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.

Our Good Life

The ten year anniversary of September 11th is tomorrow. Although that means many things (most of which I'm not going to dive into here), let's remember something: Patriot Act or not, it's pretty good to live in America.

It’s not perfect, and it’s not always easy, but it's good.

Somewhere in America, an immigrant is opening up their own business. There is a child being born. A vegetarian has unlimited food options. Women can marry each other. Someone can wear overalls to church, just because they want to.

Here in Washington, DC, many people forget about the good life, but back home in LA - a city of immigrants - there is an unshakeable feeling that life there was a privilege. For people from war-torn or broken countries, simple afternoons filled with the scent of homemade meals, fresh laundry, and laughing children is the good life.

Tranquility might not make the 6 o’clock news, but it’s the tick-tock of the new American heartland.

So, as Kanye says, throw your hands up for the good life.


Hapa Pop Show

As per usual, Brazil is beating the U.S. at its own cultural game. Hapa musician Curumin, a mixed Japanese Brazilian, gets the sound of (inter) American life right.

Curumin's music ranges from Samba Japa, which layers auto-tuned Japanese chants on modern beats, to the crunk, 90's club style Caixa Preta.

I don't know who the American equivalent of Curumin is. Who does pop like this? Where can we hear Chinese L.A., or Pilipino San Francisco, in fun young music? 

Let's get going. I want to hear it.  Cuz serious musicianship + playful mixing = la cosa nostra.


The Story of One Chinese Mother

Amy Chua has caused quite an uproar with her recent Wall Street Journal article 'Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior.' The article has garnered some 6,767 comments, and Chua has received both praise and hate mail from non-Asian Americans and Asian Americans alike.

When I first read it, I thought, "Okay. Some of this is true. And some of this has been common knowledge since the 70's. the big deal?"

I think the big deal is this, though: her overarching point - that Chinese mothers are superior - is not true. The word superior, in the piece and the title itself, comes off as 'superlative'. Yes, there are better ways to parent than others, but there is not a best way.

Having grown up in an area of greater Los Angeles that is almost half Chinese, I was raised around girls like Chua's daughters. The ones that couldn't go to sleepovers, and studied piano only after Chinese school and SAT prep classes were finished with.

Chua's parenting techniques raise smart and successful adults. But those techniques can also raise adults who don't fare well when not being given directions. Ten years out of high school, the AP and the SAT crowd has 'grown up', but for a long while there, they hadn't. High-school meet-ups during college were meetings of twenty year olds who still acted like fifteen year olds, joking about sex (that they hadn't had yet) and complaining about homework.

So her subtle suggestion that American society would be magically transformed if every child had to play the violin sounds bogus to me. It also sounds classist; not everyone needs to have a B.A. in order to be a good person.

In the end, Chua's article taught a lot of people about a world they didn't know about. And that's good. But Chua's article @font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } is exaggerated to the point where it's almost untrue; and that all but negates the power of her argument.

She sold a hyperbole in order to get a book deal.  And since misunderstanding equals media squalor and media squalor equals web hits, both she and the WSJ are profiting. But it should be seen for what it is a - a hit. It's not an overarching statement about an ethnicity, it's one statement of one (superior-feeling) mother.

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.

Obama in South Philly windowsills: Hope and Change on 11.2.2010

Just like some Latino families have faded pictures of the Virgen de Guadalupe or the Holy Family in their windowsills, some black families have pictures of the First Family in their windowsills.

On Election Day 2010, I volunteered to canvass South Philadelphia neighborhoods in order to get folks out to the polls. I saw a lot of crumbling buildings, and brownfields, but also a lot - a LOT - of images of Obama.

In South Philadelphia, Obama seemed to BE the Democratic party. "Obama needs your help - vote today!" some of the literature said. And most said they were going to. The neighborhood was economically depressed, but almost every SINGLE person I talked to - no joke - said they voted, or were on their way to vote, and knew where their polling place was. Contrary to popular belief, neighborhoods other than rich ones vote early and often.

It is, in public sector speak, an "engaged community." Here's the thing, though: being civically engaged and being served are two very different things entirely.

The Stimulus Bill was supposed to fix problems like elderly people being swindled into bad deals or out of their homes. One older man who pointed to a grassy field across the street from him and said that a developer came in there, started to build something, tore it down, and let it lie fallow. This man tried to re-model his home using that same developer, only to find later that the developer had gone bankrupt and the money he poured into improving his home had been lost forever. 

"That man robbed 51 senior citizens," he said. "And I've never seen a dime of my money back."

Residents of South Philly might "made their voices heard" at the polls, but they're just not listened to.

Which leads me to this conclusion: engagement is not enough. 

The public sector needs to check itself; dialogue and participation are no substitutes for respect.

The fairest conversations are ones in which both sides listen to each other; but politics is a blood sport.

Rick and Jon

Former CNN anchor Rick Sanchez - the one my grandma looked forward to saying, "La foto del diiiia!" every afternoon - has been fired from CNN.

Because he said what he thought.

I thought both Rick Sanchez and Jon Stewart worked networks. And that the idea of the news is a search for the truth. Rick's truth is that the sense of persecution so central to Jewish American identity is no longer relevant, as Jews hold enormous (and hard-earned!) influence over the media, academia, and finance. His truth is that the power dichotomy in America is no longer about WASP or Jew, crucifix or dreidel; it's about white vs. brown. This truth holds that you're not only not going to get into the country club, but you might get pulled over, you might be asked if you're American even if you're born here, and you might even be a victim of a hate crime. And not because your last name is Polish as opposed to British; because your skin is brown.

Jon's truth is different. And that's fine. This isn't just about "speaking truth to power"; it's about multiple truths.

Isn't journalism supposed to want all sides of a story? Isn't it supposed to not just tolerate, but welcome, dissent?