Archive for the ‘america’ Category

The Pulse of The United States – May 2009

May 2, 2009

Last night, I spent almost half an hour filling out the 2009 American Community Survey, part of the 2010 census.  As my wife and I filled it out, I wondered what the census would show this year.  Many predict that Minnesota will lose a seat in the House, that some serious redistricting will go on, and that the answers from the census will be analyzed and implemented in everything from political campaigns to television commercials.

Although the American public won’t get the results from the 2010 census for a while now, and when it does immigrants and minorities will still probably be underrepresented, this past week saw some encouraging polls released from the New York Times, CBS, ABC, and the Washington Post, just in time for the initiation of immigration reform discussion before the Senate Immigration Subcommittee on Thursday, April 30. (Belanger, Maurice). The New York Times and CBS polls asked:

Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.: 1. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs, and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship; OR 2. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as temporary guest workers, but NOT to apply for U.S. citizenship; OR 3. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S. [NYTimes]

44% said they favored allowing immigrants to stay and eventually apply for citizenship, while 21% said they should be allowed to stay in their jobs as temporary guest workers.  Refreshingly contrary to national pundits who typically pit African Americans against recent immigrants, 55% of African Americans favored allowing undocumented workers to stay and work, with only 19% stating they should be required to leave their jobs and the U.S. (Belanger, Maurice)

The Washington Post/ABC poll released on Thursday was similarly encouraging news.  The survey asked,

Would you support or oppose a program giving ILLEGAL immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here LEGALLY if they pay a fine and meet other requirements? [ABC]

61% said they favored allowing undocumented immigrants to continue to live here and have a viable path to citizenship.  Liberals supported this (70%), Democrats supported it (68%), Republicans and Independents supported it (59%), and moderates (63%) and conservatives supported it (56%). (Belanger, Maurice) Despite the repeated statements from nativists that this is a partisan issue and that humane immigration reform is contrary to rule of law in the United States, the poll speaks loudly that the majority of Americans are in favor of treating these new Americans humanely and reasonably.

With 73% of Americans under 30 supporting such legislation (compared to 42% of seniors), this comprehensive immigration reform seems to be the mandate of the future. As the Senate debates the finer points of specific immigration bills, it is highly encouraging to know that the American people have not caved in to nativist and xenophobic fears during this time of economic depression, but instead have chosen to recognize that as Dr. King said, we are all “inextricably linked in the garment of destiny.”

La Frontera or My Students as Teachers

March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday Entrance to UT-Brownsville- March 16, 2008

    We teachers often say that we learn much more from our students than we could ever hope to teach in a year. This took on new meaning as I marched this past spring break on the No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, TX, from March 8-16. Though I can boast good high school teachers and an undergraduate degree in English from Penn State, my real learning started a year and a half ago when I moved down to la frontera.

    I knew no one. My nearest family was 2,000 miles away on the other border. I drove my Dodge Spirit from the Saint Lawrence of upstate New York to the Rio Grande of downstate Texas. It took me a while to reconcile a New York minute to a Mexican manana, and for the first few months I was overwhelmed with the new culture and my first year teaching. I quickly realized my few years of high-school Spanish class in Troy, Pennsylvania, was probably not going to cut it in a place where close to 90% of people claim Spanish as their first language.

    And so, thousands of miles away from my fiance and my family, my freshman high-school students taught me about family, about priorities, about volunteerism, nonviolence, and communication. When I was forced to condense my 16 years of education into a single lesson plan day after day, I quickly realized the important lessons I had learned over the years and those teachers who had done a great job. My students were patient, and over the semesters I have gained a working fluency from a multitude of one-on-one tutoring sessions, parent-teacher conferences, and after-school “Teach Mr Webster Spanish” classes.

    They must have been so proud when I went from monosyllabic responses to being able to understand when they used vulgarity in the class (well, at least most of them were happy). Some students still express surprise when they learn I have phoned home to their parents to tell them good or bad news about their child’s progress in my class; the other students chime in with, “DUH! Ya el habla espanol!”

    So, it was with great pride that I shared the following article with my students on the first Monday of classes back from spring break. It ran on in La Frontera on March 12, 2008.

“De acuerdo con el profesor de inglés como segundo idioma de la Escuela Preparatoria Rivera en Brownsville y organizador de la marcha, Mathew Webster señaló que su razón principal de estar en contra del muro son sus estudiantes (en su mayoría inmigrantes), que llegan al Valle con sus familias para tener un mejor futuro.
“En mis clases todos mis estudiantes son inmigrantes y como entrenador de fútbol, también todos los jugadores son inmigrantes, los cuales tienen familias y una vida en ambos lados, manifestó Webster. “Por lo que creo que este muro es horrible y una falta de respeto a la cultura, la vida y a las familias”.
El agregó que la idea de reparar el dique y utilizarlo como muro sigue siendo algo negativo para esta región ya del lado de México se verá como un simple muro.
“El mensaje para la gente del Valle es tener esperanza, el muro aun no existe y tenemos la esperanza de que si unimos nuestras voces contra este lograremos impedir la construcción”, concluyó el maestro de inglés.” http://www.lafronteratx.com/articles/fronterizo_18389___article.html/marchan_muro.html

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

In this 15-minute interview, I was able to communicate in my newfound second language that because my students and soccer players are immigrants and have lives on both sides of the river, I believe a wall is a horrible symbol lacking respect for their culture, lives, and families. I was also able to impart that the message this March was trying to send was that the Valley must have hope, because the wall does not exist yet. We must have hope and unite our voices to stop the construction of this border wall.

    My students, barring the one or two who chuckled at my sometimes forced Spanish pronunciation, were overjoyed to see that I had made this much progress. 7th period even clapped for their maestro. I have rarely been prouder, and neither have they.

    After they said they would continue to give me more lessons, I shared the most important thing they had taught me. The primary reason I am against the wall is not the environment it will destroy, the economy it will cripple, the beauty it will abolish, the politics it will play, or the dollars it will disappear. The main reason I am against any sort of border wall is because my students deserve better than a border wall. Because they have taught me the plight of the immigrant in this country, I will campaign with the rest of my life for real immigration reform rather than symbols of evil like a border wall. Because my students and their families deserve to have the same opportunities as people in the rest of these United States, I am absolutely opposed to any border wall or border-levee compromise that distracts from the real, pressing issue of providing for immigrant students through legislation like the DREAM Act.

    To last year’s students of F210 and this year’s students of F114, thank you for the life lessons you have taught your teacher. I pray I have been able to impart some life lessons to all of you as well.

http://s239932935.onlinehome.us/index.php/brownsville-walk.html

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Presbyterian Church USA

February 5, 2008

    “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9 NIV) Martin Luther King Jr. puts this another way in his speech Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.

We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

 

Immigration is not a matter of us or them but of humanity. While the compassionate, human side of immigration is often forgotten in shock-jock radio shows and television syndicates, the Church continues to be a bastion of hope for the hopeless, a voice for the voiceless. The Presbyterian Church is part of this solidarity for border reform – not for the sake of simply changing immigration laws but rather changing the hopes and dreams and rights of immigrants themselves.

    In its 2006 General Assembly Policy on Immigration, the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA) set forth the following conditions as their dream for the Church.

2. Affirm that our denomination, mindful of the current realities and threats to our belief system, not sway from our solidarity with, and pledge of service to, all of our brothers and sisters regardless of their race, creed, color, nationality, or residency status.

3. Affirm those Presbyterian congregations and presbyteries that are already standing alongside immigrants and are actively engaged in acts of compassion, empowerment, and advocacy.

4. Challenge each Presbyterian congregation and presbytery to embrace a comprehensive approach to “advocacy and welcome” for immigrants that includes, at the very minimum:

a. an opportunity for hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows, regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria, and, over time, pursue an option to become lawful permanent residents and eventually United States citizens;

b. reforms in our family-based immigration system to significantly reduce waiting times for separated families who currently wait many years to be reunited;

c. the creation of legal avenues for workers and their families who wish to m migrate to the U.S. to enter our country and work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner with their rights fully protected; and

d. border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the authorities to carry out the critical task of identifying and preventing entry of terrorists and dangerous criminals, as well as pursuing the legitimate task of implementing American immigration policy.

e. a call for living wages and safe working conditions for workers of United States- owned companies in other countries;

f. a call for greater economic development in poor countries to decrease the economic desperation, which forces the division of families and migration.

5. Affirm the right of each congregation, presbytery, and our denomination as a whole, to speak out clearly and constantly to the media and others regarding the PC(USA)’s call to serve all those in need and to stand with the oppressed, our refusal to be deferred from this mandate, and our willingness to break laws that forbid us to live out our responsibilities to God and to our brothers and sisters who do not have U.S. residency documents…

10. Reaffirm that we must find ways to ensure that “marginalized persons” in our society, citizen or not, are not pitted against each other.

11. Express our grave concern about the negative impact of the growing effort to make the border more secure through building walls designed to move migrant patterns further into the more dangerous part of the borderlands, by increasing the number of federal agents, and by deploying armed National Guard to the already volatile region.

12. Commend the visionary efforts of programs such as Just Coffee, Just Trade Centers, and micro-credit programs that strengthens communities and enables people to stay in their homeland through economic development.

 

The Presbyterian Church, like so many other Christian denominations, realizes that the issue of immigration is not ultimately about borders but about boarders, not pesos but the peso of a world which continues to keep America rich and endowed with certain inalienable rights which are alien to so many people living in poverty just a few miles away. Christians in different denominations all realize that it is a sin for teachers in border towns, like myself, to make 10x as much money as qualified teachers across el rio. We must realize that the Gospel is not just the good news of Heaven but the good news of heaven on earth; it is the Church’s prerogative to tirelessly work to redistribute the blessings and gifts of God here in America to the rest of the world. So many nativists and xenophobes are opposed to immigration because it is a constant reminder that there is still not an equilibrium of rights and wealth in this 21stcentury globalized world. It is a constant reminder that the United States needs to reach out more, not less, to its neighbors, to work at the root of “push” immigration.

 

    *The Border Ambassadors are proud to be in solidarity with the Presbyterian Church of the greater Rio Grande Valley. As we walk the 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville from March 8-16, it is both to protest a physical border wall but also to encourage and show solidarity in the communities which are being impacted.*

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Mennonite Brethren

February 3, 2008

This Thursday, January 31, 2008, it was announced that the Latin American District of the Mennonite Brethren Church was being sued by U.S. Department of Homeland Security for refusal to allow government officials to survey their property for the border wall. This sort of civil disobedience is not unique to the Mennonite Brethren Church, however; Christian churches have long been counterbalances to politics. Immigration has long been an issue for the church, and of late a plethora of denominations have taken strong stances and bold mission statements both pro-immigrant and anti-border-wall.

 

The Mennonite Brethren Church’s refusal to allow government officials to step on their land is indeed a brave action of nonviolence, but it is entirely in keeping with their church statement on immigration. At the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. (MCC U.S.) Executive Committee Meeting in Akron, PA, in March of 2006, the Mennonite Brethren discussed their church’s doctrine on and commitment to immigration. MCC U.S. was responding to an outcry from parishioners, communities, and the Biblical passage in Leviticus 19:33-34 which states, “ “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do (the stranger) wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love (the stranger) as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

MCC U.S. has a long history of civilly disobeying unjust laws and nonviolently working for just and compassionate legal reform. This church has had members be conscientious objectors long before the law made provisions for such people. In other cases, Mennonites have disobeyed laws to become sanctuaries for refugees and illegal immigrants. With this history in mind, the Mennonite Brethren drafted the following resolution.

“Therefore:

1. We commit ourselves to helping anyone who asks including the strangers/immigrants in our midst regardless of their legal status in this country.

2. We are committed to obeying God rather than human authority, especially when laws call us to harm others and block us from efforts to protect life.

3. We commit ourselves to support MCC workers who are working with immigrants by:

a. praying for them, their families and their work on a daily basis.

b. giving them our moral support as they continue in their work assignments.

c. providing the financial resources needed for any legal defense or penalties imposed because of the work we have asked them to do.

4. We will partner with denominations to provide financial resources to assist individuals and congregations with legal costs.

5. We encourage our constituent denominations to call on area conferences, districts and congregations to provide financial help and set aside monies in case pastors or other church workers would need any legal help.

We also:

1. Call the U.S. government to enact realistic, humane and just comprehensive immigration reform.

2. Ask that any immigration reform provide workers with sufficient labor protections, reunite separated families, end militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, allow workers to come and go safely across the border and create a path

to legalization for those undocumented immigrants who wish to stay.

3. Ask the government not to force church workers to choose between obeying the dictates of their faith and the dictates of their government.

4. Call the U.S. government to create economic policies that will assist developing countries and provide for fair trade. If people are able to provide a decent living for their families, many would choose to stay in their home countries.

5. Ask the U.S. government to make trade agreements and institutions more accountable.”

While detractors often point to the multitude of Christian denominations as a source of contention and “factionism,” the Christian stance on immigration is anything but fractured. If anything, the church is asking the questions that so far have not been making it into the political scene or the Presidential primaries. The Mennonite Brethren Church, along with numerous other Christian denominations, are civilly disobeying more restrictive immigration reform and nonviolently opposing a wall because they do not see it as a compassionate response nor a successful strategy. What these churches share in common is their desire to reshape the world so that there need not be illegal immigrants. Whether this is through U.S. investment in Central American countries, or earned amnesty legislation, or a phase-out of the quota system, or harsher penalties on employers perpetuating this sector of society, what is the same is their desire to target the laws which make such people criminals rather than the people who are being criminalized by current legislation.

 

 

*The Border Ambassadors are proud to partner with Mennonites throughout the Rio Grande Valley as part of their 120-mile No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas.*

Smart Borders

January 15, 2008

        Our borders define us. By definition, they define where a country ends and where it begins. Our country began with open borders, encouraging immigration, but to hear current bombastic rhetoric and to see the doubling and tripling of our border security budget, America’s modern history would read as a long chapter of closing itself off to rest of the world. Our borders now define us as a terrified nation arrogant enough to think we have nothing more to learn or gain from would-be immigrants. From without, our borders show us to be distrusting, hypocritical. And within, 12 million extralegal residents live without rights and/or recourse to fundamental protections most enjoy by birthright. The 23 million legal immigrants also struggle to carve out a life for themselves, many with the hopes of bringing their families one day.

        Borders are ambassadors, and the U.S. border with Mexico has long been a deaf consulate. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 does not address the real needs of Americans or Mexicans, or for that matter Somalians or Mung or Iraqis or Bosnians. A border which ceases to be permeable is just a wall unresponsive to the needs of either side.

        Smart borders are permeable boundaries set up to ease administration and to profit those on both side of the border. Cities have long employed smart borders. To ride a train from New Jersey to Philadelphia is to cross borough lines, city lines, and state lines all without the hassle of a security check or a passport stamp. Free movement between cities is expected, and for most Americans so is free movement to other countries. Much like the wars which we support because they are so far away, so too are our fears of being unable to cross borders whenever we so wish. Perhaps if Americans were treated like a Muslim man in an airport or a Mexican day-laborer – perhaps then we would finally admit that freer movement of all peoples is a necessary human right that we have taken for granted.

    America needs more than a border wall. This nation must honestly address immigration reform for its human rights issues, social justice, and its economic implications. We must work to integrate and desegregate all residents in the United States regardless of race, color, sex, or citizenship. We must simultaneously renovate an inhuman immigration quota system which blockades countless workers and family members who could positively contribute to our nation.

 

Whereas:

  1. Globalization is inevitable but moral economics, just migration rights, and mutually beneficial borders are not.

  2. The world has always been globalized through environmental issues, economic matters, and social movements; and recently has become further linked through technology.

  3. Rigid borders are inherently violent, both in cause and effect, and also a means of perpetuating inequality and injustice.

  4. Borders are best when they are instruments of choice, tools which help governments better serve the people on both sides of the border.

  5. Borders are best when they are a seam and not a rift, when they are permeable lines of distinction (ideas) rather than concrete, uncommunicative, unresponsive walls.

  6. Choice of habitation strengthens both the country which receives the immigrants and the country which gives them up.

  7. Cities already have working borders which allow for and encourage economic, social, and cultural interchange.

  8. Communication is more time-intensive but has longer-lasting effects than rigid, unresponsive border enforcement.

  9. Nonviolence is the sole tool of change which strives for consensus and equality.

It is the purpose of this blog to make globalization accountable through communicating the concept of smart borders, permeable instruments of choice and mutually beneficial relationships. To the extent that the violent, nativistic, limiting borders of today can be replaced by liberalized, humanizing, and progressive borders tomorrow, this blog and its readers will have been successful in being a “voice for the voiceless.” There is no greater force on earth than an idea whose time has come, said Victor Hugo as quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. As we elect our next political leaders and a potential border wall looms in the distance, the time for this idea has come.

The Effects of Not Choosing Nonviolence

January 13, 2008

“’You are unleashing certain things in a human being we don’t allow in civic society, and getting it all back in the box can be difficult for some people’, said William C. Gentry, an Army reservist and Iraq veteran who works as a prosecutor in San Diego County.” (Sontag, Deborah)

As the United States erects borders and infiltrates more and more countries with its military, it is chilling to see the effects of choosing violence over nonviolence. Today’s New York Times article entitled “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles,” states that 121 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan have been involved in a killing after returning home. The stories are heart-wrenching because everyone is a victim. Sadly, peace is not a choice we make after war happens. Nonviolence must be the means if it is to be the end.

Martin Luther King voiced it this way in Loving your Enemies..

Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality. Mindful that hate is an evil and dangerous force, we too often think of what it does to the person hated. This is understandable, for hate brings irreparable damage to its victims. We have seen its ugly consequences in the ignominious deaths brought to six million Jews by a hate-obsessed madman named Hitler, in the unspeakable violence inflicted upon Negroes by bloodthirsty mobs, in the dark horrors of war, and in the terrible indignities and injustices perpetrated against millions of God’s children by unconscionable oppressors.

But there is another side which we must never overlook. Hate is just as injurious to the person who hates. Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.

It is startling to look back on the last 50 years of American history and cringe at the spiraling cycle of hate from WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. Our nation, as well as our soldiers, suffers from PTSD. How can we pay men and women to travel to other countries to engage in actions which will endanger their lives, their minds, and their souls, yet has never been proven to work and in fact has done exactly the opposite? We shiver to imagine the future of a world which continues to up its use of violence.

“’Seth has been asked and required to do very violent things in defense of his country,’ Captain Tiffner wrote. ‘He spent the majority of 2003 to 2005 in Iraq solving very dangerous problems by using violence and the threat of violence as his main tools. He was congratulated and given awards for these actions. This builds in a person the propensity to deal with life’s problems through violence and the threat of violence’.” (Sontag, Deborah)

In this century, we must dust off the proven theory of nonviolence and assert that it is not only the effective tool of the African-American girl marching in a civil rights demonstration, but also the path to diplomacy and lasting peace in the Middle East and the Midwest. Nonviolence is much more than the civil disobedience of Gandhi’s satyagrahis; it can also be a national policy which works with the opposition to create two winners and true progress. Nonviolence cannot be solely left to those of impeccable character like Martin Luther King, Jr., or the ascetics like Gandhi, or even the ornery curmudgeons like Henry David Thoreau. We have seen enough; it is high time the United States and the United Nations take the lead in truly employing nonviolent strategies not just in conjunction with military power but in stead of violence. Nonviolence is more than civil disobedience, noncompliance, more than sit-ins and hunger strikes, more than boycotts and speeches and marches and voting. It is love in action.

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear…” (1 John 4:18a, NASB)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sontag, Deborah and Lizette Alvarez. “Across America, Deadly Echoes of Foreign Battles.” New York Times. January 13, 2008. Web:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/13/us/13vets.html?_r=1&hp&oref=slogin

 

This is part of an ongoing series entitled “War Torn.” Look for it in upcoming issues of the New York Times.

Guns Anyone

We have nothing to fear but our reaction to fear…

December 27, 2007

     Despite our loud exclamations otherwise, change brings out fear in all of us. Though change may be a constant, our fears and our fear-induced responses are the variable which brings about community and communication or violence and separation. While Roosevelt said we have nothing to fear but fear itself, it is only as true as the misquoted Bible verse “Money is the root of all evil.” Neither is entirely correct, because both leave out the human element which always has the power of making change redemptive or destructive. We have nothing to fear, then, but our negative reactions to fear.

 

     “No matter how much I say I support open borders and immigration, there is still this little part of me that doesn’t want to see all this change,” she says, motioning to Minne-snow-ta. “It seems like all this is pretty good; people getting along, helping each other out, maintaining their own traditions. I want my kids to have this same place.”

     She was voicing something with which everyone inevitably struggles. Mistakenly, our guttural instinct is to preserve what we love, though it be in formaldehyde. Paradoxically, though, the best way to honor that which we love the most is to let it grow and change. If something is worth keeping, it will survive. Though detractors will dub this cultural suicide, it is more akin to a cultural “survival of the finest.”

     This phenomenon can be witnessed by simply driving through our nation’s urban centers. New York, that wonderful amalgamation of cultures and races and tastes and lifestyles somehow manages to be a cohesive whole. The Dominicans in Washington Heights learn English out of necessity, using it on the subway and at the bank even as they continue frying plantains and yucca for their dinners. Israelis, Germans, Italians, Irish, Puerto Ricans, Kenyans, Eastern Europeans, Chinese, Korean, Russian – all of these and more find their way to the 5 boroughs, releasing some of the less desirable characteristics of their culture while maintaining the finest of their homeland.

     Although this might seem overly optimistic, it is possible. Certainly the United States has much to learn from other cultures and other country’s ways of thought; to open ourselves to renewed immigration would strengthen our most praiseworthy and fundamental values while complementing our culture with the best of the world. Rather than listening to xenophobic shock jocks such as Bill O’Reilly, Lou Dobbs, or other fear-monger media sources, the inevitable effects of a globalizing population must be greeted with an informed welcome. We have much to learn from the world, and as “perfect” as certain corners of our country may seem in their idyllic state, it would be fear-based and fear-producing to build walls when we should be building bridges. Ultimately, our nation cannot hang a “No Vacancy” sign on the outstretched arm of Our Lady Liberty; at this Christmastime, it is all too easy to realize what and whom we might be turning away out of ignorant fear.

Words are…Power!

November 25, 2007

WORDS ARE….POWER

    This call-and-response begins class every single day in F114. I impress upon my students that I love my job because literacy is the heart of life. If you do not have a working literacy, you are forced to believe everything you hear. Without the ability to read, analyze, and check sources, my students must take everything I tell them at face value; and while I would never intentionally lie to them, there are plenty in this world who are less scrupulous with the truth.

    At the heart of students’ success is a working literacy. OCHEM, Fluid Mechanics, Intro to Statistics, World Geography, Government – all of these courses are based on a working written language. This fact is highlighted in border schools, where ESL students comprise the vast majority of the student population. The success of each students can largely be predicted by that student’s literacy. Additionally, Mexican culture was a primarily oral culture until just a few years ago, and still many parents and their children do not prize the capacity to mark and interpret black strikes on white pulp.

    Which brings me to the subject at hand. The national push to “modernize” our educational system can be summed up in a dark anecdote published by Time Magazine.

Rip Van Winkle awakens in the 21st century after a hundred-year snooze and is, of course, utterly bewildered by what he sees. Men and women dash about, talking to small metal devices pinned to their ears. Young people sit at home on sofas, moving miniature athletes around on electronic screens. Older folk defy death and disability with metronomes in their chests and with hips made of metal and plastic. Airports, hospitals, shopping malls–every place Rip goes just baffles him. But when he finally walks into a schoolroom, the old man knows exactly where he is. “This is a school,” he declares. “We used to have these back in 1906. Only now the blackboards are green.” [“How to Bring Our Schools Out of the 20th Century” Dec. 10, 2006]

 

The past few years of NCLB have seen the American education system throwing millions of dollars to “technologize” its neediest schools. A week after Amazon.com released its revolutionary Kindle ebook system, some may be signing the death warrant of paperback books and their inclusion in our educational system. Grants abound for electronic funding and computer purchases, and private backers love to revolutionize and modernize needy schools (as opposed to buying them 500 books 1/10 the cost).

    Currently, border schools such as the one in which I teach subscribe to 3-5 different computer literacy programs aimed at different student populations. They also “utilize” at least that many test-preparation programs for reading. Many schools have SmartBoards in every class, several boast ELMO’s, and virtually every school is equipped with the bare necessities of their thousand-dollar LCD projectors. Still, however, at the end of the day, my particular school, like many other schools, lacks the capacity to provide books for its students. IN my particular case, I can only supply books for one of my 5 classes. Our school houses only 60 copies of Romeo and Juliet, despite the fact that all 900 freshman are required to read it each year.

    In the well-intentioned hope of modernizing, we are are neglecting the very heart of literacy – personal, private, independent reading. It is good and well if a students can interpret words in a movie or HTML, but they must also be able to glean information from a single sheet of pressed wood. Nothing can replace the physical joy of breaking in the spine of a new book, of completing that last page, of conquering a book, of downing your first full novel.

    At best, these technological frills are good supplements. Our students will not learn reading if they are never enabled to have reading homework. I have printed 100 copies of Huckleberry Finn from the amazing Project Gutenberg for my students, just so that they could interact with the text and take it home to read independently. I have also utilized a grant to purchase a book for every single one of my students to read and keep. For some, it was the first book they had ever read; the book took on new meaning as a trophy for them and, quite often, for their family. And by entrusting students with their own books, we as educators are teaching them personal responsibility and independence. The excuse that books are old-fashioned, costly, or unnecessary will not hold true unless there are no more books at all. The excuse that technology is the future is based off the implied fact that students possess basic literacy. With increased access to text but decreased literacy skills, our students can never hope to succeed in today’s world.

Words are Power.

Rio Grande Valley Tactical Infrastructure EIS Document Response, or The Difference between 1907 and 2007

November 19, 2007

    2007 marks the centennial of the United States’ peak year of immigration. 1907 marked a year where, despite awful discrimination against Asians in the ongoing Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the introduction of the Japanese Gentleman’s Agreement, America drew well over a million to its shores to participate in our thriving economy. The centennial of that year finds a very different attitude towards immigration in the polis of America. With the inhibitive and overly restrictive immigration laws and lottery system, we have no real concept of how many migrants, sojourners, asylum-seekers, refugees, and visa over-stayers “immigrated” this year. We do, however, know that some 12 million extralegal citizens currently reside in the continental United States, as defined by the Mexican-American War; in addition to these teeming extralegals, there are millions of other Americans complicit in this immigrant labor and success in our nation.

    While positive, concrete immigration reforms stalled in a staunchly partisan triumvirate political system last year, the only significant immigration legislation in recent years is the Secure Fence Act of 2006. This legislation is slowly, imperceptibly creeping along the Mexican-American border, attempting to replace the natural Rio Grande with the inefficacious Muro Grande. the 538-page U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report entitled “Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Construction, Maintenance, and Operation of Tactical Infrastructure Rio Grande Valley Sector, Texas,” detailing the border barrier and its efforts was just published to the public this past week. Having read these words with an eye to its impact on my own backyard of Brownsville, Texas, it appears to be a shameless show of smoke and mirrors. The purported aim of this barrier, in keeping with the same goals of this present administration which has already brought us to the desert of Iraq and the shores of Cuba, is first and foremost to counter terrorism, presumably being trucked across our Southern border as you read this. In addition, though, the border wall is also supposed to deter drugs (to help our healthy black market “just say no”) and stymie the flow of illegal immigrants in ways that legislative reform cannot.

    Preexistent in this lengthy document, however, is its own unstated downfall. The document brings up token dissent as a means of disproving “all” alternatives to a border wall stretching some 70 miles through the Rio Grande Valley and up to 700 miles along the entire border, but the criticism undoubtedly ricochets back at the wall. The report states that a natural hedge would slow crossings and promote nature, but that it regrettably would not be a foolproof deterrent and would need constant reparations. Such criticism could be directed at the border wall itself. Its staunchest supporters admit it will do littler more than slow down illegal crossings. The report itself states that, because the wall is not continuous, it will probably just shift illegal activity to other, arguably more treacherous, crossing zones.

    The document also proposes that the wall is a “force multiplier” to aid in stopping immigration. Intriguingly, this has been the rallying cry for American businesses so desirous of cheap immigrant labor. Additionally, this report ignores the fact that providing more legal means to citizenship, as opposed to vindictive threats of deportation and Catch-22 scenarios for extralegal aliens already here, would do more to reduce illegal immigration. Just as providing CHIP and family assistance does not serve as an incentive for the impoverished to have illegitimate children, neither will this sort of immigration reform open up the door to illegal immigrants. Rather, it will provide a way and means for qualified individuals to forgo a cruel lottery system in order to officially enter the ranks of the Americans they work alongside already.

    The border wall espoused in this document, replete with its treatment of dissent, is politically little more than a token gesture that both Republicans and Democrats are “tough on immigration,” though hardheaded and medieval in their means. Tokenism is, as Martin Luther King, Jr. writes in his “Bold Design for a New South,”

not only…a useless goal, but…a genuine menace. It is a palliative which relieves emotional distress, but leaves the disease and its ravages unaffected. It tends to demobilize and relax the militant spirit which alone drives us forward to real change.

Socially, ethically, morally, and economically, the Secure Fence Act which is now being treated as inevitable, is a negative, self-defeating gesture which will cripple our workforce, legislate nativism, forgo and delay meaningful immigration reform, and sap precious resources from our nation’s poorest. This wall will brutalize the fragile ecosystem and cultural legacy of La Frontera and will set up a racially-suspicious immigration which leads heavily in favor of Western European countries with its emphasis on numbers, irregardless of population size. This lengthy literary exercise in bureaucracy will soon disappear in the vaults of the Library of Congress, but if we erect a barrier in this Western Hemisphere and ignore real legislative reform for immigration, its legacy will be that of 1924 and 1882, rather than that of 1907, the biggest year yet in immigration. Future generations will peer inquisitive at our contemporary history, befuddled by the ways in which a country so in love with globalizing technology and overseas production could be so obstinately opposed to a globalizing populace.

Role Models

November 15, 2007

    Teaching 99% Mexican-Americans, I keep coming back to the same role models in my motivational investment lessons: Cesar Chavez (1927-1993), Corky Gonzales (1928-2005), Dolores Huerta (1930-present). While Dolores is 77 and still speaking publicly, most of the other true role models for my Mexican-American students are dead or less than ideal. The first Latino Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, resigned under a flurry of less-than-honorable allegations this September. Few movies, songs, or other media sources depict Mexican-Americans as anything more triumphant than good workers of low-wage jobs.

    If heroes are supposed to model roles for our children, the roles being modeled today in the Latino community are those of ultra-sexed chicas, the drug runners of narcocorridos, the gang members of inner cities, the toiling migrant laborers in America’s fields. Education is seen as unnecessary or superfluous for any of the roles currently being modeled in America’s Latino experience.

    Obviously Latinos are capable of more than these stereotyped roles, and they often have risen above the odds to achieve truly successful careers. However, the fact remains that Latinos, and specifically Mexican-Americans, have an atrocious drop-out rate nationally. The cycle repeats itself when students, lacking highly-educated role models, drop out of high school to perpetuate another generation of un-education.

    In his book Where Do We Go From Here, Martin Luther King, Jr., writes about another racial minority that,

In two national polls to name the most respect Negro leaders, out of the highest fifteen, only a single political figure, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, was included and he was in the lower half of both lists. This is in marked contrast to polls in which white people choose their most popular leaders; political personalities are always high on the lists and are represented in goodly numbers…”

King notes here that all groups have their role models; the difference, therein, lies in the quality and the influential positions of these role models.

    For Mexican-American youths, it is often difficult to name a singly influential Latino who is working to enact change in the nation they inhabit. That inevitably leads to apathy, a defeatist mentality, and a resignation to the current status quo expectations for Mexican-Americans. We must do our best to herald true heroes in the Latino community, as we also work hard to prepare our students to become the role models Mexican-Americans so need.