Monthly Archives: June 2009

Pres. Obama Speaks @ National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast

…about immigration reform:

I am very pleased that President Obama spoke at this National Hispanic Prayer Breakfast because it casts light onto a promising strategy that seems to be developing and that I have been advocating for quite a few years now: get faith/religious groups and their powerful message and organized constituency to be more actively involved in the fight to push for a more humane immigration policy and to combat the alarming hate speech & violence that is emanating from extremist right-wing news outlets like Fox News or radio talk personalities like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. 

HOWEVER, I am a litle troubled about President Obama’s statement that “we are a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants” … yes, that should be theoretically true-but such wording just reinforces the same falsehoods: that the immigration “issue” is purely about “legality” when in reality it has to do first and foremost with POVERTY.  The President goes on to say that “we can’t tolerate people that come in violation of the law just like we can’t tolerate employers who exploit undocumented workers to drive down wages.”  I get what he’s doing strategically to make sure he’s speaking not only to the Hispanic audience but to those that will view his speech online and do not necessarily understand that the “problem of illegal immigration” is a HUMANITARIAN crisis.  I get it.  However, I can’t help but feel an emotional reaction to it and I gotta say, his focus on the “legality” aspect without a mention of the “poverty” aspect does anger me a bit.  The President should know better than that.   

Nevertheless, I am also very pleased that Obama highlighted the service of Latinos and Latinas serving proudly in the U.S. Military-while that career choice is not for everyone, it is nevertheless, something that MUST be acknowledged and honored-specially because most of the in-English corporate media hardly mentions nor honors their service.  This falls in line with what typically happens: instead of recognizing the Latino contribution to making this country great, the mainstream media oftentimes just chooses to demonize Latinos and that is a slap in the face to us all.

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Filed under Economic Refugees, Framing, Immigration, Political, Religion, Spirituality

Iran’s & Mexico’s Election Fraud

Film "Fraude Mexico 2006" Documents Mexico's Presidential Election Fraud

Film "Fraude Mexico 2006" Documents Mexico's Presidential Election Fraud

With all this talk about Iran’s election fraud and twittering requests to paint your profile picture to “green”, I can’t help but feel like I have been down this path before with Mexico. Non-Mexicans might not be aware that there were charges of election fraud back in that country’s 2006 election. This would not be surprising being that it was pretty much passed over or blacked out by the in-English media here in the U.S. Granted, back in 2006 there was no twitter craze like we got right now and so we didn’t have Mexicans twittering away up-to-the-minute updates like their Iranian counterparts are doing right now. However, even then, I wonder if the election fraud in Mexico would be covered by the news media like it is being covered with Iran right now. I mean, God forbid that the news media in this country would actually portray the Mexican people as actual human beings, fighting back against the oppressive powers-that-be.

Speaking of, last September at the Los Angeles Latino Film Festival, I was fortunate enough to catch a film that documented the election fraud that took place in the 2006 Mexican elections. The movie was VERY well attended and the people that watched it were definitely, like me, passionate about this subject. I believe that for many Mexicans both living abroad and IN Mexico, this fraud will never be forgotten. Prior to the movie, there was an older couple that came with a banner chanting “es un honor estar con Obrador!” (it IS an honor to stand with Obrador!”) [the Presidential candidate of the progressive coalition]. Then during the film there was a lot of applause for Obrador and a lot of booing for Mexico’s “traitors”: Vicente Fox (former Mexican President), Calderon (current Mexican President), and Salinas de Gortari (also former Mexican President). At the end of the film, the film’s director answered some questions from the audience and he was thanked many times for putting this film together. It was truly emotional.

What was more touching, perhaps, was Obrador’s words during the film. He is, for the first time, seen without the filters of the Mexican mainstream media that manipulated his words to make him look like a crazy left-wing radical. Obrador explains his reasoning for protesting, along with admissions of his mistakes, and declarations of ultimately being a pacifist. What was most inspiring was his refusal to accept the fraud travesty. He himself explains that to become an opposition party and accept the false results would be to tacitly support the fraud itself. He declares that in order to do something about it, everyone needed to change their mindsets: hence the protests, hence his current grassroots organizing efforts, hence his ongoing claims to the Presidency. For those of us that are U.S. citizens, one can’t help but admire his courage because that could not, unfortunately, be said for how Gore and Kerry reacted. Gore and Kerry both accepted the arguably fraudulent results at the culmination of their electoral campaigns. One wonders what could’ve been if Gore and Kerry had been more forceful in their challenges or lack-thereof to the electoral results.

For a recap of what happened in the 2006 Mexican elections, I encourage to check out the following piece that I was able to pull out from my personal 2006 archives over at Project Economic Refugee from:

Wednesday, July 12th, 2006

Florida Con Salsa: Investigative Reporter Greg Palast Reports on Voter Fraud in Mexico’s Presidential Election

I remember being so excited about the Mexican elections because it looked like Mexico was going to get a President that was going to truly work for the people (something that had not happened in decades) rather than by just the corporatist elite. Then I watched with amazement something that was all-too familiar to me: the series of events that almost exactly mirrored what happened here in the U.S. in 2000 and 2004. It was eerily too much of a coincedence: people being kicked off voting rolls, demonizing the non-right wing condidate as some sort of leftist radical, the media declaring that the people had “voted their values” (yes I actually heard this in the Spanish speaking media), numbers being flipped in the ballots and in the digital vote count to favor the right-wing candidate, the supreme court ruling for a partial vote count but not the entire one, finding evidence of fraud and yet still deciding in favor of the right-wing candidate, etc. Truly and utterly disgusting.

Yet, I’ve seen time and again how the non-Latino population of the U.S. will, in a very ignorant manner, ask angrily something similar to this: “well if the Mexican people are so damn desperate that they have to flee their own country, why in the hell do they NOT do something to fix their own government instead of coming here?” Obviously, they are not aware of the myriad of things that many millions of courageous Mexicans have tried to do throughout history to improve their own conditions. Point in case, is the uprising of protests that took place in 2006 when election fraud was apparently perpetuated to install a right-wing President to continue the NAFTA-like economic policies that can very much be argued have contributed to the ever-increasing explosion of Economic Refugees coming over to the U.S.

All in all, Fraude Mexico 2006 is a superb film that is a MUST-see that documents what happened in the Mexican elections in 2006.

Here’s a story on when the film was preparing to open:

“Luis Mandoki’s Controversial FRAUDE MEXICO 2006 Will Be Distributed in U.S. by Maya…”

Also, check out the following review of the film; it appeared back when this film was already released in Mexico:

Fraude: México 2006 (2007) Director: Luis Mandoki Writers: María Benia & Yoame Escamilla (writer)

In addition, this film should serve as a reminder here in the U.S. of the chilling prospect of, once again, election fraud and voter suppression tactics in past and future Presidential elections. For an article on what has been going on already here in the U.S., check this out:

“2008 Season of Voting Meltdowns Begins”

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet.

Posted September 11, 2008.

“How the GOP Wired Ohio’s 2004 Vote Count for Bush to Win”

By Steven Rosenfeld .

Posted September 18, 2008.

Finally, you may ask yourself “this is terrible, but what can I do about it?!!!” Well, for starters, you could join the “Steal Back Your Vote” project:

Steal Back Your Vote lays out the Six Ways They’re Stealing the Election – and the Seven Ways you can Steal It Back.

 It’s a 24-page downloadable graphic guide -an investigative comic book.

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Filed under Election, Political

A Healthier Future

Here’s an article I wrote for Heal the Bay’s “Currents” magazine (intro based on previous work of Heal the Bay’s James Alamillo):

As part of Heal the Bay’s new Healthy Communities Initiative, we have been doing intensive community organizing work in South L.A. to empower residents to heal their environment for the sake of L.A. County’s coastline.  We are all interconnected, and this is especially true with our street trash, storm drains, rivers, watersheds, and ocean.  At Heal the Bay, we believe that a healthy community is one that embraces the belief that health is more than merely an absence of disease.  A healthy community is a product of a healthy environment; and as part of the feedback loop, a healthy environment enables a healthy community.  Most all human health issues witnessed in urban areas have at their root an environmental component. Whether it is air pollution and asthma, water pollution and infectious diseases, urban blight and psycho-social disorders, or poor planning (no parks and lots of junk food outlets) and obesity; there is a nexus between the built environment and human health.  So how can we even begin to heal our environment?  Four community groups from South L.A. have taken up the call to fight for a healthier future in L.A. They have partnered with Heal the Bay to develop several green community spaces in the hopes that these sites would serve as filters that will naturally catch and treat urban runoff before it reaches the storm drain system.    

St. Michael’s Church Community Group 

St. Michael's Catholic Church Community Leader Jose Estrada

St. Michael's Catholic Church Community Leader Jose Estrada

Heal the Bay’s partnership with St. Michael’s community group (housed at 1016 W Manchester AVE) in the area has been a very inspirational one.  Through the leadership of a council of community leaders headed by Jose Javier Estrada, they have engaged in planning and developing much-needed green spaces and building neighborhood beautification projects.  Last year, they worked on building their so-called public “Living Rooms” in a couple of street corners and this year they are focusing on re-energizing their long-term “Vermont Avenue Median” project that would stretch from 89th to 90th ST.  Mr. Estrada explains: “this project has been a very positive experience because it has involved multiple sectors of the community: neighborhoods, colleges, churches, Bernard Parks’ staff, Southeast Neighborhood council, and others.”  In order to make sure that the project has the support of the local community, their group has embarked on a process of incorporation so they can function in a more independent manner and begin to have further name recognition.  For this purpose, they have recently elected their officers as the first step to become a nonprofit group so that they may better represent their constituents and move forward their goals and objectives in order to fight for better neighborhoods because as Mr. Estrada often declares, “everyone deserves a beautiful community.” 

Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists

Wisdom Academy students learn about marine animals.

Wisdom Academy students learn about marine animals.

The staff and parents at Wisdom Academy of 706 E. Manchester AVE have chosen a wonderful site for their WAYS Reading & Fitness Park, an outdoor classroom/community green space.  It is a median located behind their school, on the corner of McKinley AVE & 87th ST.  Located in a residential area, their WAYS project is a great piece of land with great tall beautiful trees already in place; it is as if the site itself were calling for some attention.  Answering the call, Wisdom Academy Executive Director Krendra Okonkwo and Principal Alake Watson have formed an alliance with Wisdom’s PTA parent leaders Brandy Williams and Evelyn Aguirre to make sure that the project becomes a reality. The road ahead will not be easy, but the folks at Wisdom Academy remain steadfast in their resolution.  “I’m a big believer of reclaiming space for the community”, Executive Director Okonkwo has often said.  In addition, Principal Watson envisions that “The WAYS Reading and Fitness Park will be a driving force to unite the school and local community as we continue through the implementation process.   Local community members will be invited to partake in the building efforts and finishing design of the project.  WAYS proposes to make the implementation safe and fun for everyone by providing a series of educational workshops prior to the weekend of the build … We highly anticipate the participation of the office of our local councilwoman, Jan Perry.  We hope the WAYS Reading and Fitness Park will be the start of a powerful collaborative that extends beyond the border of our school walls and touches the lives of families in need of physical fitness as well as serves as a quiet reservoir where reading is literacy is nourished.”            

Youth Opportunities High

Principal (standing) Kianna Nesbit chats with parents at a Y.O.'s design workshop.

Principal (standing) Kianna Nesbit chats with parents at a Y.O.'s design workshop.

The Principal at Youth Opportunities High 1827 E. 103rd ST in Watts, Kianna Nesbit, and her assistant Mayra Arroyo have been leading the charge to turn a portion of their school’s parking lot into a community space that would benefit the surrounding neighborhoods.  Principal Nesbit explains: “The Watts Community Garden Plaza will serve as a place where local residents, patrons, and students can commune, relax, and enjoy their community.  This plaza will provide people with a safe, pleasant space where they can partake in recreational activities (basketball and chess), learn about plant/fruit/vegetable life through participation in gardening activities, and/or just sit, converse and enjoy the scenery in our rendition of a serene space.  The Watts Community Garden Plaza will be located in the Robert Pitts Center, the Malfundi building.  This center was constructed in 1965 after the civil unrest.  The goal was to create a space where Watts’ community residents could participate in artistic and educational activities.  The Watts Community Garden Plaza will serve as an extension of this original objective, a viable, real, and tangible manifestation of that original goal.  This community beautification project will allow the original mission of the Mafundi building to be further felt and experienced by people in this community.”

Washington Elementary PTA

Parent members of the Washington Elementary PTA participate in a recent design workshop.

Parent members of the Washington Elementary PTA participate in a recent design workshop.

The parents at Washington Elementary 1421 N Wilmington AVE in Compton, under the leadership of School Administrator Ema Escobar and PTA President Martha Barajas, have chosen a piece of land in the front of their school.  Under the supervision of their Principal Ontrece Ellerbe, they have banded together to make sure that they are involved in the process of bringing about the construction of an outdoor classroom that would also serve as a green plaza for the enjoyment of the community at-large.  In order to carry out this project, they have also embarked on leadership development and so they have picked four main parent leaders: Maria Rodriguez, Blanca Rivera, Olga Palma, and Petra Luciano that will assist in getting the rest of the parents involved.  In the coming Fall, Washington Elementary students will join Heal the Bay and other schools (including Wisdom Academy’s) to celebrate our annual “Ed Day”: a day of fun, games, and learning to promote the annual county-wide “Costal Cleanup Day” event at Santa Monica Beach.  To learn more about and participate in Heal the Bay’s Coastal Cleanup Day activities, please visit: www.healthebay.org/ccd

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Filed under Environment, Healthy Communities, South Central L.A.

Parks & trees reduce crime

Studies show that vegetation can help reduce crime!

Studies show that vegetation can help reduce crime!

As an environmentalist working in South Central L.A., I have often encountered the same misconceptions about trees, animals, and well, just nature in general over and over again.  “I know this area and if you build a park in this neighborhood it will just be a magnet for people doing drugs or attract more crime!” or “If you build this park near this school it will attract birds and other animals that will bring disease to the children!” or the classic “who’s going to provide security detail for this green space?!” are complaints all too familiar to my ears.  In fact, looks like I’m not the only one to be so stubborn in my refusal to just unquestioningly accept that trees are somehow inherently “bad”- just read the “Visions of a lush, green South L.A.” OpEd that was written by Toni Ann Johnson (a member of the Southwest L.A. neighborhood council) and that recently appeared on the Los Angeles Times.

Yet, I understand their concerns because of the experience they come from: most people’s perception of “green” or “natural” things has been negative because, just like anything else in South Central, parks have been associated with gang violence, crime, drug use, or worse.  When peole bring up these kinds of concerns during neighborhood design workshops (to open more green space in the area so the community at large can enjoy it), my usual course of action is to explain that aside from the multiple benefits of opening  more green space in an area as unjustly deprived of green healthy spaces as South Central is, the strategy to keep undesired activity away is an investment of community involvement and a constant flow of community activity (festivals, educational events, recreational competitions, etc.)  in the planning and building phases of these communal green spaces.  It’s all about community and that’s how it should be. 

Yet, the pesky lingering question of whether or not trees attract crime still bothered me.  Well, last month I had the fortune of attending a workshop at the Los Angeles Neighborhood Initiative‘s Annual Community Forum and was pleasantly surprised to hear from the Tree People, who quoted a study that actually argues that vegetation can and does function as a deterrent of crime. 

Just check this out:

In a 2001 study in one Chicago public housing development, there were dramatically fewer occurrences of crime against both people and property in apartment buildings surrounded by trees and greenery than in nearby identical apartments that were surrounded by barren land. In fact, compared with buildings that had little or no vegetation, buildings with high levels of greenery had 48 percent fewer property crimes and 56 percent fewer violent crimes. Even modest amounts of greenery were associated with lower crime rates. The greener the surroundings, the fewer the number of crimes that occurred.  

To review this study and others related to how vegetation can help better the overall health of a community visit: http://www.lhhl.uiuc.edu/

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Filed under Environment, Healthy Communities, South Central L.A.