Tag: California

Antibodies

Two facts you probably know about me: I live California, and I am the parent of a toddler.

Those two seemingly unrelated items mingled recently when a measles outbreak hit our state, and much of the blame was placed on New Age hippie Californians who didn’t vaccinate their kids.

measles

Now, I believe in science and have little patience for religious nutjobs who fear the modern world. Also, I am not down with uber-libertarians who think it’s their right to infect other people’s kids because of, you know, personal freedom and shit.

So yes, our son is vaccinated.

Of course, as upsetting and infuriating and generally bizarre as the measles outbreak was, there was still room for right-wingers to up the craziness.

And that’s how we got Republican politicians and conservative blowhards who blamed the outbreak on undocumented immigrants from Latin America.

To these paranoid minds, it is all those undocumented kids who flooded the border last summer, who were then “just sent out across the country. Many of them had measles.”

In fact, none of them had measles. More disturbingly, “in this latest outbreak, measles has actually spread from the United States to Mexico.”

Ouch — that’s not pretty.

In sum, there is no evidence that undocumented kids are poisoning America. There is, however, plenty of proof that immigrants, particularly Hispanics, continue to be the scapegoat for America’s issues.

If only we had a vaccine against xenophobia.

 


Nice Try

So for two years in a row, the top individual prize in the entertainment pantheon — the Oscar for best director — has gone to a Latino.

birdman

That’s great. And Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu took time in his speech to give a shout out to immigrants, which was classy.

But of course, much of González Iñárritu’s triumph was overshadowed by a truly tone-deaf chiste from that master of humor, Sean Penn (as an aside, is there any artist who is more respected but less liked than this guy?).

Now, González Iñárritu has pointed out that Penn’s comment was an inside joke between friends. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, then, and say that Penn isn’t a straight-up racist.

But perhaps inside jokes aren’t a very good idea when millions of people across the planet are watching. And maybe tossing racial jabs isn’t very bright when you’re representing an organization that is hypersensitive about its horrible record on diversity.

All Penn’s joke did was make every white liberal in the audience uncomfortable, confirm the bias that many ethnic minorities believe lurks within the system, and “underscore the problem the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has been trying desperately to disprove.” Namely, that the Academy has a racial issue.

The stunning lack of diversity in the entertainment industry is a well-known facet of American culture, and I’ve written about it more than once.

And it is not, as many right-wingers seem to think, just blacks and Latinos clamoring for jobs they haven’t earned. It’s about equal access and opportunity. One could argue this is all that any fight over civil rights is, at its core.

But when it comes to the entertainment industry, specifically, it is about something more. As González Iñárritu has proved, different perspectives lead to new ideas and new stories. It is essential for any art form that, to remain relevant, it continue to grow.

And to be blunt, there are only so many more movies that we can take about an upper-class white family gathering together for a funeral/wedding, or a white guy’s attempt to bond with his elderly and uncommunicative dad, or the adventures of white prep-school kids coming of age.

We want something else.

 


Kind of Like a Doogie Howser Episode

The state of Latino health is grim — grim, grim, grim. We have higher rates of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, you name it.

Hispanics are also doing pretty sucky when it comes to education and employment. If only there was a way to combine all these issues…

Well, a California job-training program is trying to peg multiple issues with just one stone. Medical Pathways trains high schoolers in the Latino community for health care occupations. The goal is to provide real-world experience to disadvantaged kids while improving the overall health of the community.

The program guides students — primarily Hispanic — through four years of medically focused science classes, such as anatomy and physiology. The students run community health fairs, where visitors — again, primarily Hispanic — get information about different health issues and receive free services, such as getting weighed or having their blood pressure taken.

blood-pressure-340x289
Many students put in enough hours for a medical assistant certificate, which gives them a head-start on snagging better-paying health care jobs. Other students are inspired to become doctors or nurses.

No, it’s not an ideal solution. But it’s certainly creative and effective. And that’s a start.

 


Different, Not the Same, Totally Unalike

If I haven’t mentioned it in the last twenty minutes, I love living in California.

It’s not just the sunshine and great food and vibrant nightlife and pop-culture happenings and B-list celebrity sightings (although those are all entertaining). It’s that California is one of the most laidback and liberal states, and that tends to align with my personal philosophy — or at least those components of my personal philosophy that are not cribbed from a mishmash of Yoda quotes and baseball-as-life metaphors.

Now, through a weird and comical accident of geography, California shares a border with Arizona, which is not liberal or laidback or anything remotely West Coast cool. It is, of course, home to more than its fair share of right-wing nutjobs and xenophobic lunatics.

Both states have large Hispanic populations. And one recent development illustrates how different these neighboring states really are, and how they view their respective Latinos.

In California, a new law allows undocumented immigrants to apply for special driver’s licenses. Some Californians have griped about it, but for the most part, the law’s implementation has gone smoothly. And in a sign of forward thinking, car dealers are actively marketing to the new license holders. Many dealers report increased foot traffic on their lots, and they’re hoping for a sales boom due to the new law.

car-dealership

 

But in Arizona, a similar law hasn’t been as, shall we say, well received. In fact, it took a US Supreme Court decision to force Arizona to offer driver’s licenses to young immigrants, the Dreamers, who entered the country illegally as children. And while many Dreamers are happy to have the option, many others remain nervous about applying. Some Dreamers have seen family members deported after getting pulled over for routine traffic stops, and they’re having trouble letting go of their fear.

So in California, a law that passed with little controversy is poised to make a positive economic impact and make life easier for many people. Meanwhile, in Arizona, a similar law had to be argued all the way to the highest court in the land, at taxpayer expense, before going forward, only to encounter resistance from the people it was designed to help because they are terrorfied of the place they live in.

Yes, I think I chose my state wisely.

 

 


Safe at Last

As you recall, the town of Murrieta, California, became the symbol of intolerance last year when throngs of protestors greeted a busload of undocumented people (many of them children).

The protestors unleashed a frenzied jingoistic display that prevented the immigrants from being processed in the town, and the bus had to turn around. Yes, it was a proud time to be an American, especially if you’re a believer in mobocracy.

mobruleIn any case, many of the protestors claimed that the recent influx of Latino immigrants had caused crime to skyrocket, and they weren’t going to take it anymore.

Well, I think we can all agree with their concern about crime, considering that recent statistics point out that Murrieta is the second-safest city in the country.

What’s that?

Apparently, all those recent Hispanic arrivals going around terrorizing everyone hasn’t had much of an effect on the place, because Murrieta has the lowest rate of assaults in the nation. The city also has the lowest rate of violent crimes among all large cities in the country. In 2013, there was a total of one murder in the city (no word on whether a Latino did it). Put it all together, and Murrieta is second only to another California city (Irvine) as the epitome of peace and tranquility.

But of course, a busload of undocumented women and children was going to turn Murrieta into Mogadishu overnight.

That was a close one.

 


Slaves

I’ve lived in Los Angeles, on and off, for about ten years now. I love it here, and I believe it’s one of the greatest cities in the world.

la moon

 

But like any metro, it has its problems. Many of those can be summed up in the work “traffic,” but of course there are deeper issues as well.

The always-insightful Chris Rock recently addressed one of those problems when he wrote the following:

“There’s a slave state in LA. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in LA that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

I can vouch for the fact that multitudes of Hispanics (not just Mexicans) are constantly serving white people in LA. This issue crisscrosses some of our favorite topics — race, ethnicity, class, wage disparity, egalitarianism, free will, and so on — and it will not be resolved anytime soon.

But while Rock’s slave quote got a lot of attention, I thought his more salient point was the following:

“You’re telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that’s true? There’s probably a Mexican David Geffen mopping up for somebody’s company right now. The odds are that there’s probably a Mexican who’s that smart who’s never going to be given a shot.”

Yes, it’s not just that Latinos are a perpetual underclass in LA (and indeed, in much of America). It is that even the best and brightest do not have the same resources and access that most white people — even the no-talents and the mediocre — take for granted.

In essence, it’s tough to stop being a slave. But as history has shown us, not only can it be done, but it will be accomplished, eventually.

 


All Issues Mailed Flat

When I was a kid, I had a tower (and I mean that literally) of my favorite comic books. They leaned against the wall and were braced on either side by sturdy objects — milk crates or chairs or something like that. I seem to recall that the tower reached the ceiling, but I’m sure that’s not possible. It was most likely a few feet high and just seemed imposing to a six-year-old.

In any case, the tower is long gone, but I still have a few of those prized comics, issues of the X-Men and Conan the Barbarian and House of Secrets and the like. Like a lot of Gen Xers, I used comic books as a gateway drug to novels.

But even back in the day, when my love for comic books could not be quantified, I noticed something. It’s the same thing that Javier Hernandez, creator of the El Muerto comic book, noticed.

Hernandez says, “There is one thing I didn’t see in those books. I didn’t see me in there. I didn’t see us, Latinos.”

Nope, there were very few Hispanic characters or stories presented. However, a new generation of writers is looking to Latino culture for inspiration. It’s a full-fledged trend, illustrated by the fact that the Latino Comics Expo was held recently to spotlight Hispanic creators like Hernandez. His creation is a Hispanic hero based on a combination of Aztec mythology and Mexican folklore. I mean, how cool is that?

el muerto

Now, as we all know, comic books often feature thematic elements that appeal to teenagers and/or geeky middle-aged men. These include stories of heroes like the Jonah Hex and Spider-Man, who were outsiders to mainstream culture. It’s not much a stretch to say that Latinos have long appreciated the theme of being a misunderstood minority.

And now that metaphorical subtext is a little more concrete. Comic books from Hispanic authors range from traditional superhero formats to experimental stories to reality-based tales, such as the life of a Latino punk fan growing up in California.

Personally, I’m waiting for a Hispanic version of Wolverine. Now that would be something.


Flags of Our Fathers and Mothers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ethnic authenticity and the struggle for self-identity in a post-multicultural world.

Actually, that not’s true. In reality, I’m more apt to be thinking about taking my car in for a tune-up, or the odds of the Packers winning their division, or what Kate Winslet is doing right now (probably something sexy).

But when stray thoughts about ethnic authenticity and… well, the rest of it, actually do enter my mind, I think about a recent news story that caught my eye.

Here in California, we had a brouhaha, an imbroglio if you will, when a woman posted a video of herself berating people for flying a Mexican flag in their front yard. The woman, who was running for political office, ultimately lost her day job when the video went viral.

The family with the Mexican flag explained that they were simply expressing ethnic pride and meant no disrespect to America.

amer flag

There are several things going on here. First is the fact that a jingoistic bigot thought she would impress people by posting a video of herself being a bully, and maybe win the xenophobic vote in the process. It’s a sign of progress that this backfired horribly.

Second, the incident shows that for many Latinos, maintaining ties to one’s homeland is crucial to the concept of self-identity. And this drive for ethnic authenticity can span generations.

You see, Hispanics aren’t cowering under the boot of assimilation, like they did so often in the past. Back in the day, Latinos hid evidence of their roots, or they outright disowned their ethnicity, or they did anything they could to try to bluff people into thinking they were descended from the swarthier pilgrims on the Mayflower.

But contemporary Latinos are less likely to be ashamed of who they are, and displays of ethnicity are assumed — correctly — to be a right that can’t be subjugated.

Basically, if some nut comes onto your private property and starts lecturing you on how to be a real American, you are well within your rights to tell them to fuck off.

Now that this is settled, let me get back to those thoughts of Kate Winslet…

 


Not Quite Halloween

Back in the 1960s, the great essayist Joseph Mitchell wrote about his awe at seeing murals depicting “animated skeletons mimicking living human beings engaged in many kinds of human activities, mimicking them and mocking them… I was astonished by these pictures.”

He was describing, of course, the imagery of Día De Los Muertos. In Mitchell’s era, the Latin American holiday was exotic and largely unknown to US readers, and he was performing his writerly duty of passing along intriguing cultural information to his audience.

Today, we all are familiar with Día De Los Muertos — the white face paint on celebrants, the ubiquitous illustrations of grinning skulls, the small panoramas of skeleton musicians and dancers.

diadelosmertos

However, there is still great confusion in America about what this holiday actually signifies. Although it takes place at the same time of year as Halloween and shares the theme of ghostly visitors, there are fundamental differences.

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Parallel Lines

I have not written about the Ferguson situation to this point. It’s not because I am indifferent. It’s because I didn’t think I had much to add on the topic.

ferguson_day_6_picture_44

I mean, so many people have addressed the black-white racial divide, our flawed justice system, the increasing militarization of the police, the obliviousness of white conservatives regarding racial injustice, and the fact that an unarmed minority teenager is more likely to be demonized than a white teen who actually murders people.

That covers a lot of ground.

So let me just point out what few people have mentioned, which is that Latino teens have more in common with Michael Brown than a lot of Hispanic parents would like to admit.

You see, “the deaths of Hispanics at the hands of law enforcement officers literally stretch across the country — from California to Oklahoma to New York City.”

Yes, a majority of Latinos agree “that Brown’s killing raised important racial issues, [but] only 18% of Latinos said that they were following the Ferguson news closely.”

Perhaps Hispanics just find the parallels too disturbing to think about. Or maybe Latinos are exhausted from fighting for basic rights all the time, and want to let our African American brethren handle this issue, under the assumption that it’s more of their problem anyway.

But of course, it’s everyone’s problem.

As we all know, “being Latino in some places is enough to be pulled over under the guise of a minor traffic stop and be asked to prove American citizenship.”

And that should be enough — along with the appeal of basic human decency — to pay more attention to the turmoil in Missouri.


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