s plenty to do outside the movie house as the dark Lord of Sith lies sequestered behind thick walls of the national security.

Don’t Look to Democrats for Immigrant Rights

November 1, 2007


(somewhat re-purposed and watered down (by my editors at NAM, who apparently fear the mere mention of the word “capitalism”) version of a previous post. And I love NAM, but detest the “ethnic” label.)

Don’t Look to Democrats for Immigrant Rights

New America Media, Commentary, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Oct 31, 2007

Editor’s Note: The DREAM Act was a major blow to undocumented immigrants, but the real threat is the Democratic tilt toward anti-immigrant sentiment. New America Media contributor Roberto Lovato is based in New York City.

After the death of the DREAM Act last week, Monday’s Democratic debate gave immigrants and their defenders even more to mourn. Sen. Chris Dodd, who has tried to court immigrant votes with his Spanish fluency, floated a new campaign tactic. Dodd declared that drivers’ licenses are “a privilege, not a right,” referring to New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s proposal to offer a different type of licenses to undocumented immigrants. Sen. Hillary Clinton flip-flopped around the issue. “They are driving on our roads,” said Clinton, only to dispute Dodd’s claim that she supported the policy.

The real threat looming on the electoral horizon is that more and more Democrats are joining Republicans in capitulating to the public antipathy against immigrants.

Among these disconcerting developments were statements about immigration made last week by Illinois Democratic Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the powerful chairman of the House Democratic Caucus and an architect of the Democratic congressional victories of 2006. Immigration “has emerged as the third rail of American politics, and anyone who doesn’t realize that isn’t with the American people,” Emanuel was quoted as saying. He also added, “This issue captures all the American people’s anger and frustration not only with immigration, but with the economy. This is a big problem.”

As one of the top Democrats central to plotting strategy and raising money towards their 2008 campaigns, Emanuel is nothing less than dangerous. Such statements mean that candidates and incumbents need to stay away from immigration issues. Dodd’s anti-immigrant debut and Clinton’s vacillation seamlessly follow the script written by the Democratic moneymen and strategists like Emmanuel. And the debate was just the latest performance.

Consider the theatrics given us by the crop of recently elected “pragmatists” like Montana Sen. Jon Tester and Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill. Both ran to the hard right of even the most basic immigration reforms earlier this year. And when the DREAM Act came up for a vote last Tuesday, they joined the Republicans in denying the “dream” to immigrant students.

To know where this comes from one needs to look back to 1994 – the beginning of contemporary anti-immigrant politics in the form of California’s Proposition 187, which sought to deny health and education benefits to the children of the undocumented. Most students of immigration politics trace the origins of the Republican anti-migrant kulturkampf (culture war) to then-California Gov. Pete Wilson and the Republican Party. But along with Wilson and his dour republicans, Pres. Bill Clinton also played a major role.

As the search for a new approach to immigration politics begins, it is important to remember that the exponential increase in immigrant deaths in the desert began not with the patrols of aging Minutemen but with Clinton, who launched “Operation Gatekeeper” in 1994. Two years later, Clinton also signed the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (AEDPA) in the wake of the Oklahoma bombing, which criminalized immigrants, and subsumed immigration law under criminal law, in a process some legal scholars call “crimmigration.”

That the Democrats are, once again, starting to march against migrants is less a signal to the Republican movement than a sign of something else. Rather than continue DREAM Acting with Democrats, the immigrant rights movement may see the need to get back to what first brought immigrants – and many in this country – hope: power-building and direct action like last year’s marches.

The very possibility of the DREAM Act and of “immigration reform” itself was not born in the rotting bosoms of the two parties. It was born of dreaming and acting on the part of those with nothing to lose. Elections and politicians alone will not solve either the immigration crisis or the even greater general social crisis that approaches. Politicos need to be inspired by or scared of immigrant power from below.

Until immigrant power makes itself better known through intelligent strategy and intrepid action, the Democrats will continue the rightward tilt seen in the recent debate and the DREAM Act will remain dead.

Time to DREAM – and Act.