Academics Speak Out Against SB 1070

unattributed

As the reality of Arizona’s new law sanctioning the active policing and potential harassing of people of color based on “looking like an immigrant” sinks in, unintended effects are registering across the state. While the university system has been hemorrhaging under the weight of the current economic downturn, communities around college campuses know that we bring in a steady flow of new consumers to the communities in which we are situated. Students not only buy basic goods like food and clothing at local establishments, but they also pay rent, buy large ticket items like cars, electronics, and in some cases, houses. One needs only go to a college town mid-Summer and then again at the start of the school year to see the impact. Part of what draws these students to a particular institution are programs and faculty in fields that excite them and with scholars whose recognition goes beyond the college itself. When Jan Brewer signed SB 1070 into law, she failed to recognize the import of academe in the local economies in the state of Arizona. More than that, the legislation itself includes language that actively negates successful programs and calls into question others.

Arizona’s Higher Ed

Arizona colleges, which have an extremely high population of Latin@ students, staff, and faculty have all been re-acting to SB 1070 with varying degrees of condemnation. Prior to the passing of the bill, The President of Arizona State University, the state’s largest university,  urged Governor Brewer not to sign the bill on the basis of its potential to enact discrimination and turn people away from Arizona as a viable place both to study and live. (scroll down past blank ends of pages to get to the rest of the post text; sorry for copy quality):

After Jan Brewer ignored him and everyone else who expressed concern to make the bill law, the President of University of Arizona, has already gone on record about the immediate negative impact SB 1070 has had on the State’s second largest educational facility. Among the issues he raises are:

  1. the loss of new enrollment as parents and students withdraw their acceptances of admissions decisions already sent out
  2. the loss of current enrollment due to students choosing to look elsewhere for safer educational environments and taking a year off to do so
  3. the loss of future enrollment as families of both students and faculty consider education in the 49 other states available to them
  4. the loss of lucrative (and potentially expensive) hires that have already been done as faculty lured to the state with already paid packages start looking elsewhere
  5. the loss of prestige for Arizona based universities leading to the further leeching of current faculty and staff and the impossibility of attracting new ones

While many in this nation have been trained to think of higher education as a luxury for over-indulged students living on the taxpayer’s dime, the reality is that education is a critical aspect of our economy. People who attend college

  1. make more money
  2. have better job security

More than that, people with better job security tend to stay and contribute to the health and economic stability of a community through

  1. investment in schools, industry, and products
  2. use of services provided from large employers like hospitals and schools
  3. buy big ticket items like houses and cars
  4. spur investment not only through demand for goods and services but also providing the money that banks use to grow capital

So while they image of the over-privileged, useless egghead, 7 year Freshman serves a conservative backlash against higher education, it does very little to benefit the real economy of communities based around colleges and universities. Moreover, the number of people entering college is increasing exponentially as the economy continues to fall apart. While some students are on financial aid, it is important to remember that some students are paying full or partial tuition out of pocket and that money as well the demand for good services and potential long term community investment these students represent all go benefit the State.

In other words, what Arizona’s SB 1070 crafters have done is leverage the State’s educational institutions and all the potential economic and social capital they provide against an image they believe will garner favor with the neo-conservative elements of the state and national Republican party and potentially catapult the careers of AZ Republicans on the backs of AZ citizens and students.

Conferences

May 6 Protest at ASU/unattributed

The second potential major loss of revenue for the state related to the economy has to do with conferences, conventions, and research funding. Almost ever Department, field of study, and sub-genre in academe has an annual conference attached. These conferences represent major economic gain for the states and communities in which they are held. Like the tourism dollars that float small island economies, academic conferences represent a substantial portion of a state’s budget. Moreover, certain cities and states have such long term ties to these conferences that the revenue they generate are part of the budget.

Not only do national conference rotate through Arizona at least once every three years, but regional conferences may occur even more often. Added to these conferences cycles are the number of symposiums, summer research “seminars”, and local conferences put on by Arizona colleges themselves. We could even include recent pushes to create internationally recognized research centers which would likely hold their own conferences and do have lucrative seminars with outside scholars. Arizona State University recently spent a considerable amount of money creating and advertising their new Social Justice MA program for instance, which included lucrative hiring packages for faculty who will now be racially profiled under SB 1070; while, University of AZ houses the Hispanic Center for Excellence, a Federally Funded program designed to train Latin@ physicians in order to increase the number of Latin@s in medicine and cultural competence of medical providers nationwide. Both of these programs cost that state a considerable amount to implement and will cost even more in economic and social losses were they to fail as a result of SB 1070.

Courses & Censorship

One of the more insidious aspects of SB 1070 is the successful run around Arizona voters with regards to education. After several failed attempts to pass a law designed to put an end to Raza Studies at the high school level and open the door to removing and/or censoring lesson plans about Latin@s in the schools, the AZ legislature tacked similar policies to SB 1070 and plans to use the passing of the law to open the door to re-introducing a bill to end Ethnic Studies all together. As a result, not only are the higher education programs mentioned above under threat through racial profiling but one of the most successful programs in increasing retention and graduation rates of Latino students and cross-cultural cooperation in Tuscon United school district is likely to be shut down despite repeated defeat of such attempts by voters in the past.

The current bill includes provisions for review and removal of teachers whose “English” is “sub-standard” without actually determining what that means or how it will be measured. It is common for students to complain that professors of color, especially those perceived to be from cultures or backgrounds in which English is not a first language, are incomprehensible, do not speak English well, or are otherwise sub-standard with regards to language skill. These arguments permeate at least one of the departments in which I am currently housed, where students feel free to complain about the general education requirements in math and science because ” no one in those departments speak English” and often turn in evaluations that include complaints about the language skills of the “hard graders” in our department who are brown b/c they “look like immigrants.” Never mind, that most of the faculty in our Department are native English speakers including all of the faculty who are regular targets of these complaints.

Why would any educator put up with this kind of internal policing, only to leave campus and receive it on the street or in public places when they could move somewhere else? While white supremacist Arizonans may think that a mass exodus of these teachers and their families is a good thing, they have not stopped to think about the immense amount of skill and intellect that will be lost to them as a result.

These draconian measures could literally turn some Arizona school districts into ghost towns the same way that immigration raids have done to once thriving single-business communities. Poor white students and their families, who cannot afford to move will thus be robbed of not only diverse education but also potentially any education at all. Worse, though schools may survive a mass exodus, one has to consider what kind of academics they can attract to communities that actively and publicly participate in racial profiling.

Academic Organizations

La Virgen de los Mohados/Sylvia Rodriguez/MALCs 2010

At this point, many academic organizations are weighing what kind of stance they will take with Arizona now that SB 1070 has passed. Various organizations under the American Association of Anthropologists have already begun discussing boycotts and alternative measures. While members of the American History Association and the American Studies Association have stated publicly that they will not attend conferences for their discipline if they take place in Arizona. Whether or not entire academic communities make these moves official or not, the bottom line is that many academics are willing to forego national and regional conferences to take a stand for Civil Rights and some of them have no choice since racial profiling will likely make them “look like immigrants.”

Two organizations stand out in this growing controversy: NACCS and MALCs.

MALCs, a organization of Latina, Native American, and Chicana scholars, summer institute has been set to take place mid-July in Arizona. Members of MALCs have expressed major concerns about attending, spending money, or otherwise participating in anything that has to do with the state while SB 1070 is in effect. In response, MALCs ran an online survey of its members about the conference and how to best deal with binding contracts and civil rights dissent. The survey is currently being reviewed. Among the options MALCs members are considering are:

  1. Moving the conference out of the state of Arizona and paying whatever fines are in the contracts – ie taking major revenue away from the state
  2. Holding the conference on Native American land in Arizona – ie taking major revenue away from the state while both engaging/supporting communities impacted by the law and making sure Arizonans see how much money they’ve lost
  3. Having a virtual conference – ie taking major revenue away from the state
  4. Modifying the focus of the conference to address SB 1070 and making it available to AZ community members

MALCs blog, has also included information about the general call to boycott the state. So that they are ultimately taking a stand for an informed and targeted response to civil and basic rights violations enacted by SB 1070. As part of this stance, MALCs leadership released an early statement that included the following:

Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social protests the inhumane treatment of the un-documented. Additionally, we protest SB 1070 as a back door maneuver that erodes basic democratic principles that protect us from becoming a police state

ASU’s MALCs chapter on the other hand raised the issue of being “stranded” at ground central of SB 1070 if non-Arizona based academics left educational institutions to fend for themselves:

MALCS at ASU
Site Executive Committee
Position on HB 1070

The MALCS Site Executive committee at ASU recognizes the discontent and horror of progressive communities towards the Arizona state legislature; we want to
take a moment to comment on this year’s MALCS summer institute.

When the decision to bring the institute to our state and Arizona State University was made, one of the goals was to make present and visible our histories, experiences and visions as Chicanas/Latinas/Indigenous women in this particular geo-political space.

People of color and immigrants have been notoriously attacked in the state of Arizona for years. The theme of our Institute Derechos Humanos: (Re)Claiming Our Dreams Across Contested Terrains reflects this history. The contested terrain we refer to are not only geo-political spaces, but an affirmation of the struggle against the slew of anti-immigrant legislation in our state. As the call for a boycott to our state takes momentum, we want to critically address what this might mean for our institute. We will allot time in the conference to strategizing best responses to the parameters of the bill. Indeed, we have already made invitations to community activists as speakers for the thematic plenary session. And we are in the process of inviting the student activists who chained themselves to the State Capitol and got arrested as they demanded that Governor Jan Brewer veto HB 1070.

Now, more than ever we need the national community to bring support to those of us who are grounded here and to critically address what derechos humanos signifies in times of crisis. We believe it is imperative to continue to struggle against human rights violations that ensue from anti-immigrant, Indigenous, women, gay/lesbian/transgender discourses and practices. HB 1070 is the first of a nationwide effort to pass draconian immigration laws. There are ten similar bills considered in other states across the country, if we don’t fight back strong now, the battle will be significantly harder in the future. Additionally, we must continue to pressure the Obama Administration and our members of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform and the Dream Act.

We propose, if the boycott indeed goes into effect, considering this year’s institute as an autonomous space to build solidarity in what can be deemed “ground zero” in the national immigrant and human rights debate. Arizona State University’s President Michael Crow has supported students who were affected by Prop. 300 that mandate students who cannot produce a social security number to pay out-of-state tuition. We encourage MALCS members to stay at Taylor Place, and to patronize Latino owned business when they come to Arizona in efforts to show the economic power of the Chicana/Latina/Indigenous communities.

Like the other organizations, departments, and schools addressed in the previous section, MALCs Arizona runs the risk of being completely isolated while trying to fight the negative impacts of SB 1070. If enough students and faculty transfer or never attend at all, the Arizona MALCs members who may not be able to make those choices may loose one of their key places for support. The question many academics are asking in and outside of the state as they weigh is a response is deeply related to this call from Arizona MALCs, ie how to support entrenched communities while expressing deep concern and disdain for the leadership of the state and the measures they have passed to concretize inequality and discrimination in the State.

unattributed

NACCs leadership has also expressed their deep concern for the impact of SB 1070 on Latin@s, Civil Rights, and intellectual freedom. In a 4 page letter, The current President of NACCS outlines some of the major misconceptions of the bill and the response NACCS membership has decided to take.  The letter argues that SB 1070 creates an “ecology of fear” through the depiction of immigrants and Latin@s in general as criminal, dangerous, and systemic drains on the economy.  It points to how the language of fear ignores the historical roots of the Latin@ and indigenous communities in Arizona dating back as far as the 1700s in order to criminalize anyone brown. This ecology of fear creates an environment of intolerance, fear, and hatred that will inevitably erupt in violence against both citizens and non-citizens alike, as it has in other communities invested in public, state sanctioned, hatred of immigrants.

The letter points to several falsehoods in anti-immigrant discourse that allowed SB 1070 to pass in the first place:

  1. Undocumented Workers pay more taxes than they receive: 6-7 billion dollars go unclaimed by immigrants who pay into the system but cannot legally take from it (Urban Institute 2005)
  2. Undocumented Workers keep Social Security afloat b/c the number of Mexican@ workers is growing while the majority of native born workers is reaching retirement age (American Chamber of Commerce 1985)
  3. Undoc Workers stimulate economic growth through demand for goods and services and entreprenuership
  4. Latin@s have the lowest unemployment rates in the country (Perryman Group 2010)

In short, the facts paint a picture of hardworking people supporting both state and national level social programs (schools, police, fire departments, social services, social security, etc.), expanding local economies through both job creation and service/product demand, and receiving very little economic gain in return. Long term workers are also more likely to invest in home ownership and community building projects than has previously been reported by those invested in white entrenchment. Thus the overall image of criminal, violent, and shiftless brown people menacing communities and draining resources is simply unsupported by bi-partisan research.

The negative image of the immigrant serves to distract workers and voters from failing state policies and diminishing economic opportunities while focusing their attention on a hate Other with limited to no responsibility for the problem.  NACCS leadership points out that SB 1070 is part of this long history of scapegoating immigrants at not only the national level but also in Arizona:

  • In 2008 – the state tried to disenfranchise Latin@ voters by claiming their documents were illegitimate, not present, or insufficient
  • AZ was at the center of the Federal Attorney scandal that saw people fired for failing to carry out unsubstantiated prosecutions against Latin@ voters

A longer history of Arizona’s xenophobia and anti-Latin@ policies can be found at Gay Prof’s blog:

In 1877, the editor of Tucson’s Spanish-language newspaper Las dos repúblicas lamented the “the attack of the [Anglo] hordes from the north . . .” Before the arrival of these white supremacists, Arizona had been part of the territory of New Mexico. For the rebel whites, though, the idea of living in a territory with a Mexican majority was anathema. They therefore separated themselves from New Mexico and created a whole new territory where they could institute a tyrannical government. (read the whole thing there)

NACCs also points out that S 1070 was written and funded through the help of long time white supremacist eugenicist organizations like the Federation for the American Immigration Reform and the Pioneer Foundation. The presence of white supremacists organizations in the drafting of the bill makes it impossible for anyone to take Jan Brewer’s statements about the bill‘s protections for civil rights and non-discrimination seriously.

Like other organizations, NACCs is calling for an immediate response by academics to the discrimination implemented by the State of Arizona including:

  1. a targeted economic boycott
  2. not scheduling national conferences in Arizona (NACCs will not hold any of their conferences there until the bill is rescended)
  3. Education and monitoring of the State

Conclusions

unattributed

Ultimately, racist and anti-immigrant factions in Arizona failed to recognize the ways in which xenophobic racism would ultimately impact the entire state not just the brown people they hope to police. In crafting a narrative of criminality and illegality around Latin@s and Latin@ culture they also hoped to [re]inscribe a narrative of their state and the nation that are out of keeping with the actual cultural histories of both. As various parties consider what, if anything, to do in response to Arizona’s laws, one thing is clear: academics are making their voices heard in both public and private spaces. Though we have often been discounted by the far right and misrepresented by the mainstream media, the bottom line is that we do generate a considerable amount of both money and prestige for the states in which we reside. At least for some of us, the choice is clear: we will not spend our economic or intellectual capital in Arizona and ultimately that means Arizona loses more than we do.

For all of the Latin@ intellectuals in Arizona whose roots go back to before the “founding” of this nation, I can only hope that the crisis between choosing their roots and their safety is less painful than the economic and social ostracism that supremacists in the State will experience as the national tide turns.

Everyone, regardless of their perspective, should question the motives of State level leaders who are willing to leverage the livelihoods of both dominant and marginalized communities and education in their state for political points with the minority (white supremacists) who may or may not also live in that state. Other states have bent to the whims of these factions before and found the aftermath much harder to overcome than anything they might have been trying to avoid or implement. More than that, the days of public, state level, discrimination without consequence have long since past and as these academic protests point out, any state in the N. American Southwest that thinks they can ignore their own history for anti-Latin@ rhetoric is all the more delusional.

Cinco de Mayo Quickie

Every day for the past few weeks I have woken up to a bevy of invitations for Cinco de Mayo celebrations. Many of them were last minute requests to talk about SB 1070 and its links to a larger Latin@ and immigrant history in the United States. As I ponder how I am going to make it to all of these events today, I can’t help but think about Arizona. Is it any wonder that the racist, anti-immigrant, anti-brown bill passed in advance of Cinco de Mayo? Has anyone stopped to think what a white supremacist police officer armed with a racist law can do at an anti-colonial celebration turned national celebration of Mexicana and Chicana Pride (and excuse to drink for all the gring@s y gringer@s)? Because if you haven’t, you might want to know that anti-immigrant people across the U.S. are calling for a “buy-cott” today, where they would like all of their supporters to specifically shop Arizona based companies today.

For me, the ongoing struggle to defeat xenophobia and racism in the U.S. diminishes the celebration of the defeat of the French at Pueblo somehow. The ability for racists in this country to mobilize around this holiday to celebrate segregation, policing, and hatred has become a regular tactic that is mirrored on Martin Luther King Day and in some communities on May 1st (either in response to May Day protests or the start of Asian American History Month). And so I find myself wondering what others think will be the lesson of today, when drunken frat boys, Chican@ Pride, and a heightened level of white entrenchment come together …

Here are some links that have me either thinking or laughing with irony about this moment we are in:

Perhaps most interesting to me is the State of Arizona’s insistence on having a 5 de Mayo celebration in their state. The Arizona Republic spelled it out fairly clearly in their article about the revenue Cinco de Mayo generates for local businesses. The bottom line: Arizona, like many other states in the Union, wants to make money off of Latin@s while still vilifying and scapegoating them at every turn. Those of you with history backgrounds, or even a basic understanding of major historical events, should be able to recall other places and periods in which this was the case. It seems “never again” like “multiculturalism” are just words and phrases with little meaning in the new neo-xenophobic America.

Feel free to leave your own links and thoughts in the comment section.

So You Say You Want to Boycott Arizona?

“No services for people from AZ” Octavio Gallego/reforma.com

Here is a list of AZ businesses and contact information. Please keep in mind that by choosing to boycott businesses you run the risk of making the right choice (telling AZ that there is a real cost to bigotry) on the backs of the wrong people (workers who likely had very little to do with the drafting or passing of the anti-immigrant anti-civil rights bill). If you want to engage in the most ethical intersectional boycott, you may wish to contact these businesses and ask what their stance is on SB 1070; for instance, Buffalo Exchange has left a comment on this post and on their website stating they do not support the bill but they are an AZ based company and therefore on the list of companies being circulated for boycott. If a company does not support SB 1070, you might consider shopping there more and sending in emails or cards that say you are shopping there instead of another business that does support the bill out of solidarity with both workers and undocumented people. The choice is ultimately yours and I hope having a list of AZ based companies helps you know which companies are based in Arizona and how to go about making up your mind about how you will show solidarity with basic civil rights in N. America.

Arizona Diamondbacks – OWNER ACTIVELY SUPPORTED SB 1070 despite his claims to contrary
based in Phoenix
baseball team
http://arizona.diamondbacks.mlb.com

BeachWare
based in Tucson
computer games: Turkey Hunter; Shell Whirl; Vegas Jackpot Gold; others
http://www.beachware.com

Best Western International (hotel chain)
based in Phoenix
4000 hotels in 80 countries
http://www.bestwestern.com/newsroom/contactus.asp

Buffalo Exchange – DOES NOT SUPPORT SB 1070
based in Tucson
used, second-hand and recycled clothes
http://www.buffaloexchange.com

Channel Master
based in Gilbert
television accessories
http://channelmaster.com

Circle K
based in Tempe
international convenience store chain
wholly-owned subsidiary of Alimentation Couche-Tard (Laval, Quebec)
http://www.circlek.com/
http://www.couchetard.com/accueil.html

Cold Stone Creamery
based in Scottsdale
ice cream parlor chain (1400 stores worldwide)
subsidiary of Kahala Corporation, also based in Scottsdale (also runs
Ranch1 and Taco Time fast food chains)
http://www.coldstonecreamery.com

Dial Corporation (formerly Greyhound Dial Corporation)
based in Scottsdale
subsidiary of Henkel North America (parent company Henkel International
based in Dusseldorf, Germany)
Dial soap and anti-perspirant deodorant; AromaSense; Armour Star canned
meats; Borateem; Boraxo; Coast soap; Combat insect control; Dry Idea
deodorant; Fels-Naptha soap; Pure and Natural beauty products; Purex
laundry detergent; Renuzit air freshener; Right Guard deodorant; Twenty
Mule Team Borax
http://www.nytimes.com/1990/02/28/business/company-news-a-new-name-greyhound-dial.html?pagewanted=1
http://www.dialsoap.com
http://www.henkel.com/index.htm

Discount Tire Company
based in Scottsdale
nationwide tire chain
http://www.discounttire.com

Fender Musical Instruments Corporation
based in Scottsdale
guitars, basses, amplifiers, etc.
http://www.fender.com

Flying Buffalo, Inc.
based in Scottsdale
game company: board games, card games; Tunnels and Trolls, Nuclear War
card game, Death Dice, others
http://www.flyingbuffalo.com

Go Daddy Group, Inc.
based in Scottsdale
domain registrar; web hosting
http://www.godaddy.com

PetSmart, Inc.
based in Phoenix
pet supplies; pet grooming
http://www.petsmart.com

Ramada Worldwide hotel chain
based in Phoenix
900 hotels around the world
subsidiary of Wyndham Worldwide
http://www.ramada.com/Ramada/control/home
http://www.wyndhamworldwide.com

Shamrock Farms
based in Phoenix
dairy products: various “Mmmmilk” products; Rockin’ Refuel; “Milk
Essentials” for Kids; various frozen treats
http://www.shamrockfarms.net

U-Haul International, Inc.
based in Phoenix
car, truck and equipment rental company
http://www.uhaul.com

US Airways Group
based in Tempe
US Airways; PSA Airlines, Piedmont Airlines
http://www.usairways.com

You Can Help People of Color Alt Media Survive in Two Easy Steps

Step One: Donate to BrownFemiPower one of the most consistent voices of female empowerment from a working class woc perspective (what I’d call feminist if she’d let me) on the internet.

Every person who donates will receive a gift!

For those who donate between:

$5-25: You will get a personalized thank you note from yours truly!

$26-50: You will get the personalized thank you note and a newly published zine!

$51-100: You will get the personalized thank you note, and two newly published zines!

Over $100: You will get the personalized thank you note, two newly published zines, and a surprise gift (I will tell you once you order–I only have certain quantities of each, so I don’t want to list them online!).

The bad news: Because this computer breaking down has taken me by surprise, I am only in the planning stages for the zines. So it will be up to two months before those of you who order zines will get them. So that you know what stage I am at making the zines, I will be documenting the process I go through to make them here on the blog. This has the added bonus of hopefully helping other people–so many people I know have expressed interest in making zines, but have also expressed not having any damn clue how to.

So, that’s what is where things stand right now. I hope that you are excited–I sure am. I’m a bit apprehensive as I know it will be a lot of work–but I also am really excited for the motivation to get these new zines out! I love zine making, and I’m really excited to get back to the drawing board again–see how things flow out of the mind this time.

Please donate and/or spread the word–and THANK YOU so much for your continuous support!

Step Two: Bid on Nezua‘s Sheriff Joe painting which gives you both the chance to raise awareness about the blatant racism in Arizona and keep an amazing activist blogger and multimedia radical working/eating.

HARD TIMES HAVE FALLEN UPON US ALL! I know this for sure simply watching the donations I once received from readers—unsolicited aside from the buttons on the page—dry up over the past year or two. It’s tough out there, and it’s not just blog donations but even work online with graphics that has tapered off a lot. In fact, I was bumped offline for two weeks for not being able to pay all the bills this month. And to be honest, this is the first time since I’ve lived in this apartment that I don’t have all the rent this close to the first of next month. Ouch. That’s four days away.

I’m not trying to paint a doom n gloom scenario. … So I’m going to do something here I’ve not done in a while and humble myself to make the direct request to my philanthropist friends, or the ones who have a few to throw down to support their friendly neighborhood nezua: if you have a few, throw ‘em in the bucket!

Alternately, I have put one of my paintings up at eBay, and I invite you to bid, or spread the link around if you want. It’s an 18 x 24″ Lotería card of the infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Times are tough for everyone, but with both activists asking for as little as $5 a person, we should all be able to come up with a little something to help them out. The coffee and pastry I bought today cost more than their minimum donation request. And if a distaste for “blegging” (a multi-directional derogatory term that conflates the use of online media and the desire to be paid for one’s writing, film, or activism work with the “undeserving poor”) is getting in your way,  just remember all the times you have talked about, worked on, or simply lamented in the front of a classroom, staff mtg, dinner party, etc. about the absence of radical, engaged, people of color at your events, jobs, or in the media and know that this is the tiniest of steps toward making the connection between words and action. For my POC readers, all I can say is, community means sharing the wealth even when you don’t have any; the wheel will turn and someone will have your back too.

4 Things You Can Do to Restore Civil Rights in AZ

By now, we have all heard about SB 1070, the latest maneuver by State Government and/or Legislature in Arizona to target Latin@s living in the state. This past year alone, such efforts have included the second attempt to remove key Chican@ history from high schools in a law that would have made it possible to do away with all multicultural, women’s, and/or gender and sexuality history from schools, employment review of some high profile Chican@ advocates working for the state and/or intimidation of state employees questioning discriminatory policing and other government practices,  and the ongoing efforts of Sheriff Joe Arpaio to criminalize Latin@s at the expense of other, needed, community policing. Immigrant rights advocates and civil rights advocates banned together to draw attention to the impact of Sheriff Joe on both race and gender relations in Arizona, citing the absence of follow through on rape cases in order to patrol the border, the increase in petty crime and theft with a weapon, in his district without much response or with response times that have grown every year, making it impossible to catch criminals, and the use of chain gangs and tent prisons in 100+ degree weather, and the rise in racial profiling that was literally targeting all Chican@s in the area and occasionally resulting in young children, N. American citizens, being left on the side of the road, when their parents were carted away and permanently traumatized regardless of whether they had other care providers available. These actions, have already led to Arizona becoming a place where predators who target children, women, and isolated businesses and families thrive because they know that little, if any, energy is being put into investigating their crimes. According to some advocates, rape evidence has been allowed to degrade while Sheriff Joe and his deputies do random searches of families out for a drive. The racial divides in AZ have gotten so bad, that local radio stations actively encourage racist sexism and sexualized violence against Latin@ advocates like Isabel Garcia without much apology and whole communities have been repeatedly pamphleted by supremacist organizations.

Yesterday, despite widespread criticism from both local and national communities, including the President of the United States, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB 2010 into law. The bill gives AZ police the right to stop anyone suspected of being undocumented with Arizona borders. The law erodes recent Federal attempts to reign in Sheriff Joe’s racial profiling and seemingly discriminatory policing practices and streamline border patrol efforts. These attempts were not, as some have argued, an attempt to ignore or give a free pass to undocumented people, but rather to draw a permanent line between immigration reform and white supremacy in which the latter was no longer welcome. Finally, the law increases militarization at the border, both in terms of increases in advanced technology at the border and the number of armed border patrol officers and “aids” stationed there, including members of the national guard when/if necessary.

The impact of signing the law far outreaches the legal expansion of discrimination in the state. By signing the bill under scrutiny from the President, Governor Brewer joins a growing trend of conservative Governors and Mayors who have publicly questioned the fundamental powers of the Union in which we live and declared the autonomy of their states in the face of Federal guidelines they have cast as racially insensitive, unequal, or dangerous to white people. These efforts include, casting the health care bill as anti-white or biased toward black people, in an era in which white people are losing their homes and their jobs at an equal or greater rate than people of color over lack off access to medical care or ability to pay rising insurance costs, claims that the President’s support of education and educational reform are about indoctrinating children against “family values”, and now the insistence that border & immigration reform that would have radically reduced the role Sheriff Joe played in AZ were akin to allowing a sea of undocumented (and shiftlessly criminal) people of color into the state. As with all of these examples, SB 2010s symbolic impact is a racial line in the sand that calls for the state sanctioned harassment of people on the basis of their skin color while at the same time, joining a chorus of people questioning the legitimacy of a black president and subsequently re/claiming the nation, citizenry, and governance, as whites only space.

The impact of this law is thus both legally and symbolically important to all of us. So far reports of similar policing in AZ have included issues such as:

  1. costing tax payers in Maricopa County $42 million in settlements for police brutality, unlawful search and seizure, and racial profiling
  2. leaving children on the side of the road to fend for themselves when parents are arrested
  3. decreased school performance and sense of safety for children
  4. the failure to investigate rape reports in a timely manner or, in some cases, at all to police Latin@s
  5. the incarceration of nursing mothers with no access to their children
  6. the breaking of a Chican@s’ arm while in custody for refusing to sign paperwork saying she would return to Mexico
  7. sexual assault of undocumented women by people either associated with or claiming to be associated with Border Patrol or border policing
  8. forcing Latin@ truck drivers to produce birth certificates to move products across the state (think 16 wheelers bringing your produce, the new furniture or fridge your going to buy at the big box store, etc.)
  9. the increase in armed theft
  10. the increase in petty criminality in isolated communities
  11. lack of safety for women, children, and families who are Latin@, interracial, indigenous, or other wise brown appearing
  12. increased open and publicly applauded connections to supremacy
  13. increased public connection between policing and racial profiling that makes everyone who “looks” brown unsafe
  14. the militarization and granting of state policing powers to largely untrained civilians who do not have to pass similar inspection or comply with state laws governing police conduct
  15. the harassment of journalists and attempted policing of news readers

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has released a 4 point effort that anyone concerned about these issues can do to help restore civil rights in Arizona:

TAKE FOUR ACTIONS

NNIRR urges you take four actions NOW to take a stand for justice and human rights.

  1. Raise your voices for fairness and equality at the border. – Call Gov. Brewer’s office and tell her SB 1070 is a disaster for the rights of all our communities. SB 1070 will intensify racial discrimination, criminalization of immigrants – or anyone who does not pass as white or a U.S. citizen. CALL (602) 542-4331 | You can also email Gov. Brewer at: azgov@az.gov
  2. Organize a house-meeting, a vigil and other actions to express support for immigrant rights in Arizona and in your community. Also ask your family members, co-workers, neighbors and friends to talk about what is happening in Arizona. Ask them to make calls and send emails to Gov. Brewer with this message: We are all Arizona. Your law cannot break our spirit of community; your law will not stand. Racial profiling and racial discrimination are illegal and SB 1070 will be stopped.
  3. Build the movement for justice & human rights – tell President Obama to roll back the hate and end all immigration police-collaboration initiatives. Call President Obama to  ask him to speak out against the climate of hate and SB 1070. SB 1070 depends on federal immigration policing programs. Ask President Obama to roll-back the federal immigration enforcement programs that allow local police agencies to collaborate in immigration control. The 287(g) and Secure Communities programs are encouraging the kind of hateful activity we are witnessing in Arizona. CALL the White House at (202) 456-1111.
  4. Give direct support and express your solidarity to communities organizing on the ground in Arizona.

Students around the N. American Southwest, organized walkouts, marches, and protests in solidarity with Arizona. In Arizona, high school and college students also took to the streets in peaceful protests and marches in the hopes of being heard. In many communities, the first of May, ie May Day, will also be an opportunity to stand up for immigrants’ rights, immigration reform without racism, and to participate in the annual call to draw attention to and remove Sheriff Joe. Please be looking out for these efforts in your area as well as considering doing one or more of the four steps above. While you may not live in AZ, we are all ultimately impacted by the turn toward, public, state sanctioned racism, in N America. And the stats about rape cases, petty and weapon related theft, should make both women’s advocates and people in general concerned about their own safety even if they think they are unimpacted by the rise in hate crimes and racial profiling.

Support Young Undocumented Students

Learn about and pledge to support the Trail 2010 or the Dream Act, discussed multiple times on this blog, by clicking the links.

Gaby Pacheco, the only woman officially walking with the trail this year, is working on a degree in Florida and hopes to be a music therapist focusing on children with autism. She has been in the U.S. since she was 7 years old and neither chose to immigrate nor to remain undocumented. Like so many youth in this country born to undocumented immigrant parents, Pacheco represents the intergenerational struggle for legitimacy in a nation that criminalizes working people and students on the basis of their country of origin.

The walkers, left from Miami for DC on January 1, 2010 and walk 18 hours a day, 6 days a weeAs part of their journey, the also speak about their experiences as undocumented people and encourage others to become active in their communities, the nation, and for their rights.

BHM: How Wide the Diaspora

While I have kept these posts largely about N. Americans, I think it is only fair to include Aída Cartagena Portalatín in this year’s Black Herstory Month/ Latinegras Project posts. Portalatín was a Dominican feminist poet who wrote poetry about women, race, immigration, and imperialism. Her poems consistently centered the female experience and were informed both by her own travels, as a student in Paris, Santo Domingo as a transnational cityscape (ie a place where people from around the world interact and engage in discussion of ideas about identity and travel), and her friends, colleagues, and family members who had moved permanently to the U.S. Thus her poems represented the viewpoint of mothers whose sons had experienced racism abroad, or women whose longing had made them susceptible to exploitation, elder women who had been abandoned for younger ones, etc. At the heart of her work was a preoccupation with the limits of freedom and how freedom was both gendered and raced.

She has published in numerous anthologies and has a wide body of work most of which has not been translated to English. Her most famous poem Una Mujer está Sola appears below:

Una mujer está sola. Sola con su estatura.
Con los ojos abiertos. Con los brazos abiertos.
Con el corazón abierto como un silencio ancho.
Espera en la desesperada y desesperante noche
sin perder la esperanza.
Piensa que está en el bajel almirante
con la luz más triste de la creación
Ya izó velas y se dejó llevar por el viento del Norte
con la figura acelerada ante los ojos del amor.
Una mujer está sola. Sujetando con sus sueños sus sueños,
los sueños que le restan y todo el cielo de Antillas.

Seria y callada frente al mundo que es una piedra humana,
móvil, a la deriva, perdido el sentido
de la palabra propia, de su palabra inútil.
Una mujer está sola. Piensa que ahora todo es nada
y nadie dice nada de la fiesta o el luto
de la sangre que salta, de la sangre que corre,
de la sangre que gesta o muere en la muerte.
Nadie se adelanta ofreciéndole un traje
para vestir una voz que desnuda solloza deletreándose.
Una mujer está sola. Siente, y su verdad se ahoga
en pensamientos que traducen lo hermoso de la rosa,
de la estrella, del amor, del hombre y de Dios.

In 1981, she published her epic poem Yania Tierra, which retold the history of the Dominican Republic from the perspective of a woman. In the poem, Yania, the protagonist, is a female personification of the nation harkening back to the original declarations of independence in which the island nation as female was celebrated rather than negated as weak and violatable. Infusing both a female perspective into the “his story” of the nation and recasting the nation as a whole allowed Portalatín to insert women back into Dominican history at the same time that she questioned machista nation building at home and abroad.

You can read more of her poetry here.

Portalatín was also an active member of the international community. After her post-graduate studies in Paris, she was appointed to UNESCO and sat on the jury of the 1977  Casa de las Américas awards for Latin American poets. In 1969, her work was up for a prestigious Premio Seix Barral International Literary Award in Spain. She also traveled frequently in Africa, Latin America, and Europe engaging in feminist encuentros, expanding her knowledge of global blackness and colonial histories, all of which informed her work. Thus her work has inspired many black female poets and other artists in and outside of the Dominican Republic.

She also taught about colonialism and history at UASD for several years, encouraging a new generation of intersectional scholars who embrace blackness and feminism in their work.

BHM: Strengthening Our Communities Aud M. L Secard

Aud M. L. Secard was born in Haiti and moved to Chicago in 1977. In 1991, she became the first Haitian woman to own her own boutique through the Ford Foundation economic development grants. Fifi’s Boutique catered to the desires and homesickness of the Haitian immigrant community, a community that Secard has been deeply committed to serving since arriving in the U.S. In 1982, she joined the Haitian American Benevolent Association to help newly arrived Haitian immigrants buy homes and become economically viable and she also worked as a mentor and guide to young Haitian and Haitian-American children. She also helped found the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition which was instrumental in passing the Haitian Immigration Fairness Act. And she worked as a liaison with FL Police Department to curb anti-Haitian profiling and harassment of Haitian women.

She has also been a critical force in local and national politics in support of Haitian American rights, particularly Haitian American women and children. In 1994, she interned with Congresswoman Meeks working on both immigration and women’s issues. A few years earlier she founded and was president of Women Alliance of Miami-Dade & Broward. The Women’s Alliance focused on the rights of Haitian immigrant women and children, with a particular focus on health issues. She also published an award winning essay about edler women’s access to health care and how elder Haitian women immigrants are among the highest groups being ignored in the Fl health system.

Thus her work draws attention to women and girls across the age range in the hopes of supporting Haitian and Haitian American women’s rights and supporting the Haitian diasporic community. She has received numerous awards for her work with women as well, including from: The Commission on the Status of Women in Miami, County Commission on Immigration Advocacy, the Haitian Organization of Women, etc. As well as winning the Women of Impact Award and the Women of Distinction Award.

She is currently working to raise awareness about the health and safety needs of women and girls in the Haitian crisis and advocating for new immigrants displaced by the earthquake.

Anti-Asian Racism in South Philly Schools

NBC Philadelphia/unattributed

Racial violence at South Philadelphia High School has been at the center of a month long discussion/struggle for Asian American students’ safety at the school. According to students, the situation began over two weeks ago when 30 API students were attacked at South Philadelphia High School sparking an 8 day boycott of classes.

According to members of the Asian American community who are helping students heal and organize, the December 3rd attack was actually day two of the violence. They believe the same African-American students, 14 in total, attacked a lone Vietnamese student off school grounds on December 2nd and then brought the violence into the school the following day. (see Philly.com)

What was initially reported as widescale violence against Asian American students by African-American students may have begun with an attack on a differently-abled African American student off campus. According to school officials, some API students harassed and subsequently beat up a lone African-American student off school grounds sparking racial tension inside the school. That tension erupted on Dec. 3 when 30 API students were brutally attacked in the cafeteria and the hallways of the school by a multi-racial group of assailants, many of whom were African-American.

Several of the attacked students had to go to the hospital and many API students were too scared to return the following day for fear of being targeted again. Their parents worried that the violence was not over and that it was becoming all too common. While advocates warned that the language barrier many of the students targeted experienced in the school meant that they could not or would not accurately report everything that had happened to them; they also pointed out this is an ongoing problem in getting clear documentation of violence against API students in the school.

Very little is known about the differently-abled African American student because the school chose not to disclose this information in the initial days of reporting on the Anti-Asian violence within its walls. The failure to address this student’s rights and the combination of ableism and racially motivated unilateral violence from the API community has made it that much harder to address the increasing racially faultlines in a school run by an African American principal.

A History of Anti-Asian Sentiment

However, the idea that South Philly High would have been safe for API students if it hadn’t been for the off campus incident is inaccurate at best. Regardless of what sparked the incident, several things have become clear in its aftermath:

  1. According to students, there is a consistent pattern of anti-Asian discrimination at South Philly High
  2. API students were targeted on Dec. 3 regardless of their involvement in the incident against the differently-abled African American student, ie they were targeted for being Asian
  3. newly arrived first generation immigrant students bore the brunt of the Anti-Asian violence

Philly.com/Jason Melcher

According to Ellen Somekawa, Executive Director of Asian Americans United, students at South Philly High reported several racist comments against them by school teachers and administrators. These comments included references to speaking English, derogatory analogies to Asian American characters in the media, and a general sense that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are not “real Americans” or perpetually foreign. (You can see some of the comments here.) The fact that these comments were allegedly made by teachers and administrators is not only reprehensible, it also helped to create a climate in which targeting of API students would seem acceptable.

That climate seems to be coming from the top. While school Principal La Greta Brown is new to South Philadelphia High, she has already gotten into trouble with various racial and ethnic groups at the school according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. A Jewish teacher says he was harassed by Brown for asking for a religious holiday off and Allan Wong from the Mayor’s Commission on Asian American Affairs says he tried to schedule a meeting with Brown to discuss last year’s anti-Asian school violence but got nowhere.  Other members of the API community said Brown had appeared open to discussing the problems in the school, even setting up a community meeting schedule, but when it came time for the meetings themselves Brown appeared to have forgotten about them and after keeping the attendees waiting for 40 minutes had failed to schedule additional meetings. (see Philadelphia Inquirer, link above, for full story) While Brown has not commented on these complaints, she vehemently denied Somekawa’s accusations at the meeting where the two discussed the Dec. 3 attack with the rest of community leaders.

If both the principal and teachers are accused of being anti-Asian and/or minimizing anti-Asian behavior amongst their peers than will they really stand up against students who are also Anti-Asian?

According to both students and community leaders, the answer is: No.

According to Xu Lin, a community member who helped students recovering from PTS related to the attack, violence against Asian American students has been a regular part of the school day since he was a student at South Philly High.  He reported being beaten up in what was implied as racially motivated incidents himself.

Current student, Wei Chen, Founder of the Chinese American Student’s Association at the school, also reported ongoing violence. In fact, he started CASA after racially motivated violence in the school last year (see NBC Philadelphia). Those incidents were supposed to have sparked improvements in the school to ensure that anti-Asian violence did not erupt again. Despite violence, school officials claim that the violence agaisnt Asian American students is down 50% (see NBC Philadelphia)

Given the failure to ensure students’ safety from last year until now, the question of what tone the administration had set was at the forefront of some 50 API students who boycotted the school in the hopes of getting concrete lasting reform and an end to racism in the school.

Policing Solutions?

What started as 5 students being scared to return to classes the following day after the violence(Philly.com), swelled to 50 students on an 8 day boycott of the school and active community involvement demanding the school be made safe. API students and community leaders asked that the school:

  1. install more cameras
  2. hire more security guards
  3. report racially motivated violence as hate crimes
  4. implement stricter punishments for students involved in violence against other students on or off school grounds

In a rally and march against anti-Asian violence in the school, API students from South Philly High also made it clear that they were less interested in racial narratives about the incident on December 3rd as much as they were invested in a radical paradigm shift amongst the administration. In other words, unlike the media that was reporting the incident as unilateral violence between Asian Americans and African Americans, the students felt the issue was a failure of the school itself. Many of them carried signs that said “It’s not a question of who beat who, it’s who let it happen” and, as pictured at the top of this post, “Grown Ups Let Us Down!”

After tensions rose between the school and community leaders, civil rights organizations filed suit against the school for failing to protect API students. The school district responded by holding several community and student-faculty meetings and committing to the following:

  1. hiring 4 new security guards including one who speaks Cantonese
  2. installation of 60 cameras throughout the school, especially in identified hotspots like outside the bathroom and inside the cafeteria
  3. transferring the already suspended students believed to have instigated the in school violence to other districts & reporting them to the police for criminal prosecution
  4. the creation of The Task Force for Racial and Cultural Harmony which will include members from the community, students, parents, and faculty

Philadelphia School Superintendent Arlene Ackerman also issued a statement at a community meeting on the incident, disavowing racism in the schools and the “larger community.” She pointed out that this recent round of violence began with an attach on the differently-abled African American student and ended with the violence against 30 Asian American students and was a symptom of ongoing racial tensions in Philadelphia. She said the School District is committed to addressing these racial tensions and ensuring the safety of all of the students at Philadelphia schools and pointed to how the Task Force could help schools across the district address racism both in and outside of the school system.

Like many other stories of racially motivated violence in the schools, the issues at South Philly High seems to have escalated in part due to administrative in action and a climate of oppression. A critical part of the aftermath is the public documenting of violence against API students for generations at South Philly High that mirrors complaints of oppression in the schools in other cases. What is becoming clear is that many of our schools are unsafe, if not the least safe, places for youth. While underfunded schools have glaring problems that make national news, like those of South Philly High, many of the students dying because of the intersections of racism and transphobia or racism and ableism or the individual oppressions of racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia are happening in private schools. While we have developed a language for discussing oppressions that language has not brought us any closer to addressing actual oppression, and in many schools that failure has had dire impact on youth.

The South Philly High example also serves to draw attention to two other problems in our so-called post-racial world. On the one hand, the myth of the model minority continues to mask racism against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community in national discourse. This myth has prevented critical intervention on many levels and has encouraged people to ignore anti-Asian violence. It has also masked the ways that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders are also targets of anti-immigrant violence as perpetual outsiders in the U.S. The majority of the API students targeted in South Philly High were first generation, newly arrived, immigrant youth and the advocates quoted above indicated that these students were the least likely to report violence because of language barriers. It is entirely possible that lack of cultural competence amongst new immigrants and African Americans that painted both groups as offensive and potentially racist in the eyes of the other led to some of the racial tension in the school. Teachers and administrators’ own reported anti-immigrant sentiment prevented them from providing this cultural competence to students and further exacerbated institutional racism. It is equally possible that anti-immigrant discourses that paint immigrants as unfairly sucking up limited resources resonated particularly well with subsistence level African American students, transforming this conflict into a decidedly anti-immigrant one.

On the other hand, the emphasis on addressing long buried anti-Asian violence at South Philly High has nearly erased the story of what happened to that differently-abled African American student. That student’s story has yet to be told.  But what has become clear is that the references to the students who instigated the anti-Asian violence in the school as “a gang” or certain parents expressing their fears about the school a long implied race lines, ie that there are a lot of black people in South Philly High therefore it is an unsafe and unruly school, belie as yet unaddressed racial tensions. And while school administrators appear to have hid behind these tensions in order to silence API students complaints, the solution is not to simply flip the script.

Finally, while it is true that API students called for increased policing at the school, I find myself concerned about the increasing presence of the prison-industrial-complex in the school system. Working class and subsistence level students of color are already over-policed as it is. The presence of increased policing in the schools has shown no real track record of decreasing violence or tensions in the schools, and in some cases has increased it. And like other policing forces, questions have arisen about the cultural competence of security guards in the school as a direct result of their involvement in racist and sexist incidents. While the school has committed to ensuring the language competence of 1 of 4 new guards there has been no similar commitment to their racial competence with either API students or African Americans (or Latinos in the school for that matter). while I agree that the youth who instigated this violence should be punished, including with applicable hate crimes laws, I don’t think an increasingly prison like school environment is an answer. Put another way, I am concerned that the answer to school violence is often to adjudicate and permanently brand children rather than to do what schools are meant to do, ie educate and provide youth with the ability to think critically about oppression. And I am not sure the false sense of security these measures will provide will do anything toward addressing the underlining issues at the school or, as the Superintendent put it, the communities these students live in.

There were many lessons that South Philly High could have learned from this incident. The one key lesson they seem to have learned was to listen to, honor, and protect the voices of the API students in their school. Given how long they have been silenced through fear, retaliation, and violence, this cannot be underestimated. But I fear the other lessons available here have been lost. And each time I write these kinds of posts, I watch the narrowing of the discourse surrounding them in the media and know that we as a nation are also losing these key opportunities as well. At least the API students of South Philly High now have an organizational structure, public presence, and finally recognized voice in the school with which to advocate for themselves in the future. It is just too bad that they had to have this instead of the school doing everything it can to make South Philly a safe place for all of its students.

——-

image on right: Principal LaGreta Brown. ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS

BLBG: Staceyann Chin Other Side of Paradise a Review

This is the second review of books from our Black Lesbian Book Group at Swandiver’s blog. My review for our first book, which I didn’t like, can be found here. As I committed to at the beginning of the summer, I will review the rest of the books as we read them.

Staceyann Chin’s The Other Side of Paradise begins with a mythic birth scene that imagines Chin as wholly unto her own. It is a metaphor that foreshadows the main point of the nearly 300 page autobiography in which Stacyann figures as a precocious, unwanted, and abused child. For the bulk of the book, she is shuttled between relatives and caregivers who provide the littlest amount of care possible. In this version of her childhood, Chin is a victim of overzealous religiosity, classism, colorism, and sexism long before she stumbles on homophobia.

A poor child, abandoned by her mother and rejected by her father, Stacyann spends her early years with her protective brother and her God-fearing, hard working, grandmother. Though they don’t have much, the three of them live mostly happy lives of Bible study, school, and dreams of their mother’s return until they inexplicably lose their house and have to move in with the first of many Aunties. While women unrelated to Chin are often depicted as Aunties who care for her during her stormy childhood typified by severe beatings and humiliation punctuated by Bible passages, her blood relatives are mostly “long suffering black women” who see her as an undue burden. Through it all, her grandmother and her brother do their best to help tame the rage that Staceyann feels at not receiving enough love or being punished for being “too” inquisitive, “to0” self-directed, and “too” forthright.

At age 9, even they fade into the background of increasing poverty, sexualized abuse, and desperation. By the time Staceyann passes her exams to go to high school, her brother doesn’t even talk to her. By the time she is ready for college, he has immigrated to Germany without a word. For most of her tweens, he lives with his father on the other side of town and barely waves at her if they pass by one another on the way to school. Her grandmother is gone from the story all together, left behind when one of their Aunts decides to punish their mother by sending the children back to her. Both of them reappear once or twice in the later half of Staceyann’s story but the ease with which they disappear from her life and her narrative illustrates how fragile and fleeting human relationships are in Chin’s childhood.

Her brother’s slow and unexplained abandonment is typical of the men in The Other Side of Paradise. Men in the book represent a fleeting yet significant presence in Chin’s life. Most of the adult men in her early life are sick, drunk, and/or mentally ill. Their absenteeism is ever present whether it is physical absence or psycho-social.

Her father, who is the most important man in her life b/c of his ongoing absence, denies her to her face. Though he does pay for her schooling, and help her get into college, he treats her as a somewhat unwanted associate never his flesh and blood. While his indifference chafes, her brother’s father’s seeming care is soon undermined in similar ways. Both men write checks, but neither offer love. Worse, though he gives Staceyann money and food, he also makes uncomfortable and unexplained advances on her that often leave her feeling violated by his touch. Other men, like the Preacher in her church make overt sexually advances, behaving in predatory ways that Chin inexplicably avoids.

Young men in the book are almost all sexual aggressors. She spends her tweens and teens dodging three of them in her own home. They try to catch her in the bathroom or changing her clothes, and corner her in various parts of the house. Her first attempt at a boyfriend results in a sexually explicit letter asking for favors she has made clear she is unwilling to give. And tho she has a seemingly normal relationship with her second boyfriend, the normalcy is undermined by his unwillingness to make any real commitment to her, transforming him into another emotionally distant man who uses her for sex. When she comes out in college, these boys transformer into a raving band of rapists in a scene that not only rings true but also reflects a general sense in the narrative the young men are just old rapists and drunks in the making.

Lest anti-feminist readers see this as yet another example of  “feminazi man-hating,” women and girls fair little better in Staceyann’s text. Staceyann’s mother starts out as a sympathetic character whose return transforms her into a self-obsessed violent woman. Her erratic behavior and violent shifts from cooing at her children to raking them with her long red nails and bitterness mirror that of clinical schizophrenia so much so that I expected to be told she hadn’t abandoned the children but instead been sent away. Not so. Though Chin makes her mother sound clinically ill, this too is a function of the child narrator, who experiences the terror of her mother’s behavior but has no explanation for it.

The other adult women in Chin’s life, with few exceptions, seem to take great pride in humiliating her in front of classmates and female peers. They demean her because of her heritage, her class, and her inquisitiveness. Most importantly, they check her outspokenness with swift violence designed to silence her voice and teach her to become invisible. Their anxieties about her precociousness and blunt struggles with social norms and religion, speak to the fears of working class and lower middle class women about “respectability” and male power. Yet while Chin is thoughtfully introspective about why she acts out against them, her child narrator is unable to provide similar introspection about the reasons they discipline her so harshly. There is no excuse for their abusiveness, but Chin’s corrective look back on it in the epilogue is lacking in the story itself.

Not only do adult women figure prominently in her ongoing physical abuse, but young girls seem to torment Staceyann wherever she goes. Whether they are relatives or kids at school, the girls Staceyann meets mock and humiliate her because of her color, her class, and sometimes her diction. Colorism and classism dog Staceyann at every institution, in ever person’s home she visits, and even causes a bitter fight between her and her brother.  Despite what she says about juxtaposing homophobia in Jamaica to racism in the U.S. in the book promo clip at the beginning of this post, her book makes race (colorism) a central plot point in which it is no less salient to her life than racism would have been in N. America. Her prose is never more honest nor poignant than when lessons about color and poverty hit home in the text.

All of these characters represent the pain and abandonment that is at the center of the entire story. They figure far more prominently than the nuns, teachers, and friends who are actually kind to Staceyann in her childhood. The underdevelopment of the latter gives her story a sense of urgency at the same time that it makes her narrative seem somewhat overdetermined. The truth value of one’s memories is less important to me than what falls out as a result.  Because Chin gives us no concentrated description of mentors or heroes her memoir gives us no insight into how she became an artist. Subtle glimpses of her being assigned journaling or finally finding a home in the theater department are like footnotes in the long and painful story of abandonment and abuse. When did she decide words were her refuge? When did she find the excitement in sharing her voice instead of the shame that was almost always put upon her every time she spoke in the book? Where are the inklings of the poet in her childhood?

Those looking for a poignant coming out story that mirrors the powerful and beautiful poetry Chin writes, will also be disappointed. Chin has two crushes in her early childhood but neither are written in a way that foreshadows same sex attraction or the awakening of same sex desire. Instead, one of her crushes isn’t even identified as an object of desire until they mutually come out to one another in college.  Her desires for the other girl are easily overlooked by both girls pursuits of boyfriends and Christian morality that permeates their lives. There are subtle ways the prose lets those of us who know what we are seeing, know we are seeing it, but for those uninitiated, much of the subtlety will be lost. In both cases, Staceyann’s emotions for them are wrapped up in class longing, desires for friendship and popularity at school, or gratefulness for the kindness of adults these other girls experience. Thus for many readers, only the very blunt jokes about not marrying boys will hit home in these passages while the homosocial commitment to one another, the subtle care in the way they are with one another, etc. will be lost.

Chin doesn’t speak about her sexuality until the book is almost over. With only 70 pages left, she embarks on the subject of her coming out and trying to find women to be with at a break neck speed that barely leaves any time for character development, internal reflection, or some other narrative device that would make the sea of rejection and hookups crammed into this section as insightful as her poetry on the subject. It’s unfortunate because this portion of the book has an adult narrator who could be introspective and multi-viewed about the characters introduced. In many ways, it feels as though Chin is still holding this part of herself back from her readers, afraid of what prose, as opposed to poetry, might tell us and her about these tumultuous days before she immigrated.

As a result, her coming out years whiz by, literally punctuated by cliched lesbian music and the shaving of her head. While Chin hints at a thriving underground queer culture, she never lets her prose linger on it long enough for us to get a sense of what queer Jamaica looks like to her or how GLBTQI ppl navigate homophobia there. As an insider, her insights on these issues could have been a critical counterpoint to a colonialist gaze on Jamaica that elevates violence against the queer community there while erasing it in the West. It’s unclear if she is trying to protect the women she left behind by not describing them or their encounters in detail or if she has sacrificed this aspect of the story to make her larger point about the homophobia in Jamaica that drove her to leave. If it is the latter, homophobia has not only robbed her of her home but her readers of a story about sexuality and (fraught) communities, for one of violent homophobia. Both are clearly present, but as in other identities represented in the book, the latter dominates.

Thus while women, female lab partners, sexual encounters, and her growing attachment to the stage moves so quickly they blur into nothing, the homophobic potential gang rape Chin survived in her college bathroom is described in detail. For survivors it will likely be triggering. For people inclined to vilify Jamaica as the most homophobic place on earth,  it will provide perfect fodder. And yet, this moment is a defining one in Chin’s life. The prose she uses to describe it not only reflect the way time works for some survivors during abuse but also ensures that readers cannot look away from the intersection of sexism and homophobia, fear and male-sanctioned violence. Its familiarity opens the doors for talking about global homophobia, sexism, and male violence in ways that expand rather than contract feminist discourses on the subject for anti-imperialist readers. Not only is this moment critical to understanding Chin’s critique of homophobia, it is also perhaps the most feminist moment in the book because it not only exposes male domination but also demands bodily integrity for all women and feminism from men.

Ultimately, if you commit to the story Staceyann Chin has set out to tell, you will not be disappointed by this book. For those looking for the feisty feminist lesbian who bellows out the words in proud defiance of social norms, you will see glimpses of her here but never quite connect the dots. And those looking for an immigration based bildungsroman ala other Caribbean-American writers, you will have to look elsewhere, as Chin acknowledges the ever-presence of immigration while also proving how life in sending communities is about the dailiness of living not just a holding pattern until one goes abroad. In a world where we have come to expect artists lives to be unique and special, punctuated by clearly defined awakenings, it is an act of extreme bravery to depict oneself as rejected, broken, and yearning for love just like everybody else. That is the story Staceyann wants us to know, the story of a girl who overcame, who makes her living speaking when so many tried beat her into silence. And tho it isn’t the story I was expecting, I for one, respect that.

The Black Lesbian Book Group is discussing this book now. The current discussion question from Luna Kiss is: what were your impressions of the title before you read the book? (Obviously this question is meant to go beyond Chin’s own statement that she was referring to the class divide in the town of Paradise where she spent her formative years.)