Letter from the Editor

From the Fall 2011 Issue of La Gente Newsmagazine

Throughout my time at La Gente, I have seen the staff change from year to year, providing a variety of perspectives as well as showcasing common concerns of the Latina/o student community.

Finding opportunity through education is a theme that the writers explore in their stories. Opportunity is in between limitations and choice, between societal and legal expectations and the individual.

Behind the sentiment that everyone deserves an education despite legal status or class, writers address how this will come to be on the legislative and human level, whether via the California Dream Act or the Occupy Movement.

The feature focuses on a UCLA student with Temporary Protected Status, a gray area not quite in the shadows like that experienced by the undocumented students but neither on a path to a bright future as privileged by American citizens.

Other pieces talk about the most visible pillars of cultura: language and religion. These bring to mind questions like what defines cultura as the Latina/o community becomes more rooted in the United States.

These questions come up because of our transnational connections.  This includes the drug war in Mexico as it endangers families and the upcoming World Cup as it inspires ambivalent emotions in Brazilians.

However, we still appreciate and seek out these connections by attending UCLA’s Central American film festival and by continuing to celebrate Dia de los Muertos.

In light of the LA Xicano exhibitions, Chicano art has been closely intersected with the history and aesthetic of the newsmagazine. For this issue, artists Armando Silva and Jose Loza have contributed art, adding to the print quality of the newsmagazine, hopefully encouraging you, the reader, to keep it.

We hope that our stories inspire you to seek out a forum of action, be it a poetry, art, or protest.

Thank you for picking up this quarter’s issue of La Gente.


Bringing Central American culture to life through film

Ana Ruth Castillo, Los Angeles based artist with roots from Guatemala, contributed this artwork to the festival. Inspired to reflect culture and ancestry, the beauty of the natural world, and the sacred feminine, she paints on walls and canvas to share and connect. A college graduate from UC Santa Cruz, she dedicates her life and career to working with youth.

UCLA’s Latin American Institute held the Central America and Reel Politik film festival at the Main Conference Room in the Charles E. Young Research Library from Wednesday October 19 to Friday October 21.

Attracting over three hundred people throughout its run, the festival featured work from rising artists that showcased a region that is typically understudied.

The Reel Politik film festival was organized by Gloria Chacon, a fellow at the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The term Reel Politik refers to the German term Realpolitik, referring to politics that is based on power and sometimes of coercion. The term highlights the effort to shed light on the political, eocnomic, and social issues of Central America through film.

She organized the festival in part “to really showcase the vibrant culture and different points of views and people trying to tell their story. Or trying to recuperate the story of their past.” She wanted to take part in the slow but growing study of Central America.

“To educate, to showcase, and to inspire,” Chacon said, explaining her hopes of using the festival as a way to inspire students to begin telling their own story through film.

The festival took around one year to organize, and it fell solely on the shoulders of Chacon with one student aid for help.

A few years back, the Icaro Film Festival in Guatemala impacted her by showing documentaries and films produced in Central America.

Chacon set out to collect a film archive for the UCLA library. However, the difficulty in obtaining films not easily available to the public meant each director had to be contacted directly. Her established contacts allowed her to bring attention to the event throughout the planning stage, resulting in full support by the administration.

The Central American community fully embraced the festival. At the film festival, many local consulates participated with Beliz and Guatemalan representatives providing small discourse on their respective country.

For Chacon, the involvement of the local community allowed the possibility of many to connect with others. Understanding people’s history is a necessary step in pushing diversity, especially on a college campus, she says.

At the event itself, the education of the countries was on full display. Books were sold to further touch upon the issues raised in the films. Students from diverse backgrounds participated in the Q&A. Different films provided insights into current social problems, and the effects past events currently have in society.

Although this was the first year the festival was held, Chacon hopes to do it again, but with some modifications. She would like to include short films by students and give awards to the best documentary, feature, and student films shown at the festival.

Regardless, this year the UCLA library gained a rich variety of films to provide commentary on Central America, a region that is currently growing among the fields of study. This gives the school an opportunity to become one of the emerging locations that are aiding the growth of Central American scholars. These films will become resources for all those students and community members that wish to focus on the region.

Every film showed, and many more, will be available for regular checkout at the Charles E. Young Research Library.

Losing the Mother Tongue

“You don’t speak Spanish?! But you’re Mexican!”

Too often, many second-generation Latinos are confronted with this question, to which they reply, “Yeah, I know…”

They think, “How could I forget? What happened?” But the reality is that many of them don’t know why they don’t speak it.

Spanish language loss among second-generation Latinos, those with immigrant parents, has been widely studied. Research and Statistics show that “98 percent of second-generation respondents [reported] fluency in English and 88 percent [indicated] a preference for English over their mother tongue.”

What leads to this preference?

“I was born and raised here, so to me [Spanish] was more of a second language. The more English I learned, the less Spanish I spoke. Today, I feel, it’s more common to find Latinos in similar situations,” said Andres Berumen, a senior at Eisenhower High School born to Mexican parents.

His answer is not far from what most would guess is the reason for the lack of Spanish retention in the US: we assimilate to the English language because it is all around us. The environment that surrounds us dictates the language we speak, right? Yes.

The US has been referred to as a graveyard for foreign languages. The process of losing the mother tongue was found to be most rapid here in the US when compared to that loss in other countries. Interestingly enough, this loss was less rapid among Spanish-speaking Latinos.

Among Latino groups, there is also some disparity. Mexican-Americans were found to retain their mother language the best, but were reciprocally the worst at English proficiency over time when compared to Dominicans, Cubans, Colombians, Nicaraguans, Central and South Americans.

So what factors lead us to lose the language of our culture?

“If I would have balanced them out somehow instead of choosing one [English] over the other [Spanish], that would have made a difference,” Berumen reflects. However, research has proven otherwise.

Maintaining Spanish proficiency is most directly correlated with the language that is modeled by the parents in the household, not one’s own individual preference or what they feel about the language. The home environment and the language used by parents and close relatives have been found to have the greatest effect on this retention.

According to a report out of Harvard University by Van C. Tran, Spanish is spoken at home with parents more so than others in and outside of home. Second-generation Latinos lose the language because of a lack of practice outside the home.

It had also been found that in communities where there is a majority of Spanish-only speaking people push the second generation to use the language, which allows for retention rate.

The same Harvard report stated that “first-generation immigrants learned some English but preferred the use of their mother tongue; the second generation developed a preference for English but continued to use the minority language at home; and the third generation spoke only English,” showcasing the eventual loss of the Spanish language in later generations of Latinos in the US.

If it weren’t for the continuing influx of immigrant peoples across US borders that replenish the Spanish speaking environments for later generations of Latinos, this mother tongue would dissipate that much quicker.

Looking Back to a New Peru

I remember those days when I thought my life as an eight year old was normal. It only took to look back a few years later to see I was living inside a bubble of terrorism in Peru.

I never understood why my mother would put tape on the windows that formed an “x,” blackouts that made us decorate the house with candles, or why our block was a meeting point for security guards with enormous guns.

In 1985 President Alan Garcia campaigned for hope, yet Peru fell into economic turmoil during his presidency.  Garcia left the country with hyperinflation and Peruvian citizens were not able to afford anything since the currency was not worth anything.  This economic crisis led to the emergence of The Shining Path, a terrorist group with a communist ideology that bombed electrical towers to provoke major blackouts in the city to inflict terror in the citizens.

A once overpopulated city with cars and traffic, restaurants, movie theatres and other forms of entertainment became a ghost town.

Peru was becoming a country with no hope and the violence was getting to close to our family for us to stay there, but my roots never left my foundation.

As a young woman living in the US, I became fascinated by Peruvian politics.  The news I read indicated the steady rise of the Peruvian economy.  I began to realize why my windows were taped as a child.  After ten years and roots too deep I decided it was time to go back to Peru and see the changes with my own eyes.

The day I got on the plane, I felt anxious.  I did not want to relive those moments in my childhood, but I had to go back to my roots and to the place that I once called my home.

I arrived at the Jorge Chavez Airport and felt I never left LA.  The only thing that reminded me I was in Lima were the pictures of Macchu Picchu.  The streets of Lima were illuminated and people were walking happily on the streets and there was no evident presence of security guards like before.

The changes didn’t come easily. Yet, without a doubt, it is easy to see the positive change in Peru in contrast to the depressing record of the 1990’s.

The perseverance of the people helped the economy flourish.  Business owners go out to the streets to sell what their land or hands provide.  Lima, the capital of Peru changed to invite tourists from all over the world.  This changed what Lima used to look like into a modern city.  Foreign owned restaurants run the weekend life and modern infrastructure make tourists feel home.  Still, Peruvian traditions still fight to live and attract tourists.

Despite all the positive changes, poverty is still an issue; “ceros” or hills are covered with “barrios jovenes” or slums in which people live inhumanly.  Several feeding stations have opened so children can at least get one meal a day.  Most walls are painted with political campaign slogans that only make the streets more unclean rather than give hope to the poor.

Similar to our ancestors, the Incas, the Spanish were able to take their land but not their culture.  Peru’s economic growth is modernizing the country, yet Peruvians will not permit our culture to disintegrate.  This can be the reason why my roots never let me go and will make me continue to come back to the Land of The Sun.

World Cup Burdens Brazilians

Brazil, the home of the football lovers, is hosting the FIFA World Cup in 2014. This “miracle”, as many Brazilians call it, hasn’t happened since 1950, and many soccer fans are excited for it. I feel honored that my home country is able to host the most important international sports event. I am excited to go back to Brazil, in 2014, especially to visit my hometown, São Paulo, where the opening of the World Cup will be held.

Morumbi, a soccer stadium, was where the opening game of the World Cup was supposed to be held at and I only lived fifteen minutes away from it. The only memory I have with Morumbi is from when my dad took me to my first soccer match with him when I was eight years old. Unfortunately because of São Paulo’s financial situation, Morumbi is not able to hold the opening game of the World Cup because of the lack of renovation funds. The FIFA federation decided to move the opening game from Morumbi to the “Corinthians New Stadium” where less money is needed to bring the stadium to safe conditions. Guilherme Macedo Silva, says that “the ‘Corinthians new stadium’ renovation is undergoing a lot of construction, and at a very fast pace. It will probably be the most modern stadium, and hopefully the most beautiful one in the country. A lot of other stadiums are going through constructions too, but the pressure on aesthetics remains on the Corinthians stadium.”

While hosting the World Cup is a very exciting thing for Brazilians, not all of them are pleased with the constructions. “The problem right now is that constructions are very superficial, and a lot of public money is going to waste,” says Guilherme.

“Superficial” construction isn’t the only problem. Another unsatisfied Brazilian, Fernando Bicudo, says that Brazil needs to “improve subways, bus and airport systems and also create hotels for tourists…the national image of Brazil is in the hands of the government and I feel like too much money is being taken from citizens in order to accomplish this. We have our own financial worries too.”

Although hosting the 2014 FIFA World Cup is a blessing and an honor for Brazil, there is a lot of local and international pressure on the government to ensure that Brazil’s image is not blemished. I feel somewhat of a “free-loader” compared to my childhood friends, since I am not experiencing raised taxes and prices in everything, yet I will still get to enjoy the experience of the World Cup when I go back for the first time since I immigrated in 2004.

Narco Refugees

Illustration by Sam Temblador.

The Vasquez family is on the run. It is not from the endemic poverty, lack of job opportunities, or deficits in government aid, which have historically driven Mexicans across the border. They are running from war.

Mounting violence induced by Mexico’s drug war has displaced 230,000 Mexicans thus far, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

After gaining political asylum and fleeing to the US, Jose Vasquez contacted my father who agreed to shelter him and his family who are my distant relatives.

I had begun to hear pieces of their harrowing story from various family members. They were shaken from their ordeal and understandably in no condition to disclose their story in an interview.

The Mexican drug war hardly crossed my mind before then. It only existed in the snippets of media stories I heard from time to time. Meeting Jose Vasquez and his family last month brought the reality of the drug war much closer to home.

Back in Mexico, the Vasquez family owned a small business and three cars. Jose Vasquez worked as a mechanic, while Maria Vasquez ran the local neighborhood grocery store. The children enjoyed comfortable lives.

They were living the “Mexican Dream,” but in an American graveyard. As the body count rose, their comfortable lives shattered, leaving behind shards of their once happy lives for the wind to scatter across the border.

Jose received a call from police asking him to identify a corpse, that of his brother Martin, which had been discovered at a crime scene. Martin had been involved in the drug trade, fueling speculation that cartel assassins murdered him.

According to the Guardian, the Mexican government has placed the death toll for drug-war related violence at just over 34,612. There seems to be no end in sight.

Martin was survived by his wife who had given birth sometime after his funeral. She was then under the care of Jose’s other brother Joel. Sometime after Martin’s wife had given birth, the assassins arrived and finished the job: murdering Joel, the young wife, and her newborn baby.

Drug trafficking and cartel warfare have shaped the destinies of Mexico’s “Ninis” generation, the wasted youth que “ni estudian, ni trabajan,” who neither study nor work, according to the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. From the age of 11 years old, they make their living as sentries, traffickers, and hired guns for the warring cartels, as reported by International Business Times.

The rising tide of violence and corruption has even managed to pollute the dwindling reservoirs of justice and morality within the police force. According to the L.A. Times, 3,200 Mexican federal police officers have been investigated and fired for links to drug cartels.

Distraught over the massacre of his relatives, Jose yelled at the officer, asking him when the violence would end. The officer retorted that it would end when none of his family members were left. Profoundly aware of this rampant corruption, Jose promptly took his family to Tijuana to ask the American Embassy for political asylum.

In 2008, only 13 percent of Mexican political asylum requests were granted according to Paul R. Kan of the Strategic Studies Institute. Fortunately for Jose, the family was granted 6 months of asylum, time which he hopes to use to secure his family’s residency and safety.

After staying in my family’s home for a couple of days, the Vasquez family left for Chicago where they will have their residency hearing, and where they may finally begin rebuilding their lives.

How many images, how many sensations, how many unspoken horrors have resurfaced in their memories since then?

*The names mentioned herein, of the family and its individual members, have been changed in order to respect their privacy and maintain their safety.

What is wrong with the police?

As a young male of color from the urban community of Los Angeles, I have been bred to be weary of the police. From the time I was a young teenager able to drive, I have been pulled over numerous times without any probable cause.

I am not alone. The overwhelming number of stories of racial profiling and repulsive abuse of power are enough for me to live in a state of alarm.

I have witnessed the brutal assault on our civil rights by police from the Rodney King Beatings to the revelations of the Rampart Case in 1999 to the more recent Oscar Grant slaying at a BART station in Oakland.

Most of these officers were not put to trial and many walked away with a slap on the wrist.  One exception is the officer that shot Oscar Grant in the back of the head.  While he was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, he only served 11 months in jail much to the chagrin of the Grant family.

These kinds of atrocious acts are permitted to occur because the police officers’ statements are not investigated. The word of the police officer is taken over the victim.

Recently in the city of Fullerton, the police department has come under fire because of their heinous attack on a homeless and mentally ill individual.  Six officers brutally attacked a man who they presumed to be a perpetrator, while a group of citizens watched.

According to reports from the Huffington Post, a homeless man was sitting when the police approached him and he ran off.  When they caught the homeless man, the police began to pound his face on the curb, beat him, and hog-tie him.

The man would later die from his injuries and the police department is now under investigation by the FBI.

There were 6 police officers present but only two were charged with any wrongdoing. Officer Manuel Ramos and Corporal Jay Cicinelli were the two officers who most viciously attacked Kelly Thomas. Ramos beat him while Cicinelli tasered him.  Since being charged with the death, both men have been freed on bail, although Ramos is facing stricter charges.

How is it that the other four police officers are not charged?  They are just as guilty as their peers because they witnessed the murder of an individual.

These police officers are paid to protect and serve the public, but that night they refused and were rewarded with paid leave. They stood there as a man was beat, tasered, and choked.

What is wrong with the police?  Have they lost their human perspective?

I propose that we start holding the police officers to the same laws to which they hold everyday citizens. If a police officer kills an individual, there should be no reason why a thorough investigation should follow.  If any misconduct is found, then I believe that police officer must face a jury.

Too often their authority goes unchecked and citizens suffer the consequences.  Until their power is checked, there is nothing protecting us from their abuse.

Religious Secularization

Photo by Melissa Merrill.

The cross of Christ hanging from a gold necklace is being Catholic.  For many second generation Latinos, this is as far as their relationship with God extends, a tendency that epitomizes their gradual move towards an evanescing faith in God.

While a growing number of Latinos identify themselves as non-religious, most say they still retain certain cultural aspects of Catholicism and thus consider themselves “culturally Catholic.” According to Ace Prensa, secularity among Latinos increases from 8 percent in the first-generation immigrants to 14 percent in the second-generation.

For these second generation Latinos, Catholicism is not a way of explaining their faith in God, but rather a cultural identifier. Though they do not practice it through the reception of all the sacraments, they still claim ties to Catholicism.

A young man who wished to remain anonymous said, “I don’t know much about the actual religion. It’s just how I was raised. I go to church occasionally, I have a rosary in the rearview mirror of my car, and I help my mom set up of the ‘nacimiento’ for Christmas and I really enjoy the big celebration my family does for the Virgin Mary. But as far as my relationship with God…well I guess that is my relationship with God.”

For Latinos like him, the connection between Catholicism and culture is much stronger than that of Catholicism and faith. Religion is not a matter of establishing a faith-based communion with God, but a matter of inheritance.

Their parents are Catholic and by default, they too inherit this religion. While this bestowal of Catholicism teaches them that babies should be baptized and that taking the Eucharist is the most sacred moment during Sunday mass, it does not teach them the spiritual meaning behind these practices.

This lack of spiritual knowledge is especially evident during the celebration of holy days such as Ash Wednesday. Many, from devout Catholics to cultural Catholics, gather on this day to have ashes imposed on their foreheads. But, the presence of so many new faces raises questions about the knowledge and credence in the paramount doctrines of their religion.

Upon asking a UCLA student, who identifies himself as Catholic, what the significance of Ash Wednesday is, he responded: “It’s kind of embarrassing to admit, but I have no idea. It’s just something I’ve done most of my life.”

He, like many other Latinos, chooses to be marked with the ashes of repentance on this Wednesday, but do not know why. Stripping this sacred practice from its spiritual

meaning and transforming it solely into a cultural practice, makes the ashes on their forehead less a symbol of mourning and repentance and more a symbol of a deteriorating faith in God.

Moreover, for the increasing number of non-religious second-generation Latinos,Catholicism has become one of the many aspects of their culture that is only ritualistically part of quotidian life, an inclination that does not accord with my definition of spiritual faith. Though they religiously obey Catholic practices, they are devoid of the fundamental characteristic on which religion is based: an absolute and walking faith in God.

LA CAUSA: Causing Students to Get Involved

LA CAUSA students visiting UCLA through the UCLA Green Site partnership. Photo Courtesy of LA CAUSA.

Little Frankie wrote his first essay at age 16. He was so proud, “Can I print it out? I want to show my mom.”

After being pushed out of the LAUSD public school system, Little Frankie ended up at Los Angeles Communities Advocating for Unity, Social Justice, and Action (LA CAUSA), an alternative charter high school in East Los Angeles, to not only finish his high school diploma, but to be introduced to the possibility of going to college.

LA CAUSA from its origins has implemented a different environment and curriculum that is relevant and beneficial to the community. As stated in their mission statement, LA CAUSA “engages historically disenfranchised young people and their families from East Los Angeles to take action against the injustices that impact low-income communities of color.”

Alejandro Covarrubias, now a professor in the UCLA César E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies, was the first executive director of LA CAUSA. “LA CAUSA was more than just a school, I know right now it’s running primarily as a school, but it has always be seen as a creative center that is interested in developing local leadership so then those young people can become active members of actions for change in their own community,” he said.

The culturally relevant curriculum has been essential to create active members of change. The curriculum includes topics such as the prison industrial complex and oppressive relations of power. As professor Covarrubias states, “Education is ultimately about getting people to understand their reality so they can contribute positively to their reality.”

Ely Flores, a 2005 graduate of LA CAUSA, agrees. After facing 3 years of prison and waiting for the arrival of his baby, he came to LA CAUSA and graduated. He now works full time bringing solar and renewal energy to low income communities with GRID Alternative. He has also started his own non-profit organization, Leadership through Empowerment, Action, and Dialogue (LEAD), where he educates youth about public policy.

LA CAUSA takes advantage of its close-knit environment. The current executive director Robert Zardeneta states, “We actively went out and recruited these students to become reengaged in their education. We are a small enough school that we can do that.”

Currently, LA CAUSA has 147 students enrolled. But will it get bigger and replicate problems such as over crowdedness?

“Internally, we have battled with the question of ‘when are we getting too big?’ So now I think that from where we are is as big as we should get before we break off into other satellite programs,” said Zardeneta. He added that they plan on creating programs in Boyle Heights and other parts of East LA because “every community needs a LA CAUSA”

LA CAUSA’s focus has shifted to getting students exposed to college with the goal for them to apply to college. To do this, LA CAUSA has partnered up with local colleges and universities such as UCLA, LA Trade Tech and CSULA, giving their students the opportunity to get college credit while at LA CAUSA.

Robert Zardeneta exclaims, “What’s more radical than taking a young person who is a ‘drop out’ and bringing them to CSULA? To me that’s pretty radical.”

The new College Career Center has been beneficial for the shift of college readiness to take place. Rogelio Medina, the director of Post Secondary Education and the College Career Center, felt it was a disservice not to implement career development and college awareness into the program.

Medina credits the establishment of the College Career Center to the community leadership group called Presente. This group of students was first established as a Community Leadership Project (CLP).  Presente’s mission was to get everyone at LA CAUSA to graduate. “This group was the one who led the movement in LA CAUSA to promote college and graduation,” said Medina.

In  2009, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis visited this community leadership project, prompting awards from the White House. After that, Rogelio made the moves to open the College Career Center. Rogelio says, “This is were you see the genius of having young people in charge. They go large. These young people are powerful.”

Though LA CAUSA has undergone many changes since its early days, the main priority is still the same: offer the community what other public schools have not succeeded.

Professor Covarrubias states, “When you work with a population, your responsibility as an organization is to ensure that that population feels served by your organization. Schools should do that as well.”