Saturday, September 19, 2015

Why I'm joining the 50,000 Latinos greeting Pope Francis in Washington, D.C. next week

It was a single photograph that finally convinced me there was something very different about Pope Francis.

Thinking about it, I could claim his openness to the LGBT community is what maybe won me over.

“If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has goodwill, who am I to judge?” he said in response to a question about ordaining gay priests. It was a striking different tone than his predecessor, who once called homosexuality an “intrinsic moral evil.”

I could claim that what I love most about Pope Francis was the moment when he — the spiritual leader of over one billion followers — stopped his Vatican City motorcade to embrace and kiss a disfigured man in a simple moment of humanity.

But what it really is, what really draws me and millions of other Latinos to him, is his message of compassion, dignity, and justice for immigrants, migrants, and refugees.

I knew something was very different when I saw the image of Pope Francis throwing a wreath into sea off the small Italian island of Lampedusa, in memory of the thousands of desperate African refugees and migrants who had drowned — and continue to drown — trying to reach the safety of Europe.

“Who cried for the deaths of these brothers and sisters?” he asked the world. “We have become used to the suffering of others. It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It’s not our business.”

In blasting “the globalisation of indifference,” Pope Francis lifts up our immigrant families when it feels like they’ve been all but discarded and forgotten by our legislators. It’s why next week, I’ll be one of the estimated 50,000 Latinos trekking to Washington, D.C. for his historic visit and speech before a joint session of Congress.

Many of us are making this journey because the Pope’s message is one we desperately long and need to hear right now.

When the leading Republican candidate for President disgraces our political conversation with racist accusations that our immigrant family members are criminals and “rapists” — and other Republican candidates who claim to be friends to the immigrant community join in — the Pope’s words are, as Rep. Luis Gutierrez recently said, an “antidote” to the poison.

I’m looking forward to meeting the people who make up our American immigrant community.

As I write, 100 women are walking 100 miles — a pilgrimage from Pennsylvania to D.C. that is spanning the course of seven days — to greet Pope Francis with messages of dignity and compassion for immigrants and refugees.

One of the pilgrims, Esmeralda, is walking for her husband, who is an undocumented immigrant. Esmeralda is also a cancer survivor, and up until a month ago, couldn’t even move without the aid of a walker. But when she heard that a group of women would be making this journey, she just knew she had to be a part of it.

Today, wearing a bandana on her bald head and tearfully holding a picture of her husband and son, she was part of a video marking the completion of the 28-mile mark of their journey. And, she proudly announced, she was going to finish the walk, too.

Shortly after his Washington, D.C. visit, Pope Francis is also expected to meet with and bless a small group of undocumented immigrants and refugees in New York City — many of whom fled violence in Central America — and will hold a Mass at Madison Square Garden on a chair built by the hands of three immigrant day laborers.

According to the New York Times, the three men etched their names onto the back of the chair. It perfectly symbolizes the special connection between Latinos, immigrants, and this Pontiff.

But, most of all, I hope the Pope’s message reaches those whose hearts have closed to the immigrant. I hope it reaches those who have forgotten this country was built on the backs of and by the hands of immigrants. I hope it reaches those who use the Bible to oppress their fellow American, yet forget the Bible also preaches to welcome the stranger, because we were once strangers, too.

One of the pilgrims from the 100 mile walk, in an interview with columnist Maribel Hastings, but it best:

“As the highest authority he can change the mindset of those who are anti-immigrant, because he will touch their hearts as he has done with each one of us.”

Saturday, March 28, 2015

20 years later, why Selena remains iconic to Latinos

The young Tejano music star had been breaking concert attendance records in Texas and had released a string of bestselling Latin RIAA-certified albums, but to the general American audience, she remained a virtual unknown.

That all changed on March 31, 1995.

Throughout the day, Latino families -- mine included -- were transfixed to their televisions as Spanish-language media broadcast a hostage situation at a Days Inn in Corpus Christi, Texas.

With a SWAT team encircling, Yolanda Saldivar, a former nurse turned low-level music executive, had cordoned herself off in her red truck, gun pointed at her temple, and, in between cell phone calls with a FBI Crisis Negotiation unit, was threatening to pull the trigger.

It was the same gun she had used to murder Selena Quintanilla Perez just hours before.

Selena’s murder rocked the Latino world, the Tejano music industry, and American pop culture. Fans had seen her career skyrocket from playing local parties, to a record-breaking concert before 69,000 fans at the Houston Astrodome just a month before her death. She’d won her first Grammy Award in 1994, and in that same year released Amor Prohibido, selling 500,000 units in the United States -- almost unheard of for a Spanish-language album in the U.S. music industry.

The record’s success had set the stage for the singer’s next move, and the realization of her own life-long dream: To release a crossover English-language album. In fact, on the very day of her death, she was set to go to the studio. But in a matter of a few hours, her dream -- along with those who in her saw their own struggles and aspirations -- was gone.

To Latinos, especially young girls, Selena represented more than a singer who mesmerized audiences in her now-famous bustiers. In an English-language-dominated American culture, when few -- if any -- brown faces made it onto MTV or the Billboard Hot 100 chart, she was their lone voice and hope that maybe one day there could be space for them, too.

To these young girls, Selena was more than a superstar -- she represented their dreams.

U.S.-Latinos struggling to find an understanding between their own American and Mexican identities connected to her as well. When U.S. media termed Selena the “Mexican Madonna” in an effort to familiarize her with white audiences, some Latinos felt frustration. Selena was a third-generation Mexican-American, born in the U.S. like her father and his father before him, no less American than Madonna. But still, she was cast as a stranger in her own home.

And like other Mexican-Americans, Selena also struggled to find a way to connect to her ancestry. During a promotional visit to Mexico (a moment later popularized in the biographical film about her life) she feared her rough conversational Spanish would leave her at the mercy of press and Mexican audiences (a popular Spanish saying, ‘ni de aquí ni de allá,’ ‘from neither here nor there,’ comes to mind).

Rather than facing a potentially embarrassing moment in front of the cameras, Selena greeted the three dozen Mexican reporters one-by-one in her choppy Spanish, and substituting English when she didn't know the word. By the end of the press tour, one paper had dubbed her "una artista del pueblo" -- "an artist of the people."

"(Selena) represents a young, Hispanic girl — equal parts Mexican and American — who was successful and unabashedly living her dream, but never abandoning her identity," Betty Cortina, editorial director of Latina magazine, later wrote. "There was a great amount of pride when she was on stage because she was representing who we are. She was the quintessential American success story, and to have that cut off is tragic."

In death, Selena achieved near-sainthood status in Latino households, and the reaction to her killing marked the start of a cultural shift in American pop culture. When her English-language album -- 1995’s Dreaming Of You -- was posthumously released, it sold a staggering 331,000 copies in its first week (a then-record for a female artist). It eventually sold almost four million units, setting yet another record for a Latino artist that still stands today.

By the end of the 1990’s, Selena had been declared the best-selling Latin artist of the decade.

Later, when People released a commemorative issue about the singer, few at the magazine thought it would sell. Publishers were shocked when the issue sold one million copies, and then its entire run within a matter of weeks. Editor Betty Cortina called it “unheard of,” and it was credited with sparking the start of Spanish-language magazines like People en Español and Latina. The singer also arguably paved the way for future Latino artists, including Jennifer Lopez, who, in the film about Selena’s life, became the first Latina to earn $1 million for a film role.

20 years later after death, Selena still resonates with Latinos as much as she did when she famously twirled on the stage of the Houston Astrodome in 1995. To Latinos, especially the generation who grew up with her, Selena remains a source of pride, iconic and unmatchable, but still representative of who they are and who they can become. Perhaps Jennifer Lopez, in an interview to Billboard, sums it up best:

“It has always bugged me that people would try to think that there's a ‘next Selena.’ It's like saying there's another James Dean or Marilyn Monroe. People like that don't come along every day. There is never going to be another Selena.”

Monday, March 23, 2015

Cuban Ted Cruz is running for President -- and it won’t help his party’s “Latino Problem” one bit.

After going from “self-deportation” to “mass-deportation” in a scant two years, most Republicans still concerned about their party’s national relevancy would probably be thrilled at the thought of running a Latino candidate in 2016.

What better way to start making amends with Latinos than to run a candidate they can relate to? Someone who might sound and look like them, someone who might even know the challenges that Latinos, immigrants, and their families face on a daily basis.

Well, unless that candidate’s name happens to be Ted Cruz.

Cruz made his 2016 announcement late Sunday evening -- and Republican reactions were all over the map. The RNC account, @GOP, tweeted a polite congratulations. But their Spanish counterpart, @RNCLatinos, zipped their lips, instead preferring to continue talking Hillary Clinton’s emails, RNC Chair Reince Priebus’s birthday, and other issues apparently of dire importance to Latinos.

Some might argue, Well, Ted Cruz is Latino, an immigrant’s son. Shouldn’t that help the GOP? Shouldn’t that impress Latinos just a bit? Under other circumstances, maybe. But we’re talking Ted Cruz here. And when it comes to relationships with Latinos and immigrants, few others in the Senate have managed to be as contentious, as combative, and as toxic as him.

After all, this is the same Ted Cruz who, when Mitt Romney’s landslide defeat among Latinos spurred some Senate Republicans to finally do something -- anything! -- on immigration reform, proposed a nasty amendment preventing all undocumented immigrants from ever being able to attain citizenship.

This is the same Ted Cruz who not only proposed ending DACA for hundreds of thousands of young DREAMers, but also managed to blame them for the child refugee crisis -- kids escaping rape and death from countries like Honduras, the murder capital of the world -- last summer.

And this is the same Ted Cruz who called ending President Obama’s immigration action protecting millions of immigrant moms and dads from deportation his “top priority.” What a Republican champion for immigrants and Latinos, right?

So it should come as no surprise that Latino Decisions, the foremost polling firm on issues facing U.S. Latinos, has Cruz losing the Latino vote so badly (73% to 24), he makes Mitt Romney look as popular as Ricky Martin.

Even if Cruz doesn’t manage to become his party’s nominee (¡JAJAJAJ!) and instead gets picked to be a VP running mate, 49% of Latinos say they would be less likely to vote for the GOP ticket as a result.

Cruz doesn’t put a band-aid on the GOP’s Latino Problem -- he makes it hemorrhage. And if Republicans truly are sincere about repairing their burned bridges with Latinos, they’ll stay as far away from him as possible.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Disfigured man embraced by Pope Francis: "I felt only love."

I can't forget this image.

The pictures of Pope Francis embracing a man suffering from neurofibromatosis have made even the most cynical of religion pause at a man who seems to be the polar opposite of his predecessor (whatever did happen to that guy?). 

My Twitter pal @HolaBrody found an Italian-language interview with the man embraced by the Pope, but I've been unable to find anything in English. I tried plugging the article into Google Translate, but the English-language results were horrendous. Using it to translate from Italian to Spanish, however, wasn't as bad. 

A couple of very moving excerpts from the interview with him: 

"I tried to speak, but nothing came out. I was too emotional."

"The Pope was not afraid of me...he hugged me."

"I'm not contagious, but he didn't know that...when he touched my face, I felt only love."

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Oh boy.

I spent a morning at an anti-immigration rally. With the Tea Party. In Arizona. And survived.

Check out the blog post here.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Dear anti-choice men of America: Let's make a deal

One thing that really irritates the eff out of me is the angry, anti-choice American man.

Not just any man. This kind of man:

Unless you're the product of some medical miracle, you don't regret your abortion, buddy. That's because you've never had one, and never will.

I was raised by women in a house of women. I leave the subject of abortion up to them, and I support them if they've accessed this medical procedure, and I support them if they've chosen not too. In fact, my sisters are divided about it.

This kind of decision is not up for me to make.

I'll never be pregnant. They have been.

But some men, like the man above, see it as their job to become the primary custody-holders of a woman's private area.

Life begins at conception, they argue. Someone must stand for the voiceless.  Someone must protect life, no matter how small it seems.

Someone must protect life, no matter how small it seems.

Alright, guys. Then let's make a deal and put your money where your mouth is.

You argue that all living things deserve a chance to live. So if a fertilized egg deserves a chance to live, you would obviously agree that sperm deserve the same. Sperm, after all, is alive. Carbon-based lifeforms created by the Almighty.

I feel you hesitate, Mr. Man. It's alright. This is where the woman comes into play. Much like you've assumed the role of Great Protector of the Vagina, a woman can do the same to a penis.

With proper legislation, women will make sure you don't let your hand wander down to murder your unborn while scrubbing in the tub or looking at pictures of Kate Upton.

Women will make sure to shove the law of the land down your crotch, because even if they don't have penises, they know better than you.

And women will make sure to march into the halls of state legislatures across the nation to make sure that you are subjected to a government-mandated ultrasound if you are caught touching your no-no area. After all, that's life you've just taken.

No matter how small.