New at PRI: What does protest sound like? For this Philadelphia activist, it’s the eight-string jarana.

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Yared Portillo, center, playing with other members of Son Revoltura at the former Taquitos de Puebla on Calle 9, South Philly’s Mexican immigrant business corridor. Photo: Son Revoltura’s facebook page.

Yared Portillo, a Philadelphia community activist, has four of them: One she built from scratch; two others were secured from renowned artisans; the final one — received broken and in pieces from a friend — she carefully repaired and made whole again.

The repaired instrument isn’t a bad metaphor for the role the jarana has played in the US immigration protest movement for the past two decades. It’s a small, eight-string instrument from Veracruz, Mexico, patterned after a 16th century baroque Spanish guitar that is often confused with a ukulele.

In the hands of Chicanos or recent Mexican immigrants, the jarana — as well as the son jarocho musical form with which it is inextricably associated — energizes rallies and undergirds the chants of those who want to repair not only a broken immigration system, but the increasingly broken relationship between two nations sharing both borders and histories.

Read the rest of the article at PRI’s The World: What does protest sound like?

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I have a long form piece about deportation up at Medium …

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It looks at the deportation stories of two men: Mout Iv, who was deported to Cambodia, and César, who was deported to Mexico, after a lifetime in the United States. It also looks at the changing definition of criminal deportations over the years…

Read more here.

Let’s talk the Cubs, Tuesday’s election and stubborn hope

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Jason L. Vourvoulias

The World Series winner this year — improbably, against the odds and in defiance of a 108-year curse — is the Chicago Cubs.

My father, a lifelong Cubs fan, would have been stunned by the win. And elated. And stunned. All his wildest, most stubborn hopes were vindicated … this year.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my dad lately, and not only because of the Cubs. In his latter years my dad had become a political wonk, and he would have been riveted by this electoral season.

My father spent most of his adult life as part of multinational, corporate America. He rose through the ranks of Ray-O-Vac Company (at that time part of the multinational ESB), first in Mexico, then in Madison, and onto Thailand and Guatemala. He came to Philadelphia (where the international division had its offices in one of the Penn Towers) in 1975, to work as a vice president in charge of Latin American operations. Ultimately he led a management buyout of the international division and became CEO and chairman of the board of the resulting corporation.

My dad believed in corporate America, and he was loyal to it. He also believed in the Republican Party. He was a fiscal and social conservative — the quintessential first-generation American who had “bootstrapped” himself into success. And though he lived most of the first 48 years of his life “overseas,” he made sure to vote in every election. Most notably (at least for his liberal kids who never let him forget it), he voted for Nixon rather than JFK.

He loved being an American citizen in the way so many first-generation folks do — exuberantly and unabashedly.

My brothers and I were all born outside of the U.S. (Mexico, Thailand and Guatemala) but my dad made sure we were all American citizens  from birth (by jus sanguinis which accords nationality on the basis of a parent’s citizenship rather than birth place) because, he believed, why would anyone NOT want to be a citizen of this great nation?

So you are thinking right about now that my father, were he still alive, would be a Donald Trump supporter.

Not so fast.

“My father was a refugee’s son,” wrote my brother Alberto, in a brilliant and beautiful column published in June of this year at Fox News Latino. “Born in the U.S., he was proud to serve his country. […] in a frontline regiment with blacks and whites, Latinos and Asians, children of immigrants and children of the native-born. For him, this mosaic was the strength and promise of America.”

A mosaic which Trump has sought to pull apart at every turn of this campaign. Mexican Americans, Muslim Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans, immigrants and refugees  — time and again Trump has contrived (in word and proposed policy) to diminish and “otherize” the manifold greatness of America.

My father would have agreed with those who say that Trump knows nothing of real sacrifice: Refugees trying any way they can to keep their children alive; folks who have lost loved ones serving in the armed forces; he doesn’t even understand the sacrifice of veterans who have withstood torture and lived years as P.O.W.s… All of them have been fodder for hateful characterization and derision from Trump.

Trump knows nothing of the kind of hope that draws from the wellspring of love rather than hate.

He certainly knows nothing of the hope and promise of America that prompted a young man to serve his nation in two wars; that gave him the drive to go to college on the G.I. bill; that got him through jobs so ill-paid some weeks he could only afford to eat bread; that taught him to scrimp and save so someday he might be able to afford a radio on which to listen to a ballgame …

My father was targeted as an American while he was working for Ray-O-Vac in Guatemala, and was kidnapped. The details are terrifying, and throughout the time he was held his kidnappers made clear to him that my mother (a fierce and amazing Mexican-Guatemalan who would have been especially infuriated by Trump’s vitriol against immigrants and his entitled attitude toward women) and my brothers and I were next.

My father told me years later that he didn’t have time to despair while he was held, he was too busy trying to figure out what he needed to do to negotiate his release so he could whisk us all to safety. My father’s hope was as stubborn and resilient as he was — no kidnapped American had been released alive during that time in Guatemala — and, remarkably, he eventually succeeded. He managed to convince his kidnappers to release him and  for the ransom to be paid over a 12-month period. He also talked them into cutting the ransom by a third. (When I hear Trump describe himself as a wonderful businessman, I can’t help but think his negotiation skills have never truly been tested.)

Despite the ordeal I never heard my father speak of his kidnappers in the foul and hateful terms Trump has used to describe citizen and non-citizen, public figure and private, colleague and ally, during this electoral season.

Later in life, when board upheaval ousted my father as CEO of the company he had bought out and an equivalent position was slow to emerge, my father took on jobs at Wawa and Target to be able to pay bills and to fulfill his financial responsibilities to the country he loved and believed in.

Others were embarrassed for him, but he was not. He believed there was dignity in all work, and he witnessed that his coworkers labored as hard and as loyally at their low-income jobs as his executive colleagues did in their more exalted positions. By the time he returned to his next CEO position, he had reluctantly become a Democrat — because his beloved Republicans seemed out of touch with the economic challenges and realities of so many Americans.

My father would have been horrified that Trump has not only deliberately avoided paying income taxes that sustain everything from our nation’s armed forces to education to a fraying safety net, but that the billionaire business magnate has repeatedly welched on paying hard-working, ordinary people for the work they’ve performed for him.

I think most people are more like my father than like Trump.

I believe most of us will choose to act honorably rather than dishonorably when it comes to our obligations to our fellow citizens, and to the America we love.

And during those moments when I panic that the upcoming election may be as much of a nailbiter as the final game of the World Series was, I imagine my father as a young man in Chicago, listening to the Cubs game on his precious radio.

He never gave up on his wild, stubborn hope for the best.

And neither do I.

I believe most of us will vote against hate.

I hope we will.

I come by that honestly.

City & State PA: Immigration’s impact as seen through a trip to the supermarket

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When my parents moved us from Guatemala City to Chester County in the mid-1970s, we were the first Latino family to move into our neighborhood – and, undoubtedly, the first people to chatter with each other in Spanish at the annual oxtail roast at the local firehouse.

The area we moved to was rural, within hailing distance of the towns of Downingtown, Coatesville and Exton, and my mother haunted the supermarkets in each of them, searching for a way to make frijoles volteados, the refried black beans that are part of every Guatemalan meal. It is hard to imagine now, but those stores didn’t stock black beans back then. My mother resorted to scouring the canned soups, looking for Campbell’s black bean soup, with which she could (ingeniously and magically) replicate a passable version of the bean dish she used to call “the Guatemalan caviar.”

But had my mother lived long enough, she would have witnessed a sea change on those Chesco supermarket shelves. Because even more than the sudden (and gratifying) proliferation of small ethnic food shops, there is no easier way to mark demographic changes than by walking into a “general interest” supermarket and noting what is offered in its produce section.

Read the rest of this column at City and State PA.

Two of my recent op-eds

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Coffee and fear: An American story

One of the workers at the coffee shop I stop at every morning looks up at me, worry etched on her features.

“What have you heard about the redadas?” she asks.

I’ve just written an editorial about the DHS-ICE raids that, since Jan. 2, have targeted Central American immigrant families with final deportation orders.

“121 people have been apprehended so far,” I tell her. “In Georgia, Texas and North Carolina….”

Elisa (*) shakes her head. “But what have you heard about ICE raids yesterday on 18th and Pine? Or 15th and Spruce?” she insists.

Center City. Not far from where we’re having the conversation.

I can’t answer, I have no information, but it strikes me that I’ve completely misread the expression on her face. It isn’t anything as tame as worry.

It’s terror.

Read the rest here.

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Rubio’s story is the American dream. His policies are an immigrant’s nightmare

The more cynical among us might poke fun at, and poke holes into, the idea of “the American Dream” in this era of unprecedented inequality. But the majority of Latino millennials still believe in it, according to a 2014 study contrasting Latino millennials to their non-Latino counterparts.

And much as it pains me to say it, Marco Rubio tells the American Dream – child of immigrants; working class childhood; scholarship and community college; law school; marriage and children; an imperfect but aspirational career – story better than any other presidential hopeful currently in contention.

Read more here.