Category Archives: U.S. Ethnic Relations

Librotraficante Earns Intellectual Freedom Award

From the University of Illinois Grad School of Library and Information Sciences. Congrats to my friend Tony Diaz and his compatriotas for this ongoing movement. La lucha sigue!

Librotraficante is the 2012 recipient of the Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award given by the faculty of the Graduate School of Library and Information Science (GSLIS) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Librotraficante, a movement led by Tony Diaz, is being recognized for its efforts to oppose the censorship of ethnic and cultural studies materials in Arizona.

In 2010, Governor Jan Brewer signed Arizona House Bill 2281 to modify the state public education system in regards to the teaching of ethnic studies. By prohibiting courses “designed for pupils of a particular ethnic group” and “advocating ethnic solidarity,” this law has been used to eliminate Tucson’s popular Mexican American Studies (MAS) program from the public school system. This ban involved the removal of dozens of MAS textbooks and reading list books such as award-winning works A People’s History of the United States (Zinn, 1980) and Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Freire, 1970). In response, the American Library Association (ALA) issued a resolution opposing the restriction of these materials.

The Librotraficante (the translation of which means “book smuggler”) movement emerged to counter the effects of the ban. In early 2012, with leadership from Diaz, Liana Lopez, Bryan Parras, Lupe Mendez, and Laura Acosta, Librotraficante organized a caravan of educators and activists who facilitated a series of events across the Southwest to raise awareness of the situation and collect books for underground libraries. The caravan reached Tucson on March 17, 2012, with over 1,000 books.

Librotraficante efforts have since extended across the country including the development of a magazine and a freedom of speech event created in conjunction with Hispanic Heritage Month. On September 21, 2012, several groups, including librarians participating in the Joint Conference of Librarians of Color, came together to learn more about the struggles in Tucson and appreciate the important works currently being censored.

A reception to honor Librotraficante will take place during the ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle, Washington, on Saturday, January 26, 2013, from 5:30–7:00 p.m. The reception will be held in the Visions Room of the Renaissance Seattle Hotel, 515 Madison Street, Seattle. ABC-CLIO, a publisher of reference, contemporary thought, and professional development resources, provides an honorarium for the recipient and co-sponsors the reception.

The Robert B. Downs Intellectual Freedom Award is given annually to acknowledge individuals or groups who have furthered the cause of intellectual freedom, particularly as it affects libraries and information centers and the dissemination of ideas. Granted to those who have resisted censorship or efforts to abridge the freedom of individuals to read or view materials of their choice, the award may be in recognition of a particular action or long-term interest in, and dedication to, the cause of intellectual freedom. The award was established in 1969 by the GSLIS faculty to honor Robert Downs, a champion of intellectual freedom, on his twenty-fifth anniversary as director of the school.

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An Inspiring Talk from Justice Sotomayor

Thanks to my sis, I was able to attend the Progressive Forum’s event last night, featuring Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor. I had heard part of her story, I abhorred the attacks on her after “Wise Latina,” and I teared up a little when she was nominated and when she was finally sworn-in. But watching her in person, instead of on TV, made her quite human and very much inspiring.

Life was not easy for Sotomayor. Going through life with an alcoholic father, a busy mother trying to make ends meet, and the challenge of juvenile diabetes, yet, still being able to come through it all with the help of an abuelita, family, and friends, is a story with which most Americans can identify–at the very least, the story of overcoming adversity.

A few highlights:

“Illegal”- Sotomayor is not a fan of calling the undocumented “illegal aliens.” But also stated that when she is asked, “What do you think about immigration?, she is quick to respond, “What do YOU think about it.” A perfect hint for those who expect others to fight their cause. We must all fight for what is right.

“Wise Latina”- Much like when she defended and effectively fended off offended right-wingers for her use of the term, she stated that her use of it came from a sense of pride in her culture, but above all, as a response to having to prove herself as worthy in a world that sees those with browner skin as unworthy. This is definitely something with which many can identify.

Voting – Sotomayor stated that she was content with the recent increase in voting in 2012, stating that the people must decide what they want from their government, rather than just let government happen.

Of course, her talk was all about her autobiography, My Beloved World. She stated that she wanted to write something that was different than most other autobiographies with stories which people can understand and connect. Reading some of her favorite passages, the crowd was quite responsive. Most touching for the Justice, though, was being received with a lengthy standing ovation.

Thanks, again, to the sis. It was great seeing some great friends last night.

Chip In and Support Los Angeles del Desierto

We’ve all heard the stories of migrants who cross deserts and treacherous waterways as they attempt to find a better life. Along with those stories are those in which migrants lose their lives in desolate, desert areas. And that includes Texas.

Los Angeles del Desierto is an all-volunteer search and rescue operation of lost migrants on the US/Mexico Border founded in 1997 by Rafael Hernandez.

For the last 15 years, Hernandez has dedicated his time, resources and financial stability to save lives, lay the dead to rest and ease the pain of countless families looking for their loved ones. Using his skills and training as a paramedic, Hernandez has conducted numerous searches/rescues of migrants reported missing or left behind in mountains, deserts and other isolated border areas in California, Arizona and Texas.

Hernandez and his volunteers, whom he recruits and trains, have evacuated an estimated 90 migrants in mortal danger when lost, physically ill, and suffering the consequences of extreme weather during border crossings.

As reported by the Chron, they were in Houston a few days ago to speak about their work. With three vehicles and 10 volunteers, they have now set off to South Texas, and, according to representatives are currently in Encinal, TX–about 70 miles south of my hometown of Crystal City and just north of Laredo.

Two of the largest ranches in South Texas have given permission to Los Angeles Del Desierto to look for missing migrants.Until now, our local coalition Houston United and individuals were able to cover the expenses needed to assist Los Angeles Del Desierto with their mission. On this occasion, we find that we do not have sufficient funds to get them beyond our city. We need your help now.

Over 127 bodies of migrants were found in 2012 around the Falfurrias checkpoint, double the previous year. The work done by Los Angeles del Desierto provides those families with lost loved ones some closure, and at the very least the security in mind that their loved ones were treated with dignity. But they need our help–whatever donation you can give is greatly appreciated.

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Immigration Policy Center: 287(g) Flawed and Obsolete

The Immigration Policy Center released a report on the dreaded 287(g) program  which allows local law enforcement to act like federal immigration agents. They basically call it what DosCentavos has been calling it since its inception:  Flawed. And today, IPC stated that the practices used in running the program are obsolete. This should send a message to law enforcement agencies, such as Harris County Sheriff’s Department.

Here are a few highlights of the report:

287(g) Agreements Have Resulted in Widespread Racial Profiling

A report by Justice Strategies found that 87% of the jurisdictions with 287(g) agreements had a rate of Latino population growth higher than the national average.

287(g) Agreements Drain Local Coffers

Aside from training deputized officers on the enforcement of federal immigration law, ICE does not pay for any costs associated with implementation of the program, including overtime and financial liability arising from civil rights violations.

287(g) Partnerships Net Few Violent Criminals

[When DosCentavos debated HCSO's communications guy back in 2010 on 287(g) at a Young Dems meeting, he wasn't able to give any real figures as to detentions of violent criminals; instead, they have boasted big numbers on all detentions. An ICE report and other reports stated that the majority of immigrants detained using 287(g) were low-grade offenders whose crimes usually do not net a deportation. This report mentions a UNC report which gives a similar outcome in North Carolina.]

The report from the University of North Carolina found that 287(g) agreements in the state were primarily used to target offenders who posed no threat to public safety or individuals with no criminal record. For example, 33% of individuals detained through the 287(g) program were charged with traffic violations, a figure that rose to 41% in Alamance County and 57% in Gaston County.

287(g) Agreements Threaten Community Safety and Hinder Community Policing

  • The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), the nation’s premier law enforcement association, has stated that “local police agencies depend on the cooperation of immigrants, legal and illegal, in solving all sorts of crimes and in the maintenance of public order. Without assurances that they will not be subject to an immigration investigation and possible deportation, many immigrants with critical information would not come forward, even when heinous crimes are committed against them or their families.”
  • The Major Cities Chiefs Association (MCCA), a group of police chiefs from the 64 largest police departments in the United States and Canada, similarly has written: “without assurances that contact with the police would not result in purely civil immigration enforcement action, the hard won trust, communication and cooperation from the immigrant community would disappear.”

287(g) Agreements Lack Sufficient Federal Oversight

  • Although federal law mandates that 287(g) officers be subject to the direction and supervision of federal officials, numerous investigations have found federal oversight to be insufficient and lax. A March 2010 report by the DHS Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that ICE and its local law enforcement partners had not complied with the terms of their 287(g) agreements; that the standards by which deputized officers are evaluated contradicted the stated objectives of the 287(g) program; that the program was poorly supervised by ICE; and that additional oversight was necessary.
  • A January 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report found that ICE has failed to articulate the 287(g) program’s objectives or how local partners are to use their 287(g) authority. While ICE officials have stated that the purpose of the program is to address serious crime, such as narcotics smuggling, ICE has never documented this objective or provided statistics to validate it. As a result, local police have used their 287(g) authority to detain immigrants for traffic violations and other minor crimes.

287(g) Agreements are Obsolete

  • With the Secure Communities program in effect in virtually all U.S. jurisdictions, many have argued that 287(g) agreements no longer serve any plausible law enforcement benefit. Under the Secure Communities program, fingerprints of all state and local arrestees are routed to ICE officials, who can themselves determine whether to initiate removal proceedings. While Secure Communities also jeopardizes community policing and public safety, and fails to solve the problem of racial profiling by state and local police, all immigration enforcement decisions under Secure Communities are made by federal authorities.
  • In its budget justification for fiscal 2013, DHS sought $17 million less in funding for the 287(g) program, and said that in light of the expansion of Secure Communities, “it will no longer be necessary to maintain the more costly and less effective 287(g) program.”

The local sheriff has testified in favor of re-funding 287(g), but the bottom line is that another bad program (Secure Communities) has the same goals. Still flawed, though, it doesn’t make sense to fund two flawed programs. At the very least, 287(g) needs to be ended, especially as moves are made toward a sensible immigration policy in Washington.

GOP Quest to Find Non-Existent Voter Fraud Continues

Looks like Texas is now part of a growing number of states seeking access to a Department of Homeland Security database for the express purpose of purging undocumented people from the voter rolls.

Of course, since there has not been a rash of in-person voter fraud in Texas elections, one wonders if this is just for show. Worse, is this is an attempt to “accidentally” purge any names that match actual citizens on the voter rolls?

It had to be asked.

I don’t think there is anyone out there that supports undocumented people voting, but providing a tool such as this to Republican-led governments whose express intent has been to minimize Latino voting power with Voter ID legislation, organized voter intimidation groups, and purging of voter rolls without much evidence of anything, well, it seems like our democracy is in danger.

This is definitely something on which to keep an eye; especially on the implementation and operations side. And the DOJ should keep a close watch on how these government entities are using these databases, and perhaps, even double-check those voter roll purges.

What’s Going on in Pasadena?

Looks like a recent vacancy on the Pasadena (TX) City Council is now causing some frustration for some in the Hispanic community.

The delay comes from, “The allegations of which (district) map to use, the old map or the new map, and we’re just trying to get legal opinions and make sure we’re on firm footing before we recommend one or the other,” Isbell explained.

Brannon was elected with district maps and boundaries determined by the 2000 Census.

New maps with new district boundaries based on the 2010 Census have been drawn and approved by the federal government for use in the 2013 elections, but it’s not clear whether they can be used now to fill the District E seat.

Isbell wants the lawyers to decide which map to use.

Richard Serna, a runner up for the now vacant seat, has received a lot of support from the community, including a current Council Member, Ornaldo Ybarra. Isbell’s explanation for not going ahead with an appointment for a district in which the people are calling for Serna to take the seat leaves much to be desired, apparently.

“I am of the opinion I am not going to choose a person by the color of their skin. I’m going to consider an Asian, an African-American, Caucasian or a Hispanic. I disagree with the fact that the Hispanics come forward and say, ‘You’ve got to appoint a Hispanic for this seat and it’s got to be this Hispanic.’ I think that’s wrong. We just created four Hispanic districts in Pasadena through the last redistricting, so I am not going to choose a person by the color of their skin, period,” Isbell said.

Looks like Isbell forgets the concept that these are Hispanic opportunity seats and that, really, any person can run (and win). What the people seem to be asking for is someone to take over the seat with whom they are comfortable, and that’s the way it should be.

According to Marc Campos, Pasadena is 62% Hispanic, but Ybarra is the only Hispanic on Council. Redistricting might take care of the discrepancy, so, I don’t know what Isbell’s intent on delaying things is, unless he wants an alternative to Serna. I mean, that’s how politics is played, right?

Good luck to CM Ybarra in helping the people get whom they want on Council.

Romney Greeted by DREAMERS at Local Money-Grab

There’s a big story in the Chron about Romney’s Texas money-grab here in Houston, but they failed to mention that the anti-Latino, anti-immigrant presidential candidate was greeted by protesters. What’s up with that?

FIEL (Familias, Inmigrantes y Estudiantes en la Lucha) organized the emergency action at the St. Regis Hotel, sending a message to Romney that his anti-immigrant positions are not acceptable.

Thanks to FIEL for being on the spot on this one!

The Boy Made of Lightning

I voted yesterday and it never fails; whenever I’m about to press “Cast Ballot” I feel this sense of power. I feel a sense that in this democracy, I do matter. And when turnout is expected to be low, damn right, I feel a lot more powerful.

When I’m voting, various things go through my mind. Like all those who fought on battlegrounds, and especially in the streets, for my right to vote. Along with my parents who instilled in me a love for voting, one name that comes to mind is voting rights activist, the late Willie Velasquez, founder of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project.

Velasquez is the subject of a children’s book based on his life and times, expected to be published on September 16, 2012. The interactive children’s book is by a collaboration of authors and artists led by novelist and journalist Barbara Renaud Gonzalez.

The boy made of lightning will be about 25 pages long.  It will include sound, photos, video, original music and local voices. A two-page glossary with links.

As our State Board of Education attempts to minimize the contributions of Latinos, it is becoming more and more important that we create a body of evidence that we existed in the making of Texas and America and that children everywhere be taught reality, rather than some fantasy. And Willie Velasquez’s life is one that should be taught as an example of what one can accomplish and how “one boy sets out to change the world.”

Excerpt:

One day something happened that Willie would never forget.

It had rained again.  That morning, Willie decided he would discover what caused the flooding once and for all.

“Vamonos!”  He told Rudy.  “Adventure!”

The night before, the drums in his head wouldn’t stop.

Why?Where?What?When?   Why?Why?Why?

He just had to know where the flooding began.

His mother let him go.  Once Willie started on something there was no stopping him.  They took some tacos and a rope just in case they found something interesting to bring home.

Excerpt from The boy made of lightning@2012

Of course, the development of this E-book for Ipad doesn’t happen as easily without your support. Visit the website and make a small contribution toward making this book a reality.

The Chron Visits Sharpstown

Chris Moran at the Chron took some time out of his busy City Hall schedule to do this write-up on my new neighborhood–Sharpstown. While Moran reminds us of the various negative things in the area, such as crime and some blight, I cannot but agree with my Council Member Mike Laster.

District J Councilman Mike Laster, a longtime Sharpstown activist and resident, compares his community today to the Heights of 15 years ago and Midtown a decade ago.

There are many components to revitalization, Laster explained. “The first and most important one is changing people’s attitudes about your area.”

Laster and Acquaro point to bricks and blueprints as evidence that Sharpstown is poised for a revival.

I think Sharpstown does suffer from a PR problem, as much as any of the cosmetic problems. And the perceptions, as they come from different people even within the community, are quite different, too. It seems when there is a discussion about Sharpstown, people either skirt the issue or come close to blaming the diversity of the area for the problems, while also trying to appreciate it.

I attended an HD-137 candidate forum this weekend and one of the candidates brought up “the old Sharpstown mall,” now known as PlazAmericas, and how all of the anchor stores are long-gone. The problem is, most shopping centers in the area don’t have anchor stores either; such as those huge shopping centers in what is known as Chinatown. It may be for obvious reasons:  It’s a challenge for anchor stores to locate and market in shopping centers which market to specific groups.

Perhaps a major reconstruction of the area will open a door, as is being done to Chinatown. Some cosmetic improvements have also been done to the PlazaAmericas area. To simply point to the problem is not enough; if you want to improve an area, then you have to work on bringing in investors and businesses, as well as push government to provide the necessary resources–law enforcement, city services, etc.–to help a business community thrive and a community revitalize. I see that commitment from CM Laster and from various leaders who have resided in Sharpstown and have chosen to stay.

Moran points to KIPP and other private schools in the area, including HBU, which will be working on expanding some of their offerings. And those institutions reach a few people; however, the vast majority of students are in public schools and there must be a commitment to improve those–whether in Gulfton, Sharpstown or any of these areas. Good, safe school do not only provide an educational foundation, but they also provide a base for community relations–organizations, cultural events, and community activism. Without investment in the public infrastructure, changing people’s perception will be an even bigger challenge.

Nonetheless, there are various issues in Sharpstown, and these are the same issues that affect most other neighborhoods in Houston–crime, blight, slow progress on economic development, etc. And as various entities partner up to improve the area, there needs to be some sort of cheer squad to pump up the positive aspects of the area:  its diversity–ethnic, cultural, and economic–and even small business opportunities. And it will take the most important part of Sharpstown to get this done–its people.

My neighborhood has a little bit of everything and nothing made me feel more hopeful than driving by a low-income apartment complex which has been improved and seeing its residents hold a community garage sale and car wash to raise money to keep improving their little community. And that’s just one instance of many that can make any Sharpstown resident feel hopeful.

I’m looking forward to Sharpstown’s process of revitalization–the process, not just the end product.

Spread the Word: May 1st March!