Category Archives: Politics

Report from New Mexico Women’s March

signs says "Our rights are to up for grabs"

Rights Not for Grabs. January 2017. Photo by Adelita Michelle Medina. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

By Adelita Michelle Medina

I had wanted to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the main Women’s March on January 21, 2017, but in many ways, I’m glad I attended the sister march in downtown Albuquerque instead. It was a spirited, diverse and energizing gathering of several thousand women, children and men of all ages, races, religions and backgrounds. Estimates of crowd size have ranged from 6,000 to 10,000, with the latter number offered by the local police. But regardless of the exact size, and despite the cold and wet weather, the march was a big success.   

In these days of uncertainty and apprehension, the marches that took place on that day, in hundreds of cities across the country, provided some much-needed support and solidarity.  Those who participated were reassured that they are not alone, and those who watched the events in their homes, know that people will not be silenced.  They will be heard and they will be seen fighting for their families, cities and country. Continue reading

Mujeres Keeping the Promise of Democracy

As Latina scholars and activists in the United States, we are alarmed about the recent political and social developments in the country. We can’t help but notice that the new President  has engaged in reprehensible rhetoric against members of different groups in the U.S., and has threatened others. As we witness his selection of future cabinet and administration officials, we note that many of them have also participated in this dangerous rhetoric and often stand opposed to the rights of working people, women, racial and ethnic minorities, religious minorities, as well as the right of all humans to clean air, water, and land. In this climate, we are witnessing an increase of exclusionary language based on race, citizenship status, and religious affiliation, where the everyday realities of racism, xenophobia, and other forms of bigotry, harassment, and violence have been increasingly on full display since the election. Continue reading

The Latina/o/x Role in the 2016 Political Race

This week we feature Latina/o Studies scholars and writers Lisa Magaña, Christina Bejarano, and Daisy Hernández on the role of Latinas/os/x in today’s political climate and how the 2016 election will affect Latina/o/x lives.

Christina Bejarano, University of Kansas

Latinos play an increasingly important role in today’s political climate, both in terms of their increasing presence in the political environment and their growing voting power in the elections.  Latinos are a key voting bloc of swing voters that are courted by both political parties and they are forecasted to play a pivotal role in upcoming elections.  This particular election has brought a heightened sense of importance to the Latino vote.  However, this increased political attention comes with both negative and positive ramifications for Latinos. 

Word "vote" painted on fence

Photo by Flickr user H2Woah! Taken August 5, 2008. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The current political climate provides several clear issues of importance for Latino communities, which can be an additional motivator for Latinos to participate this election.  Latinos are concerned about multiple issues including their top concerns on immigration reform, improving the economy, and creating more jobs, as well as providing quality education and health care.  This election has also emphasized the need to address mounting anti-Latino and anti-immigrant discrimination in the country, as well as police violence and inner city tensions.  Many Latinos acknowledge the negative repercussions of the Trump campaign, which has created a more Continue reading

Eugenicist Views Take Center Stage in Election Season

photo of eugenics poster that warns viewers to check for supposedly defective hereditary seed

“Eugenics” by Gennie Stafford. Photo of poster in Jewish Museum. From Flickr. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

by Laura Briggs

Many have been writing in recent days about when Donald Trump started sounding like a fascist. Business Insider Australia even dug up a quote from Ivana Trump in an old Vanity Fair article that claimed that Donald kept Hitler’s speeches by his bed, a statement he didn’t deny. Political science scholar Matthew McWilliams found that the single most important characteristic that predicted Trump support was authoritarianism. Yet an influential Vox article by Dylan Matthews back in December denied that Trump’s politics were on the fascist spectrum, and seemed to halt the momentum of those who had begun raising the question after Trump argued for banning Muslims at the border (initially including U.S. citizens). But Matthews’ doubtful claims that Trump doesn’t advocate violence or overthrowing the Constitution, and his apparent ignorance of the fact that Hitler was elected notwithstanding, the answer for some of us was: we heard Trump as a fascist from the day he announced. He couched his anti-Mexican racism in eugenic terms that day, back in June. He (in)famously began his speech by saying:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

Much has been said about this except the most obvious: it implies that most Mexican immigrants are men and that most of those men are rapists. Where does this notion of the “Mexican rapist” come from? Especially since it’s profoundly wrong. Rape is an overwhelmingly male crime, but he offers no proof for the outrageous claim that Mexican men are rapists and overlooks the fact that the majority of migrants from Mexico to the United States are women. Or at least have been since the 1990s. While some say that gender balance has shifted since 2008 (when net migration began to approach zero, with as many Mexicans leaving as arriving), if you add women together with children, men are still a minority of Mexican migrants.

Trump is, no doubt, aware that there are Mexican migrant women in the US—after all, they do a disproportionate amount of the cleaning in the resorts and office buildings that Trump has built his fortune on (and he recently even threw out a woman from one of his rallies, asking “Are you from Mexico?”).

But demographic accuracy wasn’t really what he was after. Trump strummed an old string in US American politics by seeming to defend a violated, victimized (white) womanhood from a racialized other, recalling the old lynching narrative (also resuscitated recently by Maine Governor LePage, complaining about “drug dealers” who go to his state and impregnate “white women”). But by changing the demon of the story from an African-American to a (foreign) Mexican rapist, he shifted it in a direction that would be familiar to fascists everywhere—a eugenic one. It was about the need to protect an imagined (white) volk and their homeland not just from foreigners, but from the wrong kind of reproduction. White women being impregnated by Mexicans. As Mary Romero and others who have been tracking groups like Mothers Against Illegal Aliens have noticed, this image of the Mexican rapist might be a new note in national politics, but it is deeply familiar one from extremist, white nativist groups in Arizona and elsewhere. As he talked about the need to shore up borders, build walls, and “make America great again,” Trump was also invoking the foreign threat to white womanhood, white reproduction, and white children in a way that many of us recognized from the frontiers of eugenic racism in places like Arizona. The Washington Post and Senators may only know about David Duke and the KKK, but Latina feminism has been tracking an account of white reproduction and the Mexican threat.

This wasn’t immediately obvious in the national conversation, though, because virtually everyone who responded to Trump last June was willing to agree with him that Mexican migrants are (all) men. The American Immigration Council (AIC) quickly released a report that responded to Trump in detail, finding that only 1.6 percent of immigrant males 18 to 39 years old were incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of native-born males. It added, “The 2010 Census data reveals that incarceration rates among the young, less-educated Mexican, Salvadoran, and Guatemalan men who make up the bulk of the unauthorized population are significantly lower than the incarceration rate among native-born young men without a high-school diploma. In 2010, less-educated native-born men age 18-39 had an incarceration rate of 10.7 percent—more than triple the 2.8 percent rate among foreign-born Mexican men, and five times greater than the 1.7 percent rate among foreign-born Salvadoran and Guatemalan men.” The AIC data, in turn, were duly broadcast by the media, including the Washington Post fact checker (which gave Trump “four Pinocchios” for lying.) These figures reveal the falsity of Trump’s statements, but they also point to the problem of criminalization and incarceration of young people that the Black Lives Matter movement has again brought to the fore in our national consciousness.

While Trump merely implied that Mexican immigrants were all men, the AIC report was explicit. It looked at male crime data, and the Post and other media outlets accepted this without comment. All agreed to take it for granted that all Mexican (or Central American) immigrants are men.

While there is a white supremacist wing of the Republican Party that has been demonizing Mexicans for a long time—think of Pat Buchanan’s 2000 presidential run on an anti-Mexican platform—the “Mexican rapist” was from a white nativist playbook, to the right of Buchanan’s. Trump’s Hitler-isms remade the Jewish racial-religious threat to the homeland into two, the Mexican racial threat and the Muslim religious threat.

The significance of Trump’s invocation of white nativist eugenics was invisible last summer because feminism is only occasionally important to the national political debate. When he calls women “dogs” or “cows,” or complains about Megan “blood coming out of her whatever” Kelly, commentators can get a whiff of his misogyny. But the unspoken “white women” at the back of his “Mexican rapists” comment (or the complete invisibility of Mexican and Central American women to anybody) aren’t seen or heard by the media. But not only Latina feminists, but feminist scholars of Hitler, Franco, and some Latin American conservatisms have noted the importance of this foreign/national reproduction story to fascism consistently. Scholars like Leila Rupp, Gisela Bok, and Mary Nash have written about the political significance of Aryan or Spanish women having many babies, the banning of contraception and abortion, and the centrality of eugenics as a reproductive politics to fascist visions of the future and its population. (It’s telling in this regard that Trump is alone among the current leaders in the Republican field in carving out a rape exception for banning abortion.) Trump’s specifically reproductive racism, an account of the relationship of gender and race that tells a story of the appropriate white female reproduction of the nation, is a way of thinking that resonates deeply with feminist accounts of fascism and womanhood. But this hasn’t emerged in the national discussion about Trump’s candidacy because most begin from the same assumption he did: Mexicans are men.

We might say that Trump, who’s never been accused of the usual “dog whistle” subterfuges of national Republican candidates when it comes to his racist pronouncements, blew a dog whistle of his own about what we might call the race-and-gender politics of the “Mexican rapist” comment. While it’s difficult to get a handle on Trump’s politics because of a pervasive sense that he doesn’t believe what he’s saying—after all, when did Trump care about immigration or criminalizing abortion before he was running for President—it doesn’t matter whether his positions represent his deeply held beliefs or not. He is running on becoming popular—populist—with deep political cunning. He is deliberately building a new strain of American fascism in a way we haven’t seen since the 1930s and Huey Long and Father Coughlin and their Jewish threat.

While many have argued that Trump is allowing a full-throated and proud white racism to crawl out from under the rock where it has been relegated (allowing only a more genteel, less explicit racism on the national stage), I would go further and say he is building it. The 20% of South Carolina Trump supporters who have told pollsters that it was a mistake to end slavery, the Nevada supporters who rattled off a fantasy of the mass-murder of Muslims to Nation reporter Sasha Abramsky—these, I suspect, are new developments. These are flames fanned by things like Trump’s repetition of the old imperialist canard of Pershing in the Philippines at the turn of the century dipping bullets in pigs’ blood and shooting Muslim insurgents there.

The Republican Party is now in full freak-out mode that it is on the verge of selecting a nominee who plays games about whether he will denounce David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan—denouncing him one day, claiming he doesn’t know who he is the next. While the G.O.P. has certainly been racist in recent years—think of its obstructionism toward Obama, the “birther” craziness, the recent attempt to cast a shadow of illegitimacy over his nomination of a replacement for Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, the denunciation of Syrian and Mexican immigrants—the party has always maintained a thin veneer of deniability that allows a handful of people of color and a lot of white folks to maintain their party membership without shame. It seems genuinely to be news that Trump’s position is unapologetically racist, and arguably fascist.

It’s just possible that if they had listened to his announcement speech with feminist ears—had heard the “Mexican rapist” canard as the eugenic claim it was—Trump’s fascism would have been obvious a long time ago.

Laura J. Briggs is Professor and Chair of Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies at UMass Amherst. A widely recognized historian of reproductive politics, Briggs has published three books: Somebody’s Children: The Politics of Transracial and Transnational Adoption, (Duke University Press, 2012); Reproducing Empire: Race, Sex, Science and U.S. Imperialism in Puerto Rico (University of California Press, 2002); and International Adoption: Global Inequalities and the Circulation of Children (NYU Press, 2009, o-author with Diana Marre). Briggs has also published  numerous articles on empire/transnational history of the U.S. in Latin America; reproductive politics and race and sexuality; adoption; and immigration/migration. Recent articles ahve been published in International Feminist Journal of Politics; Feminist Studies; Frontiers; Scholar and the Feminist Online; American Quarterly; American Indian Quarterly; Scripta Nova (Barcelona). In 2012 she created the academic blog site Somebody’s Children: A Blog about Adoption, ART, and Reproductive Politics, where she offers incisive commentary informed by her extensive research.  Professor Briggs has a long history of activism both within institutions and in the community, especially on issues of immigration, and is a collective member of the Tepoztlán Institute for Transnational History.

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.

Reports from NWSA “Feminist Transgressions” Conference

Photo by Susy Zepeda. CC BY-NC-ND.

Photo by Susy Zepeda. CC BY-NC-ND.

Feminisms in the World

by Susy Zepeda

In November 2014, I attended the National Women’s Studies Association conference, “Feminist Transgressions” in San Juan, Puerto Rico along with scholar-activists in the fields of women and gender studies, feminist studies, queer studies, and critical race studies. Critical discussions of transnational feminist methodology, a stellar plenary panel on “Imperial Politics,” and the reformulated practices of solidarity emerging through out the conference space made this gathering a particularly memorable one in terms of critical feminist history.

Perhaps the most vivid and relevant discussion to the current moment was an inspiring, yet extremely complicated and eye-opening discussion on the possibility of passing a Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions resolution by NWSA members. There were several panels that offered space for critical discussion on the politics surrounding the underpinnings of this solidarity work, a key one being, “Solidarity Delegations to Palestine & Indigenous/Women of Color Feminists: Reflections, Impact and Assessment” featuring Rabab Ibrahim Abdulhadi, Angela Davis, Gina Dent, Beverly Guy-Sheftall, and Barbara Ransby as former participants in solidarity delegations to Palestine. Briefly mentioned, yet illuminating, was the need for collaboration among social movements based in different geopolitical locations to be more connected due to implicating imperial logics—particularly highlighted were the cases of Puerto Rican political prisoner Oscar López Rivera, and the targeted arrest and imprisonment of Rasmea Odeh[1], associate director of Arab American Action Network (AAAN), who has since been released due to mass protest and organizing.[2]

The plenary session titled, “The Imperial Politics of Nation-States: U.S., Israel, and Palestine,” featuring Chandra Talpade Mohanty as moderator, and Islah Jad, Rebecca Vilkomerson, and Angela Davis as panelists continued this critical discussion by involving over 2,000 NWSA members in the rethinking of critical feminist solidarity politics.  It was perhaps Rebecca Vilkomerson, from the organization Jewish Voice for Peace[3], whose disruption of whiteness through her own life testimony and activism that gave new life to a much-needed discussion on revised racial and solidarity politics in this organization. She questioned accusations of anti-Semitism while asking: who can speak for Palestine? Angela Davis echoed these critiques by suggesting we methodologically pay attention to the “intersectionality of resistances” as we contemplate how police in Oakland are trained by Israeli military.

For a conference that has been widely critiqued for upholding white heteronormativity, and western-centered practices, among other injustices[4] it was great to walk into a space with gender neutral restrooms that read: “Baños de Género Neutro.”  This conference experience seems to be a reflection of changing energy and politics due to the leadership of radical women of color in the last decade or so in this feminist organizing space.[5]  The photo booths near the registration table were an ingenious part of this gathering to document the critical feminist gathering moments in San Juan, Puerto Rico.[6]

Theory and Activism

by Theresa Delgadillo

The NWSA Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico drew over 2,000 participants and presented a special opportunity to learn more about feminist movements in Puerto Rico, but it was also a conference schedule filled with panels, workshops, roundtables, and discussions on feminist research around the globe. As outgoing NWSA President Yi-Chun Tricia Lin wrote in her welcome letter to the event: “the conference endeavors to take up the histories, geographies, affective dimensions, and political stakes of various feminist insubordinations in the spaces they occupy: intellectual and institutional, local and global, public and intimate, by choice and under duress.” The focus on “transgressions,” therefore, was an invitation to participate in analyzing actions and interventions of multiple kinds and in varied sites. The number of panels focused on Chicana and Latina Studies research seemed higher this year than in previous years, and so the conference presented an opportunity for networking both within and across fields. I took full advantage and attended, among others, a panel retrospectively examining the significance of the work of Barbara Smith (a co-author of the Combahee River Collective’s statement), a panel of women from the Puerto Rican island of Vieques (for many years, used by the U.S. for bombing practice) who have shifted into activism around economic opportunity in light of development trends on the island, Latina scholars presenting research on queer arts activism in Puerto Rico and Latina media pioneers in the U.S., and Asian American scholars examining affective labor and human rights discourses within Asian diasporas. NWSA was a place to engage with rich and interrelated work. At the 2014 American Studies Association conference it was reported at the evening keynote address that one session on the “keywords” trend in critical studies had proposed the elimination of “intersectionality” from the keywords vocabulary. However, at the NWSA conference the influence of the contributions of women color to critical theory were recognized and rigorously engaged across disciplines, geographies, and fields.


[1] For the words “Rasmea Odeh” please link:
[2] for the words “mass protest and organizing” please link:
[3] for the words, “Jewish Voice for Peace” please link:
[4] Sandoval, Chela. (1990). “Feminism and Racism: A Report on the 1981 National Women’s Studies Association Conference.” Making Face, Making Soul: Haciendo Caras: Creative and Critical Perspectives by Women of Color. G. Anzaldúa. San Francisco, Aunt Lute.
[5] The 30th Annual NWSA Conference, “Difficult Dialogues,” with keynote speaker Angela Davis resonates this shift.
[6] Photos can be found the National Women’s Studies Association Facebook timeline.  Also, available is the bell hooks keynote at:

Enriching our Educational Advocacy for Latino Students and the Community

Public Meeting in Texas on HB5.

Public Meeting in Texas on HB5.

by Maricela Oliva

Those of us involved in education have for years focused on school achievement or college success, foci that are conceptualized in terms of lower (K-12) or higher (post-secondary) education. I propose that we need to evolve and enrich our educational advocacy from a school or college issue to one that re-imagines educational success as a P-16 endeavor. This seems easy enough to do, but I argue that it is actually more difficult because it requires our involvement in efforts to impact educational achievement with cross-level and systemic rather than level-focused interventions. These broader interventions require collaboration and interdisciplinary boundary-spanning work. Furthermore, necessary and cross-level systemic change is best achieved with the participation not only of individuals and groups working on issues from the inside of key educational organizations but also of allies working from outside them, in the broader community.

An illustrative example for those of us in Texas is the HB 5 statute that passed the Texas Legislature in Spring 2013. This bill packaged two large objectives in one instrument: a reduction of testing at the school level (as advocated by school level educators and scholars) and a change in the high school preparation curriculum. Changes to the curriculum eliminated the common high school preparation curriculum while putting in place a foundational curriculum for all with additional voluntary endorsements that schools could also offer their students (multidisciplinary, arts, STEM, other). The statute had multiple stakeholders of support: teachers, school-level scholars, technical-vocational educators, corporations, employers, and a Republican governor. Higher education was not among those supporting changes in the curriculum. Focusing on college readiness, the Commissioner of Higher Education actually argued against changes in the high school preparation curriculum because of the negative impact on the college readiness of all, especially Latino students.

Paradoxically, educators at both lower and higher education argued that their opposite views reflected concern for the well-being of students. How can this be so? Advocates and detractors of the bill were looking at it from their unique perspective and often failed to see the issue or concern from the level different from their own. In other words, school advocates did not understand or think the higher education critiques important enough to hold back their support of the bill. From the higher education side, Higher Education Commissioner Paredes was not able to convince supporters that they might be helping themselves in terms of testing reduction but hurting themselves by eroding college readiness and access for students.

Bill sponsors were smart, in my view, to package the two issues (testing reduction and curricular change) in the same bill. They anticipated that supporters of the testing issue would overwhelm critics of the curricular change issue; indeed, this is what happened. School-level educators were so keen on getting the school testing reduced that they did not listen to or hear concerns from higher education about the new high school graduation requirements. For example, they did not hear that 8th graders from low-income and first generation families might not select the high school curriculum that would be in their long-term best interest and that would promote their readiness for college. They did not pay attention to concerns that high achieving graduates in the foundational curriculum would no longer be eligible for Texas’s automatic college admissions program for students in the top ten percent of their graduating class, undermining a program that has enabled access to elite state universities for new students, including Latina/o students. They did not pay attention to the fact that colleges and universities would still look most favorably on students who demonstrate traditional college-readiness, nor to others’ equity concerns given that not all schools would be able to offer all of the voluntary endorsements. In the end, bill sponsors with sleight of hand, managed to create a scenario that almost guarantees that in the future, fewer Latino students will be college ready and college admitted to an institution of choice when they graduate high school. If young people and their families are allowed to pick their high school curriculum in 8th grade, quite a few may not understand the consequence of choosing a curriculum that makes room for employment in high school rather than college ready courses, one that allows them to avoid Algebra II rather than challenge themselves with rigorous coursework to make themselves an attractive applicant when they apply to college, etc. Since the various curricula are often incommensurate, young people will find it difficult to recover from the wrong choice once they later better understand its impact on their college access and readiness.

I recently sat in on a conference session in which school counselors and other school level educational personnel learned about and asked how to implement HB 5. School curriculum directors and higher education admissions officers made up a panel that presented their view of how HB 5 would impact their work. My understanding of what I saw and heard in that session is that implementation will be very complicated at the school level. Furthermore, those districts and schools in which personnel already have a handle on facilitating college readiness (i.e., those with a college-going culture) will do their best to implement the unfunded mandate in ways that anticipate students’ mistakes and that leave their college readiness options open until students fully understand the impact of their decisions. They plan to do this with face to face meetings with each individual child and their parents to explain the curricula and what they mean. However, at schools with overwhelming counselor-to-student ratios, such as at schools that are majority minority or that do not have a college-going culture, it was not clear that they could be so effective. Students there, the ones that we already have the biggest challenge getting to college, probably will not get this high level interaction as they choose their high school curriculum. For us in Texas, the largest and fastest-growing group in the school pipeline is Latino students, who are now the most at risk from these curricular changes.

How could this happen in Texas, a relatively policy savvy environment in which we already recognize the importance of promoting college-going among Latinos and where we have long acknowledged the importance of Latino youth to the future well-being of the state (see Closing the Gaps). This happened because first, analysts focused on issues at K-12 or post-secondary levels of education and did not have a sufficiently developed P-16 view of the issues that impact our community. Second, conservative policy-makers packaged the two issues in the same bill so that concerns about proposed changes to the high school preparation curriculum would be overwhelmed by support for testing reduction. And it worked.  So now, is it possible to “make a silk purse out of [the] pig’s ear” that is, potentially, the curricular part of HB 5?

Those of us in education and community advocacy have learned to be vigilant about what happens with schools and to better understand the need to talk to young people in concrete ways about the school to college pathway. In San Antonio, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) had already created OurSchool Portal ( as a program that allows parents and families to understand educational impacts and outcomes at area high schools. The intent was to help parents and families advocate for changes that would improve children’s educational success and college readiness. At the state level, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board created Compare College Texas ( so that families and prospective college students can look for institutions that are a good fit for their needs and interests. Nationally, The College Board has created a comprehensive online program for exploring colleges and college choice throughout the US. BigFuture ( encourages children and parents to explore their options early and together. In this way, parents can be part of the college readiness and choice process, even if they did not themselves go to college. A few weeks ago in March, the College Board also announced that they are giving four test report waivers to low-income high achieving students to encourage them to apply to four colleges, which is likely to improve college fit and student success. The College Board has made other changes recently to encourage more low-income and minority students to prepare for college and apply to institutions that meet their needs. Research has shown that highly prepared young women, Latina/o and other minority students sometimes do not apply to selective colleges even when they are well prepared to succeed there. This can limit not only their college options but prospects for future professional success.

So what is my take-away from this discussion and the HB 5 illustration? To better serve Latina/o and other community youth, we need to develop our understanding of how school issues impact college readiness and success. As a post-secondary educator, I am making time to study how local schools provide adult guidance for college to their students. In this way, I walk my talk by learning how I can be an effective partner to schools in my area, in order to promote college-going for Latino and other youth.

Can you take on an initiative in your area to promote student success along the school to college/university pathway?  Whether we are school or college educators, doing so will require that we study and learn more about the educational level that is different from the one in which we now work or in which we were trained. If we do, we can be better advocates for the educational success of our youth. Only our future depends on it.

References: Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (2000). Closing the Gaps: The Texas Higher Education Plan. Austin: THECB.

A native of Texas from the Rio Grande Valley, Dr. Maricela Oliva is Associate Professor of Higher Education at the University of Texas at San Antonio. Her scholarly work focuses on issues impacting college access for students; namely, policy, race, class, first generation status, and school-university linkages. She is a member of the Association for the Study of Higher Education and the American Educational Research Association. With AERA she has served on national conference planning committees for Divisions J (Higher Education) and L (Policy) and was elected Council Member At Large for the 1800-member Division J (Postsecondary). Dr. Oliva serves or has served on four journal Editorial Boards, including The Review of Higher Education, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, and the Journal of Research on Leadership Education. She has published articles and chapters as well as a book, Leadership for Social Justice: Making Revolutions in Education, now in its second edition. She currently serves as an elected member of the Academic Assembly Council of The College Board.

¡Ya Es Tiempo!: A Latina for Governor of California

February 4, 2013

Photo from Flickr. Untitled, Marcin Wichery, April 2008.

Photo from Flickr. Untitled, Marcin Wichery, April 2008.

By Adaljiza Sosa Riddell, Ph.D.

Mujeres compañeras, feministas Chicanas, Latinas y mas:
 Have you had enough of electoral politics? Did those congressional wiri wiri’s con bastantes pendejadas(rhetoric, hot air and plenty of stupidities) push you well beyond anger with the two-party system to somnambulist alienation? Politics in the Golden State, now revealed as a solid Democratic state, were not any more exciting, even as California underwent a demographic change unmatched in any other state. Although two women were on the ballot, the California gubernatorial elections of 2010 left me beyond bored and rather angry. Perhaps this is because neither woman, both of whom are CEOs of major companies, met my minimal criteria for candidacy.

A LATINA FOR GOVERNOR OF CALIFORNIA IN 2014? Would a Latina on the ballot make any election more engaging and more meaningful to me? Perhaps, but only if it is a position with the ability to alter the relationship between the rulers and the ruled, entrelos de abajo y los de arriba. How might this work? Inspired by the people of Arab Spring, I submit that an interested group might use the internet and social media toward this end. I proposed this entire plan to my family. My brother, the civil engineer, asked me, the social scientist, how I could even believe this could happen. He argued that my political science knowledge was just so much nonsense. Usually I concede intellectual knowledge vs. community experience arguments in the interest of peace and often end in agreement with him. This time I did not concede.

I refer you to a rapidly growing body of literature demonstrating, among other things, that women continue to develop feminist consciousness and do act on this thought process. In short, class, race/ethnicity, and gender do make a difference in politics. Traditional literatures such as political science, as well as emerging literatures including Women’s Studies and American Studies, affirm a Latina political consciousness. This specific consciousness is made up of a seamless cloth in which women’s personal development is intertwined with their roles in the family, the community, and their emergence as political activists.[1] Most importantly, the literature in Chicana and Chicano Studies has grown rapidly, with a sizeable body of work on Chicanas/Latinas and politics.[2] Since the theory that Chicana/Latina political consciousness is real, well-known, well-documented and reflects experience, then it is time to turn the pyramid upside down and share power rather than continuing to hold up pyramids and bridges on our backs.[3]

THIS IS A CALL TO ACTION. The next California gubernatorial election is in November 2014. I invite you to join me in nominating and supporting one Chicana/Latina feminista to run for and win the Governorship of the state of Alta California. I propose that this is performed “democratically” through the Internet and social media.

Although it is not my intent to encourage anyone to participate in electoral party politics, I am indeed searching for strategies that can actually foster meaningful change in the nature of the relationship between the rulers and the ruled. While American political ideology, including ideals of equality, individual freedoms, and government of the people, by the people and for the people, as stated in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution, may have inspired many of us, the marriage of such lofty ideals to raw, unregulated capitalism has rendered the original ideals and everyday practices hollow and harmful. However, the American electoral system occasionally provides some truly democratic moments.

Another such moment is now before the Latino population in California, specifically in the next gubernatorial election. Despite the fact that the U.S. Census seriously undercounts the Latino population, the 2010 U.S. Census and the resulting redistricting plans have given Latinos an unprecedented voice in the electoral process as shown in the 2012 elections. Proposition 11, Voters First Act, passed in 2008, established an entirely new process for reapportionment plans based on the 2010 census. However, the effort to take the reapportionment process out of the California State Legislature ended by increasing representation for new populations, cultural groups, and historical communities previously ignored or underrepresented. This process may not survive the next election. Conservative groups are presently working on changing that process through California’s citizens’ initiative to disallow “overwhelming” power for California’s former minorities. Latinos and Asian/Pacific Islanders especially cannot allow the underrepresentation in state governance to intensify nor continue because it means our communities will be wrongly served and/or underserved.

The 2010 U.S. Census also contains another important figure: Latinas are 51% of the Latino population. This number signifies that mujeres Latinas hold up more than half the sky. Coupled with knowledge and experience of Chicanas/Latinas in the workplace, the home, and the community, this does mean that mujeres do more than half the work. Mujeres should thus have an opportunity to have some of the power. And I expect men, brothers, and partners to wholeheartedly endorse this endeavor. I paraphrase a quote by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, 1982 Nobel Laureate in Literature, in a January 2000 issue of Time magazine: “Men have run the world for well over 2000 years. Women deserve to try their hand at governance in the 21st century.” The eyes of the world are on us. Women must rise to the challenge. California is perfectly poised to meet that challenge.

The following are some of my ideas for this project. If you would like to join me in creating a group, a Comité, separate from MALCS to advance this idea, please email me at

STRATEGY. A first round of work will identify a Latina candidate then gather support and verify interest of the candidate in running for governor by signing up for the Primary. This first round should generate a short list of possible Latina candidates gathered by consensus exclusively from among women. The second round will begin with one Latina name, and one only. The Comité will then reach out to all Hispanic, Latino, Mexican American and Chicano organizations in California via listservs and social media, in an effort to recruit male compañeros, to endorse and work for the one consensus candidate.


1.     Demonstrate a Latina women’s political consciousness
2.     Possess electoral politics experience
3.     Have statewide recognition
4.     Exhibit a clean record (no major scandals)
5.     Display support for and from Latina/o grassroots groups including especially non-traditional sexualities
6.     Be highly knowledgeable on California issues
7.     Be familiar to and with large urban centers including Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, and in its most rapidly growing areas such as Fresno, Visalia, and the Inland Empire

Again, I welcome other suggestions for criteria. The Comité will need these later for extensive outreach to garner support.

WHAT YOU CAN DO. If you are interested, join me in forming the Comité, you can:

1.     Nominate a candidate
2.     Volunteer for the Comité to receive names from first round of contact; work with me (or someone else) to come up with one name; conduct second round of outreach
3.     Work on campaign itself
4.     Suggest other forms of participation

¡Ya es tiempo! I look forward to your ideas, suggestions and concerns.

Adaljiza Sosa Riddell, Ph.D., is the founder of MALCS and Chicano Studies Professor Emeritus at The University of California, Davis. She lives in Los Angeles and studies politics, Chicana/o issues, and class struggle. She can be contacted via email at

[1] This is a shortened version of the definition of Latina political consciousness from Carol Hardy-Fanta in Women Transforming Politics: An Alternative Reader, ed. Cathy Cohen et al. (New York: NYU Press, 1997), 223-237.

[2] See Carol Hardy-Fanta, Latina Politics, Latino Politics: Gender, Culture, and Political Participation in Boston (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1993); P. Cruz-Takash inWomen Transforming Politics, 412-434; Christine Sierra and Adaljiza Sosa-Riddell, “Chicanas as Political Actors,” National Political Science Review 4 (1994): 297-317; Mary Pardo, Mexican American Women Activists (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998); Maylei Blackwell¡Chicana Power!: Contested Histories of Feminism in the Chicano Movement (Austin: UT Press, 2011), among others.

[3] Cherríe Moraga and Gloria Anzaldúa, eds., This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color (Watertown, MA: Persephone Press, 1981).


  1. Rita Urquijo-Ruiz    February 6, 2013 at 11:45 AM

    Querida Adaljiza.

    Mil gracias for your writing this. Although I am now living in TX (another state that could us much of what you propose here). The first woman that comes to mind is Hilda Solís. Other than that, I can’t really think of anyone else.



  2. Anonymous    February 8, 2013 at 8:08 AM

    I definitely think we should see a Latina on the ballot–it would not be too difficult to put someone there but whether or not she would be elected would be difficult given the two party monopoly. For a while I was a member of the Green Party and had some hope for an alternative space that forwarded progressive folks and that was a diverse group. In the past, I believe some RUP folks in Califas became part of Peace and Freedom. And there has been Latina representation on Peace and Freedom. Unless I’m mistaken, Yolanda Alaniz has been a major figure there in past. I also think we need to be clear about what the platform of a “Latina woman’s political consciousness would be” e.g. worker rights, support for public education, etc. You are certainly on to something, Ada! I agree that Hilda Solis would be a strong candidate–she is democratic party all the way but that could also be strategically useful in her election. But a true challenge should come from someone outside of those circuits who offers a completely different approach to leadership and policy and I think that’s what you are calling for. –Dionne

Another (Reauthorization) Act to Follow

December 3, 2012

Photo: "Human Trafficking" by Leonard John Matthews from Flickr/Creative Commons

Photo: “Human Trafficking” by Leonard John Matthews from Flickr/Creative Commons

By Susan C. Méndez

There seems to be no end to the potential human collateral that can be caused by the United States Congress’s inaction. Along with the delay in renewing the Violence Against Women Act, recent news coverage has focused on another delay in reauthorizing the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA). The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime defines human trafficking as “an act of recruiting, transporting, transferring, harboring or receiving a person through a use of force, coercion or other means, for the purpose of exploiting them.” According to a news article by Mounira Al Hmoud in the Times Argus online, more than 2,500 alleged incidents of human trafficking were filed between January 1, 2008 and June 30, 2010 in the United States. About 82% of these reported incidents involved sex trafficking: more than 1,200 incidents involved adult sex trafficking and 1,000 incidents involved child sexual exploitation. And these are just the reported cases for this time period. Notably, human traffickers largely target women and children of color. As such, those who have rose up to speak on this issue are tied closely to this community. Recently Jada Pinkett Smith and her daughter Willow Smith made the news with their appearances in Washington, D.C. to talk to government officials about this issue. Reportedly, more than 2,500 alleged incidents of human trafficking were filed between January 1, 2008 and June 30, 2010 in the United States. About 82% of these reported incidents involved sex trafficking: more than 1,200 incidents involved adult sex trafficking and 1,000 incidents involved child sexual exploitation. And these are just the reported cases for this time period. Pinkett Smith founded an anti-trafficking group named “Don’t Sell Bodies” and sang a song in Spanish entitled “Nada,” whose video highlights the story of a young woman being trafficked by a love-interest and is directed by Salma Hayek. It is no coincidence that these key actions which stress the issue of human trafficking have come from members of the larger women of color community; such actions and participants are good indicators as to who should be paying attention to human trafficking.  Pinkett Smith and her daughter’s most recent actions include participating in the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking. Their advocacy on this issue has brought much needed attention back to the fate of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 (TVPA).

This act, also known as the largest piece of human rights legislation in the United States, was the first federal law to address comprehensively trafficking as a crime on both the international and domestic fronts. According to Polaris Project (a non-profit, non-governmental organization that fights modern day slavery and human trafficking), the TVPA is composed of three aspects: “prevention through public awareness programs overseas and a State-department led monitoring and sanctions program; protection through new T-visa and services for foreign national victims; and prosecution through new federal crimes.” This legislation was significant because it created an Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking, whose task it is to rank other countries based on their efforts to halt human trafficking (and the President of the United States may choose to impose sanctions on countries that do not meet the minimum standards to end trafficking); established the temporary legal status of “continued presence” and the new T visa which allows survivors of human trafficking to stay in the United States temporarily and to apply for permanent residency after 3 years; and made trafficking a federal crime along with the new crime of forced labor (individual and corporate employers are the ones liable to be charged with these crimes). The TVPA of 2000 (P.L. 106-386) was an astounding act of humanity and compassion; it was reauthorized in 2003 (H.R. 2620), in 2005 (H.R. 972), and in 2008 (H.R. 7311) easily. Its renewal is purposefully scheduled every two to three years in order to address that fact that traffickers change their modes of operation periodically. Each time this act was reauthorized, improvements were made that enhanced the original bill’s approach to end human trafficking.

Although various academics, journalists and activists may have differing perspectives on the impact of human trafficking and the methods and language used to convey assistance to those who are trafficked, the impetus behind this act appears to be extending offers of help to those who find themselves to be survivors of exploitative practices. Consequently, the need for this act still is apparent and the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 (S.1301) began its renewal process on June 29, 2011 when the act was introduced and referred to its committee led by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT). Initially, this Reauthorization Act had 42 Senatorial co-sponsors (it now has 52). According to Leahy aides, when this committee turned to the House of Representatives, there was a need to strike a deal and that need has delayed renewal. The Act expired on September 30, 2011. Mounira Al Hmoud reported for the Times Argus online that for the past fifteen months, the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 has been referred to five different committees of the House, has undergone significant revision, and has Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ) as its sponsor. An editorial piece in The New York Times, dated March 21, 2012, explains how these revisions have not always been beneficial. For example, one revised aspect is the moving of financing for survivors’ services from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Justice. This shifting makes little sense as the Department of Justice, in comparison to the Department of Health and Human Services, is not equipped to deal with the multi-faceted experiences and needs of survivors. Besides ill-conceived revisions, another detrimental aspect to the stalling of passing this reauthorization act is the inaccurate application of language used to discuss human trafficking to prosecute undocumented immigrants in states such as Arizona where anti-immigrant fervor is strong.

So what does this act look like now? Where does it stand and what does it have to do with the Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking? The aforementioned editorial in The New York Times also details how in October 2011, a Senate bill to renew this act through 2015 cleared the Judiciary Committee, yet has not come to a floor vote. The bill for this act’s renewal cuts appropriations to 130 million but increases “victim” assistance to $25.5 million. It also has strengthened enforcement measures. The Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking is co-chaired by Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Robert Portman (R-OH). They aim to engage caucus members in agreeing upon common goals and creating policies to achieve these goals in the quest to end human trafficking. There are 13 Senators on this caucus, and it is fitting that Blumenthal and Portman are co-chairs because in June 2012, they sponsored the End Trafficking in Government Contracting bill. (In this bill, these two Senators hoped to change pending defense fund legislation in order to stop funds for government contractors who employed trafficked laborers.) It is suspected the work and attention that this caucus will garner can only bring the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011 back to both public and governmental discussion. The caucus has already begun productive conversation as Jada Pinkett Smith has expressed her hope that the caucus will establish an advisory council of survivors that can help the government comprehend the various complexities of human trafficking. It appears good results can come out of this caucus.

Recent news reports have restated the need for this act, along with the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, to pass Congress before the end of this year. However, with much needed attention and work focused on the “fiscal cliff,” the renewal of these crucial acts seems doubtful and such a delay would be disastrous for those seeking assistance. The same editorial in The New York Times describes recent successful efforts made to reach out to survivors of human trafficking. These efforts include: “a new trafficking hot line, financed through a grant by health and human services, for instance, [which] has taken more than 49,000 calls, connected 5,770 potential victims with services and provided more than 2,155 law-enforcement tips.” Such services are not plentiful and whatever resources exist to help people who find themselves to be survivors of exploitative practices like human trafficking should be maintained if not expanded.


Blumenthal, Richard. “Senate Caucus to End Human Trafficking.” n.p. n.d. Web. 16 November 2012.

Hmoud. Mounira Al. “Leahy Seeks Action on Two Upcoming Bills.” Times Argus. Times Argus, 12 November 2012. Web. 12 November 2012.

Polaris Project. Trafficking Victims’ Protection Act (TVPA)-Fact Sheet. Washington: Polaris Project, 2008. PDF file.

“The Fight Against Modern Day Slavery.” Editorial. The New York Times 21 March 2012: A30. Print.

“Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2011.” Civic Impulse, LLC, n.d. Web. 16 November 2012.


Susan C. Méndez is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English & Theatre and the Department of Latin American & Women’s Studies at the University of Scranton. She teaches courses on Multi-Ethnic American Literature and Women’s Studies. Primarily, she conducts research on novels written by Latino/a authors.


Sara Ramirez    December 13, 2012 at 9:43 PM

Thank you for your post, Prof. Méndez. I voted in California last month, and Prop. 35 had to do with human trafficking and penalties. Like most voters uninformed on this measure, I unquestioningly voted YES for increased penalties on those convicted of human trafficking crimes. I soon learned from my progressive colleagues that I should have voted NO. Do you know about this measure and how it affects people of color?



2012: A Year of Indigeneity and Indignities

November 5, 2012

Photo by Randy Bayne. From Flickr.

Photo by Randy Bayne. From Flickr.

By Adaljiza Sosa-Riddell

2012: For most of this year, I have been reading and writing about the past, present, and future of  la gente indígena de México y Centro América. I followed the news of the efforts of el Movimiento Indígena Nacional to re-establish a pluralist national democracy in México. In Sacramento, I was involved in the Zapatista Solidarity Coalition, a group dedicated to defending the Zapatistas and their revolution. But mostly I worked on my own manuscript explaining my own methods for developing a vastly different interpretation of Malintzin and her role in the conquest of México.

Immersed in my own ideas, I tried to ignore the politics of the day but found myself compelled to listen to the all-white group of men dressed in white-collar garb, who sought to be the Republican Party’s candidate for President of the USA. I came to call the longer-than-tolerable Republican primary season “the moron-athon” because of the ridiculous declarations and many factual errors made by the candidates day after day. The moron-athon turned into a brutal old-fashioned political slugfest after the respective conventions. Both parties continue to neglect the role and future of the worker in the USA. The focus on the middle class has erased the working sector, relegating the service worker to invisibility in the distribution of goods and services. Where were the voices of Hispanics, Latino/as, Mexican Americans, Chicana/os throughout the summer?  Where were the Partido de la Raza Unida, MAPA, LULAC, and all the other politicized groups with which we affiliated during the Chicano Movement years?  I know of several groups holding meetings and anniversaries, but I have not heard any plans, positions, or ideologies that emerged. The two entrenched parties continue to ignore the voices of Latinos until the very last moment because they can. Republicans and Democrats think they are the only game in town.

1960: My very first election was in 1960. It was an exciting time when I and millions of other Americans could still believe in the promise of American democracy. I was a dreamer, a believer that change would come through the electoral process. After all, I was a political science graduate student at UC Berkeley, fluent in Spanish and English, and knew politics backward and forward. I would certainly be offered a job in the JFK environment reflective of my talents. Instead, I learned women were blocked from most foreign service jobs outside of secretarial posts. What? By the end of the decade all my hopes for meaningful change within the two-party system were dashed. The few who promised change, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy, were dead, felled by assassins’ bullets. I vowed: From this day forth, I shall vote no more forever. Of course, I was borrowing the words from Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce people.

For the next three decades, women in the United States of America wrote volumes, spoke out often, filling the streets of Washington D.C., New York, and San Francisco with their messages and their bodies proclaiming women’s liberation. People of color involved themselves in their own “identity power movements.” Women of color learned to negotiate multiple terrains, hopscotching among various dimensions, and speaking through scholarly works.

Back to 2012: Why then in this election year are women suffering so many indignities? Women seeking knowledge of sexuality, conception, and/or contraception are accused of being prostitutes (Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich); the concept of legitimate rape is raised and accepted by other congressional Republican candidates (Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock); indignities directed at all Latinos include offering “choices” between deportation and self-deportation, speaking loosely about electrocuting people on the borderline fence (Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, Herman Cain).

Heinous indignities continue to be directed at women, particularly Latinas—and with dire consequences:

1) Violence against women on the US-Mexico borderline comes from multiple sources:coyotes, la migra, los rinches, local police, Mexican federal police, Mexican and USA drug enforcement agents, CEOs of border industries (las maquiladoras), and narco-traficantes who are well-armed and well supplied. The types of violence include rape, stalking, arresting, assault, robbery, and kidnapping.

2) Latinas, especially indigenous women, suffer negatively from official policies and values of government, organized religion, and medical professionals as well as other service providers intent upon limiting fertility. Women also rarely benefit from costly medical procedures intended to increase fertility. Issues of access to contraceptive knowledge, abortion, sterilization has begun to be well researched by Latina scholars including Elena Gutierrez, Adela de la Torre, and Angie Chabram.

3) The stigma attached to the status of single-motherhood is particularly insidious, as Gov. Romney placed the responsibility for the existence of gangs on single mothers. Governor Romney exposed his reliance on negative stereotypes for his decision-making, making this remark it in the context of speaking about needs of Latino community. “Gangs” and gang violence occur in all ethnic/racial categories, gendered settings, and economic strata.

Why do we, las mujeres, Chicanas, Latinas, Mexicanas continue suffering so many indignities, no matter on which side of the U.S.-Mexican borderline we reside?

¿Qué no nacimos iguales?
Aren’t we your partners?
Aren’t we your sisters?
Didn’t we raise you well?
Didn’t we bear and raise your children?
Haven’t we toiled in the fields a su lado?
Now that I’m educated, don’t I earn enough?
Haven’t I brought home a paycheck as meager as yours?
And now when I am educated,
Don’t I support our family in good style?
Yo como tortillas y tomo tequila, hací como tu!
Fui soldada y soldadera también
y cuidé el hogar para los soldados revolucionarios.
¿Qué no soy mujer trabajadora?
Don’t I deserve igualdad?

2012 is bound to be a momentous year with expectations ranging from mass destruction of the planet to a test as to whether or not our fractured populace can unite long enough to hand over a second term to our first elected president of mixed racial descent. I voted in 2008 and 2012 because I pay taxes, and I live here.  If Chicana/os and Latina/os are in need of perfect timing to speak out on their needs, demands, and dreams, this is it. We need to hear the voices of the workers of society. The numbers are on our side; the stars are in alignment; the Maya y Azteca elders have spoken.  SE PUEDE!!   

MALCS Founder, Adaljiza Sosa-Riddell, Ph.D., is Chicano Studies Professor Emeritus at The University of California, Davis. She lives in Los Angeles and studies politics, Chicana/o issues, and class struggle.