Fear Of A Brown Planet?

brownplanet“Unfortunate” and “chilling?”

How about insulting and xenophobic?

Local advocates may have held back a bit last week when they condemned Republican Albuquerque mayoral candidate Richard “R.J.” Berry and the New Mexico Republican Party for blaming a brutal murder on the city’s existing immigration policies.

Albuquerque police have charged suspected members of a hardcore El Salvadoran crime gang with murdering cook Stephanie Anderson on June 20 as they robbed a crowded Denny’s Restaurant on the city’s West Side.

In the aftermath of the crime, Berry and state Republican Party executive director Ryan Cangliosi blamed the city’s police policies regarding immigrants for the murder and called Albuquerque a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants.

Berry and Cangliosi said they were lamenting the fact that since 2007, city policy bars police from questioning a person about his or her immigration status unless the person is already under arrest or the officer feels their immigration status may be relevant to a criminal investigation.

The city adopted the policy in connection with a 2005 civil rights lawsuit brought by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund involving three Del Norte students who were detained at their school until immigration officials could question them.

In the days since the murder, Albuquerque police revealed that they had arrested one of the suspects, Pablo Ortiz, for DUI in 2008. He served time in jail and was then voluntarily deported to El Salvador. Police don’t know how Ortiz got back into the country and came to commit the murder. But city policies on immigration don’t appear to have anything to do with it.

Late last week, a coalition of advocacy groups expressed outrage that Berry and the Republican Party would attempt to use the murder as a pawn in their political chess game.

“Campaigns like this (against immigrants) have had a chilling impact on Hispanic/Latino communities across the country, resulting in increased discrimination, hate crimes, and racial profiling,” Adrian Pedroza, executive director of the Albuquerque Partnership, a Latino-led advocacy-based coalition, told the New Mexico Independent.

“At a time when we should be coming together to mourn the tragic death of a community member, it is unfortunate that there are those who would use this issue to further a political agenda,” Barbara Dua, executive director of the statewide New Mexico Conference of Churches, told NMI. “This is a time for us to unite, not be divided by fear mongering.”

Advocates say what Berry and the Republicans are claiming is unfortunate and chilling.

But let’s also call it what else it is – a xenophobic attempt to insult people’s common sense by confusing the facts and blurring the line between immigrants and the kind of ganged-up criminals who shoot a woman in cold blood.

Using the specter of crime and public safety to elicit knee-jerk reactions during political season is an old trick.

Did any of you fall for it?


A Transforming Force — Enlace Communtario

Maria Eugenia Leon -- a promotora at Enlace Comunitario

Maria Eugenia Leon -- a promotora at Enlace Comunitario

Successful social programs don’t always take a whole lot of money.

Sometimes they just take a bit of thought and a whole lot of heart.

Consider the promotora program at Enlace Comunitario, an Albuquerque-based nonprofit that provides services and counseling to those in the city’s Spanish-speaking immigrant community who are victims of domestic violence.

The promotora (literally, promoter) concept has its roots in the culture of Central and South America, where trusted members of communities are trained to work as health paraprofessionals among their own people, identifying health programs and guiding people toward healthier lifestyles.

Increasingly, governments and agencies in the United States are using the promotora model of health education as a lower-cost, culturally-sensitive way to improve health and overall quality of life in migrant communities all across the country.

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Two Roads to 2008: Miguel and the Boogie Man

Millions of words are being written about the significance of Barack Obama’s victory last week – the emergence of a new majority coalition, the fundamental redrawing of the electoral map, the transcending of America’s historic racial divide.

The 2008 election is one for the ages.

A look back always helps to put things in context. I see where PBS’s Frontline will broadcast “Boogie Man – The Lee Atwater Story.” Appropriate.

Twenty years ago – November 1988: Lee Atwater was the master of American politics, having just managed the successful presidential campaign of George H. W. Bush. That was the campaign that sharpened racial divisions, making “Willie Horton” and “wedge issues” household words. Lee pioneered the art of push polling and voter suppression. Continue reading

Giants Among Us

My mentor, Carolyn Goodman, lived a life that few would trade for. She lost two husbands to illness and her middle son to the Ku Klux Klan.

I met Carolyn in 1989 when I was a student in New York. She quickly became my friend and teacher through a relationship that lasted almost twenty years until her death in 2007 at the age of 91. Carolyn was a masterful storyteller, recounting her early activist years, organizing supplies with the Abraham Lincoln Brigade to send to the Spaniards fighting Franco in the late thirties. She told me about, and often introduced me, to the heroes of the Civil Rights Movement (who often met in her living room), from Julian Bond to now-Congressman John Lewis to John Doar, a champion in the US Department of Justice during the tumultuous sixties. She and I traveled to Mississippi twice, to commemorate the murders of her son Andy and his two Freedom Summer colleagues, James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, and the countless other women and men who literally sacrificed their lives to better our country. (link)
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Clearly Progress: A Common Kinship

Often, our politics are not so much a choice as a birthright. Although mine were born half a world and half a century away, perhaps there is some kinship with all of us who make progress what it is: the voyage, slow at times, towards equity.

My story started in the first half of the 20th century. My grandfather, a professor, was kidnapped several times during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and then for good by the North Koreans during the Korean War, never to be seen again. With the devastation that all wars bring upon them, my newly alone grandmother huddled her six children, on the brink of survival and in abject poverty, until somehow, they made it to the United States before the war claimed them.

Fast forward almost half a century.

When I was twenty and in college in New York City, I ran across a viewing of the wonderful Civil Rights documentary, Eyes on the Prize, and specifically, the episode on the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and Freedom Summer. Coincidentally, the very next day, The New York Times ran a story on the 25th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which was to be a bus caravan of young people to Mississippi and back. The article stated that Carolyn Goodman, the mother of Andrew Goodman – one of the Civil Rights workers killed that summer – lived in Manhattan. I looked her up in the phone book and told her I wanted to help with the anniversary project. She said, “sure, c’mon over.” Continue reading

Personal reflections on Obama’s speech

Barack Obama’s speech from Philadelphia today was a eulogy on the twentieth century’s conversation on race. Seeing a candidate – a Presidential candidate no less – pen a speech that holds the mirror up to all of America, equally, unashamedly and nakedly, made me exhale deeply and say, “finally.”

As one who has advised several candidates, I don’t know if I would have had the courage to green light that speech. Obama and his team have at stake millions of dollars, millions of supporters and incomprehensible pressures to win on November 4th. That’s not to be underestimated or undervalued. Above all, if Obama does not win, he will not be able to enact the new ways of governing about which he so eloquently speaks. In spite of, or more likely, because of all that, Obama and his team made a bold decision: to say what everyone is thinking, but no one wants to say out loud.

As a child, my lens on race was shaped by classmates making fun of me or chasing me home from school because I looked different than they did. As an adult, I came to understand race through my deep friendship with Carolyn Goodman, whose son, Andy Goodman, was murdered by the KKK in Mississippi during Freedom Summer 1964. Continue reading