Category Archives: Labor and Economy

Attorney Susana Prieto-Terrazas, a Champion for Maquiladora Worker’s Rights

Image provided by authors of poster calling for workers to join march.

Image provided by authors. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Marlene Flores and Miguel Juárez

The maquiladora industry has long impacted the border region, especially the Ciudad Juárez-El Paso region. With the passage of NAFTA, neoliberal economic policies that have encouraged the freer movement of goods and services across the border have especially encouraged the explosion of the maquiladora industry. In a maquiladora factory workers assemble part of a product (such as a car door handle) and the product is shipped to the final country destination where multiple parts will be put together for the finished product. Maquiladora factories do not have to reside on the border but many of them do because of their proximity to another country and trade laws. Though promising stable jobs and a healthy economy, this industry has had detrimental effects on the workers themselves. Still recovering from a sluggish economy and heavily hit by the cartel violence from its peak in 2010, the region where maquiladoras flourish provides plenty of employment opportunities. There are over 300 maquiladoras in Ciudad Juárez that employ over 250,000 workers at substandard wages. Continue reading

Las dos alas de un pájaro: The Cuban Refugee Program and Operation Bootstrap

by Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo and Cheris Brewer Current

Cuba y Puerto Rico son
(Cuba and Puerto Rico are)

De un pájaro las dos alas,
(Two birds of a feather)

Reciben flores y balas
(They receive flowers and bullets)

Sobre el mismo corazón…
(Over the same heart…)

—From Mi libro de Cuba by Lola Rodríguez de Tió


One Bird, Two Wings

Sometimes attributed to Cuban revolutionary José Martí, the verses by Puerto Rican revolutionary Lola Rodríguez de Tió were first published in 1893, while she was exiled in Cuba. Martí and Rodríguez de Tió became good friends and avid advocates for the independence of their own and each other’s country, as Cuba and Puerto Rico remained the last bastions of Spain’s Empire in the Caribbean. The verses were a testimony of the similar histories the two islands developed under four centuries of Spanish rule. They can also be seen as a chilling presage of what was to come after the U.S. won the Spanish American War in 1898 and became a consistent presence in the future of both countries, as U.S. decisions and U.S. policies have affected the way Cubans and Puerto Ricans live their lives on both their respective islands and the US mainland as well.

The islands were forced into different routes during the 20th century with the Platt Amendment (1901) steering Cuba in one direction (i.e., eventual independence), and the Foraker Act (1900) and Jones Act (1917) gearing Puerto Rico in another (i.e., an entrenched colonial status). Later, when Puerto Rico became a Commonwealth of the U.S. in 1952 and Fidel Castro assumed power in 1959, this bifurcation seemed to be irreversible. The effects of U.S. policies toward Puerto Rico and Cuba have been critical in shaping the positions that both islands occupy globally, and in the living conditions of Cubans and Puerto Ricans on the mainland.

This essay presents a brief comparative sketch of two distinctive immigrating and incoming Caribbean groups resulting from two specific structural programs: the Cuban Refugee Program (CRP) targeting Cubans in the U.S.; and Operation Bootstrap (OB) involving Puerto Ricans on the island. Both programs had their genesis in the mid-twentieth century, at a moment when the U.S. was attempting to re-vamp its racial politics in response to both domestic and international pressures. Yet, it is noteworthy that both CRP and OB were operational before the passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 which ended explicit race based preferences in entrants.

Thus Puerto Rican incomers and Cuban immigrants of the 1950s and 1960s are a precursor to the increasingly diverse group of immigrants who were to follow. Movement from Latin American and the Caribbean to the US contains a peculiar history shaped by individual relationships between countries of origin and the US. Immigrants from countries with closer political, economic, and social ties to the US were (and are) granted advantages in entrance, settlement, and employment that are unavailable to immigrants from countries who do not share the same intimacy with the US. This is clear when you compare Cubans with other political immigrants of the period—Haitians and Dominicans, for instance—who, because of racial and political reasons were not granted refugee status. This essay focuses on two relatively privileged groups of Latino immigrants: Puerto Ricans who entered with citizenship status, and Cubans who were granted legal status, provided financial assistance, and structural assimilation. Tracing the reception of these two groups illustrates the ways in which the U.S. government eased and aided the process of migration for some, while it outright neglected other newcomers.

Bootstrapping the Island

As an economic policy and as a development initiative, OB was not a U.S. policy per se, but rather, the effort of Puerto Rican leaders, who sought to develop Puerto Rico economically (Maldonado, 1997). The program was funded, almost entirely, by the island’s government. However, U.S. involvement was at the heart of its conception and implementation, for the companies targeted by the program were exclusively U.S. companies. U.S. policy was also at the heart of the program by way of specific tax exemptions that these companies would enjoy, as “Puerto Rico had been exempted from U.S. taxes since 1900” (Maldonado, 1997: 46). Those exemptions were the core of the program, so OB was possible, fundamentally, because of already existing U.S. policy. In addition, the massive movement of Puerto Ricans to the mainland that ensued after OB was also only possible, again, because of U.S. policy (in this case, policies ruling citizenship and territories).

Using an “industrialization by invitation” approach (Dietz, 1986; Whalen, 2005),
Operación Manos a la Obra (as it is known in Spanish) began in the 1940s, and had among its main objectives to eliminate extreme poverty on the island, and to develop the island economically (Morales-Carrión, 1983). Initially, the project included federal tax incentives and exemptions to entice American businesses with cheap and abundant labor. OB turned into an export-oriented form of absentee capitalism that overhauled the economy in Puerto Rico in unprecedented ways. By the 1950s the island had largely left its agricultural past behind, for as James Dietz (1986) tells us, agriculture came to be regarded as an obstacle to progress.

OB prompted a massive exodus of Puerto Ricans to the mainland US that has literally divided the Puerto Rican population in half, and has prompted poet Nicolasa Mohr to thoughtfully proclaim that “Puerto Ricans are no longer an island people” (in Rodríguez, 1991). The movement of Puerto Ricans alleviated the large-scale unemployment produced by the sudden shift from an agricultural to an industrial economy. The mainland Puerto Rican population went from 53,000 in 1930 (before OB), to 1.5 million in1964, roughly 20 years after OB began (Briggs, 2002). Although the set of initiatives, policies, and practices that came to be known as Operation Bootstrap did not institute or formally encourage island to mainland movement, we are suggesting (as have others before us—see, e.g., Briggs 2002; Dietz 1986; Maldonado 1997; and Whalen 2005, etc.) that Operation Bootstrap created a de facto form of movement to the U.S. by “pushing” migrants northward.

When the U.S. is Pulling the Bootstrap

The post-1959 migration of Cubans was part of an immigration continuum that had brought Cubans to Florida whenever political or economic strife hit the island (Mirabal, 2003; Poyo, 1989). Given this history, the U.S. became a natural refuge for former supporters of Batista and other Cubans who quickly became politically and financially disillusioned with the revolution, but discerning why the U.S. chose to accept over 650,000 refugees by 1977 is a more complicated challenge (Whorton, 1997). The acceptance of Cubans, first as immigrants and then as refuges, marks an anomaly in US immigration policy, as they arrived during an era of restrictive immigration (1924-1965).

Accepting Cuban refugees was merely one aspect of the U.S.’s developing policies directed at incoming exiles. Early on, many Cubans leaving the island managed to take money and other forms of capital with them and were able to support themselves –if only temporarily– in their exile. The restrictions Castro imposed on what Cubans could take with them became increasingly stringent over time as concern grew that assets in the forms of cash and jewelry were being sent northward. Eventually luggage was limited to a change or two of clothing.
As Cubans began entering the U.S. early in 1959, private agencies and local church groups offered aid to impoverished refugees. Federal aid increased greatly in 1961 with the creation of the Cuban Refugee Program, providing the needed resources for the programs many aid-based goals. The CRP, administered by the Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW), provided funds for resettlement, and “monthly relief checks, health services, job training, adult educational opportunities, and surplus food distribution (canned meat, powdered eggs and milk, cheese, and oatmeal, among other food products)” (García, 1996).

Based on number of dependents, place of residence, and employment status, CRP staff calculated a monthly financial benefit for deserving refugees – primarily the unemployed – and granted refugees a maximum of $60 a month for a single person and $100 for a family (Voorhees, 1961). These payments were substantially more than the welfare payments available to U.S. citizens (including Puerto Ricans). The CRP also provided additional assistance, including medical insurance, assistance with employment readjustment, and college scholarships. This comprehensive program ensured that Cuban refugees were provided with structural assistance that extended beyond the stopgap needs of early exile.

Final Thoughts: Of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, Republicans, and Latinos

The unequal power relations that typify U.S.-Latin American exchanges mark the admittance, treatment and integration of Latin American immigrants, as all migrants from the region have been subject to the whims of the U.S.’s shifting relations with Latin America. Similarly, the complex histories that individual nations share with the U.S. have dictated the response to immigration policy and immigrants (Taft, et al, 1979 ). This in part explains that although Puerto Ricans and Cubans are all categorized as “Hispanic” in the eyes of the U.S. government or Latinos in the U.S. popular imagination, for instance, specific historical, political and perceived racial differences have produced great disparity in U.S. policy and reception of immigrants or incomers from the country and territory respectively.

This discrepancy becomes patently obvious when one compares the reception of Cuban refugees to that of Puerto Ricans workers during the mid-twentieth century. On the one hand, during the Puerto Rican movement to the U.S., the U.S. government benefited from the cheap labor that ended up manning its factories and processing plants. It was assumed that Puerto Ricans, who were U.S. citizens after all, could access welfare if needed—yet the racialized welfare system discouraged if not outright barred people of color from accessing services (DeParle, 2004). Meanwhile, unlike Cuban refugees from the same period, Puerto Ricans did not receive a hero’s welcome, or assistance to find a place to stay, or to learn English. They were given no free vocational training, or medical services. In sum, Puerto Ricans were not presented with an aid package tailored to their needs. As citizens, they were assumed to have access to the U.S. government resources, when the reality seemed that they were here only to fulfill the needs of an economic system that thrived on cheap labor. The massive migration turned out to be a “win-win” for both governments (US’ and Puerto Rico’s), while it became a “lose-lose” for Puerto Ricans, including Puerto Ricans in the U.S., who ended up at the bottom of the economic ladder.

On the other hand, the US government not only allowed Cubans entry, but it also provided direct assistance that exceeded any welfare program available to its own citizens, including Puerto Ricans. Some of the motives behind this benevolence remain unclear; what is clear is that the Cold War and anti-communist rhetoric shaped governmental discussions of Cuban immigration; ensuring the well-being and success of people fleeing communism held important ideological value. The direct assistance that Cubans received was, indeed, helpful in some form, as they still have the highest net worth of any U.S. Latino group. Puerto Ricans, on the other hand, continue to lag behind, and are experienced as a problem group, one immersed in poverty—and racialized as non-White. Regardless of the historical, social, and racial similarities shared by Cuba and Puerto Rico pre-1898 (the two birds of a feather), an act of American exceptionalism elevated (and perhaps continues to elevate) the status of Cubans, while Puerto Ricans and other Latino/as remain(ed) marginalized. This unilateral decision predisposed Puerto Ricans to a different treatment by mainstream U.S. culture, and hence, a different future from that of Cubans.

Over half a century into that future, the 2016 presidential election campaign has produced (thus far) two Republican hopefuls of Cuban descent, while not one Puerto Rican has ever made a bid for the presidency (on either party). Something to note here is that the candidates in question are both the offspring of Cubans who migrated to the U.S. before Castro took office, meaning, they are not CRP babies. This fact brings us to a crucial, final argument: the CRP seems to have “lifted the boats” of Cubans as a group, even those who did not participate in it (and perhaps even those who came after the program was terminated). This point is important, for the net effect of the CRP extends beyond the assistance granted to individuals, as the program collectively elevated the economic and social status of Cubans. The CRP argued that these heralded newcomers were capable of accessing the American Dream and political self-determination (as it was assumed that the future leaders of Cuba were temporary sojourners, who would return to the island eventually and take control). Puerto Ricans were pushed to the margins as they were denied structural assistance and viewed as political and economic dependents, creating a long-lasting, major chasm between both groups.

But now the chasm seems to be closing, and Republican candidates notwithstanding, second and third generation Cuban Americans are shifting politically, presumably joining Puerto Ricans and other Latinos in less conservative spaces (Fisher, (2015). Thus, regardless of their bifurcated histories, and their still dissimilar class status, Puerto Ricans and Cubans in the U.S. seem to be finally converging not only geographically, but in their ideals and aspirations as well. There is also the collective imagination of Americans who sees both groups as part of that collective known as Latinos/as, and whether that is a good thing or not, is a question for another essay.


Briggs, Laura. 2002. Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science, and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Boswell, Thomas and James Curtis. 1984. The Cuban American Experience: Culture,
Images and Perspectives. Totowa, New Jersey: Rowman & Allaheld Publishers.

DeParle, Jason. 2004. American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation’s Drive
to End Welfare. Penguin Books: New York.

Dietz, James L. 2003. Puerto Rico: Negotiating Development and Change. Boulder:
Lynne Rienner Publishers.

Fisher, Marc. 2015. “Cuban Americans’ Shifting Identity, and Political Views Divides
Key Block.” The Washington Post. June 12.

García, M.C. 1996. Havana USA: Cuban Exiles and Cuban Americans in South Florida, 1959-1994. Berkley: University of California Press.

Maldonado, A.W. 1997. Teodoro Moscoso and Puerto Rico’s Operation Bootstrap.
Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

Masud-Piloto, F.R. 1996. From Welcomed Exiles to Illegal Immigrants: Cuban Migration to the US, 1959-1995. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Mirabal, N. R. 2003.“‘Ser de Aquí’: Beyond the Cuban Exile Model.” Latino Studies vol. 1: 366-382.

Morales Carrión, Arturo. 1983. Puerto Rico: A Political and Cultural History. New
York: W. W. Norton and Company.

Poyo, G. 1989. With All, and for the Good of All: The Emergence of Popular Nationalism in the Cuban Communities of the United States, 1848-1898. Durham: Duke University Press.

Rodríguez, Clara E. 1991. Puerto Ricans: Born in the U.S. Boulder: Westview Press.

Taft, J.V., North, D.S.& Ford, D.A. 1979. Refugee Resettlement in the US: Time for a New Focus. Washington DC: New TrasCentury Foundation.

Thomas, J.F. 1963. “US Cuban Refugee Program.” (December) Records of Health, Education, and Welfare, RG 363, Carton 12, File CR 18-1, National Archives II.

Whalen, Carmen Teresa. 2005. “Colonialism, Citizenship and the Making of the Puerto
Rican Diaspora.” In The Puerto Rican Diaspora: Historical Perspectives edited by Carmen Teresa Whalen and Víctor Vázquez-Hernández. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Whorton, B. 1997. The Transformation of Refugee Policy: Race, Welfare, and American Political Culture, 1959-1997. PhD Dissertation. Sociology, University of Kansas.

Carmen R. Lugo-Lugo is an Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender,  and Race Studies at Washington State University. Her research focuses on Latinos in the US, “the War on Terror,” and the representation of Latinas/os and other minorities in popular culture. Cheris Brewer Current is Associate Professor of Sociology and Social Work
at Walla Walla University’s Wilma Hepker School of Social Work and Sociology. Her research focuses on Cuban Immigration to the U.S., and the intersections of race, class, and gender.

Somebody’s Children

In this holiday season, and with the permission of the author, we are republishing a blog essay by Laura Briggs on a classic holiday film in light of contemporary attitudes toward poor mothers. The essay originally appeared on Briggs’s site, Somebody’s Children: A Blog about Adoption, ART, and Reproductive Politics, on May 8, 2012.

Potter and Bailey in office.

 It’s a Wonderful Life. Dir. Frank Capra. 1946.

by Laura Briggs

I recently published a book called Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption (2012). I chose that title for a number of reasons, but the main one was that I wanted to think about the mothers that often get discounted. When scholars and journalists and policy analysts write about adoption, they almost always ignore the birth mothers. When we talk about adoption from overseas, we refer to “orphans”; when we talk about kids in foster care, and why Black children should be adopted by white parents, we say they are “languishing,” waiting for an adoptive family. But the reality is, full orphans–those who have lost both parents–are quite rare, especially when you are speaking of infants and young children. When international aid agencies talk about millions of orphans, they mean those who have lost one parent. Almost all of the children who become available for adoption in or to the United States have parents or a parent. We just don’t want to talk about them.

There are exceptions, of course. Increasingly, adoptive parents groups talk about the “adoption triad” of birth mother, adopted child, and adoptive parents. Those of us who are adoptive parents inevitably have to answer questions about where the little people and grown children in our lives came from–questions that come from adoptees and from the world around us. It used to be that we were routinely counseled to lie to our children. But we’ve learned a lot from groups like Concerned United Birthparents, which beginning in the late 1970s gave voice to birthparents’ experiences of losing their children, often under considerable pressure to relinquish their babies. Organizations of adoptees challenging sealed adoption records, like the Adoptees Liberty Movement Association and Bastard Nation also challenged us to tell the truth.

But these movements focused predominantly on the mostly young mothers who relinquished babies in the U.S. (think Juno). People don’t talk much about birth parents when we think about foster care (one major policy book about foster care and transracial adoption was entitled Nobody’s Children), and even less when we are considering transnational adoption. I wanted to write a book that took seriously the racial justice, feminist, and international politics contexts and questions that surround how birth parents–usually mothers–find themselves in situations where strangers are raising their children.

One of the places the title of the book came from is the 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life.

It’s a Wonderful Life gets tagged as a sentimental piece of Christmas, but it deserves more credit. These days, as the middle class continues to lose its footing as the central piece of its wealth–home ownership–gets transferred to big banks as foreclosure, the story of the Bailey Savings and Loan ought to get our attention as the careful piece of social analysis it is. It also tells a story about children and survival. In a scene that defines the film’s moral compass, young George Bailey, confronted with a moral dilemma about whether to respect adult authority even when it is wrong and will cause harm, runs to his father for advice. His father can’t talk to him then, though, as he is in a confrontation with big banker Mr. Potter. When George enters the room, he is privy to this bit of conversation:

HENRY POTTER: Have you put any real pressure on these people of yours to pay those mortgages?
PETER BAILEY: Times are bad, Mr. Potter. A lot of these people are out of work.
POTTER: Then foreclose!
BAILEY: I can’t do that. These families have children.
POTTER: They’re not my children.
BAILEY: But they’re somebody’s children, Mr. Potter.

George leaves without asking his father his question, but learning the answer anyway: do the right thing by other people, and other people’s children even when authority tells you not to. It’s this lesson that allows George to grow into someone who could inherit the responsibility of running  the Savings and Loan, and, the movie tells us, in so doing he prevented Bedford Falls from becoming Pottersville, a place of steep class divides, alcoholism, exploitation, and despair.

I feel strongly about community-based banking (my money’s in a credit union), but I also like what the film says about the “somebodies” and their children whom Bailey is not going to kick out of their homes.

A lot of politics in recent years has taken place under the rubric of how some people–especially mothers–don’t count. Welfare mothers, crack mothers, single-mothers raising the underclass. From Newt Gingrich suggesting we take the children of welfare mothers and put them in orphanages to sociologist Charles Murray talking about how single mothers are responsible for the downfall of white people. David Brooks of The New York Times wrote a column on Murray that was, among other things, designed to refute economist Joseph Stiglitz and Occupy Wall Street’s objection to the the 1% number, and the contention that it has been obscenely enriched in recent years. Instead, he suggested that 70% of us are doing okay, but 30% are really a mess–unemployed, uneducated, criminal. They are (surprise, surprise) the children of single mothers and those mothers themselves. (Charles Pierce at Esquire wrote a truly funny rejoinder if you want better reading.)

Fifty-six years after It’s a Wonderful Life, banking and the children of the poor are still surprisingly entangled.

It might seem like a reach to link the politics of impoverished mothers and children and international banking. But after ten years of thinking about adoption, I suspect that watching what happens, rhetorically, to mothers who don’t count tells us a surprising amount about politics of all sorts: economic, international, gender, race, immigrant, queer. That’s why I wrote the book, and why I’m writing this blog. I’m interested in the “somebodies” who don’t have children, of course. But I also think that “somebody’s children” give us a really powerful and interesting lens for analysis.

Dr. Laura Briggs is Professor and Chair of Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She writes and teaches about reproductive politics, feminism, race, and the relationships of the U.S. and Latin America.

Temporary Labor, Temporary Lives

June 10, 2013

Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl. Flickr/Creative Commons License.

Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl. Flickr/Creative Commons License.

By Theresa Delgadillo

“In my mind, slavery has not yet disappeared. And in this case, we the Mexican agricultural workers are the slaves. I want to say to all of the employers that we are not machines. And I want them to consider, for just a moment, that the money they have is thanks to the work of all the Mexican agricultural workers who come to Canada to work.”

– Mexican agricultural contract worker in El Contrato (2003)

Advocates of U.S. immigration reform have long cited the importance of immigrant labor in making our daily meals possible. Immigrant labor drives all aspects of agricultural production in the U.S. — picking, packing and delivering to our local markets the vegetables and fruits we eat as well as slaughtering and processing the poultry and meats we consume. Yet, what we overlook when we focus on how much agricultural labor rests on immigrant shoulders is the wealth, income and economies the workers also produce. In Min Sook Lee’s 2003 film El Contrato, viewers hear how small family farms grew into major industries through the use of Mexican agricultural contract workers. But viewers also hear the male workers, who are at the center of this film, speak about the pain of their ordinary family and social life disrupted, their isolation and their powerlessness life as contract workers to improve the conditions of their labor. The film also shows us their efforts to support each other.

Since visas for temporary contract labor, skilled labor, and the temporary status of millions is on the table in the current immigration debate in the U.S., those interested in immigration reform might be interested in viewing Lee’s film to consider how guest worker programs affect all those involved, but also to learn about the historic and economic contributions of immigrant workers. For me, El Contrato drives a home a point that many would prefer to forget: immigrants are people, embedded in social as well as economic networks. El Contrato shows us men who are not able to both live and work among their families and social networks, but instead must forego life for work. Their labor, nonetheless, contributes to two economies: Canadian and Mexican. Though El Contrato addresses a Canadian/Mexican context, viewers might consider that the men’s voices in this film and their expressions of desire for a fuller family are sentiments shared by immigrants in the U.S. Today, we again revisit the debate between prioritizing family and social relationships in U.S. immigration law over that of worker supply and between inclusion of new immigrants via citizenship or forms of legal second-class status.

Filmmaker Min Sook Lee is at work on another film, Migrant Dreams, that focuses on women contract workers in Canada. The trailer promises even more intimate glimpses into the lives of contract workers, yet because these aspects of life are absent from El Contrato I wonder about the sources of this gendered difference — were these aspects of men’s lives not available to the woman filmmaker or a sign of the difference in men’s and women’s immigrant experience? Something to consider when Migrant Dreams is completed and published. In the meantime, view El Contrato in full online at the Canadian Film Board’s website.


Theresa Delgadillo is a Co-Editor/Moderator of Mujeres Talk and an Assistant Professor of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University.

Understanding Diabetes to Help Yourself, Your Family Members, Your Friends . . .

October 22, 2012

Amelia María de la Luz Montes

Amelia María de la Luz Montes

By Amelia María de la Luz Montes

Diabetes is different from other diseases. Once you have it, you have it for life. There is no remission. Your pancreas will remain either completely non-working (type 1) or forever debilitated (type II). With diabetes, if you want to live a long life with a balanced glucose level, it is primarily up to you to completely change your eating and exercise habits (even with medication). Unlike cancer which most often concerns medical doctors locating and excising a tumor, followed by chemotherapy and/or other medications, the burden of controlling blood sugars rests upon the individual, not in excising the pancreas or getting a new one. An individual with diabetes could be taking medication like metformin, a well-known drug that has been on the market a long time and has had a good record in assisting the body to control sugar or glucose levels, but that is not enough. Notice that I wrote “assisting” because, again, the burden falls upon the individual. You can take all the drugs you want, but without a diet you create yourself that fits your chemical makeup, and without a good exercise regimen—complications from diabetes will appear (retinopathy, nephropathy, neuropathy).

And that is why doctors become so very frustrated with patients.  “I tell them until I’m blue in the face,” a doctor once told me.  “I tell them that it’s up to them.  They have to control their glucose levels.  A pill is not the answer.  Most people are not willing to make any changes until it’s too late—until they can’t walk, they go blind, they go on dialysis.”

I’ve thought about what this doctor and others have similarly said. And in reading so much about this disease, I’ve also understood another aspect to the patient’s inabilities to change.

First:  It’s very hard to come home after a diagnosis and be told to completely change your diet. To what? How does one know? Insurance companies often will not include “Diabetes Education” for patients until they are actually diagnosed with the disease. For those who are diagnosed as “Pre-Diabetic” (meaning that there is evidence of high glucose levels but not quite high enough for the diabetes diagnosis), there is no education. This should be the exact time when much of the education should take place. Or, if it is apparent that the disease is a genetic factor in an individual’s family history, that individual should have the opportunity to enroll in diabetes education even if she/he may never manifest the disease—at least they are more equipped to understand themselves and help other family members or friends who have it.

Second:  Michael Montoya’s book, Making the Mexican Diabetic (2011) is a must-read for all of us because he points out how Chicano and Chicana/Latina and Latino communities can so easily become areas with high rates of diabetes. For familias with a tight income, it’s hard to think about buying expensive organic food and taking the time to cook it when McDonalds offers a sausage burrito for $1.00 and when you are tired from working two jobs—who wants to cook?  And if you’re tired from work, the last thing you want to think about is exercise. Or if the doctor tells you to at least walk your neighborhood for a half hour every day, you may live in a neighborhood where that would not be a safe thing to do. I agree with Dr. Montoya that as long as we have the fast food companies setting up shop everywhere, as long as towns and cities do not offer safe public areas (parks!) with activities to join (swimming, running clubs, yoga, kick ball, sports for youngsters and adults), it’s going to be very difficult to lower the rate of diabetes in our population.

Third:  A key component to understanding your body is to test your blood and if you are on a very tight budget, this can be difficult. The glucose test monitor is often available for “free” (once you’re diagnosed). But the problem here concerns the test strips, which are expensive. Just yesterday, I bought (with my prescription) my supply of test strips. There are 100 in two vials. With insurance: $62. Without insurance: $124.

If you do not have diabetes (but you know it runs in your family and you’d like to start monitoring your blood so you will prevent the disease) or if you have been told you have “Pre-Diabetes”—you will have to shell out the $124. Something needs to happen so that the cost of test strips can be more affordable making it possible for people to purchase. I’m not sure what the answer is yet regarding the cost of test strips.

Why testing is so important: Without testing, you have no idea what your body is doing. You could feel just fine and your body may be riding on high levels of glucose and the longer you have such high levels running throughout your bloodstream, the quicker you will damage various organs in the body. It will only take a few months before the damage manifests itself in a variety of ways (neuropathy, retinopathy, nephropathy).

Fourth:  Trying meditation or learning strategies to cope in stressful situations is also key but difficult. Studies show that testing one’s blood regularly and keeping it balanced plus learning coping strategies is important in lowering glucose levels. Why? Keeping a normal blood pressure level prevents inflammation and inflammation will then also cause high glucose levels in your body which then also damages organs. And that is another aspect to this disease:  it’s not only about the food you eat, it’s also about how much stress there is in your life. Something as small as a simple cold cause glucose levels to rise. Illness, trauma, stress, major disappointments in life: all cause glucose levels to rise.

The U.S. can boast about all of us being hard-working people who produce more in a year than neighboring countries around the world. And we do. However, a study showed that even though we produce more, we also make more mistakes (because we are overworked) and therefore spend millions having to correct those mistakes. We also spend millions on emergency hospital visits and doctor’s visits.  The first year of my diagnosis, I ended up in the emergency room three times and even with insurance, my out-of-pocket expenditure to medical issues were quite high.

What to do? Some tips:

1. There are foods that do not have such a high residual pesticide load and are very affordable (non-organic).  These are:

a.     broccoli
b.     cabbage
c.     asparagus
d.     cauliflower
e.     avocado
f.      brussel sprouts
g.     garlic
h.     bananas
i.      zucchini

2. A QUICK RECIPE:  I have found “mashed cauliflower” a most delicious substitute for mashed potatoes. Potatoes are not good for all individuals with diabetes. The high starch content will affect most people (and that includes rice as well—brown or white). Directions:

a.  cut up the cauliflower
b.  steam
c.  mash it up (either in a food processor or with a potato masher)
d.  add spices if you wish

Mashed cauliflower is easily frozen so you can make a lot of it, freeze it, and then you don’t have to keep taking the time to cook it each time you want some.

3. During that first year of diagnosis, what really helped me was figuring out how many carbohydrates are in foods. There is a little book which I call the “carb helper.” It’s title is: The Calorie King: Calorie, Fat, and Carbohydrate Counter 2012. It is revised every year or so and it’s vital for those of us with diabetes. You’ll be surprised what foods are high in carbohydrates (glucose) and what foods are not.   Those who are unfamiliar with diabetes may think that it’s just about staying away from desserts or sugary drinks. Onion and carrots have a lot of sugar, but I did not know this until I began studying carbohydrate counts. One carrot is like a spoonful of sugar. Who knew? And onions: why do onions carmelize?  Because they have a high glucose level. Since finding this out, I now cook with shallots instead of onions and it’s just as delicious.

4.  For exercise:  If you cannot afford a gym or cannot exercise outside, walk around your house (inside) for twenty minutes to a half hour, or climb stairs (if stairs are at your work, take time to walk up and down during half your lunch hour) if there are stairs at or near home or at work.  Purchase a new/used bike if you can afford it.


The most important aspect I have discovered in researching this disease is understanding how each individual (chemically) is so vastly different. Two people with diabetes may react very differently when they eat, say, a banana.  I know someone with Type II Diabetes who enjoys eating a banana every day and their glucose levels do not spike. I cannot eat a banana—not even a bite because then my glucose levels spike. The one thing to understand about diabetes is that the journey to balance glucose levels demands a journey into keenly understanding your body. Our bodies are like fingerprints. Our chemical and genetic makeup is so fascinatingly individual. And it takes commitment to want to do this.  But it can be done!

Amelia María de la Luz Montes, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of English and Ethnic Studies at the University of Nebraska, where she also serves as Chair of the Institute for Ethnic Studies. She frequently blogs about diabetes and health issues.


  1. Dawn Valadez  October 22, 2012 at 2:36 PM

    Thanks so much for posting this! Latinas, especially Mexican American women, have such high rates of diabetes – it is like an epidemic in our community. However, with your guidelines all is not lost. I disagree that it is with you forever though – with a healthy diet and lots of exercise people are able to get off of medicine and live a healthy diabetes-free life. You still have to be vigilant, but shouldn’t we all be anyways? I get concerned when I hear it’s “with you forever” because for some of us with food issues that feels like “why bother” when in fact we can do a lot to stop it in it’s tracks! and even if we need meds we can live healthy lives. My mom has had diabetes for 30 years, she’s in her 80’s and is still walking y qué fregosa! She lives with me and we work together to have a healthy diet and walk daily.

    I agree about the financial and convenience issues but some ways we can help each other is to grow our own food and share it! Or go to the farmer’s market together and buy in bulk, most farmer’s markets take food stamps now which is very helpful for people receiving those benefits. Starting a walking group helps too.

    Anyways, thanks for the post and here’s some more helpful info:

    Dawn Valadez

  2. Amelia ML Montes October 24, 2012 at 8:43 AM
    Dear Dawn,
    Thank you so much for your “reply.” I am so happy to read that your mom is in her 80s and has been self-managing the disease with a healthy diet and walking. This is key to keeping one’s glucose numbers low so that complications do not occur.And thanks for addressing the topic about “reversing Diabetes.” It’s important to discuss this further. When one is diagnosed with Diabetes (Type II), it means that one’s pancreas is debilitated. It is not able to emit enough cells that can collect glucose from the bloodstream. Some of the cells are malformed. With Type I– the pancreas is not working at all and the individual must be on daily insulin. But with Type I, diet and exercise is still key. With Type II– I think the miscommunication here is about being able to self-manage instead of a life of pills and insulin and becoming progressively worse.So I want to be clear here: what I mean by having if “forever” is that those with Diabetes Type II will always have a debilitated pancreas– always. It’s about what you do with your debilitated pancreas that is the key. If you do nothing, you will obviously get progressively worse. Pills and insulin help but again– with only pills and insulin, you will also get progressively worse.Self-managing your pancreas with diet and exercise (as David Spero points out) can have such great effects that a person may not need insulin, meformin, and other Diabetes medication.I am like Bob and Terri who are on very low carbohydrate diets and exercise daily. They were quoted in the article as feeling healthier than they’ve ever felt before and that their A1C levels are below normal which is GREAT because that will definitely prevent complications.But what will always “forever” be the issue is the pancreas not being able to do the work necessary without the individual helping the pancreas with diet and exercise.

    Here’s why diet and exercise is so key:
    First: a low carbohydrate diet keeps the amount of glucose in the blood stream minimal so that the pancreas’ low production of cells will not be overtaxed.
    Second: Exercise is so important because exercise “stimulates” the pancreas to emit more cells than a normal person would need. And since a debilitated pancreas is creating some normal cells and some misshapen cells, having more cells than one needs will definitely take the glucose out of the bloodstream.

    So– low carb diet (making sure you aren’t filling up your bloodstream with glucose) and exercise (stimulating the pancreas to make more cells to take out the glucose) will certainly lower glucose levels and prevent complications.

    One does not die of Diabetes. You die from complications of the disease. And when they say “disease”–they’re talking about the debilitated pancreas.

    So this is why I say “forever”–I’m talking about the pancreas. And this is why I do not agree with anyone who thinks that they can reverse a debilitated pancreas.

    What they CAN PREVENT is getting progressively worse and having complications. So I think it is a matter of semantics. But I worry that people think they can suddenly be Diabetes free. I think the better term is that they are “successfully self-managing the disease” and that is certainly what your mom is doing!

    Hope my further explanation helps.
    And yes–so important to help each other, go to farmer’s markets, have a walking group. I lead a Diabetes Support Book Group at an Independent Bookstore in town and this has been very helpful. I love the idea of a walking group too!

    Sending you and your mom my best wishes, Dawn!

  3. Anonymous  October 22, 2012 at 4:04 PM
    I am a Registered Dietitan in Tx. I have seen many patients w/ DM & understand your experience. It is a great article. My one disagreement is w/ Promoting organic foods to be healthy. Yes, they are a “better” choice if possible, but for so many it’s just not an option. Just adds stress to an already stressful situation.
    Recommend Fresh or Frozen, as avail.
    Thank you for sharing your experience.
  4. Amelia ML Montes October 24, 2012 at 8:08 AM
    Saludos Dawn,
    Thanks so much for your response to my blog. It is indeed an epidemic in our community and I am hoping with more education, we can help each other. I agree with you that with a healthy diet and daily (and I mean daily!) exercise, people can self-manage the disease. And this is what I mean by having diabetes for the rest of your life: the pancreas will never be a normal pancreas if you have this disease. Being off medication only means that you are self-managing the pancreas/the disease. And this is where it can get dangerous if people think that once they are off insulin or medicine, that they no longer have diabetes. The pancreas has not changed. It is still debilitated. I think the better term is that the individual is able to “self-manage” the disease with diet and exercise.As for reversing Diabetes: Once the pancreas is debilitated, it cannot be “reversed.” I think the word choice is the problem here and in Spero’s article he explains it better. He is talking about doctors who tell patients that they will only get progressively worse. And, like Spero, I disagree with that kind of doom and gloom projection. You will only get progressively worse if you do not do anything about it– but it’s up to you. And that is the key to self-managing: it’s all up to you.
    Like Bob (who was quoted in the article), I am on a very low-carb diet and do daily exercise (as my endocrinologist advised) and my A1C level is now lower than what is considered normal. And like Terri (who was also quoted in the article) I also am “far healthier” and feel it is easy now to maintain my glucose numbers. But in the beginning, I knew, when I was diagnosed, that this was going to be a life-long process. It’s important to face the truth. Now I no longer am afraid about this truth. After you get used to self-managing via diet and exercise, it does get easier– but in the beginning it demands a lot of changes in your life.I am so very glad that your mom is doing well and in her 80s. Bravo on the walking– that is key!And yes– growing our own food, farmer’s markets, helping each other– so very important!I’m so glad you wrote in!
    Thank you Dawn. Mil gracias!
    Sending you and your mom healthy energias!


Pensamientos from the “Field”: An Excerpt from My Research on Mexican Women Caring for North Americans

by Maria Ibarra, Ph.D.

“Que valoren, que sepan que este trabajo tiene valor…que uno da su vida.”

I am an anthropologist who studies the labor of Mexicana elder care providers. Every year I spend time in the field, in my long-standing research site of Santa Barbara, and I record women’s stories and experiences about work. I am always affected by the many types of violence that are inherent to the lives of Mexicanas on either side of the border. How many times have I put down my pen and held a woman’s hand, stroked her forearm, while she cries and tells me how much it hurts? Almost every interview reveals pain and anger, the ambushes to her humanity, the metaphorical blows that stack upon each other. “Me despidieron como si fuera un perro, ni siquiera en la casa, pero allí afuera de la puerta.” I asked, “Why, Reyna, I don’t understand, why did they do that?” She answered, “¿Porque no te ven, no les importas – despues de tantos años con la señora que me hicieran eso? No es justo, Maria.” She imploringly looks at me and wants me to help her put it right, to help her understand such a profound betrayal to her humanity. “Di todo por ella – sacrifique tantos momentos que le pude dar a mi hija, ¿y para que?” For what? Such a moral question in a structural economic, political and social context that does not operate by the rationality of what is good for the women who care for the aging, infirm, and dying in our society. “¿Que puedo escribir, Reyna? ¿Que quieres que sepa la gente?” I asked. Without pause she answered, “Que valoren, que sepan que este trabajo tiene valor…que uno da su vida.”

Maria Ibarra is an associate professor in the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at San Diego State University.  She is currently working on a book manuscript tentatively entitled “Transnational Care: Mexican Women and Aging North Americans in the 21st Century.”

Y las mexicanas migrantes, ¿cuándo?

By Gloria González-López

January 24, 2011

“Compañera, tenga cuidado, what you are suggesting has the risk of dividing our immigrant communities and families.”

The above comment is my paraphrase of the concerned voice of a highly committed community activist, a Mexican man I met more than a decade ago as I completed my doctoral studies in Los Angeles. Back then I was trying to engage in a conversation with him and other activist men about my ongoing research with immigrant women. In these dialogues, I was sharing information about my dissertation project and the ways in which these women were teaching me about their unique experiences of migration to the United States. More and more, this was becoming crystal clear to me: Mexican immigrant women experience their immigration journeys in very particular ways, very differently when compared to men migrating from their same locations and regions, including the men in their families.

Listening in person to the individual sex life histories and stories as told by the 40 immigrant women I interviewed back then made me keenly aware of the very unique social contexts and circumstances surrounding their complex immigration journeys. Sexual violence, for example, as part of the migration experiences in some of these women’s lives (i.e., rape as a reason to migrate, rape as part of the immigration journeys, and/or rape as part of life in Los Angeles after settlement) made me think of the ways in which immigrant women have very specific needs as women who are migrants.  I shared this and other concerns with the few activist men I coincided with back then in Los Angeles. I commented that community-based agencies were generously offering attention to immigrant women, but perhaps that was not enough and (in my utopian and naive imagination) special attention sponsored by the Mexican government was additionally needed for Mexican immigrant women. Some of these men expressed how much they cared about these issues, but they were concerned about what this might potentially do to their communities and families, for example, “poner a las mujeres en contra de los hombres y dividir a sus familias.” From these conversations, research I conducted later with men, and influential publications on gender and migration, I have learned that the labyrinths of inequality for both immigrant women and men are complex, frequently surrounded by intricate twists and turns, and fascinating contradictions and tensions. I have also learned that although patriarchy may be challenged and reorganized after migration and settlement, it does not vanish away.

More than 10 years have already passed. In the meantime, I have learned about the networks of allies working tirelessly to understand and help Mexican immigrant women who live in the United States, in person and the cyberspace, and on both sides of the border. During my visits in recent years to Mexico, I have also witnessed the visibility of a Mexican government sponsored institution addressing women’s issues on the Mexican side: el Instituto Nacional de las Mujeres. So, I have asked myself: Would the Mexican government ever consider creating an official, parallel institution in the United States, something like, the Instituto de Atención a las Mujeres Migrantes? Although Mexico as a nation is currently in deep pain while deciphering unprecedented crime and violence, and sexual violence is still a puzzle along the US-Mexico border and in the rest of Mexico, in my naivete, I keep wondering, y las mexicanas migrantes que vivimos en Estados Unidos, ¿cuándo?

[i]Women represent 46% of the estimated 12 million Mexican immigrants who live in the United States, according to the Consejo Nacional de Población, November 22, 2010, Migración y Salud: Inmigrantes mexicanas en Estados Unidos. Capítulo I: Características de las mujeres mexicanas adultas en Estados Unidos.


  1. Mujeres Talk Moderator  September 3, 2011 at 5:29 AM

    carmen ramona ponce melendez wrote on February 10, 2011 11:48 pm

    Estimada Gloria González. Es una utopía pensar que el gobierno de México se preocupe por la mujer migrante, mucho menos al grado de crear una Institución para esos efectos, lo que sucede con las mujeres migrantes de centroamerica que cruzan el país con destino a Estados Unidos le podrá dar una idea de lo poco que les importa este grave problema.Esa lucha la tendremos que dar las mujeres de aquí y de allá en forma organizaday posiblemente con ayuda de financieras internacionales, de este gobierno no se puede esperar nada, lamentablemente.

Mujeres, Migration & Arizona’s SB1070: Codifying Patriarchy and White Privilege

January 17, 2011

By C. Alejandra Elenes

Detail of Diego Rivera mural at National Palace,  Mexico City. Photograph by Theresa Delgadillo

Detail of Diego Rivera mural at National Palace,
Mexico City. Photograph by Theresa Delgadillo

There should be no doubt that patriarchy, white supremacy, and privilege are the ideological underpinnings of anti-immigrant legislation and policy in Arizona. The anti-immigrant climate in Arizona is not new, it is an intrinsic part of its history. Indeed at this historical juncture in the continuum of anti-immigrant legislation SB 1070 is taking center stage and has placed Arizona as the model for anti-immigrant legislation at the national level as other states are introducing similar pieces of legislation. As feminists we should pay attention to the link between public policy, power, nationalism, systemic oppression, and social and gender inequality. Laws such as SB 1070, not only create a hostile environment for Latinas/os in Arizona, but are part of a national narrative of race and gender in the U.S. resulting from demographic changes and fears about the “browning” of America.  In this climate, the female brown body is particularly targeted and objectified.

SB 1070 was introduced by Arizona State Senator Russell Pearce who worked with Kansas attorney Kris Kobach. Among Kobach’s credentials are his ties with the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR). FAIR has a long association with eugenics and curtailing the reproductive rights and freedoms for women of color, especially Mexican and Puerto Rican women. Dr. John Tanton founder and Board Member of FAIR since the 1970s linked population growth and immigration. Sociologist Elena R. Gutiérrez argues in her book Fertile Matters there is an overlap between nativism and immigration. Gutiérrez documents that Tanton was concerned that the growth in the immigrant population would undermine any effect to the limit of the U.S. population growth. Xenophobia coupled with demographic changes is at the center of legislation such as SB 1070.

Unfortunately, after the November 2nd election Republicans in Arizona made substantial gains; Republicans are in control of the Executive and Legislative branches of the State Government. Pearce became the President of the Arizona Senate, giving him the power to name committee chairs and create committees. Indeed, among his first actions was to create the Border Security, Federalism and States’ Sovereignty Committee; recall that State Rights were used by Southern states as a ruse to counter the civil rights movement and legislation.

However, Pearce is also moving toward proposing legislation that will deny citizenship to children of “illegal” immigrants born in Arizona. An e-mail Pearce forwarded to his supporters from an acquaintance expresses his views about Mexican women in clear racist and sexist language: “If we are going to have an effect on the anchor baby racket, we need to target the mother. Call it sexist, but that’s the way nature made it. Men don’t drop anchor babies, illegal alien mothers do.” Pearce is well aware that such law will be challenged on its constitutionality. This is a challenge he wants, as he believes that if the case goes all the way to the Supreme Court he will win. Given the composition of the Supreme Court today with a powerful and extremely conservative majority, a decision reinterpreting the Fourteenth Amendment to deny citizenship to children born in the U.S. to undocumented mothers is plausible. From a legal and practical level it is difficult and dangerous to ascertain how we can decide who gets or does not get citizenship. Is it only if the mother is undocumented? What happens if the father is undocumented and the mother a U.S. citizen or “legal” immigrant?   Whenever a society a priori denies citizenship and basic rights to the most vulnerable it creates a group that does not have legal protection (in this case not even citizenship) is readably exploited and dehumanized.

Undoubtedly, there is a connection between xenophobic nationalism and gender/racial oppression that objectifies Mexican women’s bodies and criminalize their children even before they are born. The language used by Pearce is similar to the words used to justify slavery and segregation.  This is the time that Mujeres Activas en Letras y Cambio Social should step up on our activism and fight for our rights as mujeres and not let conservative forces deny our gender and civil rights, and to create an underclass of children with little hope for the future.


  1. Mujeres Talk Moderator  September 3, 2011 at 5:26 AM

    Carmen Ponce Melendez wrote on January 19, 2011 11:05 pm

    Estimadas Compañeras:
    Vivo en México, D.F., soy economista y feminista, escribo en una revista sobre Mujeres llamada CIMAC, su blog me lo dió el Sr. Enrique Méndez Flores de Salinas, California. Tengo mucho interés en el tema de mujeres migrantes y me pongo a sus órdenes para intercambiar información, por lo pronto les envíe dos artículos sobre “mujeres migrantes”, publicados en CIMAC, ahí mi mail, espero su respuesta.

    Carmen Ramona Ponce Meléndez

    ¿Quiénes son las migrantes mexicanas? –CIMAC Noticias
    Reforma Migratoria y Contracción de Remesas –CIMAC Noticias

  2. Mujeres Talk Moderator  September 3, 2011 at 5:27 AM

    Susana Gallardo wrote on January 21, 2011 2:27 am

    Alejandre, thank you so much for articulating this. This hateful anchor baby discourse just wrenches my soul like I cannot describe. Perhaps not only because I am a relatively new mom, but because I see so clearly how gifted and amazing my Chicana/o and Latina/o students, colleagues, DREAMers, and friends are, how much we have contributed, and will continue to contribute. To be reminded that we can be reduced to ‘anchor babies’ by some… it is just despicable.

  3. Mujeres Talk Moderator  September 3, 2011 at 5:27 AM

    Theresa Delgadillo wrote on January 21, 2011 12:37 pm

    Muchas gracias Carmen Ramona Ponce Meléndez para este trabajo sobre la vigilancia de la sexualidad y los derechos reproductivos de de la mujer, y su pobreza económica, en los dos lados de la frontera. Espero que nos mantiene informadas sobre el trabajo de CIMAC.

  4. Mujeres Talk Moderator  September 3, 2011 at 5:27 AM

    Enrique Mendez Flores wrote on January 22, 2011 6:42 am

    Congratulations to the editorial board of Mujeres Activas for Social Change for selecting this well written article of Ms. Elenes. I will send it to all my acquaintances because of its importance. Keep up your great work.


  5. Mujeres Talk Moderator  September 3, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    carmen ramona ponce melendez wrote on February 7, 2011 6:59 pm

    Dear Friends/Estimadas Compañeras: Gracias, yo les envíare artículos de CIMAC sobre la pobreza, desempleo y violencia con que vivimos las mujeres en México, espero sus comentarios.

  6. Mujeres Talk Moderator  September 3, 2011 at 5:28 AM

    Lillian Pittman wrote on March 8, 2011 9:26 pm

    This incessant desire to stamp out the “browning” of America through the criminalization of Latino/a children is so reminiscent of the Cradle to Prison Pipeline disease that has infected our public education system. My fear is that Arizona is simply a testing ground for legislature that could possibly spread across the country like wildfire. Thank you for this piece, it has put much into perspective.