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San Diego Mobilizes in Solidarity with Palestine

San Diego is known for being a more pacific and less hectic region than Los Angeles. However, a group of San Diegan activists were ready to politically shake up the region. During the past weeks, there have been more than five pro-Palestinian rallies and other organizational efforts in San Diego with the purpose of showing opposition to the Israeli occupation and actions in Gaza.

On August 7th, 32 socialist, students, and community members gathered in City Heights Community Center to create a forum addressing the Israeli occupation on Palestinian territory.  The San Diego branch of the International Socialist Organization, in collaboration with the San Diego State University (SDSU) branch of Students for Justice in Palestine, created this forum in which three panelist shared their thoughts on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and their experience as pro-Palestine activists.

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Osama Alkawaja, a student at SDSU and the president of the Students for Justice in Palestine, was one of the panelist who had spent time in Palestine before the conflict intensified. He said that witnessing the raids of Palestinian homes by Israeli soldiers first hand revitalized his efforts to create a pro-Palestinian solidarity movement in the United States. “There are oppressed and oppressors… There are those who support the status quo and those who set to change history,” Osama said.

Lorain Riham, another panelist and pro-Palestinian activist, addressed the dilemma regarding the right of Palestinians to engage in arm resistance.  “When 10 thousand homes are destroyed… should they submit to their oppressors? At what point do Palestinians have the right to resist?” Lorain said.

On August 8th, around 150 people participated in a rally in front of the Edward J. Schwartz Federal Building. The rally started at 4:00  P.M. and it lasted for more than three hours. The event was organized by Al-Awda: The Palestinian Right to Return Coalition, with participants from Students for Justice in Palestine at SDSU, the Palestinian Youth Movement, and other organizations.

Bo Elder, member of the International Socialist Organization, also participated in the rally because he believed It was important for people to speak out against U.S. and Israeli crimes against Palestinian people.

Protesters also interconnected the Palestinian-Israeli conflict with other struggles. Enrique De La Cruz, member of Colectivo Zapatista (an organization in solidarity with the Zapatista movement in Mexico), participated in the rally in solidarity with the Palestinian people and the indigenous Zapatista movement in Mexico. “I think the struggles is worldwide connect. If you think of the Zapatistas, they struggle and fight for the same thing Palestine fights… indigenous people who live in their land are being kicked off of their land,” De La Cruz said.

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Nesser Barghoute, member and director of the San Diego Boycott, Divest, and Santion Committee, explained the demands of Palestinians toward the international community during the rally. “The Palestinian civil society, which means organizations for students, and women, and farmers, and unions in Palestine, in 2005 came out to the call and ask the whole world community to follow the example of the pressure movement that was built in the 70’s and 80’s against apartheid in South Africa…[to create] a pressure movement internationally for Palestinian rights and the movement goes for three tactics: boycott, divestment, and sanctions,” Nesser said.

Boycotting and divesting means that society and institutions will not use products or services from companies that are directly profiteering from the Israeli occupation in Palestine. The demand for sanctions are demands towards governments to restrict international cooperation, such as trade and weapon supply, with Israel if the occupation continues.

Among the demands of the protesters was the end of the military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, and also the end of what they considered a system of apartheid discrimination inside Israel against non-Jewish citizens. Furthermore, they emphasized the need to allow Palestinian refugees, that were moved out of Palestine in 1948 and 1968, to go back to their homes. These group of activists are planning to continue protesting and organizing until the occupation ends.

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Festival Latino 2010

On April 3 the Latin American Student Association (LASA) held its twelfth annual Festival Latino, which took place on campus at UCLA’s Wilson Plaza. The strong winds did not stop LASA nor student volunteers from putting the festival together early that morning, and it certainly did not stop spectators from attending.

This year’s Festival Latino had positive changes, according to several members of the LASA committee. “Our goal was to establish unity among Latino organizations at UCLA,” said Elba Solis, director of Festival Latino.

Solis explained that in the past, Latino organizations have never truly been united nor have they truly supported one another. LASA board members collectively decided to use the festival as a method of establishing unity with other Latino student organizations by inviting them to participate. Unity within the student Latino community is important to the LASA committee because it provides a safe space for Latino students to become conscious of issues that pertain Latina/o communities. This is why it took committee members all of last summer, fall, and winter to plan and organize the event.

The committee attended meetings with Latino organizations to invite them to assist with the festival while establishing a union with them. The participating organizations included Improving Dreams Equality Access and Success, Latinas Guiding Latinas, MEChA Calmecac, Hermanas Unidas, and La Familia. Most of these organizations collaborated with the LASA committee by promoting the event or by volunteering that day. Additionally, the LASA committee formed alliances with the Latino Greek council, which consists of Lambda Theta Nu, Phi Lambda Rho, Lambda Theta Alpha, Gamma Zeta Alpha, and Nu Alpha Kappa (NAK) who supported the festival with funding and volunteers.

“It was a really good experience and I would definitely participate again,” explained Alfredo Calderón, a NAK member. Calderón participated during the event by assisting children to color in the outlines of works by Diego Rivera at a children’s station. The point of this station, he explains, was for children to learn about Art and Diego Rivera while having fun.

The day of the festival the students volunteering guided performers, assisted decorating the plaza with Latin American flags and a fake wall known as the “walk through,” which displayed adornments representing countries in Latin America. The festival included performances by Mariachi UCLAtlán, Pilar Díaz, and Banda Flor de Piña among others. Most spectators mingled while dancing to the beats and rhythms of the music. The delicious food was the most popular attraction with food stations representing countries like El Salvador, Columbia, Cuba, Peru, Mexico, and the U.S.

Festival Latino provided an opportunity for Latino student organizations to unite in solidarity. It was not just a regular day on campus; it was a day to celebrate the Latino culture and most importantly a day for these students to work together.

Money Woes for Homeboys

A previously LA Gente-featured organization, Homeboy Industries, has also been reeling to stay afloat amidst extreme financial hardships.

On May 14, Father Gregory Boyle, the founder of the organization, lamentably announced the laying off of 300 employees, including all senior staff and administrators.

Since its inception, Homeboy Industries has enjoyed great success, as well as high praise, in its work rehabilitating gang members and training them for jobs; however, the money needed to sustain its burden has proven elusive.

The organization attributes the hardship to the flailing economy, as private donations are extremely low and as there are fewer jobs for graduates of Homeboy’s programs.

Father Boyle also explains that they receive little money from public funds, as the local government has focused on intervention programs that reduce violence amongst current gang members.

In response to being asked if he was optimistic for the future, Boyle is quoted as responding, “Hope comes from the soul; optimism comes from observable evidence. And this place is soaked with hope.”

Kelloggs Serves a Bowl of Racial Justice

In May, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, founded in 1930 by the breakfast cereal trailblazer, announced that it is dedicating $75 million to organizations nation-wide devoted to righting the effects of racial inequalities on poor children.

“Our goal is to breathe life back into the effort to abolish structural racism, and to help America achieve strength and prosperity through racial equity,” says Sterling K. Speirn, the president and CEO of the foundation.

This philanthropic program, named the America Healing initiative, will distribute $14.6 million to 119 organizations within the program’s first of five years.

A group highlighted on the foundation’s website was Lifelink and their Beyond Cultural “Competency” project, which aims to develop “culturally appropriate approaches” to the mental and behavioral health needs of the Native American youth in areas of New Mexico.

How Far Would You Walk for Your Dreams? Undocumented Students Coming Out of the Shadows

On Jan. 1, 2010, four students began a 1,500 mile walk from Miami, Fla. to Washington D.C., dubbed the “Trail of Dreams.” Alluding to the tragedy of the “Trail of Tears,” in which Native Americans were forced to relocate across the country under the most dehumanizing of conditions, this march was dedicated to a more hopeful future.

Through the Trail of Dreams, Juan Rodriguez, 20, Gaby Pacheco, 25, Felipe Matos, 24, and Carlos Roa, 22, hope to bring awareness of issues concerning undocumented students to our nation’s capital.

Nancy Meza, a fourth-year undocumented student and external representative of Improving Dreams, Equality, Access and Success at UCLA, says, “they decided that we needed to take this nationally and…go with our stories, state by state, from Florida to Washington D.C., go through places where people aren’t really comfortable with saying that they are undocumented, places like Georgia and the Midwest.” By showing the faces of real immigrants in this country, the “dream walkers” hope that congress will pass the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act.

The DREAM Act would provide immigrants, who were brought to the U.S. as young children and have pursued higher education or military service, among other requirements, a path to citizenship.

For over 10 years students have been lobbying to get legislators to pass the DREAM Act. The fact that it’s been struck down repeatedly causes desperation and a loss of hope in the undocumented student community. The Trail of Dreams is a direct result of that frustration and feelings that the government isn’t doing enough. “We need to escalate our organizing tactics, people need to understand that we need some sort of reform either through the DREAM Act or immigration reform,” said Meza.

The dream walkers, walked 15 to18 miles a day, six days a week, sleeping in churches or anywhere that would provide shelter, carrying only the most basic supplies. At one point they encountered opposition from groups like the Ku Klux Klan who were protesting what they call “the Latino invasion.” However, they were also welcomed with support from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

The Trail of Dreams ended in Washington D.C.’s Lafayette Park on May 1, International Workers Day, a day in commemoration of the historic struggle of working people throughout the world, but now known in the U.S. as a day to rally for immigrant rights.

On their website, www.trail2010.org, the dream walkers stated: “We left our shoes [in Washington, DC], the same shoes we wore the day we started walking on Jan. 1, as a symbol of thousands in our communities that disappear due to our broken immigration system. This is our official statement. May 1 is the end [of our march] but the beginning of a new chapter that all of us will write together!”

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.”

Highlights of the UCLA’s Protest on the Recent Racial Incidents on UC Campuses

The recent incidents at the universities were: swastika sign in UC Davis, vandalizated LGBT center in UC Davis, “Compton Cookout” Fraternity Party in UC San Diego, noose founded in Library in UC San Diego, replicated noose with graffiti founded in UC Santa Cruz, “Tijuana Sunrise” and “ZBTahiti” fraternities party at UC Los Angeles. These incidents lead students to protest for diversity. Students block side paths of bruinwalk, in order to have students walk in the middle of the of the pathway aligned with different students, protesting for diversity in the University. The demands for the university Protest advocated for a diversity general requirement in which students will have a course that focus on identities and communities, other then their own ethnicity. They advocated to maintain admission and enrollment of the underrepresented groups. Chanting “UC, UC, can’t you see there is no one that looks like me!” This protest was held by Afrikan Student Union, American Indian Student Association, Asian Pacific Coalition, Mecha de UCLA, Muslim Student Association, Pacific Islands Student Association, Queer Alliance, Samahang Pilipino and Vietnamese Student Union.

Footage by Maria Renteria

UCLA Protest on the Racial Incidents on UC campuses from LaGente.org on Vimeo.

El Robo: In Memory of My Mexican Mother

by Alvaro Huerta

Carmen Mejia was the prettiest girl in her rancho, Sajo Grande. Only 13 years old and the little girl with the sparkling, green eyes already had a boyfriend, an admirer and a stalker.

Mexico in the 1950s was not the safest place for unwed girls, especially in rural states like Michoacan, where men routinely abducted teenage girls with the aim of eventually marrying them. Once taken from her home for several nights, an abducted girl had no choice but to marry her abductor to protect her honor and family name.

Carmen rarely spoke to her boyfriend, Alfredo Ramirez. They only met a few times, under the close supervision of Carmen’s mother, who watched their every move from a distance. Carmen and Alfredo never went on a date, kissed or held hands. He was okay with their non-physical relationship since he felt honored that Carmen selected him over others who only dreamed of courting her.

Salomon Huerta also had his eyes on Carmen. Belonging to a large and respected family, this handsome young man could wed any girl that he desired. He had already set his eyes on Carmen and nobody could change his mind. It was only a matter of time when he would make his move.

Alcadio Perez was not so patient. What he lacked in good looks, he compensated with determination. It was no secret that he wanted to make Carmen his wife, at any cost.

While Alfredo played the role of the gentleman and Salomon the confident one, Alcadio behaved like a brute. He never sent Carmen flowers or love notes; he had a simpler plan. He would stalk Carmen until he found an opportunity to abduct her.

Once he crafted his master plan, Alcadio and his hired thugs stationed themselves inside the cornfields, adjacent to Carmen’s home. After hiding for days with only uncooked corn to eat and mescal to drink, Alcadio and his posse made their move.

“The old man left the house for the day,” Alcadio whispered to his accomplices.

“Let’s wait for her to go outside,” one of the thugs responded.

“Sounds good to me,” stated the other one.

A few hours later, Carmen ventured outside her adobe home with an empty bucket to get water from her neighbor Margarita.

“There she is,” Alcadio whispered to the others. “I don’t see the old lady. She must be cooking inside.”

Oblivious of the pursuing stalkers, Carmen skipped her way to Margarita’s house.

Suddenly, Alcadio ran towards Carmen with the others following right behind him.

“Let me go!” Carmen screamed at the top of her lungs, while Alcadio and his men grabbed her by the arms and legs.

“Shut up!” Alcadio responded. “Your father’s not here to protect you.”

“Somebody help!” Carmen yelled to her neighbors, who began to gather in a semi-circle to witness all of the commotion.

“Let her go, Alcadio,” a young woman said from the crowd.

“Yeah,” stated an older woman. “You can’t take her. She doesn’t belong to you.”

“I’m going to tell your mother that you’re involved,” Carmen’s best friend, Rosa, told one of the thugs, who also happened to be her second cousin.

Fearful of the growing crowd, the hired thugs fled the scene.

“Don’t go,” Alcadio pleaded with them to stay and help. “I’ll throw in an extra 100 pesos.”

Carmen broke free and headed directly for her house.

Not willing to give up just yet, Alcadio grabbed Carmen from her long, braided hair, forcing her to the ground before she could reach the door of her house. Carmen desperately reached for a rock and without looking, hit Alcadio on his forehead, causing him to bleed profusely.

Freed again from his grip, Carmen made her way home. Blinded by the blood, Alcadio couldn’t catch up to Carmen.

Alcadio then reached for his silver revolver.

“If I can’t have you, nobody can,” Alcadio yelled, while aimlessly shooting his gun in her direction.

Carmen miraculously reached her home without a scratch.

Alcadio quickly fled the scene before the local militia arrived. As he retreated to the hills, Alcadio held a lock of Carmen’s long hair in his hand, which brought a smile to his otherwise bloody face.

Once Salomon learned of the incident, he wasted no time in asking Carmen to be his girlfriend, especially since Alfredo, who left to el norte for work, couldn’t protect her from Alcadio and others like him.

Seeking justice, Salomon sought help from his father Martin. As the commander of the local militia, Martin had the authority to arrest Alcadio and his men.

Witnesses told Martin that Alcadio headed north, yet the militia commander decided to head south in pursuit of Alcadio. Carmen later learned that Martin, her future father-in-law, had no intention of capturing Alcadio, since the brute’s father, just happened to be Martin’s first cousin.

Salomon realized that Alcadio paid off his neighbor, Raul, to distract Salomon while Alcadio executed his foiled master plan.

“How could you betray me?” asked Salomon, while pistol-whipping Raul.

“That’s enough!” said Martin, ordering his son to stop.

“Okay,” responded Salomon. “Now, let’s get that bastard, Alcadio.”

“Don’t worry about Alcadio,” said Martin. “He failed. He won’t be coming around the rancho anymore, now that you and Carmen are together.”

Fortunately for my seven siblings and I, my mother, Carmen Mejia, eventually married my father, Salomon Huerta.

Throughout her life in Mexico and the United States, my mother overcame tremendous obstacles to make sure that her children had a better life.

Now, if only she could live one more day so she can tell us, once again, her favorite story of how she prevailed against her would-be abductor in the rancho.

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.