local insights

Indigenous Not Participating in Census

The U.S. Census Bureau launched a massive campaign to encourage New York Latinos to send in their census forms, but apparently made no effort to include residents of Mexico’s indigenous populations, according to community activists.

“A lot of people don’t understand the census, since most of them only speak a little Spanish,” said Rogelio Gonzalez, one of the 300 Mixtecos living in northern Staten Island.

Gonzalez and his family are among the few in the community who have returned their census questionnaire. Only 38 percent of the local Mixtec community, from San Marcos de Natividad in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, have sent in their census forms.

“We don’t even understand the census questions very well,” Gonzalez said of Spanish-speaking Mixtec people. “It should have gone through a translator.”

The census questionnaire has been translated into 60 languages. But these do not include Mixtec or other indigenous Mexican languages.

“We are counting on groups partnering with the Census Bureau to work in very specific communities,” said Igor Alvez, a spokesperson for the New York Census Bureau. “These homes will be visited by census workers if they don’t return their census forms. They will be counted.”

The Mexican Consulate said it supported the Census Bureau with a general campaign inclusive of all Mexicans, and that it did not want to be exclusive or divisive. There was no campaign specifically targeting the Mixtec or other indigenous groups.

The consulate noted that indigenous groups identify as Mexican.

In 2008, there were 295,000 Mexicans living in New York, according to the Department of City Planning.

A writer and expert on the Hispanic community, Louis Nevaer, affirms that a large percentage of them are indigenous.

Nevaer found that only 17 percent of non-Spanish-speaking indigenous Mexicans in the region are willing to participate in the census.

Nevaer led a team of 17 people who interviewed indigenous Mexicans from Feb. 1 to March 15 in New York City, Northern New Jersey and Long Island. The study found that this group would not participate if materials were not translated into their own languages–Mixtec, Zapotec and Mayan.

“They are very reluctant and distrustful,” said Nevaer. “They don’t speak the language, they’re undocumented, and they’re here without village elders to tell them that it’s okay cooperate.”

March: To Bean or Not to Bean

Extra! Extra! Read all about it! According to the fine folks behind the U.S. Census as well as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Latinos are…white!

Caray! All those years of racial segregation, oppression, and resentment turn out to be just a big, 500-year-old misunderstanding! If we can all kindly deposit our now-void Race Cards into your designated drop-off site, gracias, the “racism-doesn’t-exist-now-get-out-my-neighborhood-Brownies!” conservatives would greatly appreciate it. Gangsters and vatos locos, to your nearest tattoo dude; they’ll laser your “Brown Pride” tat right off (maybe they’ll take care of your dragon that looks more like a dolphin, too).

Now, now, before I get too into the tarado-ness committed, maybe I should offer the reasoning behind why so many of us read “Hispanic origins are not races” on our census forms. According to the definitions set down by the U.S. Census Bureau, being Hispanic, Latino, Puerto Rican, etc. is an ethnic designation, while race is categorized by “non-scientific…social and cultural characteristics” and “ancestry” (huh?); thus, races are constructs such as black, white, “American Indian,” and (strangely enough) nationalities, too, like Vietnamese. In other words, one can be ethnically Latino but be racially black, white, American Indian, or some other race.

I suppose for many Hispanics calling themselves white will be a non-issue, a source of Eurocentric pride even. But I can’t help wondering where the majority of us Latinos – those that acknowledge both our Hispanic and indigenous roots – fit exactly. Are we still, after half a millennium of ancestry, to be regarded a mix of white and native? Are we some oil and vinegar concoction destined never to become a zesty blend worthy of our own dressing bottle? After all, the Ku Klux Klan never sent me an E-vite to one of their B.Y.O.S. (bring your own sheet!) hoedowns.

Then again, getting pissy over the narrow-mindedness of bureaucrats is like being shocked about finding traffic on the 405. But what made me really drop my taco in disbelief was seeing Mayor Villaraigosa on the local news, being interviewed about the confusion over the census’ racial question. His response? He says he personally checked “white,” because that’s what Latinos are, all while giving that slimy car salesman smirk of his. I mean, this guy got so much slack for being a member of MEChA in his original run for the mayor’s office. Slap on a headdress, make him give you that patented smile, and you have a dead ringer for Chief Wahoo, the Cleveland Indian’s mascot! You can practically see the cactus blooming from his forehead, for Quetzalcoatl’s sake! Qué vergüenza!

So congratulations, the U.S. Census and the most honorable Mayor Villaraigosa, March’s Tarados del Mes.

Mexican Americans Most Active in U.S.

By: HealthDay New/ New America Media

Mexican Americans are the most likely to meet national health goals for physical activity, according to a new study that challenges previous research that found that whites tended to be the most physically active.

Researchers at the University of Chicago and Arizona State University analyzed data collected from 10,000 people in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Each of the participants wore an electronic device that recorded their activity levels.

Nearly 27 percent of Mexican Americans achieved a national goal of getting at least 30 minutes of moderate activity five days a week, or vigorous activity for 20 minutes at least three days a week. The exercise goal was met by 20 percent of whites and 15 percent of blacks.

The findings were published online Feb. 11 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Previous studies based on participants’ self-reports found that this physical activity target was achieved by 36 percent of whites and 25 percent of blacks and Mexican Americans.

“Those self-reported findings attributing higher activity levels in non-Hispanic whites show that people are likely to have difficulty estimating their activity levels,” study author Sandra Ham, a graduate student at the University of Chicago, said in a news release. “Surveys obtain information that is easy to report — how much time people block out of their daily schedules for physical activity — and that often includes warm-up and rest periods, whereas the monitors measured the actual time being active.”

Ham noted that many Mexican Americans and other Hispanics may not report all their physical activity on surveys because they often have manual labor jobs and most surveys don’t ask about physical activity at work. In addition, they may walk and use public transit more often than other groups because they have a low rate of car ownership.

“The underreporting is so remarkable that by understanding it, we can change how we think about disparities across racial and ethnic groups and among people with different education and economic backgrounds,” Ham said.

She added that the finding “may help explain the Hispanic paradox — the puzzling findings of many studies that show Hispanics enjoy better health outcomes than other U.S. adults with the same low socioeconomic status.”

Ham’s report is based on research conducted while she was working with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Mixed Review for L.A. Gang Tours

Mixed Review for L.A. Gang Tours

Final Call, News Report, Charlene Muhammad, Posted: Feb 01, 2010

LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – Former gang-members have teamed up with a non-profit outreach organization to offer a look at the inner city by conducting gang tours in South Central Los Angeles.

L.A. Gang Tours are designed to raise awareness about the lifestyle of inner city gangs and address the urgent public safety issue presented by gang violence, according to creator Alfred Lomas. The tour costs $65 (down from $100) per adult to get on the bus. Creators of the tours say they want to use the money to create jobs and investment opportunities for micro-lending in some neighborhoods.

The tour has already created 10 jobs and organizers say their immediate strategy is to hire youth from four gangs participating in a cease fire that allows the tours. The groups agreed to no shootings or retaliation shootings between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. when the busses pass through, said tour organizers.

“Public safety is paramount because without freedom from violence, no other freedoms can exist. … We’ve taken rival kids that would never have an opportunity to see each other outside of probably jail or a gang shooting and this is balanced out with two Hispanics, two Blacks and so on, and so forth,” project coordinator Lomas told The Final Call.

Tour guides Lomas and Fred “Scorpio” Smith gave a brief history of the origination of some of L.A.’s gangs, including the Crips, Bloods and Florencia 13, during a recent tour for reporters. They also highlighted their personal experiences with gangs, and how they entered into intervention and prevention.

Mr. Lomas pointed out historical sites in Los Angeles, as well as notable government facilities. The bus cruised the outskirts of the L.A. River Bed, which was heavily graffiti-tagged, the L.A. County Jail, Olvera Street (considered the birthplace of Los Angeles, Chinatown, Skid Row (which has the largest concentration of homeless population in the U.S.), the Metropolitan Detention Center, several housing projects, and Florence & Normandie, the flash-point intersection of the 1992 rebellion after the acquittal of officers involved in beating motorist Rodney King.

Before stops at the New Life Church of God in Christ and the Pico Union Graffiti Lab, Mr. Lomas explained the different types of graffiti tags and offered a partial viewing of the documentary “Crips and Bloods: Made in America.”

The media route was mostly industrial explained Mr. Lomas, saying tour organizers wanted to maintain the dignity of the residents. The tour has been criticized by those who feel it will negatively display Black and Brown youth and their communities like animals in a zoo.

“It’s going to be nothing like that,” said Mr. Smith, a gang intervention worker in the Jordan Downs Housing area in Watts. “A lot of people have a different view about Watts, South Central, Echo Park, that if you go over there, they are just animals, but we will show it’s nothing like that.”

Rather, he said, tour guides will show the Watts Towers, where the Black Panther Party started, and where the Crips and Bloods street gangs started. During tours people will not be allowed to exit busses at all and no cameras or video/audio recorders will be allowed, according to Mr. Lomas.

According to Kim McGill, an organizer with the Youth Justice Coalition, an advocacy group for incarcerated youth and their families, some youth expressed concerns that these poor communities will serve as field trips for researchers, suburbanites, and Whites. They argue the tours should provide an understanding of urban complexities and a critical analysis of racism.

“Also, it leads to a lot of exaggerations of communities so that you kind of glorify or beef up people’s already preconceived notions about how violent communities are and how everyone’s kind of gangster. As opposed to a situation where you’re really holding wealthier communities accountable for the fact that conditions exist because wealth is not shared, because resources are not equal, because there’s racism in the system, etc.,” Ms. McGill told The Final Call.

Vicky Lindsey, founder of Project Cry No More, a support group for mothers and families who have lost loved ones to gang violence, believes the project is an opportunity for employment and exploitation. Such tours should bring youth contemplating joining gangs up close and personal with the pain involved in the activity, like crying mothers and rehabilitation centers for gunshot victims, said Ms. Lindsay.

“Are they going to go into actual war zones … or gang funerals where family members and people are hurting? In which way is this tour going to impact a youth to say, ‘Oh no, I don’t want to follow gang violence?’” she asked.

“Anything that will help our young people get out of a negative situation is always good, however, on the streets of L.A., you must have a license to operate (LTO) …without the LTO it will be hard to have a successful gang tour. But if the tour creates some form of economics for the hoods that the tour will impact, this is a good thing,” said Ansar Stan Muhammad, co-founder of the gang intervention and prevention Venice 2000/H.E.L.P.E.R. Foundation.

The Value of Education: Crisis in the Budget

José races down the courtyard between Royce Hall and Powell Library as he hurries to meet me. As he runs, all he can think is that in two days he will be taking his first midterm at UCLA. The quarter has been bittersweet for the AB 540 freshman. Although attending his dream school, he finds himself in a world of financial insecurity.

Like thousands across California, he knows that the UC Regents meeting on Nov. 18-19 will impact his future. If the Regents raise fees yet again, this time by 32%, his dream of becoming a doctor will prove more difficult.

Both UC President Mark Yudof and Chancellor Block stated that the decline in state funds is a major factor in fee increases. “The State has become an unreliable partner through chronic underinvestment,” said Yudof in an October letter to students and parents.

José grew up in Tijuana, Mexico. “My mom worked three jobs and still wasn’t making enough…she came to the U.S. to work.” Economic problems pushed José’s family to move often. To escape gang violence in his low-income neighborhood, José worked any job he could and opted to pursue a higher education. “I always tried to make the best of it and seek the resources. Whatever I could do,” José said.

Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC) president, Cinthia Flores, is committed to raising awareness about the issue. “We have been organizing an educational campaign in partnership with the External Vice President’s office,” she said in an interview with La Gente. Partnering with Block, USAC reinstated Night Powell, a 24-hour library service.

2009 has been a year of unemployment in which Nobel Peace Prize winner Barack Obama gave billions to financial goliaths such as AIG instead of the ailing American people. California’s Governator chose to close the state’s massive budget deficit by slashing $637 million from education, according to Yudof.

Californians have come to terms with the grim economic reality. But let us reflect for a moment; a democratic society should provide its members quality education as an unalienable right rather than a privilege.

What is democracy, but an institution founded “for the people and by the people”? The future of any democratic society depends on the quality of education by which individuals can develop an appreciation of the democratic principles that make America so great and actively engage with the promises of democracy. While we question how the proposed fee increases and cuts in services affect UCLA’s 34,000 students, we must question the California’s values as it continues to undermine and marginalize quality over costs.

José doesn’t have the luxury of contemplating the principles of democracy. He has to take his midterm while crunching numbers to figure out how he can afford another quarter. “Honestly this is all new to me, I am the first in my family to go to college. It’s a privilege, but I am sometimes frightened because I don’t know exactly what to do, having that feeling of constant uncertainty and financial insecurity,” José said.

The End of Public Education

In the midst of a crumbling state budget, Superintendent Ramon C. Cortines and the Board of Education accepted that they could not realistically save failing schools. Early last summer, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) proposed the Public School Choice plan which will relinquish LAUSD administrative and financial control of over 200 schools. In addition, new multimillion-dollar school sites will also be available for bidding.

Schools which have consistently underperformed in state tests and demonstrated drastically low Academic Progress Index scores have been identified by the LAUSD as focus schools and will be privatized by an outside group.

The task of saving our schools will fall upon small charter school programs and other non-profit groups such as GreenDot, Alliance for College-Ready Public Schools, and Synergy Academies among others. Over 617,000 students are relying on the LAUSD for an education this 2009-2010 academic year.

Charter schools and non-profits will need to bridge a large demographic and educational divide in the affected areas of South and East Los Angeles as well as the San Fernando Valley. Overcrowding, coupled with a high numbers of English as a second language learners makes overhauling schools in these areas an incredibly urgent and complex task. The new administration for these schools will need to find a way to address the educational needs and deficiencies of the existing student population while integrating their own students, faculty and new curriculum.

Despite the possibilities that this offers, there are lingering uncertainties. Can outside groups save our schools? More importantly, how long will it take?

The application process started in late October and final decisions will be made by the Board of Education in February. Cortines released a statement on Jan. 15 in which he stressed that LAUSD is “encouraging input from all community members who support [their] public schools including parents, guardians, students, teachers and other LAUSD employees.” The application process is detailed, but the final word will rest upon the Board of Education.

Much will remain uncertain within the coming months, however what will be certain is that the takeover among schools will likely be messy, leaving hundreds of teachers unemployed. Whether or not charter schools can effectively pick up the pieces LAUSD leaves behind, students will be the first to feel the resounding effects of this change.

Plans will be available Tuesday, Jan. 19 at the LAUSD website www.lausd.net

Previously printed Fall 2009

In Response to the UC Fee Increase

December 3, 2009

Dear La Gente,

I hope this letter reaches you in the best of health and spirits hechandoles ganas a su lucha. I’m writing in solidarity with you all. While I was in the Secure Housing Unit you reached out with your newsmag and made us all proud of the path you’re on and the love for our people. I was outraged at the choices that were taken by the UC Regents to increase student fees. And most of all by the lack of support for your protest by elected officials. The mayor loves the camera yet when it matters he’s nowhere to be seen. There’s no justification for not standing with people like Gloria Molina in the Assembly and others in Senate. These democrates with raza surnames take us for granted. You are the future. “Remember to Remember” – let’em know that too. There are thousands of you across the state network let’em know you’ll see them at the ballot box. How can they guarantee a prison cell but not a college education – the true equalizer in this world. Moral cowards, they want to keep the club at the top exclusive to the families with money and disenfranchize the rest. You only lose when you quit puro pa’delante! Keep your head up always with dignity of our ancesters, and for all the lil’ ones who look up to you for makin’ it to college, you gotta persevere for them most of all. Hechenle ganas like your jefes, jefas and abuelitos taught you!

Sincerely,

Armando Ibarra

Editors’ Note:

A prisoner in the California Correctional Institution, Armando Ibbara is part of La Gente’s Prisoner Letter Program which provides information about present-day issues affecting Latinos, either through our newsmagazine or donated books. La Gente also provides a space for the prisoners’ opinions and creativity through the Sigan Luchando section currently in our print newsmagazine and upcoming in Lagente.org.

Rallying for Education

By Samantha Lim and Esmeralda Alvarez

LOS ANGELES – The two day protest at the University of California Regents (UC Regents) meeting demonstrated a state-wide solidarity against fee hikes in California’s universities. Zealous students and staff stood together outside Covel Commons holding signs with expressions such as “Bail Out Education” and “Regents: Happy Thanks-Taking.” Students in all black held banners with “Mourn the Death of Public Education” painted in red as well as cardboard tombstones saying “RIP Public Education.”

The passion of UCLA fifth-year physics and Asian-American studies student, Pao, was particularly remarkable, especially in the morning hours. Calling out “who’s university?” Pao rallied protesters to “take that one little step” in voicing their opinion. Nearing the end of his career as an undergrad, Pao commented that these fee hikes were not going to affect him as much as others he knew who can barely survive as it is. He protested for them and for future generations asking, “If we don’t do this now, who’s gonna fight for them?”

Just to the side of the noisy, sign-holding crowd, was an advanced modern/postmodern dance class practicing Tai Chi. Ian Isles, a senior worlds arts and cultures (WAC) student at UCLA explained the WAC department’s decision to close the building and hold classes outside “so everyone comes to support [the protest and] so people can see what we’re doing.” Though silent, the class’ display was one way of showing the Board of Regents precisely who and what their decision affects.

UCLA students made up only part of protesters, with students and faculty from every UC campus arriving throughout the day and sleeping overnight in an on-campus “tent city” in order to protest the Nov. 19 vote. UC Santa Cruz Political Science student Reymundo Sauceda expressed a sense of loss of our public institutions that resonates across UC campuses. “Every year their proposed increases makes [the UC system] more privatized. Can we still call ourselves public?” Sauceda asked. Further, he expressed the sense of despair and abandonment that students so furiously felt and continue to feel, remarking, “The Regents are supposed to be the gate keepers…they should be taking a step with us…they should unite with students. They can’t see that they’re going against us by just having the vote on the table.”

The 20-1 vote passed an increase in fees from $7,788 to $10,302 beginning next fall, as well as a 15% fee increase this January.

Click here to read UC President Yudof’s letter concerning fee-increases.

Footage of the protest is also available here.

Update: Nov. 30, 2009

The UC Academic Senate issued this statement in regards to the protests held Nov. 18-19.

Highlights of Nov. 19 UC Protest

LOS ANGELES – Over a two day period, UC students came to UCLA to protest at the UC Regents meeting which took place at Covel Commons.  The protest started as early as midnight and ended as late as 7p.m., with the release of Campbell Hall.  UC Regents approved the tuition and fees increase, but protests continued in order to demonstrate to The Regents that both students and workers will not stop with their struggle.

Video Footage: Maria Renteria.

UC Protest Day 2 from LaGente.org on Vimeo.