Saturday, March 30, 2013

Hugo Chavez

Hugo Chavez died March 5, 2013 and has been vilified and portrayed as a clown in the North American press. The intense prejudice and stereotyping of a "Socialist" is what makes news here not the reality of Hugo Chavez' attempts to elevate the indigenous peoples of Venezuela's lifestyle and standing to that of simply being human. One of the ugly little secrets of Latin America is the deep prejudice and racism aimed at the indigenous peoples. This is the legacy of Spanish colonialism.

Chavez was never known as a shrinking violet, but there is an incident where he showed mighty restraint. This is what I remember about Hugo Chavez: The King of Spain telling Hugo Chavez to shut up at a conference of Latin American-Iberian friendship in Santiago Chile.

Chavez was rambling on interrupting the Spanish Prime Minister's talk by accusing him of being a Fascist; something that at this moment could not be a bigger insult in Spain no matter how true. After repeated interruptions and attempts by the Prime Minister to continue, The Spanish King leans into the conversation and says angrily , in Spanish, "Why don't you shut up?" This in a nutshell conveys the reality of Latin American-Iberian friendship; you have no voice, you must listen to what we say when we say it.

Chavez continued his rambling, but what was picked up by the North American press was the Spanish King standing up the the "Socialist" and Chavez' inability to make any kind of rebuttal. I see it as not a retreat from verbal battle, but as a heroic bit of restraint from Hugo Chavez. Because if he wanted to, and if he had done what I think he should have done, He could have simply listed what was needed from the Spanish King, and all colonialists, in the Americas:

  • Return all the money derived from gold, silver and natural resources stripped from the Americas and shipped to Europe.
  • Return all land taken from the indigenous people and remove all European presence from these lands. 
  • Remove all European money lenders and banks from the Americas as well as any remaining corporations that continue to rape the land.
  •  And finally, return the dead millions of indigenous people slaughtered in the conquest and maintenance of the European colonial system. Return those enslaved and debased, return those women raped and coerced into satiating the needs of the conquerer. 
Then Chavez should have said, "When this is done we can sit and talk about Latin American-Iberian friendship. We can talk about national heroes like Tupac Amaru in the same breath as Simon Bolivar and Bernardo O'Higgins. Then," he could have smiled and said, "Then, we can turn our attention to the North Americans."

But he didn't.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

After the Children's Massacre in Newton CT, a "news conference" by the NRA proved to be less an exercise in sympathy, or constitutional freedom and more a Hitler-esque rant and lecture. The salient points of this exercise were simple: We will talk about what ever the fuck we what to talk about; you will listen and appreciate what we say in a respectful and adoring manner. There will be no questions. 
Nothing like a lecture from your elected leaders.....

This man stood on national television and told you what he wants you to do. Nobody elected him to any political office. Nobody said he could make policy. Yet, his words will be taken as serious political palaver. And nobody has the will to call it what it truly is: Bullshit.

Read this carefully and think about what the complete sentence says. Not just what the NRA wants you to see.

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

The 1st part, the well regulated militia part, is the reason for the second part, the right of the people part.

 Was the Newton CT shooter part of a well regulated militia? No. He was a socio-path bent on the implementation of an agenda fostered by social engineering via the American warrior class and bad brain chemicals. Was he helping to secure the security of a free state? No. He was trying to shred the fabric of security in order to validate his existence, creating Phoenix-like destruction in order to facilitate his own mentally deranged re-birth. He should have been kept as far away from guns as possible. 

But, he was helped along on his journey of appalling destruction by the false interpretation of the 2nd amendment. By those who ignore the 1st part of the 2nd amendment, by those who decide what is the  correct interpretation of the Constitution. 

By those who talk, while you listen and no questions will be asked.     


Sunday, March 4, 2012

The 2nd Amendment

Until people who like to quote the 2nd amendment actually read the whole second amendment and are prepared to use a little critical thinking in discussing its origin, intent and implementation any discussion is an exercise in mythological cock blocking. That is, the American mythology surrounding the second part of the amendment (the part after the comma) steeped in hubris, jingoism and chest thumping Americanism steps in and prevents any real discussion of what was meant by the framers of the constitution and how it affected the lives of the general population over 200 years ago.

This book may help those who refuse to read the 1st part of the amendment in the formulation of an argument for the mythological aspect of the amendment and might be a useful resource for them.

My own conclusions on the 2nd amendment differ radically from those espoused by most Americans, but it is my right as an American to come to these conclusions:

1. The accepted reading of the second amendment, fostered by the NRA, is based in the national mythology of an America based in racism, jingoism and paranoia.

2. Of all of the amendments the 2nd is the only one, which seems to be obsolete.

3. The reason for this obsolescence is delineated in the first part of the amendment.

4. The “misreading” of the amendment is a deliberate attempt to create a meaning that is otherwise not spelled out in the amendment.

5. Like all national mythologies the misreading of the 2nd amendment would not withstand the glare of the public light without the acquiescence of the public itself.

First, the amendment itself:

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Some of the many things not said in the 2nd amendment:

1. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

2. Register criminals not firearms.

3. Gun safety tip #1: carry one.

4. America: love it or leave it.

The real meaning of the 2nd amendment is based in the loose militias formed in the nascent country by the British Army going back before the French and Indian War for the “common defense” of Americans. What is said in the 2nd amendment, but is rarely discussed is, “A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state…”

There was no standing army in the early days of the republic. In a national emergency it was necessary for an individual to grab his gun and get his ass to the mustering point so that he could be counted on to fight. Every able-bodied man was charged with the defense of his county.

At that time having a gun was necessary for a lot of reasons: the gathering of food; defense from pesky Indians trying to get the new Americans off of their land and general all around protection from marauding fellow citizens. Having a gun, apart from being necessary for basic survival was also part of an individual’s duty for the defense of the nation.

The 1st part of the amendment tells you why the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. The second amendment is obsolete because we now have a series of well-regulated militia’s securing our free state. They are the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines State Police, local police, etc., etc.

The misreading of the amendment is derived from an economy and attitude based in capitalism and colonialism. Freedom loving men who have invaded a virgin land and have murdered, raped and stolen everything they could and used their enslaved humans to provide them with a lifestyle of relative luxury. Those unable to afford the luxuries of colonialism strived to acquire the resources through more of the aforementioned murder, rape robbery and defense of the ill-gotten spoils of the nation with their constitutionally protected guns.

The entire history of the struggles and the acquisition of freedoms and rights by anyone other than the dominant majority in America is seen as a threat to that majority and the reifies their reading of the second amendment. “…the rights of the people to bear arms, shall not be infringed” is read as “the rights of the majority to maintain their majority shall not be infringed.”

The problem of people who use these arms for their continued striving for a part of the American dream remains and is now couched in terms of race and class warfare: those who have not (those blacks, Mexicans and such) want your stuff and will stop at nothing to get it. Because of their misreading of the 2nd amendment as it pertains to them, they are criminals and must be dealt with accordingly. The protection and defense of your stuff necessitates the acquisition of more and more guns. The fact that the murders, rapes and robberies denounced by the defenders of the 2nd amendment are simply one end of the same gun owning continuum that they themselves inhabit is almost laughable.

All of this is rooted in the fears of the Americans of someone, someone of a different color or race, taking all the stuff that they have stolen away from them. So, it is necessary to use any means necessary to protect themselves and their possessions.

Thus, the mythology of the amendment supersedes its original meaning. The defense of country has been conflated with the defense of our possessions, and it has happened with our consent.

Most of the fear is based, as Public Enemy put it so succinctly, in Fear of a Black (or any other color, but white) Planet. In the 60’s the Black Panthers began to legally carry guns in ride-arounds in Oakland California monitoring the police as they pulled black Americans over. It seems that an inordinate amount of black men were being killed in these police stops. The Panthers showed up legally armed at the California legislature and left only after a tense stand off. The answer from the Oakland police, the police countrywide and the public in general was the destruction of the Black Panthers as a viable political entity and the murder of its leaders. And now, as of 2008, “one in nine Black men between the ages of 20-34 are incarcerated compared to one in 30 other men of the same age.

And in a true reading of how this all plays out, nowadays, armed white men show up at the local Starbucks and are hailed as protectors of the second amendment.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Excerpt from Mythology and Manifest Destiny in Anglo-Saxon America

“The march of the Anglo-Saxon race is onward…They must accomplish their destiny, spreading far and wide the great principles of self government, and who shall say how far they will prosecute their work?”
Norman Greabner
Manifest Destiny (xix)
The phrase Manifest Destiny was coined in an era when the westward expansion of the United States was taken as a forgone conclusion. As Robert Nesbit writes in Social Change and History, “Of all metaphors in Western thought on mankind and culture, the oldest most powerful and encompassing is the metaphor of growth” (7). Growth to the Americans pointed in only one-way: West. As Edward Everett, American statesman, orator and writer declared, “We look forward to the event without alarm as in the natural growth of this great Republic…” (Weinberg 106). But, it was in the turbulent 1840’s that Democratic politician and publicist John I. O’Sullivan first used the phrase Manifest Destiny. He used the phrase as an indictment of those who would interfere with what he called a “Natural Process.” This natural process was the annexation of Mexican Territory disguised as the Republic of Texas. O’Sullivan filled his manifesto with the fusion of the mythologies of the Anglo-Saxon and Natural Law. He states that other nations had intruded “…for the avowed object of thwarting our policy and hampering our power, limiting our greatness and checking the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying million” (Horsman 219). Thus, the world at large was indicted as conspirators in a scheme to keep the Anglo-Saxon tribe from its Natural Rights of western expansion. As Thomas Hietala writes, “When John O’Sullivan Coined the phrase ‘manifest destiny’ …he provided Americans then and since with an invaluable legitimizing myth of empire” (255). The tribe had gotten its power from Providence, so they were the chosen of God.
This thinking came at a time in American history when the people were in need of good news. The policies of the wildly popular Andrew Jackson in the 1830’s, not unlike the wildly popular Ronald Reagan in the 1980’s, had led the United States to the brink of economic ruin. Jackson and his Democratic Party hated the power of Alexander Hamilton’s national bank and while “Whigs defended the national bank…the Democrats destroyed it” (Hietala 3). Jackson’s successor Martin Van Buren’s inability to deal with the depression, called the Panic of 1837, left the country wide open for a savior or a demagogue. With the death of William Henry Harrison a month after his inauguration in 1840, the United States gained in his vice-president, John Tyler, a new leader “…who had been elected by Virginians in 1838 as president of their state’s Colonization Society in the hopes that he would accelerate the expatriation of blacks to Africa or Latin America” (Price 13).
Also, the United States at this time was reeling from various types of sectional disputes, although most could find their roots in the battle between the North and the South; slave holding versus free states. When Tyler unexpectedly became president he was not prepared to compromise with the north. He was a slave holding Southerner with an agenda primed for the South and the rebuilding of the Northern Industrial base would have to wait. “Tyler made the annexation of Texas his primary objective, an interest involving Mexico because of the continual state of belligerency between Texas and that country” (Price 25).
In June of 1805, when Aaron Burr was in New Orleans, a group calling themselves the Mexican Association contacted him. The aim of this group was the invasion and conquering of Mexican land. Charles I Dufour writes, “Mathew L Davis, to whom Burr confided his private papers, wrote in his Memoirs of Aaron Burr, “The great object of Burr was the conquest of Mexico” (17). So, people in the United States had had their eyes on Mexico for a long time. In 1819 John Quincy Adams, in his capacity as Secretary of State, settled a dispute with Spain as to the borders of the Louisiana Purchase and extended the territory of the United States to the Sabine River. When he became president he instructed the United Stated Minister, in 1827, to offer the newly independent Mexico $1,000,000.00 for the territory between the Sabine river and the Rio Grande and half that amount for the area east of the Colorado River (Dufour 18). President Andrew Jackson, himself not adverse to simply taking what he wanted as illustrated by his personal annexation of West Florida for the United States after the Louisiana Purchase, offered Mexico $5,000,000.00 for Texas, but was rebuffed. But, “As one of his final acts as president, Andrew Jackson recognized the Texas Republic on March 3, 1837” (Greabner 41). Thus, Jackson was able to take the intermediary step towards annexation and, because Tyler had succeeded in alienating everyone in both parties and was forced to quit his attempts at another term, the new president, James K Polk completed it.
One of the main reasons the United States, and in particular Southerners, wanted Texas land was to grow their major cash crop: cotton. And, as implied in John Tyler’s membership, indeed presidency, of a society looking at ways to get rid of excess slaves, another major reason was to find space to export the rapidly growing slave population. According to Thomas R Hietala “Enslaved and proscribed in the South, disdained and discriminated against in the North and feared throughout the nation, the country’s black population provided a powerful impetus behind territorial expansion in the 1840’s” (100). A happy marriage of the two would provide an unexpected solution: grow cotton in Texas and export the excess slaves to harvest it. Texas was seen as a golden land that would be able to remove this problem in the mid 18th century’s equivalent of “out of sight, out of mind.” The fact that Mexico had outlawed slavery in 1829 seemed merely an annoyance.
The conflict that resulted in the Mexican province of Téjas breaking away as the Republic of Texas and finally being annexed by the United States was the culmination of many forces. Some of the main ones were the greed of the American slave owners and the treachery of the American settlers in Téjas many of whom had intermarried with the leading Mexican families and had taken Mexican citizenship in order to own land. There were the pressures of territorial expansion and the impetus of manifest destiny with its logics and assurances of racial superiority and of the mythologies of the Anglo-Saxon and Natural Law. There was also the ineptitude of a series of Mexican governments that were going through the chaos and anarchy of civil war at just the wrong time. In The Mexican War: A Compact History, Charles L. Dufour writes, “During Mexico’s struggles for independence, both financial and moral assistance was provided the revolutionists by influential Americans” (18). But, according to Otis Singletary in his The Mexican War, “The political instability explains in part why the twenty years of diplomatic intercourse between the United States and Mexico preceding the annexation of Texas were filled with frustration and failure” (18). But, what kind of failure and frustration was involved? Basically the frustration came from the failure of the Mexican government to acquiesce to the wishes of the United States. But, the real failure was the frustration of the Americans towards the “inferior” Mexicans. In fact Reginald Horsman sees it as the defining moment. “The catalyst in the overt adoption of a racial Anglo Saxonism was the meeting of the Americans and Mexicans in the Southwest…” (208).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Civil Discourse

Civil Discourse is a simple concept: when someone speaks to (or messages) you, you listen, you take in their ideas, and you formulate reasoned responses and express them back. Thus, there is a dialogue that opens up and allows the free exchange of ideas. This doesn’t mean that everyone agrees and all is good. On the contrary, it means that because discussion and debate (sometimes heated) will occur, all is good. Because no one wants to simply listen to their own ideas fed back to them (unless s/he is a politician). The process that is most facilitated by Civil Discourse is the give and take of learning because you can’t learn without listening and you can’t teach by staying quiet. Civil Discourse powers the mission of this site: education through participation, which breeds unity and empowerment.

The impending demise of Civil Discourse in America can be laid at the feet of a number of loosely affiliated groups (and their dependent minded followers) that make up the more conservative thinking people in America. They labor under a few common misconceptions and avenues of illogic. These include the idea that their way of thinking is the way of the real Americans. That America is their country alone. And that anyone who doesn’t think like them is un-American. The truth is that (if we have learned anything during the life of this site) this country is an amalgamation of colonizers and colonized in various states of liberation and tyranny, hence, the need for participation, education, unity and power.

 But, those who wish to drown out the debates on how power’s been appropriated and how it’s applied take the lowest road possible, they simply try to drown out the debate with their own ideas. Try watching The O’Reilly Factor sometimes. It’s a simple equation: whoever talks loudest gets heard. There is also a reciprocal to this equation: If you do manage to speak louder, faster and meaner than the Right Wing than you are labeled as a dangerous person who is either insane or just plain kooky. This is the state of Civil Discourse today: if you play by the old rules you lose, and if you win with their rules, you lose. The truth is that those in the Right Wing are bullies who can dish it out, but they can’t take it. And when you better them in debate, they run off crying for Mama.          

This isn’t what we want or need in this country. We need to talk and work out our issues. We need to get back to a Civil Discourse. Back to the concept grounded in the tenets of our old friend the Common Good. Fox News aside, it is not a moneymaking enterprise, and it serves the people. It is the ability for debate, discussion and the acceptance of different points of view. It is the root of the old adage: “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death defending your right to say it.” It is the knowledge that you can disagree with someone and you don’t need to consider him or her an enemy that has to be verbally defeated or humiliated. As we can see from the rancorous debates across the media, it is sorely lacking in the America of today.

The Third Space: La Frontera

When Gloria Anzaldúa died, on Saturday May 15, I hoped that people would remember her as both a writer and a teacher because her work helped to give a voice and a position to Chicano/as both gay and straight. I never had the honor of meeting her, but her books opened my eyes and heart to a variety of subjects. I would like to take a personal look at one of the concepts that she championed and advanced in Chicano/a Studies that I feel is vitally important to Chicano/as as they move onto the global stage. The concept is La Frontera, or the Borderlands.

The Borderlands concept is not one that is unique to Anzaldúa. Other artists and authors have explored this liminal space between the two cultures, Mexican and American, that we inhabit. But, Anzaldúa was one of the first to describe the space as an area for those who are marginalized and excluded to grow and redefine their own identity. José Saldívar defined this space as the: “ Transfrontera contact zone…This zone is the social space for subaltern encounters, the Janus-faced border line in which peoples geopolitically forced to separate themselves now negotiate with one and other and manufacture new relations, hybrid cultures, and multiple-voiced aesthetics.” These cultural transactions define the character of the Borderlands and the Chicano/a. Thus, this permeable contact zone that stretches from Texas, through New Mexico, Arizona and finally California constantly reinterprets the nature of the Chicano/a cultural experience and reifies the liminality of the Chicano/a identity. And now through the global media of television and the internet, the Borderlands is a national and international experience. This was my personal epiphany: you can sit in Burns Oregon, Alton Illinois or Copenhagen, Denmark and if you can get Sabado Gigante on the TV, or you have access to on the web, you can experience and reify your culture as a Chicano/a.

It’s apparent that the Chicano/a (and all minorities) in America have roles and subject positions (as the subaltern, or subordinate) already predefined by the dominant culture. Gloria Anzaldúa’s gift was in presenting the Borderlands as a space for the excluded to exhibit and explore their various voices of their culture by creating their own roles and subject positions. She understood that we all are different people in different situations. The person you are at work or in school is different than the person you are to your parents or kids. Expanding the concept, you are culturally different in different circumstances. Thus, among Chicano/as you may identify as a denizen of Aztlán and an ancestor of the Mexica. To White people you will be simply a Mexican. And to your intimate friends you might be simply gay or lesbian or not. Anzaldúa’s concept of the Borderlands allowed for acceptance of this ambiguity; the ambiguity itself was seen as part of La Frontera.

Anzaldúa’s writing also provided the Chicano/a experience with exposure worldwide. Through this exposure the comparison of the Chicano/a experience with the oppressed of the world was possible. Through the scrutiny of Chicano/a Studies and Comparative Cultural Studies, we can see that the Chicano/a is not alone in the world. And this is where we as Chicano/as need to continue and expand the Chicano/a paradigm into a true global experience. We need to expand our understanding as a colonized people to the comparative understanding of the world’s colonized peoples. We must understand the “third space” that Homi Bhabha writes about in “The Location of Culture” is the same Borderlands of Anzaldúa.

In my opinion, in order to expand the Borderlands, we have to try to de-center ourselves from the paradigm presented and represented as America by the White culture where our roles and subject positions as “Mexicans” are already defined. We have to create our own positions and define them as Chicano/a no matter where we are and link up with the reality of our shared interests with other cultures worldwide. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak writes, in relation to comparative literature, that in order to study it one should be versed in at least one colonized language. The Chicano/a is bilingual (some to a less or greater extent) and bicultural by definition. So, in this paradigm, life in the Borderlands is seen as a huge plus. 

The ideas posited here are difficult propositions. But, it was Gloria Anzaldúa’s writing on the concept of the Chicano/as Borderlands has helped me take the first tentative steps towards trying to link the Chicano/a paradigm with the world’s and the redefinition of Chicano/a and American culture. For this, I thank her.

Anzaldúa, G. (1987). Borderlands La Frontera: The New Mestiza. Aunt Lute Books: San Francisco.
Anzaldúa, G. (1990). Making Faces, Making Souls: Haciendo Caras. Aunt Lute Books:
San Francisco.
Bhabha, H. (1994). The Location of Culture. Routledge: London.
Saldívar, J. (1997). Border Matters. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Spivak, G. (1993). The Question of Cultural Studies. In Simon During (Ed.) The Cultural Studies Reader pp. 172-188. Routledge: London.