Tag: civil rights

Even Better in 2016

For my last post of the year, I thought I would regale you with an amusing anecdote that happened to my mom.

She was standing in line at the post office, talking to my grandmother. As I may have mentioned, my grandmother is pushing 100, so it’s unlikely that she will learn English at this point. Therefore, my mom was speaking to her in Spanish.

Of course, that’s just asking for it.

A blustery man standing behind my mom yelled, “This is America. We speak English.”

Really, he said that.

My mom turned around and said, “Yes, this is America. And that means I can speak whatever I want.”

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The man gasped and struggled for a rejoinder. Either he didn’t think my mom spoke English (and was stunned that she had understood him), or he just didn’t believe anyone would have the nerve to question his simplistic assertion to his face. Or maybe my mom’s statement — with its firm basis in legal, cultural, and historical fact — just flummoxed him.

Regardless, my mom let him have it for another minute or two, using such terms as “freedom” and “civil rights” and “pride.” And he just kept jabbering for a proper rebuttal.

With the dressing down complete, my mom turned back to my grandmother. Before she could resume their conversation, however, the man’s companion — presumably his wife — tapped my mom on the shoulder.

“Good for you,” the man’s wife said. “I keep telling him to shut up and keep his stupid opinions to himself. Now maybe he’ll listen.”

And the man said nothing.

So that’s your anecdote. OK, maybe it’s not as amusing as I implied. But it is funny. Parts of it, anyway.

Happy New Year.

 


Many Languages, One Voice

When my cousins from El Salvador first came to America, they didn’t speak English. Of course, they were kids, so they rapidly learned it. Today, everyone in my family, except for my abuela, embraces English as their primary mode of communication. My cousins’ children (and mine) will have to make an effort to be bilingual and not leave Spanish in my family’s past.

But other families don’t face the dilemma of losing the mother tongue. In fact, about 5 million children in the United States don’t speak English as their primary language. This constitutes 9% of all US public school students. Now, that number includes a lot of kids who speak Tagalong or Russian or Mandarin or something else that most of us don’t recognize.

But it’s fair to say that many of the children who speak English as a second language (ESL) communicate only in Spanish.

best_kid_raising_hand

Because we’re hearing more Spanish than ever in the country’s schools, the Obama administration recently issued the nation’s first set of federal guidelines on the rights of ESL students. The guidelines remind school districts across the country of their obligations under the law.

Among other things, all schools must identify ESL students in a timely manner, offer them language assistance and provide qualified staff and resources to help them learn English. In essence, ESL students have the same rights to a quality education as students who speak English, and schools must avoid segregating English learners from other students.

I know this is a shocker to the nativist crowd, but you can’t just yell, “Speak English, damn it!” at perplexed kids.

The decision makes clear that students who speak Spanish, or other languages, are becoming more common, and the American educational system has to meet their needs. The Obama guidelines are a welcome indicator of that fact.

Of course, it’s a little sad that anyone has to be reminded of this in the first place.


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.

 


Sez Who?

We all know about Martin Luther King Jr.’s resistance to the unjust laws of the Jim Crow South. King believed that achieving justice sometimes necessitated breaking the arbitrary rules that flawed humans had devised.

Similarly, in Latin America, where many of our families originated, priests often took a stand against the repressive authority of the oligarchies. Sometimes, as with Archbishop Oscar Romero, they paid with their lives.

So it’s clear that religious leaders should urge their followers to disobey laws that are unjust or run counter to the principles of their faith…right?

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Just Words?

Earlier this week, the United States celebrated MLK Day. For the last quarter-century, we’ve marked this occasion with tributes and speeches that restate ideals that shouldn’t need to be restated. I’m talking about the basics: shunning bigotry, treating individuals of different backgrounds with respect, judging people by the content of their character, and so on. We really should have these concepts down by now, but we don’t.

In any case, Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is framed within the context of civil rights. Indeed, the phrase “civil rights movement” is practically trademarked to refer to the quest of African Americans in the 1960s to gain the privileges promised to them in the U.S. Constitution.

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The Government Has No Interest in Your Junk

I didn’t fly anywhere for Thanksgiving. This was obviously a good thing, as incessant news reports have informed me that TSA agents are groping Americans nonstop.

Really, it appears that this has become the civil-rights issue of our time. Citizens are up in arms that their privacy is being violated, so we have people opting out or showing up in bikinis or clamoring that TSA agents have literally squeezed the piss out of them.

And don’t get me started about the dreaded full-body scanners. We’ve heard that they cause cancer or melt your keys to your leg or instantly post images of your naked body to Facebook. At the very least, you never know if some Al-Qaeda operative is going to pick the moment you get scanned to detonate a terrorist photobomb.

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Rights for You and Me and Them

I haven’t written about immigration in, I don’t know, about nine minutes now. So despite my wish to move on to Latino-themed subjects that are more fun (i.e., wouldn’t a post about the chupacabra myth be cool right now?), events in the real world have conspired to once again force me to address this lighthearted, jovial topic.

You see, recently, the Supreme Court ruled that certain Constitutional rights don’t cease to exist just because the accused person is a noncitizen.

The cases didn’t even involve illegal immigrants. The Latino at the center of the first decision, Jose Padilla, has lived legally in the United States for forty years.

By the way, this isn’t the same Jose Padilla who is currently locked up for supporting Al-Qaeda. But maybe there’s something sinister about the name, because this Padilla was convicted of running drugs.

His lawyer failed to tell him that he would be kicked out of the country if Padilla pled guilty, and sure enough, deportation proceedings began against him. But the Supreme Court said that Padilla’s Sixth Amendment rights, which call for adequate legal representation, had been denied. The vote was 7-2, with that lovable duo of Scalia and Thomas dissenting.

In the other case, the Court was unanimous (a rarity these days) in overturning the deportation of Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo, a legal resident. The guy was busted for holding a miniscule amount of pot and then, a year later, was caught with “one tablet of the anti-anxiety drug Xanax without a prescription.” The Court said maybe this was not the aggravated felony that is required to kick out a legal resident.

The cases are basically reaffirmations that Constitutional rights are not reserved solely for citizens. This might not seem like it has to be emphasized every now and then, but another news event showed that some Americans don’t believe that immigrants deserve basic human rights, let alone Constitutional ones.

On Long Island, a man named Jeffrey Conroy was recently convicted of manslaughter for stabbing an Ecuadoran immigrant to death. According to prosecutors, Conroy was part of a gang that “targeted Latinos for assaults – part of a sport they called ‘beaner-hopping.’ ”

The fact that Conroy wasn’t convicted of murder is intriguing, as one must wonder if the lesser charge of manslaughter would have even been an option if he had stabbed, say, a white woman to death. But of course, Conroy and his thugs had no interest in attacking their fellow whites.

He was part of what the Southern Poverty Law Center calls “a pattern of ethnic intolerance going back ten years” on Long Island. The Center adds that Latinos there live “in an environment of intolerance and violence directed at them. The atmosphere of intolerance was stoked in part by anti-immigrant groups and some county leaders, along with an indifferent police department.”

These events show that it will be some time before certain Americans agree that Hispanics have a right to live among them. And it will be even longer before a few others agree that Hispanics have a right to live at all.


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