Payment, Please

Except for international policy and governance bodies like the State Department and the Woodrow Wilson Center, no one was really talking about the Sixth Summit of the Americas, which was held this year in Cartagena, Colombia.
Now, after the story broke that the US Secret Service had hired Colombian prostitutes – and just did so almost immediately after landing in Colombia - everyone is talking about Summit of the Americas.
And what are they exactly discussing? The fact that things didn’t go as usual. 
Let’s be real: the story didn’t break because high-level US security officers engaged in this illegal act – it broke because one of the prostitutes didn’t get paid for said illegal act. By logical deduction, if things had happened as usual (if the women had been hired and all been paid) the story would have never leaked, and the great majority of the American public would never known how normal this is.

So, here’s to disruption. The disruptive phone call. Not, “Said officer did something illegal,” but, “Said officer did something illegal, and this time, I’m calling him out on it.”   

Living on the Day of the Dead

In this week's fantastic Alt Latino show on NPR, the first song they play is La Bruja/The Witch, in which the signer cries, "Oh, how beautiful it is to fly/At two in the morning/ At two in the morning, how beautiful it is to fly, ay, mama".

He's flying with a witch.

A hot witch.

The beautiful thing about Day of the Dead is its sex appeal - the Day of the Dead, or All Souls Day, is about celebrating the duality of life. It's about creation, and also about destruction. It embraces the two sides of existence, and in it, the poetry of existence itself. The Day of the Dead is about staring life down to the end of the road, and smiling.

The holiday is a glorious whirl of marigolds and miel; but this year, with as much death as there is in the Americas, and particularly in Mexico and Central America (where it is celebrated the strongest), it has a different tone. The drug wars in Mexico have turned it into a pais de lloronas, in the literal sense.

It might be easy to let death have the final word; to just give in, and fly with it. Let it slowly lessen the value of life, and overshadow its glow.

That's the lazy option, and it's the wrong one.

The harder one is to get on with the business of living. We know we respect the dead, and that the dead respect us. But let's also have a little more respect for the living, - and live it like we mean it.

Let's make policies and communities that are life-affirming. Start by signing this Washington Office on Latin America petition to stop the arms smuggling that's driving so much death in Mexico by clicking here. Solo faltan 300 - they only need 300 more.

As the famous Los Fabulosos Cadillacs song Skeletons and Devils/Calaveras y Diablitos, reminds us:

Las tumbas son para los muertos...
Graves are for the dead
La vida es para gozarla
Life is about living well
La vida es para vivirla mejor.
Life is about living it better and better all the time.

The Feminista Mystique: What Would JLo Do?

Positive thinking is all the rage these days. Everyone from Joel Osteen to Suzie Orman to your neighborhood pothead tells you It's Your Time! Stand in Your Truth! Don't Worry, Be Happy!
These mantras are the 21st century versions of the WWJD wristbands of the 90's. Although I didn't wear them then, if I did now, instead of asking about what Jesus would do, why not ask myself...what would JLo do?!
Maybe the best way to live like Jesus is actually to live like JLo: validate yourself to keep doing whatever it is you're doing, and do it well. 

How did she do this? Ironically enough, by having no shame: she publicly burned through multiple marriages, flaunts her gigantic ass, and arrives at awards ceremonies in a see-through peacock robe. She made her performing weakness - singing - her emphasis, and keeps singing in front of thousands of people even though her voice cracks. The melody of "Get on the Floor" is stolen from a 1980's lambada song, and the outfits are glittery versions of footsie pajamas.

But by the looks of it, she - as Tina Fey writes in Bossypants - doesn't “...[expletive] care if you like it!” Her lack of shame is what makes her a feminist and has made her a success. Instead of falling into the female trap of self-punishment for not being perfect, she accepts her flaws and keeps it moving. Instead of hiding her hips, she got them insured for a million dollars. 

Instead of shame, she has swagger - that je-ne-sais-JLo  that took her from back up dancer to millionaire mother, all on her terms.
So similar to how songstress Demi Lovato has 'Stay Strong' tattooed on her wrists, I wrote a makeshift tattoo reminding myself of the power of La Yenifer. She reminds us that whatever it is we do, we, at the end of the day, are doin' it well.


Castizo Closets

It's confirmed: Arnold Schwarzenegger's "love child" is half Mexican. Given that he slept with a member of his domestic household staff, I figured that the woman was Latina, and turns out she is. Mildred Patricia Baena, to be exact. Somewhere in Southern California a certain Chicano kid has been smirking on the couch while his friends unknowingly joked, "I'll be back!".
While it's disappointing, a high-level politician cheating on his wife is too normal to really be newsworthy. (After all, nearly all high-level politicos from DC to CA - Bill Clinton, John Edwards, Gavin Newsom, Antonio Villaraigosa - have checked that box.) What is newsworthy is how old-school this is.
Schwarzenegger having a love-child with his Mexican maid is straight 19th century. It's casta California, a color-based caste and power system in which European landowners often had children with indigenous women who worked in or around their homes. That's the mission system every California 3rd grader has to re-create with styrofoam as a class project. While Anglo settlers rejected this loose, Latin American social system that allowed for racial mixing, it's a deeply ingrained idea in California's subconscious.
And is perhaps even more so now, because NAFTA has turned the best intentions of both the Minute Men and the reconquista (reconquest) activists on their heads: American corporations have rendered Mexico economically uninhabitable, pushing hundreds of thousands of Mexican nationals back into what was Northern Mexico just 150 years ago.
Who knew that of all people, Republicans would make the reconquista real. California is half Mexican now, and its "centrist" governor has sealed the deal.
In californio California, people wouldn't have blinked if a blond governor had a dark-haired son in the figurative closets of his large estate. Maybe Arnold's most famous line is really the voice of casta California: I'll be back!

Surviving in Nicaragua

I've been debating whether or not to write this. I sort of don't want to be the Lefty complainer that says, "Why is a TV show about Americans surviving in Nicaragua dope when no one films the 4 million Nicaraguans who worry about surviving...every day?"

But I'm going to anyway.

My Nicaraguan friends and family are glad that Survivor did a series in Nicaragua. After all, it did bring visibility and some tourism dollars to a country that needs both. It's the second poorest country in the hemisphere, next to Haiti. (Gulp.)

But surviving on this show is interesting because it's optional. And hardship is durable because it's temporary. If the West wants a real reality show, they should do a documentary on everyday Nicaraguan life.

Ten Ways to Tell You’re in a Latino House

1) People will not let their bare feet touch the floor. They wear flip flops on carpet. While wearing socks.
2) The whole house smells like Fabuloso.
3) The bakeware is kept in the oven itself.
4) There’s whole milk in the fridge.
5) There are more than two pictures or statuettes of Jesus or the Virgin Mary in the house.
6) The newest electronic in the house is the TV. And it’s huge.
7) Univision is on TV, but no one is watching it. They're just listening to it.
8) There are early risers in the house.
9) Most food products say 'Goya'.
10) The residents of the house are both better looking and have better judgment than the idiots on Univision in the background.

On Gentry, and Gentrification

The Fenty vs. Gray mayoral race here in Washington, D.C. has brought to light old feelings about the g-word. That word that every city planner, journalist, and city resident cringes at: gentrification.

The big-G banks on the idea that Gentry - folks with new Masters degrees, a new job, and a big checkbook - will line up to buy condos that cost as much or more than a home would, all for the charm of living in the city. It banks on all of the Gentry choosing not to move into or in some cases moving out of the suburbs into inner cities and in doing so transforming (read = eradicating) either poor or struggling neighborhoods.

The idea sounds gross, and the practice is by and large gross. But it's also more complicated than we think.

The Gentry that the fancy new "multi-use" housing developments are built for don’t really exist. None of those structures have offered a return on the investment needed to build them; hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into them, yet development upon development lays unoccupied. Half-finished. Failed.

And that’s because middle class people - not the upper class Gentry - are the ones moving into big cities across America. These people are assumed to be Gentry, but they're not. The Left howled and whined when the new commercial development in Columbia Heights was built here in Washington, D.C., claiming that the area's residents, mostly Latino, couldn't afford Target, a gym, Best Buy, or...Payless. That turns out to be untrue; that Target (the Macy's of the masses) is the only store in the District that is actually diverse in terms of race and class, and that Washington Sports Club is the only one in the District to have a sizable amount of Central American immigrants as members.

While it was well-intentioned, the Left's argument there was actually a racist one; Latinos are seen as "disadvantaged" American consumers only because they are assumed to be so. But when businesses come to their area, Latinos participate like any other consumers.

And so works the "invisible hand" of the market:  the consumer base for Target is large, as Target is low-priced, but the consumer base for half a million dollar lofts is very small. And amongst the young hipster adults moving into cities, it's even smaller. I mean, let's face it: hipsters are broke as f***. They make property values go up as people move in to try to live like them, but they themselves can't keep up with those prices.

What made a dirty port city known for manufacturing, shipping, and schlepping into the "New York City" of Carrie Bradshaw-awe are the broke-ass artists and writers who defined Broadway, the Village, and Brooklyn from very small, rented rooms. The big new lofts of Williamsburg, NY and the Arts District in Downtown LA were built for (hipster) Gentry, but the hipsters who create work there can't afford them. (And if they can afford a $400,000 condo, then they're not hipsters. They're attorneys in skinny jeans.)

I have friends in Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C. who had to get on affordable housing lists to buy a "gentrified" condo because "people like them" (read = college grads) were assumed to be able to make those price points, but in real life, "people like them" who work in non-profits make less than plumbers and elevator repairmen.

Plumbers and elevator repairmen buy homes in the suburbs whose prices aren't over ninety percent dependent on subsidies, loans, or the kind of ballooned mortgage structure that caused the housing collapse in the first place.

So while the Gentry do gentrify, loft by loft, they don't in the kinds of large numbers needed to make the policies of people like Mayor Fenty even work. When Fenty catered to those he thought wanted to improve the city by "gentrifying" it, he was actually catering to nobody. The Gentry bought cheap in quiet ol' Virginia, and those who vote early and often in the District live along the Anacostia River.