Why Slate’s Piece About Latinos Becoming The Next Whites Failed

In a United States that is becoming more diverse every day, new questions about race, ethnicity and identity regularly appear in mainstream publications and discussions. Central to these debates is the country’s growing Latino population. These days, it seems every editorial outlet in the country has to write about Latinos (demographics! advertising!), even when those outlets’ Latino representation is grossly underrepresented or virtually non-existent.

Such is the case of Slate, a magazine that has been around since 1996. Now, I am not going to get into an analysis about how many Latinos have written for the magazine, but let’s be honest: Slate is not the publication that immediately comes to mind when you are looking for news content that accurately and authentically reflects what is it to be a US Latino today. Even when Slate has tried to address issues of Latino identity, it has always been from the perspective of the outsider looking in. It is safe to say that Slate has never been one to focus on drawing in more Latino readers, but apparently now that being Latino is “hot,” they seem to be trying.

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If yesterday’s “Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s Whites?” opinion piece by Jamelle Bouie is the editorial direction Slate chose, it has already failed.

In fairness, Bouie —who tweeted with me last night after I called the Slate piece perhaps the dumbest thing the magazine has ever published— did base his piece on a very interesting question: will the current concept of “whiteness” change as the US becomes more and more Latino? (Sidenote: Bouie and Slate kept using “Hispanic” in the piece, an early indication that the piece was already going to miss the mark.) That question has merit, and I applaud him for asking it. Still, how Bouie (and his Slate editors) executed his thesis is what troubled me the most.

Let’s begin:

Reason 1: The headline

I ask a simple question: if you are a Latino on Twitter or Facebook and you see a “Will Today’s Hispanics Be Tomorrow’s Whites?” headline, what would your reaction be?

Mine instantly took me here:

The headline —even though it successfully caused me to click on the link— quite frankly, was offensive. The use of “will” at the beginning of the question implied that this was a prediction that would eventually happen. Nothing could stop it. Following this logic, think about it: white = racist against Blacks, Hispanics could become the next whites, so therefore Hispanic = white, which means that Hispanic = racist against Blacks. Why such a sweeping generalization? Why not just say “will some Hispanics” and move along?

Did Bouie agree to such a headline? And before he makes the typical claim that a writer has no control over the headlines to the pieces he writes, as someone who has written for several national publications and also edited for major news organizations, I have always submitted a headline with my piece. If my editors don’t like the headlines, they let me know, and we try to come up with another one. So the Slate headline alone indicates that the piece was indeed “going there.” And I wasn’t liking it.

Reason 2: The photo

Now, if you get past the headline as well as the subhead, “How Hispanics perceive themselves may shape the future of race in America” (cue dramatic music), the next element you see is a photo:

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This is just editorial sloppiness.

A piece about how Hispanics will become the country’s future whites, and the first thing you see is that of four brown-skinned people at an immigration rally? I don’t know if the people in this picture are Latino or not (maybe that “white” lady on the left is Latina too), but these are “tomorrow’s whites?”

Tell that to people who have been racially profiled in Arizona or have been deported from their families. “Tomorrow’s whites” wouldn’t be fighting to fix an immigration system that disproportionately targets those from Central American and Latin American countries. For example, a enforcement-heavy system that removed in 2013 alone over 240,000 Mexicans, more than 47,000 Guatemalans, a little over 37,000 Hondurans and about 21,500 Salvadorans. And we now know that a majority of those removals weren’t even necessary. Juan Crow is alive and well in 21st century America.

Reason 3: George Zimmerman

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Yes, that’s Bouie’s intro. Not only is he asking if Hispanics will become “tomorrow’s whites,” but his writing implies that Latinos will just become a bunch of Zimmermans. Cue up the Gollum video.

I will say this once and only once: some Latinos are racist, and Latin America has perpetuated an institutionalized form of racism for centuries. That system is finally being exposed, slowly but surely. Latino Rebels even wrote a very detailed piece when the whole “white Hispanic” issue dominated the case.

But let me answer Bouie’s point directly. Here is how he began his piece about Hispanics and whiteness:

The Trayvon Martin shooting was hardly in the national consciousness before fault lines emerged around the case. Was Martin as innocent as he seemed? Did Zimmerman fear for his life? Did Martin provoke the incident? Was Zimmerman a racist?

Perhaps most controversial among all of these was the question of identity. Yes, Trayvon Martin was black, but is Zimmerman white? For Martin’s sympathizers, the answer was yes. For Zimmerman’s, the answers ranged from “it doesn’t matter” to he “is actually a Hispanic nonracist person who acted in self-defense.”

Remember: anti-blackness in Latin American countries is still pretty raw and has a long ugly history. When I heard that Zimmerman was half Peruvian, I didn’t even blink or think that Zimmerman’s initial reactions weren’t racially motivated. They were, and almost every Latino I know who saw the death of a young black boy as a national tragedy would say the same.

Bouie’s introduction suggested that Latinos wouldn’t be sympathetic to a Trayvon because in the end, we just all want to be white. Guess Bouie forgot to mention that when it comes to what two groups share most in common when it comes to securing better futures, those two groups are young black and Latino men. Or that when Univision has Zimmerman on TV earlier this year, there was pure outrage.

And for every Trayvon, there is also an Andy Lopez. Or a David Sal Silva. Or a Jesús Huerta. “Tomorrow’s whites” don’t die in police custody on a regular basis.

Reason 4: This Twitter thread

By the way, they also plan to write a rebuttal to Bouie’s piece.

Reason 5: Painting Latinos with a broad brush

By now, I am at the point where I should actively petition every editorial outlet in the country to sign the following: We promise to never ever portray US Latinos with broad sweeping generalizations without talking with actual Latinos who know the issues. I doubt that in this “Latino is the new white” debate, Bouie and other writers could even begin to fully understand that Latino identity means something different to different people. To some, it means celebration of a common culture, language and experience. To others, it means a complete rejection of a contrived government-created label (Hispanic, Latino) that ignores proud indigenous roots. Add the the fact that we’re talking over 20 countries here, and the conclusions about Latinos by non-Latino gets messy.

Reason 6: Louis CK IS Mexican

I guess Bouie never really knew that some of us Latinos think Louis CK is the greatest Mexican stand-up comic around, which would already refute the fact that Latinos are just striving for “whiteness.”

That video actually complements my final point, but first let me call up Bouie’s concluding lament:

Our hierarchies are a little flatter, and—in public life, at least—we aren’t as obsessed with racial boundaries. But both still exist, and they take a familiar form: whites at the top, blacks at the bottom. The future could make a collection of minorities the majority in America, or it could broaden our definition of white, leaving us with a remix of the black-and-white binary. A country where some white people are Asian, some are Hispanic, and the dark-skinned citizens of America—and blacks especially—is still a world apart.

I have greater faith in Latinos than Bouie does.

Too bad Slate (and Bouie) never took the time to bring in a more nuance to this debate. Having been in a room where I was the only Puerto Rican in a room of “whites,” the one with the foreign name who “speaks English so well,” the one whose family goes back to places as diverse as North Africa and the Canary Islands, the little spic from the Bronx, Latino identity is about pride for who you are and never forgetting where you come from. My family is literally a rainbow of races, but we also have a bond that culturally unites us. It is this bond that keeps growing as Latinos get more and more connected online. The Latinos I know refuse to be boxed into other’s paranoid paradigms.

So why did Bouie even ask the question about whether Hispanic will become “tomorrow’s whites”?

Sure, there are some Latinos who will be “tomorrow’s whites.” However, from where I stand, that number is insignificant, just like other people of color striving for “whiteness.”

Hopefully Bouie and Slate do start listening more to what Latinos are saying, and even reading some of the comments being posted on the piece:

My Hispanic colleague commented on this issue and said:

“How can we ever be white. Maybe a few of the light skin ones could ‘pass’, but we [hispanics] suffer the same prejudice on our looks. We are short and brown. When I walk into a room full of Whites of European descent, I and everyone in there knows I am not one of them.”

“Everyone in there knows I am not one of them.”

That’s why “tomorrow’s whites” will never be “tomorrow’s whites.” They will be tomorrow’s Latinos.

***

EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  Univisionand The New York Times. Recently, he was a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream.

Gabo Forever

Today the world learned of the death of Colombia’s Gabriel García Márquez, considered by many to be the greatest writer in the history of the Spanish-speaking world. Gabo, as he was so affectionately known, was 87 years old. The Nobel Prize winner died in Mexico City.

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Two years ago, we published a list of Gabo’s literary works for his 85th birthday. He was and will always be an inspiration to many of the Rebeldes, some of whom point to the following line from Cien años de soledad as the reason they began writing when they were teenagers:

Muchos años después, frente al pelotón de fusilamiento, el coronel Aureliano Buendía había de recordar aquella tarde remota en que su padre lo llevó a conocer el hielo.

Today we shared many posts and tweets about Gabo and what he meant to many of us. What follows are just some of the reactions from our social media community. We let their words speak for us:

About the opening lines of Cien años, one Facebook member told us: “I knew I would finish and love that book as soon as I read those lines.”

Then there were some additional testaments:

“THE GREATEST WRITER EVER. PERIOD. “ONLY GOD KNOWS HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU.” ~ LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA”

“He was the original rebel!! Grande maestro grande!!”

“Es la crónica de una muerte anunciada. Hasta siempre.”

“Descansa en Paz, Gabo! Gracias por tu mágica literatura.”

“La vida no es la que uno vivió, sino la que uno recuerda, y cómo la recuerda para contarla. en paz descanse.”

“Macondo está de luto. Vuelan ahora las mariposas amarillas…”

Twitter is also honoring and remembering Gabo with the following hashtags: #AdiósGabo and #GraciasGabo. Here are just a few of those tweets:

 

 

#GraciasGabo.

“Cae agua de luna en Macondo, limpia un pecado inmortal.” (“Moonwater falls on Macondo, washing away a immortal sing.”)

Drapetomanía: Grupo Antillano and the Art of Afro-Cuba in Havana, New York and San Francisco

March 7 – July 18, 2014

The 8th Floor 17 W 17th St NYC, NY 10011

Info: 646-839-5908

Open Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 11-6 and Friday 10-5

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Curated by Alejandro de la Fuente, Robert Woods Bliss Professor of Latin American History and Economics and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University, and originally presented at the Centro de Artes Plásticos in Santiago de Cuba, Drapetomanía had been described as “one of the best visual arts exhibits of the last few years.” Recently arrived in New York from a showing in Havana, this assemblage of compelling imagery celebrates a group of artists working from the late 1970s and 1980s.

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It will continue on to the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco and other places.

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Grupo Antillano, an otherwise forgotten art movement that championed African esthetics in the visual arts of Cuba, lives life anew in this gathering of pieces and voices that pay tribute to the importance of African taste and energy in popular Cuban art. It features a variety of some of Cuba’s most influential visual arts masters of the last century, and from what we can tell is a must-see for anyone within reach of it.

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The 8th Floor is a private exhibition space established to promote cultural and philanthropic initiatives. Opened in 2010, recent shows have primarily focused on the presentation of contemporary Cuban art under the direction of curator Perera Weingeist, with partners in Cuba. The 8th Floor is free and open to the public. School groups are encouraged; viewing hours are Tuesday through Thursday, from 11-6pm and Friday, 10-5pm.

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Latina Business Leaders Taking Their Place at Corporate Table

Latinas are one of the fastest growing and most dynamic demographic within the business community. These leaders are creating innovative tools, strategies and business models that are benefiting large and small businesses throughout the United States.

According to the 2013 Women-Owned Business report, Latinas own nearly one million businesses in the United States, they employ almost 500,000 people and their businesses have generated over $65.5 billion in sales.  While they remain severely under-represented on corporate boards and in executive positions within corporations, established and emerging Latina business leaders are doing their part to change this narrative for the benefit of aspiring Latina business professionals.

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LatinoRebels.com applauds these women for breaking down barriers to ensure that there is room for Latina business leaders at the corporate table and in C-suites around the globe. Below is a list of some of these amazing business leaders:

Nina G. Vaca was seemingly bred to be one of the most successful business leaders in the United States. She is the Founder, Chairman, & CEO of Pinnacle Technical Resources, a company that provides IT services to Fortune 500 companies. Vaca, an immigrant from Ecuador, learned her work ethic and business savvy from her parents. Both of her parents were business people. Her father owned travel agencies and her mother owned retail businesses. She has put into practice the lessons that she learned from her parents, coupled with practical experience that she earned at the age of 17 while running her family’s business after her father’s death and the knowledge that she obtained through her impressive list of educational credentials. In doing so, she has succeeded in creating the “the largest woman-owned and Hispanic-owned vendor management software firm in the world.”

Vaca is an inspiration to other Latinas and business owners throughout the nation because of her tenacity and vision.  It is not surprising that she has earned a number of important distinctions, including being recognized twice as Business Woman of the Year by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Vaca is the former Chairman of the Board of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.  She also serves on the Board of Directors for the Kohl’s Company and ComAmerica, not to mention being a founding board member of the Startup America Partnership.

María Elena Lagomasino, commonly referred to as Mel, is the CEO and Managing Partner at WE Family Offices.  Lagomasino and her family left Cuba when she was just 11 years old.  Through this experience, she learned to face and overcome challenges at an early age. Lagomasino’s steadfast dedication enabled her to become a leader in the wealth management industry. Individuals who work in the wealth management industry assist individuals to protect and grow their wealth for the benefit of future generations. Lagomasino has taken the lessons that she has learned in the field and used them to help groom and mentor members of the Latino community.

Lagomasino has previously served as the CEO of GenSpring Family Offices. Lagomasino has served as a director of the Coca-Cola Company, Avon Products, Inc. and the Americas Society. In addition, she has served as a Trustee for the National Geographic Society. Lagomasino has been awarded a number of honors for her exemplary work, including the Directorship 100 by the National Association of Corporate Directors and was named by American Banker one of 2012’s Top 25 Women in Finance.  She was also named the Hispanic Business Woman of the Year by Hispanic Business magazine in 2007.

María Martínez is the Executive Vice President-Customers for Life and Chief Growth Officer at Salesforce.com. She is responsible for overseeing the teams that engage with clients.  In this capacity, they provide customer support and training, in addition to other functions. Martínez is a seasoned business leader with more than 30 years experience.  She has held important leadership positions at Microsoft, AT&T and Motorola, among others. Martínez earned her Bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Puerto Rico and her Master’s degree in computer engineering at The Ohio State University.

She credits her family values for helping her achieve her career goals. In particular, she attributes her upbringing with instilling in her the motivation and confidence to set high goals and standards for herself.  She was fortunate to have familial support on her journey to achieving her dreams. It is this type of encouragement that has led her to dedicate herself to mentoring other Latinas. According to an interview with Forbes.com, Martínez hopes that future Latina business leaders will remember to never let any type of stereotypes define who you are.  Be very confident about your aspirations and never doubt your capabilities.”

Carmen Castillo is the first Latina in the United States to become the CEO and owner of a billion-dollar company—SDI International Corp (Superior Design International; SDI), a global company that provides IT staffing assistance (also referred to as “workforce solutions”) and assists companies with supplier management.  SDI has grown from a South Florida-based corporation to an international corporation with offices in the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium and other places.

Castillo, an immigrant from Spain, embraced the American dream and created a plan to realize her entrepreneurial ambitions.  She believes that gender discrimination is one reason that Latinas are seeking more opportunities to create and run their own businesses. She has specifically spoken out about the fact that men often earn better pay and benefits than women. Ms. Castillo has used her position as one of the most successful entrepreneurs to shine a light on some of these inequities to promote workforce diversity.

Castillo’s accomplishments have earned her a host of awards and recognitions, including being named the 2013 Woman of the Year by HispanicBusiness.com and an Enterprising Woman of the Year by Enterprising Women Magazine.

Gina Puente-Brancato’s mother must have looked into a magic mirror with a view into the future when she decided to name her daughter Virginia (Gina) Ivy Puente (VIP). True to her name, Puente, President and CEO of Puente-Brancato Enterprises, has established herself as a successful business person in “retail, hospitality, currency services, food & beverage, wineries, and media advertising businesses.” Puente learned the ropes in business as an “apprentice” to her father beginning at the young age of 8.  She started out by helping him at Southwest Office Systems. Throughout her formative years, her father taught her many important lessons about owning and running businesses. While she worked closely with her father on his business ventures, both of her parents have been important role models in her life. Among other important lessons, they taught her the importance of having grit and maintaining determination against all odds.

Today, Puente and her family operate a number of different businesses at the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, including franchises and original business concepts. Puente tested the waters on her own in 1994 when she opened La Bodega Winery, the first-ever airport winery.  She also owns and operates other businesses, such as UFood Grill, Urban Taco and Sky Canyon. In addition to the airport businesses, she owns restaurants at the Parkland Memorial Hospital and a winery in Grapevine, Texas called the La Buena Vida Winery.

Puente has taken the path less followed when it comes to her business model. It is her ability to think outside of the box, her willingness to chart her own course and her courage to take risks that have allowed her to thrive. She has been awarded a number of accolades in acknowledgment of her achievements, creativity and dedication, including the Enterprising Woman of the Year, Latina Entrepreneur of the Year, and Fort Worth and Texas Hispanic Business Woman of the Year.

LatinoRebels.com thanks these business leaders for their contributions and for their commitment to mentoring future entrepreneurs and executives.

Who would you add to this list? Share your names below.

Diego Luna Plays It Safe in Disjointed “César Chávez” Movie

Let’s face it: the initial push to get Latinos interested in attending the opening weekend of Diego Luna’s “César Chávez” worked. From White House trips to social media chats, everyone in my social circles was fully aware that Luna’s film about the heroic labor leader was coming out the weekend of March 28, just three days before Chávez’s birthday (March 31, 1927). Many said they would go catch the film in an actual movie theater, invite a few friends and make it a community event. We all also hoped that Luna’s film would triumph, that it could be a Latino “Malcolm X” movement, a defining stake to prove that more stories like Chávez’s need to be told.

Expectations were high. Really high.

Sadly, the execution was low, resulting in a safe and mediocre film.

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Luna took the Hollywood route (no surprise there), instead of making a bolder choice—direct a more complexed and nuanced film about how a group of farmworkers in California made national and international news all because of grapes. THAT actual story was a big part of Luna’s film, but it was clouded and hidden by other story lines. The boycott story, from its origins to its victorious resolution, was by far the most gripping part of the movie. “How will they pull this off?” I kept asking myself as I watched, even though I already knew a lot about the strike and the boycott. THAT was the story and should have been the only one. Instead, Luna took us to other distracting (and boring) subplots, specifically the relationship Chávez (played admirably by Michael Peña) had with his son, Fernando (Eli Vargas). When I saw Fernando’s character on a golf course, I shook my head.

I can understand why such an artistic choice was made —trying humanize a historic figure is common in Hollywood biopics— but not at the expense of the bigger story. The best of “César Chávez” was great storytelling: when the focus was on the strike and the boycott. For example, when we see Peña’s character interacting with farm workers wanting better for their children (an opening scene all in Spanish) or when he confronted a sheriff over the Bill of Rights (boom). The struggle to strike, the in-fighting regarding strategy, the violence that occurred and even when Sen. Robert Kennedy (played by Jack Holmes with one of the most Kennedy-like accents ever) showed up to support the farm workers. These were the scenes that needed more exploration, more tension and ultimately, more drama. Cases in point: Luna never even had Peña as Chávez and Holmes as Kennedy talking to each other. Chávez’s fasting scenes lacked any emotional investment. There was no real interaction between the “good guys” and the “bad guys” (led by the always creepily talented John Malkovich). The scenes of workers getting gassed and shot at were so minimal, it’s as if Luna didn’t want to take the time to make us care about these atrocities. Great drama needs real tension. The movie never fully embraced such a basic tenet of storytelling.

The lack of a clear plot should not fall on Peña. He worked with what he had and portrayed Chávez as a quiet yet humble leader. Not giving Peña enough nuggets to portray several sides of Chávez falls on Luna and screenwriters Keir Pearson (“Hotel Ruwanda”) and Timothy J. Sexton (“Children of Men”). The screenplay lacked authenticity. It chose to gloss over some of the more dramatic parts of Chávez’s life during this period, and in the end, the movie soured. It’s almost as if Pearson and Sexton didn’t want to spend time about the more compelling challenges to La Causa: pragmatism vs. hero worship; “divide and conquer” vs. unity; violence vs. non-violence; Filipino vs. Chicano vs. Mexicano; “wetbacks” vs. union. The script read as if it the final ending was inevitable, a done deal. I wanted less of the done deal and more of how La Causa achieved its initial goals.

Which is the movie’s biggest problem. Key figures such as Dolores Huerta (played by Rosario Dawson), Helen Chávez (América Ferrera) and Delano’s Filipino workers just became outside observers to Peña’s Chávez character. Sure, there was tension here and there, but it was never sustained tension. For example, when Helen Chávez’s character offered to be arrested, we see a jealous César Chávez seeing his man pride armor getting chinked. It was a few interesting minutes between the Chávez couple, but after that, nothing. As for Huerta, her character was never developed, and that was a shame. In a movie about César Chávez, a character like Dolores Huerta is not a secondary character. You would think that Luna could have explored this relationship some more. I mean, Huerta is still alive. She was there. She lived it. (Oh yeah, I forgot that Huerta was reportedly never consulted to offer her insights to the film.)

In the end, the movie was only 101 minutes long, and maybe that explains why it never really satisfied. One of the biggest worker rights stories in the history of the United States got only 101 minutes of Hollywood air time. Given its long list of producers (Canana Films, Equipment & Film Design, Imagenation, Mr. Mudd, Participant Media), distributors (Lionsgate, Pantelion Films and Participant Media) and a big “Televisa Cine” who all had to be acknowledged even before the movie even began (awkward), you would think that some more money would have been raised to make this movie at least 120 minutes.

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When Chávez declares predictable victory at the end of the movie, my reaction was, “That’s it?” I got more emotional watching Gene Hackman in “Hoosiers” or Kurt Russell in “Miracle.” The biggest moment of victory in “César Chávez” just got a shoulder shrug, and that is tragic, especially since Luna had a chance to take what happened in the 60s and early 70s and connect it to what is happening today. He could have confronted Chávez’s critics as well as how many neo-nativists want to remind everyone that Chávez was against undocumented workers and is just a hypocrite of the movement. That would have earned Luna some major props and it would have been fearless. Instead, a potential “Latino Malcolm X” turned into a straight-to-Netflix choice.

But I guess Luna’s choice was set from the very beginning. This was never about a history lesson:

I would start crying, because from Day 1 I said, ‘I’m not going to do a history lesson.’ … Every time [teachers] come to me and say, ‘Why did you leave this out? Why did you not talk about this?’ I go, ‘Listen, film is not a history lesson.’ Film is in fact about engaging emotionally … and it’s about having a good time in the cinema. It’s about entertaining. Cinema can bring some curiosity for people to go and investigate a little more about Cesar. But film shouldn’t be teaching you. At least that’s not the film I like watching.

In this case, Luna made the wrong decision, and maybe he was the wrong person to direct this film. “César Chávez” should have been more of a “history lesson,” because that was by far the most enjoyable and dramatic part of the movie.

Nonetheless, the one good thing that IS happening: people are talking. Here are just a few of the comments I have seen in the last few days that I would tend to agree with:

“It was an okay film. Michael Peña’s (Cesar Chavez) performance was kind of flat. Dolores Huerta and the Filipino farm workers were downplayed in this film. I encourage people to see it as it’s an important part of our history.”

“I just saw the movie “CESAR CHAVEZ”
And I invite all my brothers and sisters
Please go see it and support the life
Of a powerful man that stood tall
For equality, fairness, and justice
And of course our champion of integrity
DOLORES HUERTA
La voz de Los invisibles speaks loud and clear
Viva la RAZA
Peace ”

– Carlos Santana”

In the end, Latinos should go and see this movie, and after that, have real discussions about it. My biggest concern is this: at what point do Latinos go beyond supporting mediocre movies and when will we get content that is outstanding and thought-provoking? “César Chávez,” as well-intentioned as it was, became just another ok film with poor plot choices.

I no longer want “ok.” I want “superior” and “top-notch.” I want “authentic.”

We will get there.

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77) founded LatinoRebels.com in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. In the last two years, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the NationNPR,  Univisionand The New York Times. Currently, he is a digital producer for Al Jazeera America’s The Stream. The views expressed in any of the LR columns written by Julito on this page do not reflect the editorial stance of Latino Rebels or Al Jazeera America. His opinions are his own and his alone.

 

Latina Leaders Courageously Fight to End Violence Against Women

In honor of Women’s History Month, here is the second part of our series.

In the U.S., incidents of domestic violence and sexual assault are rife, but the true extent of the problem is largely hidden from view. A staggering one-quarter of women have experienced domestic violence and more than six million children witness domestic abuse in their homes every year.

Worryingly, children learn violent behavior from witnessing violence. Men, too, can be victims of domestic violence and account for 15 percent of all cases.

In immigrant communities the statistics are harder to come by, but the National Latino Alliance for the Elimination of Domestic Violence says that domestic violence “is a widespread and destructive problem in Latino communities.” Language barriers, fear of deportation and cultural differences make it hard for immigrant victims of violence to come forward and receive the support they need.

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Latinas and immigrant community members are also at risk of sexual violence.  They also often face sexual harassment at work. Human trafficking is another major problem that afflicts Latinas in the United States.

Below, we highlight five Latina leaders who have worked tirelessly to improve the situation for the millions of women and men who are the victims of violence each year.

Maria Jose Fletcher is trained as a lawyer and is actively involved in the fight to end human trafficking and violence against women. She spent two years on the National Advisory Committee on Violence Against Women and she is the co-director and founder of the not-for-profit VIDA Legal Assistance. VIDA exclusively provides support and legal representation to immigrant survivors of violent crime, making it the only legal service of its kind in Florida.

Undocumented immigrants often exist in precarious circumstances, meaning they are less likely to want to alert the authorities if they are in trouble. One VIDA client explains, “My biggest fear in reporting the acts of domestic violence which I was subjected to by my husband, was being deported and leaving my children alone.” However, part of VIDA’s work is to educate immigrants on the laws that exist to protect victims of domestic abuse, as they do not necessarily face deportation for pressing charges in such cases.

Laura Zárate is the daughter of parents from the Mexico border region. She has three decades of advocacy and training experience, and in 2001 she co-founded Arte Sana (Art Heals), an organization that encourages healing through art for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. Arte Sana has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a model program for survivors of sexual assault.

Founded in Austin, Texas, Arte Sana was the first national Latina-led organization to address sexual violence. Zárate has led the development of bilingual training programs on sexual assault, as well as championing internet-based collaborations amongst victim advocates. Arte Sana has also provided capacity-building training to organizations across the border in Ciudad Juárez, known worldwide for exceedingly high rates of violent crime against women.

Rosie Hidalgo has dedicated her twenty-year career to the fight against domestic violence, both in her former capacity as an attorney in New York City and Northern Virginia and in her current role as the Director of Public Policy for Casa de Esperanza (based in Saint Paul, Minnesota) and the National Latin@ Network, a network of organizations committed to improving the health and wellbeing of Latin@ communities.

Hidalgo also played an integral role in ensuring that the Violence Against Women Act was reauthorized in 2013. Rosie spent four years working in the Dominican Republic on domestic violence prevention, and she had also worked as a consultant for the World Bank on social protection initiatives.

In 2013, Hidalgo won an award recognizing her work on domestic abuse and immigration reform. Hidalgo said in her acceptance speech, “… comprehensive immigration reform is the critical next step to reduce the vulnerabilities to abuse and exploitation of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States and to strengthen families and communities.”

Olga Trujillo is an attorney, author and consultant, renowned for her work to end child abuse, domestic violence and human trafficking. Trujillo began her career in the early nineties at the US Department of Justice, where she became the youngest women and only Latina to ever serve as General Counsel to the Office of Justice Programs.

As a survivor of abuse in her own family, Trujillo has an insider perspective on issues to do with violence against women. “Part of the coping that I developed was to basically dissociate, to leave my body and watch it as if it was happening to someone else,” Trujillo explains in ‘A Survivor’s Story,’ a courageous documentary that details the impact of emotional and sexual violence on her life.

Her current work includes providing training to mental health, medical and criminal justice professionals, as well as speaking at events across the country. In 2012, Trujillo published an autobiographical book called ‘The Sum of My Parts: a Survivor’s Story of Dissociative Identity Disorder.’

Susan Reyna was born in the US to a migrant farmworker family in 1955. She witnessed ongoing domestic abuse against her mother and at age five went to live with her grandparents in Texas. Far from a safe haven, she then experienced sexual abuse at the hands of her grandfather.

At age 19, when she already had two young children and a failed marriage behind her, Reyna got her first big break and was offered an office job with a migrant rights organization. She worked her way through the ranks of several organizations and today Reyna is the executive director of M.U.J.E.R. (Mujeres Unidas en Justicia, Educación y Reforma), an organization that primarily provides services to farm worker communities in Miami-Dade County, Florida. M.U.J.E.R. assists adult victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. You can read more about Reyna’s amazing success against the odds here.

Who would you add to this list? Share your names below.

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Jen Wilton currently lives in Oaxaca, Mexico and reports on social and political issues related to Mexico and Latin America more widely. Jen tweets as @guerillagrrl and blogs at revolutioniseternal.wordpress.com

LatinoRebels.com Celebrates Latina Leaders for Women’s History Month

In observance of Women’s History Month, LatinoRebels.com celebrates the Latinas who are making important contributions to our society across industries, sectors and movements. This week, Rebeldes Mónica Ramírez, Jen Wilton and Luis Marentes worked together to highlight some of these incredible leaders. They are role models in their communities, schools and workplaces. We thank them for their leadership and for their tireless efforts to make our world better each and every day.

Rebelde Mónica Ramírez (second from left) with Dolores Huerta (far right)

Rebelde Mónica Ramírez (second from left) with Dolores Huerta (far right)

Today we begin our series by spotlighting some of the Latinas who have made a significant impact in the fight for civil rights, including the fight for immigrants’ rights.  Historically, Latinas in the United States have confronted a number of civil rights issues, including discrimination in employment, housing, and education.  Latinas have been denied their voting rights and have been subject to amplified anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment, including an increase in hate crimes.

Below is a short list of some of women who have helped promote equal rights for all:

Dolores Huerta is one of the most important labor rights, civil rights, human rights and women’s rights activists of all time. Among her many accomplishments, Huerta co-founded the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez in 1962. Today she is the President of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.  Through her activism she has worked to achieve the passage of new laws and protections for farmworkers and others.  She coined the phrase, “Sí Se Puede,” which has been used as a slogan for the farmworker movement and many other important campaigns, including President Barack Obama’s  for President of the United States. Huerta has received many awards and recognitions for her incredible advocacy, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom.  She was also inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Felisa Rincón de Gautier, commonly referred to as “Doña Fela, was a passionate and staunch leader. She first rose to the spotlight for her activism in the fight for women’s right to vote, which was achieved in Puerto Rico in 1932.  In 1946, Rincón de Gautier became the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, the first female to hold this post in the Americas.  She was mayor for 22 years. Rincón de Gautier promoted the well being of the Puerto Ricans that she served. She focused on improving the infrastructure and health systems on the island. She died in 1994 at the age of 97. Rincón de Gautier helped pave the way for other Latina politicians.

Sylvia Méndez and her siblings were catapulted into the limelight when their parents Gonzalo and Felicitas made the decision to fight for the right for their children to receive the same educational opportunities as white school children.  In 1943, Latino students in California and other parts of the U.S. were still subject to school segregation. Mendez’s parents, along with a group of other parents, sued four school districts in California in the case Méndez vs. Westminster for discriminating against Latino students.  The Court found that school segregation was unconstitutional. The Méndez case resulted in school desegregation in the state of California and laid the foundation for school desegregation throughout the United States.  Méndez was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.

Ana Avendaño, recently appointed the Vice President of Labor Participation for United Way Worldwide, USA, previously served as Assistant to the President and Director of Immigration and Community Action at the AFL-CIO. Through her work, she promoted critical labor-community partnerships and worked to connect the labor movement with Latino and immigrant communities.  Avendaño helped represent the labor community in discussions with business leaders in the immigration reform debates, leading to the historic shared principles that were announced prior to the introduction of the “Gang of 8’s” immigration legislation. She formerly served as Assistant General Counsel to the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union where she was one of the leaders in the labor movements’ call for immigration reform and legalization.

María Gabriela (Gaby) Pacheco  is a leader in the immigrant rights movement.  Pacheco first gained national recognition in 2010 when she and three other immigrant youth leaders set out for a four month walk from Miami, Florida to Washington D.C. with the goal of raising awareness about the plight of undocumented youth.  Their action came to be known as the Trail of Dreams and their mission was to push for the passage of the Dream Act.  She and her colleagues set out to educate Congress about the reality of undocumented youth and adults who were brought to the United States as children.  Pacheco and her family moved to the United States from Ecuador when she was eight years old. Consequently, like hundreds of thousands of other immigrant youth, she grew up and studied in the United States.  However, she did not have legal status to live or work in the United States.  Pacheco’s leadership helped pave the way for the   federal government’s decision to permit certain qualifying youth to apply for deferred action from immigration deportation, along with the opportunity to attend college and work.

Of course, this list could go on and on. Who would you add to this first list? Share your thoughts in the comments section below. We will have another one tomorrow.

The Soldiers of St. Patrick

St. Patrick’s Day is very special in Mexico because it is a time when Mexicans remember the San Patricios, or the Battalion of St. Patrick.  One of the least-known stories of the Irish who came to America in the 1840s is that of this Irish battalion that fought on the Mexican side in the U.S.-Mexico War of 1846-1848. They came to Mexico and died, some gloriously in combat, others ignominiously on the gallows. United under a green banner, they participated in all the major battles of the war and were cited for bravery by General López de Santa Anna, Mexico’s commander-in-chief and president.

At the penultimate battle of the war, these Irishmen fought until their ammunition was exhausted and even then tore down the white flag that was raised by their Mexican comrades in arms, preferring to struggle on with bayonets until finally being overwhelmed. Despite their brave resistance, however, 85 of the Irish battalion were captured and sentenced to bizarre tortures and deaths at the hands of the Americans, resulting in what is considered even today as the “largest hanging affair in North America.”

In the spring of 1846, the United States was poised to invade Mexico, its neighbor to the south. The ostensible reason was to collect on past-due loans and indemnities. The real reason was to provide the United States with control of the ports of San Francisco and San Diego, the trade route through the New Mexico Territory, and the rich mineral resources of the Nevada Territory—all of which at that time belonged to the Republic of Mexico. The United States had previously offered $5 million to purchase the New Mexico Territory and $25 million for California, but Mexico had refused.

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Before the declaration of war by the United States, a group of Irish Catholics headed by a crack artilleryman named John Riley deserted from the American forces and joined the Mexicans. Born in Clifden, County Galway, Riley was an expert on artillery, and it was widely believed that he had served in the British army as an officer or a non-com in Canada before enlisting in the American army. Riley’s turned this new unit into a crack artillery arm of the Mexican defense. He is credited with changing the name of the group from the Legion of Foreigners and designing their distinctive flag. Within a year, the ranks of Riley’s men would be swelled by Catholic foreign residents in Mexico City, and Irish and German Catholics who deserted once the war broke out, into a battalion known as Los San Patricios, or “Those of Saint Patrick.”

The San Patricios fought under a green silk flag emblazoned with the Mexican coat of arms, an image of St. Patrick, and the words “Erin Go Bragh.” The battalion was made up of artillery and was observed in key positions during every major battle. Their aid was critical because the Mexicans had poor cannon with a range of 400 meters less than the Americans. In addition, Mexican cannoneers were inexperienced and poorly trained. The addition of veteran gunners to the Mexican side would result in at least two major battles being fought to a draw. Several Irishmen were awarded the Cross of Honor by the Mexican government for their bravery, and many received field promotions.

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At the Battle of Churubusco, holed up in a Catholic monastery and surrounded by a superior force of American cavalry, artillery, and infantry, the San Patricios withstood three major assaults and inflicted heavy losses on the Yanks. Eventually, however, a shell struck their stored gunpowder, the ammunition park blew up, and the Irishmen, after a gallant counteroffensive with bayonets, were overwhelmed by sheer numbers. They were tried by a military court-martial and then scourged, branded, and hanged in a manner so brutal that it is still remembered in Mexico today.

In September 1847, the Americans put the Irish soldiers captured at the Battle of Churubusco on trial. Forty-eight were sentenced to death by hanging. Those who had deserted before the declaration of war were sentenced to whipping at the stake, branding and hard labor. Fueled by Manifest Destiny, the American government dictated terms to the Mexicans in the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. More than two-thirds of the Mexican Territory was taken, and out of it the United States would carve California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and parts of Kansas and Colorado. Among all the major wars fought by the United States, the Mexican War is the least discussed in the classroom, the least written about, and the least known by the general public. Yet, it added more to the national treasury and to the land mass of the United States than all other wars combined.

After the conflict, so much new area was opened up, so many things had been accomplished, that a mood of self-congregation and enthusiasm took root in the United States. The deserters from the war were soon forgotten as they homesteaded and labored in the gold fields of California or, as the 1860s approached, put on the gray uniform of the Confederacy or the blue of the Union. Prejudice against the Irish waned, as the country was provided with a “pressure valve” to release many of its new immigrants westward. The story of the San Patricios disappeared from history.

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For most Mexicans, solidarity with the Irish is part of a long tradition and they remembered the help they received from the Irish and their friendship. In the words of John Riley, written in 1847 but equally true today, “A more hospitable and friendly people than the Mexican there exists not on the face of the earth… especially to an Irishman and a Catholic.”

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Riley sums up what cannot be clearly documented in any history: the basic, gut-level affinity the Irishman had then, and still has today, for Mexico and its people. The decisions of the men who joined the San Patricios were probably not well-planned or thought out. They were impulsive and emotional, like many of Ireland’s own rebellions – including the Easter Uprising of 1916. Nevertheless, the courage of the San Patricios, their loyalty to their new cause, and their unquestioned bravery forged an indelible seal of honor on their sacrifice.

Riley himself survived the war and was honorably discharged from the Mexican Army in 1850. A report that he died shortly thereafter has recently been called into question by researchers in Mexico, so his true end remains a mystery. Of the eight-five captured, forty-eight were hanged by the U.S. Army, including Thomas Cassidy who died in a Mexican uniform after being captured after the Battle of Churubusco. His descendent, Shaun Cassidy, lives and works in San Diego where he is a one of the original Rebeldes, a regular contributor, and an activist for immigration reform.

The author (r) with our own Shaun Cassidy (l)

The author (r) with our own Shaun Cassidy (l)

Each year commemorations are held in San Angel in Mexico to honor the Irish who died in the war. A marble plaque in the town square reads “In Memory of the Irish Soldiers of the Heroic Battalion of San Patrick Who Gave Their Lives for the Mexican Cause During the Unjust North American Invasion of 1847,” followed by the names of 71 of the men. A color guard of crack Mexican troops marches forward with the Mexican and Irish colors to a spine-jarring flourish of drums and bugles. The “Himno Nacional” is then played, followed by “The Soldier’s Song.” Students and dignitaries place floral tributes on the paving stones, and an honor roll is called of the fallen soldiers as the crowd collectively chants after each name, “Murió por la patria!” (He died for the country!). In addition a bust of John Riley has been presented to the people of Mexico by the Irish Embassy. In Clifden, County Galway, the birthplace of John Riley, a similar ceremony is held each year. This past year a special dedication of a John Riley memorial was held by the Mexican Ambassador to Ireland and the revised edition of The Irish Soldiers of Mexico was presented to the Irish public at Trinity College Dublin and the National University of Ireland in Galway.

Irish Actor Liam Neeson adds a poetic tribute to the San Patricios in this wonderful interview on BBC.

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Hogan and Riley memorial (2)Michael Hogan is the author twenty-two books, including the Irish Soldiers of Mexico, one of the major historical works on the San Patricio Battalion which encompasses six years of research in the U.S., Mexico and Ireland. As a permanent resident of Mexico, he was the first historian to be granted complete access to Mexican archives and military records. There is a Facebook site dedicated to this group  and Dr. Hogan books can be found on his homepage.

 

When Martin Luther King, Jr. Visited Puerto Rico

When our friends at Puerto Rico en Serio tweeted to use the following tweet, it got us thinking about what is one of the least-known facts from the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—the time he visited Puerto Rico in 1962:

In fact, King visited the island at least two times in his life: in 1962 and in 1965. A 2011 feature in El Nuevo Día talks about both the visits (translation is ours):

The first visit was in 1962, when [King] was invited by the Fellowship of Reconciliation to speak in what is now the Interamerican University in San Germán. He also spoke at the University of Puerto Rico in Río Piedras.

After receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965, King returned to speak at the World Convention of Churches of Christ and “was in a chapel of the Evangelical Seminary of Puerto Rico where Martin Luther King publicly denounced and broke the evangelical silence on Vietnam War…”

The World Convention of Churches of Christ also shared more details about King’s 1965 visit:

Among the speakers for the Convention were President of the World Council of Churches, Martin Niemoeller and Martin Luther King, Jr., Executive Secretary of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, who spoke at the Saturday evening service. Carl Ketcherside was also a speaker, thought to be the first time a preacher from the American a cappella Churches of Christ spoke at a World Convention. US President Lyndon Baines Johnson, himself a lifelong Disciple, was honored with a World Convention Citation, which was later presented at a White House ceremony. The Seventh Assembly of the World Convention of Churches of Christ, 1965. Sunday evening saw the closing assembly communion service in which was instituted a World Convention tradition that has continued with nearly each subsequent Convention, that is the souvenir communion cup which participants take home as both a remembrance of the Body of Christ and the global fellowship of the Stone-Campbell Movement.

King’s entire 1962 speech at the Interamericana can be read here:

Martin Luther King, Jr. Speeches in Puerto Rico: 1962 by Latino Rebels

The King Center also contains several examples of correspondence between Puerto Ricans and King, including one letter from the island’s Secretary of Education to King about Puerto Rico’s race problems. It is a must read that offers an insight that is rarely discussed: that racism in Puerto Rico is the product of an imposed colonial system with a quote that says it all, “In the United States, a man’s color determines what class he belongs to; in Puerto Rico a man’s class determines what color he is.”

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In addition, there is the fact that Roberto Clemente met with King for a day in Puerto Rico (either in 1962 or 1964), and how King’s life deeply impacted the Puerto Rican baseball legend. It is discussed in the definitive book on Clemente’s life, as well as in this blog post from Common Dreams:

It might seem odd that Clemente, a proud Puerto Rican national, would have led such an extraordinary action. But Clemente, who had a passionate belief in social and economic justice, considered King a personal hero. He had even met face to face with Dr. King, spending a day together on Clemente’s farm in Puerto Rico.

David Maraniss quotes Clemente’s feelings about King in his 2005 biography of the Hall of Fame outfielder:

“When Martin Luther King started doing what he did, he changed the whole system of the American style. He put the people, the ghetto people, the people who didn’t have nothing to say in those days, they started saying what they would have liked to say for many years that nobody listened to. Now with this man, these people come down to the place where they were supposed to be but people didn’t want them, and sit down there as if they were white and call attention to the whole world. Now that wasn’t only the black people but the minority people. The people who didn’t have anything, and they had nothing to say in those days because they didn’t have any power, they started saying things and they started picketing, and that’s the reason I say he changed the whole world…”

Very little else in English has been chronicled about King’s visits to Puerto Rico, but this 2011 UPS blog asking its employees about what Martin Luther King, Jr. meant to them does include what a Puerto Rican employee named Olga had to say:

Memorable moments in my life, I remember when Rev. Martin Luther King came to Puerto Rico in 1962, and I had the honor to meet him. I keep a photo with my family and me with Rev. Martin Luther King as one of my biggest treasures in my life.

Feast Day and Immigration Reform

Growing up, my family spent the better part of December celebrating the beautiful cultural traditions observed by Mexicans around the globe. Among these, on December 12, our family participated in the celebration in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Virgen de Guadalupe). We honored her with roses, a symbol of the flowers that she is said to have offered to a man named Juan Diego when she appeared to him in Mexico in 1531. We celebrated her through song and dance. Equally important, we gathered in the church hall afterward to break bread and (my favorite) a piñata.

I grew up in a small rural community in Northwest Ohio. Nearly all of the Latino families who lived there, including mine, had at one time planted, picked, sorted and packed a variety of fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, cucumbers and sugar beet, among others. Our families comprised the current or former farmworker community in that area. We represented new and settled immigrants, not to mention some families who had lived and worked in the United States for generations. Many of us shared a historical and cultural context.

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CREDIT: Pristine Cartera (http://ow.ly/rGIYs)

While this time of year conjures many wonderful memories, it is not just thoughts of the chocolate and pan dulce that warm my heart. Instead, it is the memory of what those celebrations meant for us as a community. Guadalupe, considered the patron saint of México by Catholics and a protector of the poor, symbolized hope. And the humble Don Diego was a reflection of us.

Today thousands of immigrants around the United States will gather in churches and community halls, much like those that my community gathered in years ago. Among them, undocumented men, women, and children, will lay roses in Guadalupe’s honor. They will sing, they will dance, and they will pray. This year, individuals throughout the nation will pray for a reprieve from continued immigration removals and family separation. These community members, including my family, will also gather with hope that members of the House of Representatives will finally make a move to cure our broken immigration system and provide a pathway to citizenship for all aspiring U.S. citizens.

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Mónica Ramírez is the daughter and granddaughter of migrant farmworkers. She has been a farmworker and immigrant rights activist for more than 18 years. Mónica is nationally recognized as an expert and a leader in the movement to end gender discrimination, including workplace sexual violence, against farmworker and immigrant women. She is also a contributor to Latino Rebels.