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Latinx: The New Force in American Politics – Book Review

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Mural by Rosalia Torres Weiner at Gateways/Portales exhibit at Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum

Before discussing Ed Morales’ new book, it’s important to define what its title means.  ‘Latinx’ is the gender-neutral terms for people of Latin American heritage.  Latino, the traditionally used term, is, by its Spanish definition, masculine.  Thus, many people feel that it’s an exclusionary term that associates Latin American people with men, by default.

LATINX is, unsurprisingly, a book about the politics and history of the plethora of Latinx identities, which extends well into the Middle Ages.  Morales starts off the book by relating the beginnings of Spanish identity, when what is now Spain was a Muslim colony called Al-Andalus.  Muslim Moors (or Berbers) from northern Africa conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula in the 700s, a land inhabited by Catholics and some Jews.  Morales writes about the complex relationship between these three groups and how the Moorish dynasty helped form the Spanish ethnicity that we know today.

In 1492, the Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella forced out the Moorish dynasty (as well as the native Jews) and, ironically, set out their own colonial expedition the same year.  Christopher Columbus, rumored to be a Jew himself, thus started the transplant of the Spanish identity onto almost all of Central and South America, what we now call Latin America.

Morales follows this historical progression in the following chapters of LATINX.  The Spaniards brought the ethnic hang-ups that they had leftover from the Moorish regime with them to the Americas.  They enslaved the natives under the encomienda system and established a racial hierarchy called mestizaje.  Morales writes that the, “Spaniards and Portuguese inherited the historical roots of racist views towards sub-Saharan Africans through their intimate connection with [Moorish] Islam customs, cultures & practices.  Muslim practices of enslavement divided slaves between field and housework according to skin color.  Lighter skinned slaves were favored over the darker skinned.”  The nature of Spanish colonialism, in which swarms of male conquistadores held all the land/power and enforced the racial hierarchy by taking native wives, created the famously sexist machista culture, which persists in Latin America to this day.

Importantly, Morales makes sure to write about Florida and the American Southwest (Aztlan), which most people forget belonged to the Spanish Empire for a couple centuries.  In a paradigm-shifting bit of trivia, the author places, “the origin of the American cowboy in the 1850s, when a group led by Jose de Escandon crossed the Rio Grande to collaborate with Richard King, who founded the King Ranch.”  By restating this history, he’s demonstrating that Latinx are as American as anyone, having occupied and culturally shaped what is now the USA for as long as the country has existed.  This runs quite contrary to what many American nationalists claim today, with their foreign invasion/clash of cultures rhetoric.

Morales then writes about the modern Latinx-American citizenry in the final, bulkiest section of the book.  A major topic is how Latinx view themselves.  The Latinx self-paradigm is shaped by nationality, religion and different notions of ‘race’.  The author notes that,  “The US developed a racial matrix based on strict separation of races, rather than adopting the relatively fluid models of Iberian colonization, which engaged in a kind of exponential racial variation through both forced and negotiated miscegenation.”  Latinx living in the US must internalize and externalize different ethnic identities when interacting with Caucasian, Asian, African, Native and Latinx communities.  For instance, being black (negro/negra) in Latin America has some very different cultural permutations than being black in the US.

The book is particularly focused on Cuban-Americans, Chicanos and Puerto Ricans (who are Americans, by definition).  These three ethnicities have been closely tied to the US ever since the Mexican-American War, in which the US annexed half of Mexico, and the Spanish-American War, in which the US seized Cuba and Puerto Rico.  Cuban-Americans, Chicanos and Puerto Ricans have had a huge impact on American electoral politics and culture, especially music.  Morales writes a lot about the entwinement of politics in Latinx salsa, rock, jazz and hip-hop.  Readers are also treated to many excerpts from Latinx poems and essays.  Though, the book gives a not-so-fun fact about Latinx in Hollywood: only 1% of lead roles in movies are given to Latinx actors!

American cultural hegemony over Latinx is also explored in the book.  It explores how Latinx, particularly first-generation migrants, have been politically and economically encumbered.  Latinx are mostly treated as objects by Democrats and Republicans alike, rather than as constituents.  Politicians pander to either xenophobia or milquetoast platitudes about equality.  Small wonder Latinx vote at a disproportionately low rate.  As a result, Latinx are severely underserved not just on the immigration issue, but matters of employment, education and countless other issues.

As the book’s subtitle suggests though, this is starting to change, just from sheer demographic changes.  ‘Latino’ is now the 2nd most commonly given ethnicity in the US Census, behind ‘White’.  About 60% of Latinx are millenials or younger; thus, they will come to exert an ever-increasing influence of the labor market and pop cultural mores (Cardi B, anyone?).  Latinx also have a disproportionately high purchasing power, $1.4T, and social media presence.  Morales illuminates the multi-billion dollar efforts to market to this young constituency, such as the NBC-owned Telemundo television network and countless focus groups.

Though Latinx have under-utilized their voting power thus far, their population boom alone is making them more of a factor in elections.  They disproportionately populate the biggest Electoral College states, such as New York and California, and swing states like Florida and Arizona.  Pundits have spent many a segment extolling the Latinx voter bloc.  Even the Republican National Committee recommended doing voter outreach to Latinos after Romney’s 2012 loss (guess Donald Trump never got the memo).  Morales writes about Latinx voter enrollment efforts and misconceptions about Latinx social conservatism, particularly among the famous Cuban-Floridian voting bloc.

Latinx: The New Force In American Politics is a thorough look at the history of the group of people called ‘Hispanic’ and ‘Latino’.  The effects of colonialism and banana republic neo-colonialism on people living in Latin America- and those who migrated to the US as a result- are exposed.  The Latinx experience has been one of both cultural immersion and subversion of multinational power structures, such as racism and labor exploitation.  There is no monolithic Latinx archetype- Latin America is a mix of Caucasians, natives, Africans, Middle Easterners and Asians.  Though nominally Christian, worshippers in countries across the hemisphere have incorporated indigenous icons and beliefs, such as the Virgin of Guadeloupe and Santeria.  Such diversity challenges American perceptions of Latinx and the racial hierarchy as a whole.  Ed Morales exposes these contradictions through history, data, poetry and personal anecdotes from his Nuyorican upbringing.

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Americas

Russia in Venezuela

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Russia´s interests and presence in Latin America is not new. We should remember Russian activities in Cuba during the Cold War, which almost generated a nuclear war between Moscow and Washington. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it was quite clear that Central and South America were not among the top priorities of the Russian Federation.

Anyway, at the beginning of the 21st century Russia returned to that region and Venezuela and other Chavist anti-imperialist (mainly understood as anti-American) populist governments were eager to deep their diplomatic, economic and military relations with Moscow.

From the Russian side we can identify a general objective, which is to gain influence in Latin America at the expense of the United States and a particular one: to secure lucrative economic opportunities in the oil and gas sectors.

A marriage of convenience between Venezuela and Russia was born at that time. Moreover, it lasts until today.

In the case of Venezuela, after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the reduction of the international oil prizes and the mismanagement of the national economy generated a crisis that began as economic, then social and finally political.

In this situation of institutional weakness, foreign powers as Russia, China, and the United States intended to gain influence and to get benefits for their companies. However, since Maduro continued its anti-American rhetoric were mainly Russian and Chinese companies those that obtained the lion´s share. It is important to note that according to international studies Venezuela has larger oil proven resources than Saudi Arabia, which helps to understand the interest of those extra regional powers in that south American country.

The regional and international pressure on Maduro´s government and the growing domestic opposition lead to a political and economic isolation of Venezuela. As a consequence of that the government increased its dependence on Russia and China.

Russian oil and gas companies are very active in Venezuela and the main interest of Putin´s administration is to secure their interests and protect their investments. More than investments, Venezuela is highly indebted to Moscow and Beijing since during the last five years those two countries were the only external creditors to Maduro´s government.

Behind the so-called strategic partnership, there is pure economic and geopolitical interest.

The main problem that face Russia (and China) is how to convince to the Venezuelan opposition, headed by Juan Guaidó, to recognize their position in the case of changes on the government. Due to the determined support received from Washington it is not clear that Moscow and Beijing will get what they want. Washington want a new beginning, to begin from scratch and not any kind of compensation or share with Russia and China. From our perspective, those are extreme positions (Russia and China from one side and United States on the other side) and diplomatic channels could open the ground for negotiations and compensations.

Russia´s deployment of troops has to do with media more than with a military need. We can argue that those forces are there to protect Russian interests (Russian infrastructure and investments) not Maduro´s government.

Any military clash would be hard to sustain for Russia due to the impossibility to maintain a logistic chain and the financial costs involved. It is more rational to consider the deployment of troops as an insurance for its interests and a leverage for any potential negotiation.

At that moment, nor the United States nor any other South American country (mainly Colombia and Brazil) is eager to a violent regime change in Venezuela and a military intervention. If Washington (and Guaidó) recognize the interests of Russia and China, Maduro´s government will lose its main political and economic supporters and will be open to a transition. In the meantime, the Venezuelan people is trying to survive. Venezuela has generated more refugees than Syria. Just to note it.

Russia’s deployment of troops in Venezuela has caused a new standoff between the U.S. and Russia with the U.S. accusing Russia of intervening in Venezuela’s internal affairs. But is the U.S. really in the “moral high ground” of such accusation given its history of intervening?

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Americas

The Only Way To Solve America’s Immigration Border Crisis Without Losing Its Humanity

Rahul D. Manchanda, Esq.

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The United States of America is under unprecedented turmoil these days over its border crisis problem with Mexico, more with the political forces at work both for, and against, erecting a wall, cracking down and jailing and removing illegal aliens, giving more authority to local law enforcement to work with federal law enforcement in these efforts, as well as more scrutiny and hammering down of immigration applications of all types.

Truly there is a fury of activity within the United States with allegations of “racism” and “xenophobia” being thrown around, responded to with “national security” and “safety” being hurled back.

There doesn’t seem to be an end in sight because the Republicans and the Democrats are locked in a fight to the death, with neither side willing to budge or even negotiate a way out of this mess.

Suffice it to say that one of the main origins of this now boiling over immigration border crisis lay with the people that elected Donald Trump to be President – more commonly known as “Nationalists,” or “America Firsters.”

These people are characterized as being staunchly against Globalism, or Internationalism, and share many commonalities with their cousins across the Atlantic in the United Kingdom, otherwise known as the supporters of “Brexit,” who wanted to pull away from both the European Union and the globe in general.

But the problem lies in the fact that for at least the past 70 years, the United States and Europe have literally operated on an “Ordo Ab Chao” (“Order out of Chaos”) approach, destroying and starving other nations and their sovereignty with outright war, terrorism, election overturning, sanctions or just cutting them off from the global economy.

The “blowback” of these interventionist policies of the past 70 years has resulted in incidents such as September 11 and other terrorist acts in its most violent form, but also in mass illegal immigration as another form of blowback, albeit much less violent but still just as disruptive to the economy, safety, health, and cohesion of the United States.

This is also happening in Europe wherein the people of those countries that they destroyed, are now flowing back into theirs, through the millions of refugees created by the unforgivable, wilful, wanton, and intentional destruction of their infrastructure, waterways, electrical grids, arable land, cities, hospitals, schools, everything.

One of the major reasons that the Establishment in both America and Europe were so vehemently against the Presidency of Donald Trump, or the people behind Brexit, is because they were still not finished with that “Ordo” portion of the phrase, only finished with the “Chao” part, wherein they were still right in the middle of massive project finance, foreign loans through the World Bank and IMF, public and private massive investment and international business, as well as other mechanisms designed to replace foreign nations with leaders, infrastructure, and cultures that were more amenable and in line with this Establishment.

Now that Trump is in office, he has surrounded himself with other like-minded people who simply don’t care about the thousands of private and public international agreements, treaties, loans, funding, relationships, or understandings by and between the U.S. and foreign nations/leaders, and simply thinks that these countries can either “take care of themselves,” “save their own people,” “pay their fair share,” and other isolationist principals – but in reality, after 70 years spent destroying those nations and making them promises, this type of abrupt “cutting off” policy, while disallowing them to enter or do business with the USA, is nothing short of a slow motion genocide of the world’s people.

To that end we as a nation, if we are to begin to solve this endless illegal alien immigration crisis, must bite the bullet and forge/build relationships (and even provide funding) to those nations where the majority of these people are coming from, so that this sieve is turned off, as much as possible.

Merely building a wall, while turning away or denying all immigrants their basic human rights, is simply not enough.

The USA (and Europe) has had a significant role in destroying those nations from where these illegal immigrants have come from, and must do more to assist those nations in controlling their own “emigrant” problem, so that the USA (and Europe) does not have to.

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Election News this Week as Assange Goes to Jail

Dr. Arshad M. Khan

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The depressing Israeli election is over — a choice between the right and the hard right.  No room for Israeli Arabs or Palestinians who were encouraged to stay away in this “only democracy” in the Middle East.  Of course, Egypt tried to be a real one, but the result was not to its paymaster’s liking.  What can the Palestinians do?  Well, they are not going to get any help from the present Republican occupant of the White House and good chum of Netanyahu.  The latter trying to erase Arab identity through Israel’s new and notorious nation-state law can only work with a manageable Arab population.  Doubtless the Palestinians are aware the best course for them is demographics, as in South Africa.

Another election is underway, this time in India with its colossal 900 million electorate.  Narendra Modi, close buddy of Netanyahu, and fellow nation-state afficionado probably wants a similar declaration where instead of a land for Jews, he wants a land for Hindus — correction, upper-caste Hindus — or a true Hindustan.

Unfortunately for him, the economy is in a mess and his economic growth plan has worked about as well as how the rest of his ideas did in recent history.  Think of 1930s Germany.  Lucky for him he faces an ineffective opposition leader.  India is a parliamentary democracy, so voters will choose representatives to the legislature where the majority will pick the prime minister.

When farmers are angry with low crop prices, the young are facing high unemployment and the economy has lost its high pace of expansion, what is one to do?  There’s always the bogeyman, Pakistan, although its leader a former sportsman keeps talking peace.  No matter, Narendra Modi wants it to be a threat and recalls the ‘success’ of his military adventure that violated past norms — India lost two fighter planes, a pilot who was captured and returned, and a bomb that fell in a forest area (to which reporters were taken recently), but Modi’s successes are defined by him.

As long ago as the 18th century, Samuel Johnson described the situation with his usual brevity when he said, ‘Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’   In our modern world, the latter is a politician.

To the land of India’s former masters, and Johnson’s too, we have Theresa May the Prime Minister back from a trip to the EU meeting principal leaders.  Germany was kind, France a little less.  In any case, she received a deadline extension to October 31, more than she asked for as she wishes to avoid the EU elections on May 23.  Not much has changed other than her attempts to seek help from the Labor opposition.  If the voting groups in Parliament have not changed, what can we expect?  Hence, the distinct possibility of another referendum.

Also in England and in a blow to whistleblowers, Julian Assange was ejected from the Ecuadorian embassy and arrested by London police.  He was later found guilty of failure to surrender to the court in 2012.  One might recall, Sweden wanted him for a sexual assault charge and the U.S. still wants to try him for ‘conspiring to access classified information’ which can put him in jail for five years.

This is the charge being used by the U.S. to ease extradition.  Other charges like spying and being a foreign agent can put him behind bars for many years more but have been purposely avoided because of British skepticism of American justice.

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