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October 06 2013

Will There Be a Honeymoon For the US and Iran?

President Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama. Via

Presidents of Iran and US: Hassan Rouhani and Barack Obama. Via

Just one week after a historic phone call between Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani, and Barack Obama, there were still Iranians chanting the customary “Death to America” and burning US and Israeli flags after Friday prayers in Tehran on October 4, 2013.

Still, some Iranians hope the call was a step towards thawing relations that could someday lead to US sanctions being lifted. Others are unhappy about any dialogue with “the Great Satan,” as the United States is most often referred to in Iran's official speeches.

As an indication that this topic also on President Rouhani's mind, he has reportedly asked two polling organizations to “find out” what Iranians think about USA-Iran relations. Meanwhile, netizens share their own ideas about the ongoing saga between the two countries.

One Iranian citizen uploaded a video of himself on YouTube, ironically suggesting that Rouhani add three extra questions to his survey:

- “How many people want the Islamic Republic regime?”
- “What do they think about social and political freedom?”
- “You [President Rouhani] said there was no fraud in the controversial 2009 presidential election, let's ask what Iranians think about it”

Zarebin writes [fa] in his blog that the survey will be engineered in whatever which way the Supreme Leader wants. If he wishes to improve the relationship with the USA, then the survey will reflect this. And if not, the survey will reflect that. “What a trap we are stuck in. Everything is the Leader's opinion with a survey to cover it up.”

To Talk or not to Talk

Firoozeh tweeted:

In any relationship, whether diplomatic or non-diplomatic, we should not rush things.

Siding with the Islamic regime, blogger Khabrnegar1351 writes [fa] that Iran has become so powerful that the USA “looks to Iran as superpower” and “aims to improve relations with Tehran out of fear.”

َAnother blogger, Ahestan, reminds us of the anti-American teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic's founder and says [fa], “The real winner of the Obama-Rouhani phone conversation is Obama.” This blogger says the main goal of the phone call was to show the millions of Muslims who follow the Imam [Khomeini's] teachings that Iran is willing to negotiate with “the Great Satan.”

September 25 2013

What We Watch: YouTube Video Popularity Comparison

What We Watch

What We Watch

A new data visualization tool from the Center for Civic Media in the United States helps illustrate how popular videos spread online and between countries. Looking at the most popular videos in 61 countries, What We Watch shows which countries have the biggest overlaps in interest. Civic Media Center Director, Ethan Zuckerman describes the project and initial findings.

Reposted bycheg00 cheg00

September 16 2013

Indians Push Back on Racist Taunts to Miss America 2014

New York's Nina Davuluri, 24, has won the Miss America 2014 title. Photo from Miss New York Organization's Facebook Page

New York's 24-year old Nina Davuluri made history last night by becoming the first American of Indian descent to win the coveted Miss America title. But now she has found herself at the receiving end of a slew of racist comments online, proving that beauty, for many, remains merely skin-deep. Ironically, because many did not know her actual heritage, comments and tweets vented ire against Arabs, Africans and Muslims, in addition to Indians. There were also references to terrorism and 9/11.

Davuluri has brushed off the stream of online racism, saying she prefers to “rise above that” and that she has always considered herself “first and foremost American”. In this YouTube video by the Miss America Organization in the run up to the Miss America 2014 pageant, Davuluri speaks of her upbringing and the fact that New York, which she represented in the pageant, is essentially a multicultural hotpot.

While Davuluri may not have been provoked by the racist comments, others have pushed back. In India too, there is a lot of discussion about Davaluri's win, making it a trending topic of the day.

Curiously, netizens in India have been divided in their opinion of the new Miss America.

On the one hand, there was a lot of support for Nina Davuluri and anger at the racist comments that have been dogging her victory. On the other hand, a section of netizens debated whether Davuluri would have ever have won a beauty pageant in India, given the country's fetish with fair skin.

Mumbai-based author and journalist Deepanjana Pal (@dpanjana) tweeted:

Food blogger and nutritionist Nandita Iyer (@saffrontrail) pointed out how many of the people making racist comments were not even aware of the differences between Arabs and Indians. She tweeted:

Engineering student Siddhartha R Thota's anger at the onslaught of racist verbal attacks on the newly crowned Miss America was evident in this tweet:

His anger found resonance with Ankita Singh (@VaanarMukhi) who commented via tweet

Gyanonymous pointed out the hypocrisy embedded in the racist comments through this tweet:

Too dark-skinned for India?

Davuluri's dark skin was the focus of many. In one tweet, journalist and author Samar Halarnkar (@samar11) wondered:

Kushan Mitra echoed the sentiment in his tweet:

Writer and columnist Salil Tripathi (@saliltripathi) wondered along the same lines, reminded by this article in FirstPost that ‘dusky’ skinned models and actresses in India often underwent “colour adjustments” before they got accepted.

There were still others who used humour to underline the fact that Ms. Davuluri was indeed dark complexioned and not the quintessential (white-skinned) American. For example, stand-up comedian Atul Khatri (@one_by_two) tweeted:

Challenging notions of beauty

However, a section of netizens celebrated the winner and saw this as another milestone to champion “Dark is Beautiful”.

From Mysore, author and blogger Ratna Rajaiah (@alphabetiya) tweeted:

Kaveri Jain (@Mehitabel) from Delhi proclaimed via this tweet

September 06 2013

Iran: Foreign Minister Tweets with Pelosi's Daughter

Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted a new year message to Jews around the world:Happy Rosh Hashanah and exchanged message with Christine Pelosi, daughter of Nancy Pelosi,the Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives.


Reposted byiranelection iranelection

September 04 2013

Derailment of ‘La Bestia’, Another Tragedy in a Broken Immigration System

Migrants on

Migrants on “la Bestia”. Photo by Peter Haden on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

On August 25, 2013 a cargo train derailed in southern Mexico killing 11 Central American migrants who were hitching a ride on top of the freight cars. At least 250 Central Americans were estimated to have been riding on the train before it derailed, injuring another 18 migrants.

Each year thousands of Central Americans hitch rides on northbound Mexican freight trains for a chance at reaching the U.S. border in search of work and a better life. Migrants often ride the trains to escape Mexican immigration officials who scour buses at checkpoints in search of Central Americans to deport.

Known among migrants as ‘la bestia’ (the beast), the Mexican train offers Central Americans an alternative way of reaching the U.S., but it is a route fraught with dangers. Gangs and corrupt Mexican officials maraud the train lines and extort or kidnap migrants, oftentimes capturing and forcing them to work for organized crime groups.

While train derailments of la bestia are common, the biggest challenge, which many migrants passing through Mexico face, comes from the gangs who prey upon their vulnerable situation. For most Central American migrants, the vast majority of whom come from Honduras, currently the country with the world’s highest murder rate, their experience with gang-related violence often begins before they even leave their countries of origin.

In the last year, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a small migrant shelter in Mexico City. Last March, we received a Honduran woman at the shelter, named Juana Morelos, who was traveling on la bestia with her seven-year-old son. Juana left Honduras because a local gang who extorted money from a small store she owned began making death threats on her family when she could no longer afford to pay them off. Afraid for her life, Juana fled from Honduras with her son and started hopping Mexican freight trains north towards the U.S. border.

Juana and her son spent several months in Mexico City, during which I gave her a crash course in basic English, before she and her son continued their dangerous journey towards Texas. When Juana finally arrived at the U.S. border, we received news at the shelter that she had tried crossing with a coyote [people smuggler] and was deported. I was concerned about Juana’s safety, but once I heard she had arrived at the border, where the threat of kidnapping often increases, I became even more terrified.

Juana reached the border two months after the “Gang of 8” senators released their proposal for a new comprehensive immigration reform bill, which passed in the Senate last June, and includes an increase of 3,500 Border Patrol agents and 4.5 billion dollars to add new surveillance systems, aerial drones, and the construction of more fencing along the U.S.-Mexican border. Instead of addressing the reasons why Juana and the hundreds of migrants on board the Mexican train that derailed last week migrate north to the U.S., the current immigration reform bill offers them a closed door in their attempt to flee violence largely caused by America’s consumption of illegal drugs.

The current immigration reform bill greatly resembles the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which legalized almost three million undocumented migrants in the U.S. and quintupled the number of Border Patrol agents to almost 22,000. Today, an estimated 11 million people live in the U.S. without legal residency, signifying that IRCA did little to solve the problems which force people to migrate in the first place.

While visiting a small town in the central Mexican state of Querétaro this year, I met an 81-year-old man, named Jose Ramírez, who gained U.S. citizenship through IRCA. As a young man, Ramírez would spend half of each year doing farm work in the U.S. and return home to visit his wife and children. When crossing the border became more costly and dangerous, Ramírez could no longer justify returning to Mexico as often, so he moved his entire family to Florida. The increase in border security over the last half-century that was supposed to keep people like Ramírez out of the U.S. became exactly what motivated him to resettle his family to Florida.

While it’s true that many people from Mexico and Central America enter the U.S. without authorization and settle permanently, it doesn’t mean that they want to. Like most men and women from small town USA, Latin American migrant workers often come from rural areas where locals value home and family. If you offered most residents in rural America a job that paid up to seven times their current income, but that involved relocating to a foreign country with a different language, and risking your life by walking through a desert to get there, most would probably opt to stay home. But for people like Juana Morelos, lack of economic opportunities and violence caused by the drug trade often leave them with no choice.

Increasing security along our southern border will keep many future immigrants out of our country, but it won’t stop them from trying to enter it. During my research on migration in Mexico over the last year, I met many Mexicans who worked decades in the U.S. with fake documents just to save enough money to buy land and start a business back home. What if instead of investing billions of dollars in drones and fences, we used some of that money to partner with the Mexican government and create loans for these would-be entrepreneurs to start small businesses and employ their neighbors?

A truly comprehensive immigration reform bill should also include a plan to decrease the violence in Central America which forces many locals to migrate. Honduras and El Salvador currently have the highest murder rates in the world. This violence is mainly caused by cartels that have begun using Central America to smuggle drugs into the U.S.

Photos of migrants standing alongside the overturned train at the site of la bestia derailment last week are an easy story for media outlets seeking a gripping response from their readers or viewers. But the train accident is just one incident in a vast chain of violence and increasing danger which follows migrants from Central America to the U.S. border. It’s an issue which many U.S. politicians currently want to solve by militarizing the southern frontier, but just like when IRCA became law 25 years ago, the real problems that must be addressed remain far away from the U.S. border.

Several days after Juana was deported, she and her son tried crossing the U.S. border again. Back at the shelter in Mexico City, one of Juana’s relatives told me that his time they made it safely to Houston.

As the House prepares to vote on immigration reform later this year, thousands more migrants, like Juana and her son, continue to enter the U.S. with smugglers. If the current immigration reform bill passes the House, it will offer citizenship only to undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. in 2011 or earlier. Without a change of focus on how our nation approaches immigration in the future, the derailing of la bestia will continue to be just a small incident among a much greater tragedy, and Juana and her son will become part of the next generation of undocumented immigrants forced to live in our shadows.

Some names in this story have been changed to protect the identities of those involved.

Levi Bridges is a journalist and Fulbright Scholar based in Mexico City. He writes at and tweets @levi_bridges.

August 28 2013

Choosing ‘Exile’ Over Break-up, US Citizens Follow ‘Banned’ Spouses Abroad

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

Happily ever after isn't always so simple for foreigners in the United States with complicated immigration histories who marry US citizens.

Details such as how they arrived in the US or how long they've been there can mean the difference between starting a life with their new family and immigration laws not allowing them to stay.

Take Leo and Corin, for example. Leo is from Brazil and Corin is a US citizen. They met, fell in love and got married in the United States, but Leo had entered the country “‘without inspection’ – in other words, through Mexico – less than 10 years ago and accrued almost 6 years of ‘unlawful presence,’” as Corin writes in her blog Corin in Exile.

Corin further explains that “the Immigration and Nationality Act says that any immigrant ‘unlawfully present’ in the United States for more than a year is inadmissible for 10 years — even married to an American.”

Corin and Leo had three choices. First, they could apply for “the Hardship Waiver”, where “the American spouse has to prove that their partner’s absence causes them ‘extreme hardship’” –something that they couldn’t prove. Second, they could stay in the United States and wait for immigration reform. Or third, they could leave the country and start their life abroad.

With the waiver option out of the table, the couple decided to leave the country and return to Brazil because, as Corin writes, neither “could stand the stress of living in the US without Leo having documents.”

Corin and Leo are just one of many families in this situation.

Photo shared on Facebook by Action Family Unity

Photo shared on Facebook by Action Family Unity

Like them, many who are currently living outside of the United States due to current immigration laws have started blogging about their cases and their life “in exile.”

Perhaps the blog that has gotten the most media coverage, helping to draw attention to these cases, is The Real Housewife of Ciudad Juarez.

Emily Bonderer Cruz started her blog back in 2010, when she moved to Mexico because her husband “is ineligible to apply for legal status in the United States until 2020,” as she explains in her profile.

Emily goes into detail about their story in a recent post titled “Mi Casa” (My home):

In 2007 my husband was given a voluntary departure by ICE [US Immigration and Customs Enforcement]. Given. Now that's a funny concept, isn't it? As if it were a gift or something.

Emily says that she went into a state of depression while she didn’t know where her husband was, or if he was even alive, as he was “stuck somewhere in the system and without any documentation, without a Social [Security number], he was just a ghost, just another immigrant lost in the in-between.” She continues:

When he finally called me from a pay phone in Nogales [Mexico], it was as if a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders. He was alive. He was back on the map. He was going to be okay. I scrounged up just enough money for a bus ticket back to Parral, and for a brief moment, all was right in the world. I knew he was safe. It was in that moment that I also knew I had done the right thing and that this man was the love of my life. This is when my life was forever changed, because I knew that sooner or later, a change was gonna come.

I would be moving to Mexico.

Emily’s blog roll features several blogs by families who have moved out of the US due to immigration laws. One of these blogs is Destination Paradise, where Amy writes about her life with her husband Carlos and their two children in South Korea.

In a post titled “Why?” Amy explains that Carlos was forced by a parent to move to the US from Mexico as a teenager. Carlos attended high school and went to college in the US, and after four and a half years of dating he married Amy, a US citizen.

Amy explains that Carlos was “tired of living in the shadows in the US” and they decided to move to northern Mexico.

In October 2008, they received notice from the US Consulate in Ciudad Juarez explaining that Carlos was not eligible for a visa to live in the US as Amy’s spouse.

What’s worse, Carlos wasn’t eligible for the hardship waiver either, because after arriving to the US for the first time, he had been taken back to Mexico and then forced by a parent to re-enter the US “using a relative's US birth certificate instead of the visitor's visa he already possessed” Amy explains. “Under immigration law — INA 212 A 6 C ii to be specific — a false claim of US citizenship carries a lifetime ban with no waiver.”

With the help of their lawyer, Amy and Carlos tried to find a solution for three and a half years, all the while living apart. Finally, in 2011 Amy and Carlos moved out of their respective countries and headed to South Korea.

Amy says that with recent proposed reforms, “it seems that they will now start looking deeper at the specifics in cases where the immigrant was a minor at the time, and it looks promising for our family.”

In February of this year, Amy also wrote a moving post about their status and how it relates to the current Comprehensive Immigration Reform. In the post, titled “Let no man divide what God has put together”, Amy links to a petition on which asks President Barack Obama to “bring home American families in exile”:

American citizen spouses of immigrants with immigration bars have three choices: break up their families, move abroad with no safety net and attempt to ‘get in line,’ or live unlawfully with their spouses in the US. We should not be forced to make these choices.

The petition was started by Action for Family Unity (Act4Fams), a volunteer-run group that tries to raise awareness about this issue. The group’s Facebook page, which has more stories like these, posts updates on current changes to immigration law that could affect families like Corin’s, Amy’s and Emily’s.

In the blogosphere, there are also stories of families who have been able to return to the United States after years of struggling with harsh immigration laws. For Giselle Stern Hernández and her Mexican husband, “justice was restored” -as she writes- in June 2013, after 12 years since her husband’s second deportation.

Giselle, a Mexican-American writer and performer, keeps the blog The Deportee’s Wife “to explore themes in the life of a deported man’s wife through a multimedia and intersectional lens.” Giselle also performs a one-woman show with the same title in the United States and Mexico. You can see the trailer for her show here:

But if immigration reform is passed, many families might not have to wait as long as Giselle and her husband to solve their immigration status and live together in the United States.

Earlier this year, The Center for Public Integrity reported that the Senate immigration bill,

calls for giving immigration judges and other officials more discretion to consider the pain and suffering that a loved one’s separation causes U.S. citizens and legal immigrants [...] The proposal says judges who review cases can decline to order an immigrant, with some criminal exceptions, to be ‘removed, deported or excluded’ if it would be ‘against the public interest or would result in hardship to the alien’s United States citizen or permanent resident’ spouse or children.

Families affected by current immigration laws have created a supportive online community through blogs and social networks, where they also raise awareness about their situation and pressure US legislators to include their families in the much anticipated immigration reform.

August 25 2013

Chelsea Manning Case Surfaces Issues of Transparency, Security, Journalism, and Sexuality

Chelsea Manning, formerly Bradley Manning,* was a soldier in the United States Army who leaked over 700,000 classified documents that revealed U.S. government violations of the Geneva Convention, indiscriminate slaughtering of civilians committed by the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hundreds of classified U.S. diplomatic cables.

For this, she was sentenced to 35 years of prison, the longest sentenced ever imposed on a leaker of classified information, and longer than the sentence imposed on most convicted terrorists. It is worth noting that the prosecution pushed for a sentence of 60 years, even though it failed to show that the information leaked by Manning resulted in any harm; not a single life of anyone involved in the U.S military or intelligence was lost due to the leaks. The charge that would have exposed her to the death penalty, “aiding the enemy,” was rejected by the judge presiding over the case.

Manning herself understood that her actions were against the law and pleaded guilty to all charges, except aiding the enemy. In her letter to President Obama requesting a pardon she says:

I understand that my actions violated the law; I regret if my actions hurt anyone or harmed the United States. It was never my intent to hurt anyone. I only wanted to help people. When I chose to disclose classified information, I did so out of a love for my country and a sense of duty to others.

If you deny my request for a pardon, I will serve my time knowing that sometimes you have to pay a heavy price to live in a free society. I will gladly pay that price if it means we could have a country that is truly conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all women and men are created equal.

What makes Chelsea Manning's case so important is not only the unprecedented amount of information she revealed of government wrongdoing, but the implications that her treatment by the justice system will have for journalists, bloggers, whistleblowers, leakers, and citizens in general. Her case is the highest profile conviction under the Obama Administration's crackdown on leakers. Indeed, the Obama Administration has charged more leakers than any other administration for disclosing classified information to the public. Josh Stearns (@jcstearns), writing for Boing Boing, sees this case as just the latest one of a disturbing tendency to curb freedom of information:

We should see the Manning verdict in the context of a mounting press freedom crisis that impacts all of us. As Dan Gillmor wrote in the Guardian, “the public needs to awaken to the threat to its own freedoms from the Obama crackdown on leaks and, by extension, journalism and free speech itself.”

We live in a time when anyone may commit an act of journalism. The person who sets up a Facebook page to cover the hurricane hitting her community. The person who uses her smartphone to record police officers killing an unarmed teen on a train platform.The person who live-blogs a court case from start to finish. Each of these people is participating in journalism in ways we should protect and celebrate.


We should be glad that this military court did not equate Manning’s actions to aiding the enemy, but this case is part of a much bigger debate, and one the public has largely been left out of. That needs to change.

Trevor Timm (@trevortimm), in a post for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, is also worried about the zeal with which the Obama Administration is prosecuting leakers. He says that one of the laws used to convict Manning, the Espionage Act, is being used to equate leakers with traitors:

The Espionage Act, a draconian statute written in 1917 as a way to punish non-violent opponents of World War I, has unfortunately been used in recent years to equate leakers and whistleblowers with spies and traitors. Facilitating that warped view in Manning's trial, the judge ruled early on that the defense was not allowed to put forth evidence of Manning’s sole intent to inform the American public, or evidence showing that none of the information materially harmed national security.

In spite of the official narrative of the Obama Administration that labels Chelsea Manning as a traitor, people everywhere are expressing their support, as evidenced by the chatter currently on the web. Supporters of Chelsea Manning have rallied together to create awareness of how important and necessary her disclosures were. A joint petition by Amnesty International and the Bradley Manning Support Network to request that President Obama grant clemency to Manning is currently making the rounds on the Internet. Many have also expressed their support on Twitter:

In this video, The Young Turks discuss Chelsea Manning's letter to the President asking for a pardon. All four men express their respect and the high regard in which they hold her:

Journalst Norman Solomon (@normansolomon) expresses a deep admiration for Chelsea Manning's actions and integrity in an open letter to President Obama published in the independent digital news journal Nation of Change:

Imagine. After more than three years in prison, undergoing methodical abuse and then the ordeal of a long military trial followed by the pronouncement of a 35-year prison sentence, Bradley Manning has emerged with his solid humanistic voice not only intact, but actually stronger than ever!

Transgender Identity

Imgage of Chelsea Manning with a wig shared extensively on the web. Taken from Wikipedia

Image of Chelsea Manning with a wig shared extensively on the web. Taken from Wikipedia.

On August 21, Manning publicly announced her true identity as a transgender woman, saying that from now on she prefers to be called Chelsea Manning and would like to begin hormone therapy as quickly as possible. Trans activists have praised her decision to come out, granting visibility and a legitimacy greatly needed for transgender people in the ongoing struggle for LGBTT rights. This raises a whole new set of issues for Manning, as she will be taken to a male prison and already the U.S. Army has refused to grant therapy beyond that given by a psychiatrist. The American Civil Liberties Union issued a statement saying that the denial of hormone therapy to Manning raises worrying constitutional concerns:

[P]ublic statements by military officials that the Army does not provide hormone therapy to treat gender dysphoria raise serious constitutional concerns. Gender dysphoria is a serious medical condition in which a person's gender identity does not correspond to his or her assigned sex at birth, and hormone therapy is part of the accepted standards of care for this condition. Without the necessary treatment, gender dysphoria can cause severe psychological distress, including anxiety and suicide. When the government holds individuals in its custody, it must provide them with medically necessary care.

The events of the past few days will undoubtedly have an enduring and far-reaching effect on future whistleblowers and journalism in general —not to mention the trans community. Whether that will translate into a more open society with greater government transparency and accountability or a more secretive one in which citizens's rights to information will not be recognized remains to be seen.

*In this post we use feminine pronouns to refer to Manning, who explicitly and publicly asked to be referred to in this way.

Reposted bywikileaksmr-absentia

August 22 2013

Bradley Manning's Sentence Could Chill Investigate Journalism

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) issued a statement after Army Private First Class Bradley Manning's sentence was handed down on August 21, saying that the harsh treatment Manning endured since he was accused of violating the Espionage Act sent a disturbing message to anyone thinking about becoming a whistleblower. Manning was sentenced to 35 years of prison for leaking information that revealed that the U.S. military violated the Geneva Convention and that there was a much higher civilian death toll in Iraq and Afghanistan than previously disclosed to the press. Says Joel Simon, executive director of the CPJ:

Military prosecutors who pursued Manning aggressively sought a harsh sentence because of the message it sends to would-be leakers. As an organization dedicated to the defense of journalists and press freedom, we take a different view. This Manning prosecution combined with the Obama administration's overzealous pursuit of leakers sends an unequivocal chilling message to journalists and their sources, particularly on issues of national security that are of vital importance to the public.

The Walls Can Talk in Puerto Rico and New York City

The alternative music venue La Respuesta, in Santurce, Puerto Rico, presents “Los Muros Hablan NYC” (The Walls Talk NYC), the New York edition of the urban art festival that has put the zone of Santurce on the map of graffiti artists worldwide. The artistic project aims to strengthen bonds between Santurce and El Barrio, an important Puerto Rican enclave in New York City during decades.

Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito District 8 Manhattan/Bronx commented:

We are excited to have such a tremendously talented group of artists bring more of our empty walls to life. The murals will serve as a testament to El Barrio’s long-standing artistic tradition and strong relationship with Puerto Rico. From the moment I learned about Los Muros Hablan in Puerto Rico. I knew that we had to bring this unique and dynamic event to El Barrio. This event is the first step in a true long – term partnership from which our community will benefit for years to come [...]

Participating artists include Axel Void (Spain), Betsy Casañas (Philadelphia), Celso González (Puerto Rico), Don Rim X (Puerto Rico) , Elian & Pastel (Argentina) , Jufe (La Pandilla) (Puerto Rico), L NY (Ecuador), Manny Vega (New York City), and Viajero (New York City ).

Here are some photos of the murals in process (all used with permission):

Los Muros Hablan NYC. Photo José Jiménez Tirado.

Los Muros Hablan NYC. Photo José Jiménez Tirado.

Los Muros Hablan NYC. Photo JP Eaglin.

Los Muros Hablan NYC. Photo JP Eaglin.

Los Muros Hablan NYC. Photo Axel Void.

Los Muros Hablan NYC. Photo Axel Void.

Video of the project by José Jiménez Tirado:

August 19 2013

Can the Movie “Elysium” Explain Immigration Today?

Elysium, a movie set in the year 2155 starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, takes a stab at the health care system in the United States, but it also offers an insight into the country’s immigration system if comprehensive reform takes place—sort of. [Warning: This article may contain some spoilers.]

The film, directed by Neill Blomkamp, takes place on a state-of-the-art space habitat called Elysium in an overpopulated and ravaged planet Earth.

Matt Damon in his leading role on

Matt Damon in his leading role on “Elysium.” Photo taken from YouTube.

Elysium centers its focus on a former convict named Max (Damon), whose deplorable health condition forces him to seek the services of a criminal political leader who also wants to get a hold of Elysium’s exceptional health care resources in order to find a cure for ailing earth inhabitants. Nevertheless, they will face Elysium’s rogue Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Foster), who relentlessly keeps inhabitants (or as the movie calls them, “illegals”) from entering Elysium at all costs.

At the beginning of the movie, a space ship carries a large number of immigrants in an attempt to enter Elysium, to which Delacourt orders a merciless takedown. Albeit not in the same fashion, law enforcement has been an important component in the passage of S.744 bill on June 27, 2013, so as to halt immigration influx at the border.

As Elysium unravels, one would think that the main reason these “illegals” want to flee planet Earth for a more comfortable life in Elysium is paralleled to the reason why many immigrants decide to cross the border and find a better life in the United States (of course, the U.S. being the “Elysium” for all hopeful immigrants overseas).

The movie also shows that immigrants go to Elysium to find better health care, but they need to become Elysium citizens in order to enjoy it. In real life, many undocumented immigrants face the same problem, as they don’t have access to health care.

Before entering into the weeds of immigration discussion, blogs such as ThinkProgress explain that Elysium falls short in explaining why health care in the spatial satellite is better than on Earth:

“But Elysium falls apart the more you think about it–and fails in its mission to speak truth to power–because of its inability to explain a simple question: why is health care scarce on Earth in the world of Elysium? The movie shows us many ways that life in Elysium is more comfortable and satisfying than life on earth, but Blomkamp focuses his camera narrowly on people on Earth who want to get to Elysium mainly for access to medical pods that can cure even grave illnesses with a single, quick scan.”


ThinkProgress goes on to say:

“And at the conclusion of the movie, they get it. After Spider and Max download a program into the Elysium mainframe that makes everyone on Earth a citizen, and thus able to be scanned by the devices, shuttles full of the pods take off for Earth where people of all races, genders, and creeds flock to make use of them. It’s not as if there’s a medical device scarcity. There could be other reasons that health care is restricted, but it’s not particularly made clear in the movie what those motives might be.”


Applying the latter paragraph to real life, one can imply that legalizing the immigration status of 11 million people in the United States will ensure a better quality of life for them. As the Immigration Policy Center points out:

“Including legal immigrants in the health care system not only strengthens the system, but is a critical part of their integration into U.S. society. In addition to working, paying taxes, and learning English, legal immigrants should be able to pay their fair share and have affordable health care like everyone else.”

When asked whether the film depicts what human conditions will be like in 140 years, Blomkamp answered: “No, no, no. This isn't science fiction. This is today. This is now.” In terms of immigration, Blomkamp may not be that far from the truth.

The movie opens with younger Max envisioning a life in Elysium while his caring nun explains to him that his life is destined for a greater purpose—all this spoken in Spanish.

Elysium paints the United States as a country that has been overtaken by Latinos and whose de jure language is Spanish, when signs in local offices and factories contain larger Spanish-written signs and law enforcement referred to as “Policía.”

Many experts consider that by the year 2050, Hispanics and other communities of color will become America’s largest group, so we won’t have to wait till 2154 to see this come true. Perhaps by opening a roadmap to citizenship to all hopeful U.S. residents, rather than seeing a grim planet Earth (or in this case, the U.S.) we will see a boon in years to come.

Lastly, one thing we can also draw from the movie is that no society, as perfect as it intends to be, can turn a blind eye on its inhabitants and their needs –and approaching the case of immigration is the first step towards understanding human stories.

August 15 2013

Video: Protests Against the Secret Agency Scandal Held in North America

As protests against the state secret agency's electioneering keep getting bigger, overseas Koreans and Americans of Korean descent have joined the movement. This photo montage on the Youtube shows small rallies held in major U.S, cities, such as Washington D.C., New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Arizona and in Canada.

Bolivia's President Morales vs CNN: A Controversial Interview

Bolivia’s president Evo Morales likes to keep his distance from the international television network CNN. President Morales, a left-wing peasant leader who has ruled the country since 2006, has accused CNN of being the “the spokesman of imperialism” in the region.

However, Ismael Cala, a popular TV presenter from the network's Spanish-language channel CNN en Español, somehow managed to arrange an interview with President Morales.

Public opinion was divided after the interview was aired on August 13, 2013.

Initially scheduled for August 8, 2013, the interview was unexpectedly cancelled at the last minute. Cala had already arrived at the Presidential Palace in La Paz, Bolivia's capital:

Three months ago my team arranged an exclusive interview with president Morales for August 8. They confirmed. We travelled there and inside the Palace [the interview] was cancelled.

Later the same day, Cala stated in local media [es] that “in [his] career, [he would] never arrange a meeting with President Evo Morales again”.

His statement provoked a public reaction [es] from President Morales:

“A veces usan nuestro nombre para figurar en los medios de comunicación como ese señor Cala, habría que averiguar de dónde viene y porque se escapó de Cuba [...] que actitud tan cobarde la de ese periodista”.

Sometimes they use our name to appear in the media, like Mr Cala has done. We will have to check where he comes from and why he escaped from Cuba. [...] That journalist has such a cowardly attitude!

President Morales also explained why the interview was initially cancelled:

“Porque yo he suspendido una entrevista quejándose publicamente, a mi no me pueden obligar a hablar en cualquier medio de comunicación, quiero que sepan compañeros porque suspendí la entrevista, cuando nos entrevistan ese periodista quería editar, entonces cuando editan, direccionan a su antojo”

Complaining publicly because I have cancelled an interview… I cannot be forced to speak in any media outlet. I want you to know why I cancelled the interview: after the interview that journalist wanted to edit us. When they edit, they change the meaning at will.

In spite of the many twists and turns, the interview eventually took place on August 10 and was broadcast on August 13 during the prime time evening show Cala on CNN en Español (the show can be watched in full via this link [es]).

Photo of President Evo Morales and CNN presenter Ismael Cala, shared on Twitter by @CNNEPrensa

Photo of President Evo Morales and CNN presenter Ismael Cala, shared on Twitter by @CNNEPrensa

National media followed the interview closely and shared fragments during night shows. CNN is only available for cable TV subscribers, which reaches 25% of Bolivian households according to a recent poll. Nevertheless, Bolivian netizens were very active and commented via social media during and after the TV show.

The first part of the interview was very tense, with President Morales visibly irritated and Mr Cala trying to defend himself. As the show went on, the tension decreased and the questions flowed more smoothly towards topics of national interest and non-controversial issues.

Netizens from Latin America were divided in their opinions after the show.

For some, like blogger Esteban Morales, the interview was a wasted opportunity by President Morales to display a different image in the region. He states on his blog [es]:

Más allá del libreto repetitivo del discurso oficial, por el que no nos hemos enterado de absolutamente nada nuevo, hubo algo que me ha llamado poderosamente la atención. Evo estuvo, desde el principio hasta el final de la entrevista, a la defensiva. Pasivo agresivo a ratos, quiso quince minutos después de iniciada la entrevista ganar la posición dominante – demasiado tarde, una entrevista no es como el fútbol, o se gana la mano superior desde el arranque o se está condenado – y, aunque Cala fue muy respetuoso incluso cuando fue insultado por su entrevistado, el Presidente dio la sensación permanente de comportarse como un niño caprichoso, fatigado, impaciente y dispuesto a patear el tablero en cualquier momento. Su lenguaje corporal fue especialmente elocuente: incómodo, cambiando de postura en una silla que parecía muy dura, con señales claras de agotamiento.

Beyond the repetitive script of the official speech, from which we have not learned anything new, there was something that caught my attention. From the beginning to the end of the interview, Evo took a defensive stance. Passive-aggressive at times, he wanted to gain the dominant position fifteen minutes after the interview started- too late, an interview is not like a football match [...]- and, although Cala was very respectful even when he was insulted, the President gave the constant feeling of behaving like a petulant child: tired, impatient and ready to step out of the box at any time. His body language was particularly eloquent: uncomfortable, shifting positions in a hard-looking chair, with clear signs of exhaustion.

On the other hand, many blogs such as La Voz de San Joaquin see the interview from a different angle [es]:

La televisora norteamericana CNN en español, bautizada como Cadena Más Mentirosa (CMM), quedó en ridículo en entrevista que le realizó al presidente de Bolivia, Evo Morales, quien obligó a su interlocutor Ismael Cala a no poder manipularlo, como acostumbra a hacer ese medio de prensa. [...]
[Evo Morales] expresó además claramente que la citada televisora siempre ha representado los intereses imperialistas de Washington, no solo en Latinoamérica, sino internacionalmente.

The American broadcaster CNN en Español, baptised as “Most Untruthful Channel”, was ridiculed in the interview with the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, who did not allow his interlocutor Ismael Cala to manipulate the show, as that media outlet tends to do. [...]
[Evo Morales] also stated clearly that the TV channel has always represented Washington's imperial interests, not only in Latin America but internationally.

In a rather less militant position, Twitter user Andrei Millán (@AndreiMillan) [es] backs up President Morales:

Interesting interview by Cala with Evo Morales, who acts with great suspicion against American media, and rightly so.

Some praise Cala's patience and moderation, while others celebrate Morales’ determination and authority against “imperialist” media.

However, Bolivian journalist Mery Vaca (@meryvaca) [es] argues what could reflect the general perception after the show:

Evo and Cala: Two egos of that size will not fit on a screen as small as a TV.

This post was proofread in English by Georgi McCarthy.

August 10 2013

Rewire: the Francophone Community on Cosmopolitanism and Serendipity

The book “Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection“ written by Ethan Zuckerman, co-founder of Global Voices, examines why the extraordinary potential for communication that technology brings doesn't necessarily translate into stronger connections between people. In “Rewire”, Zuckerman describes in particular the important role translators play in facilitating a better understanding of world events in context.

“Rewire” explains that despite the remarkable progress that has been made in information technology, with the entire world accessible to us in one click, the fact remains that the web that we use is still unintegrated and limited to those spheres with which we are most familiar.

Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection by Ethan Zuckerman

Rewire: Digital Cosmopolitans in the Age of Connection by Ethan Zuckerman

In order to resolve this problem of self-segregation, Zuckerman proposes a few steps to “reconnect/rewire the web”. One of these suggestions is to encourage the discovery of new spheres of thinking by following what he refers to as “bridge figures” or “curators”.

One of the concept that Ethan Zuckerman discusses in depth is serendipity. He argues that our consumption of content on the internet tends to revolve around the same media outlets. To expand our intake of news online, we need to allow  serendipity to guide us towards a more diversified media consumption.


The concept of serendipity is not easy to define. It is what happens when we make new discoveries through a confluence of fortunate events. Many important scientific achievements have been serendipitous, such as the invention of penicillin, the Post-it, the Rosetta Stone, and Velcro.

The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, discovered accidentally by a French soldier during the Napoleonic Campaign in Egypt - Wikipédia CC-BY-NC

The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum, discovered accidentally by a French Stoldier during the Campaign in Egypt carried out by Napoleon Bonaparte – Wikipedia CC-BY-NC

Hubert Guillaud, editor-in-chief of, a website dedicated to news, current events, and innovations on the World Wide Web, wrote the following comment on an article by Christian Faure: “How to quickly know what you don't know:” [fr]:

J’aime aller dans les librairies que je ne connais pas et quand elles me perdent, c’est-à-dire quand je ne reconnais rien de ce que je connais dans leur rayon, alors je me dis qu’elle semble intéressante. Je vais souvent au rayon des essais et mon plus grand plaisir est d’y découvrir ce que je ne connais pas et plus il y en a, qui semble de qualité, et plus ça m’intéresse en fait ou plus je considère la librairie. Ca ne signifie pas qu’en faisant ainsi on ne procède pas pour autant par induction, effectivement. Nous avons tous une tendance forte à l’induction, mais peut-être plus parce que nous avons toujours un avis singulier (par essence), une première impression, qu’une expérience multiple. J’ai même tendance à penser que concevant le monde ainsi, nous avons forcément tendance à construire des outils dans lesquels nous nous reflétons ou qui voient le monde tel qu’on le voit. Nos outils d’agrégation, nos outils de personnalisation ont tendance à voir le monde par la lorgnette où on le regarde

I like to go to unfamiliar bookstores, and when I get lost in them, meaning, when I don't recognize anything on the shelves…that's when it get's interesting. I often go to the essay section and my greatest pleasure is to discover something previously unknown to me. The more quality new material I discover, the more my interest is piqued, and in fact I hold the store in even higher regard. This doesn't actually mean that by doing this that one doesn't end up drawing general conclusions any way. We all are predisposed to draw larger conclusions, but perhaps we do this more because we each have our own unique point of view (essentially), a first impression, rather than a varied experience. I even have a tendency to think that viewing the world like this, we inevitably tend to create tools through which we reflect ourselves and our way of seeing the word. Our web aggregation and personalization tools have a tendency to see the world through the prism of our perspective.

Sylvie Catellin, an associate professor of information technology and communication, explains how serendipity is an important factor in all discoveries and is also a “tool of reflexivity” [fr] that gives rise to the conditions for it to occur:

L’intuition scientifique est définie comme une idée unifiante ou clarifiante, laquelle surgit dans la conscience en tant que solution d’un problème qui préoccupe intensément le chercheur. Elle survient de manière inattendue, de quelque étrange univers extérieur, lorsque l’on est absorbé par des problèmes urgents ou bien pendant le sommeil.  Parmi ces conditions, il faut notamment retenir le profond désir de savoir, le stock de connaissances en mémoire reliées au problème, le sentiment de liberté, l’aptitude à briser la routine, la discussion du problème avec d’autres chercheurs [..]  C’est peut-être justement lorsque les scientifiques réfléchissent à leur expérience de la créativité et de la sérendipité que les sciences dites « dures » sont les plus susceptibles d’entrer en dialogue avec les humanités, les arts, les sciences humaines et sociales, devenant plus réceptives à leurs discours et à leurs approches. La réflexivité (en supplément à la sérendipité) implique la liberté et l’émancipation par rapport aux dogmatismes épistémologiques.

Scientific intuition is seen as one unifying or illuminating idea, which comes about as a solution to a problem that engrosses the researcher. It emerges unexpectedly from some strange parallel universe, while one is consumed by pressing problems, or sleeping. In these conditions, it is essential to have the following: the profound desire to know the answer, the arsenal of memorized facts that are related to the problem, a sense of freedom, the ability to break through routine, the discussion of the problem with other researchers [...] It is perhaps precisely when scientists reflect on their experiences of creativity and serendipity that the so-called “rigid” sciences are most likely to find common ground with the humanities, the arts, the human and social sciences, becoming more receptive to their speeches and their approaches. It is there that reflexivity (in conjunction with serendipity) involves freedom and breaking free in the face of dogma and epistemology.


Cosmopolitanism is a concept that is fairly limited on the French-speaking Web. In the most general sense, it indicates an interest in foreign populations and countries. What this definition leaves out is the fact that the concept of cosmopolitanism also embraces the idea of belonging to a community of origin that has its own unique qualities. It is often discredited as a utopian concept, those who believe in the idea of a global citizenry are often in favor of a world that is unified on the basis of collaboration rather than competition.

This ideological approach to the world is not Zuckerman's aim. Instead, he emphasizes the need to become conscious of our narrow consumption of media and to open ourselves to other spheres of thinking in a progressive manner.

Rodrigue Coutouly, contributor on the French-language website Les échos, notes that in light of the growing complexity of human societies, [fr] it would perhaps be wise to try to open oneself as much as possible to diversity:

Il est devenu impossible de comprendre de l'extérieur, des organismes ou des sociétés humaines travaillés par des enjeux de plus en plus complexes et contradictoires, ayant accumulé des compétences et des modes d'actions foisonnants et d'une grande diversité.[..] La masse sans cesse renouvelée d'informations brutes finit en effet pour empêcher toute tentative cohérente d'analyse lucide des événements, elle renforce les stéréotypes et ne permet pas une compréhension distanciée, elle n'autorise aucune prise de hauteur, de prise de recul, dans le temps et dans l'espace.[..] (Il est primordial) de relier le particulier au général, le local au global.

It has become impossible to understand things from an outside perspective. To examine organizations, or societies that are challenged by increasingly complex and conflicting issues, after having built up a multitude of skills and modes of behavior and a great deal of diversity. [...] The perpetual stream of uncurated news ends up preventing any coherent attempt to analyze events. It reinforces stereotypes and does not allow for objective understanding. There is no room for a broader perspective or taking a step back in time and space. [...] (It is instinctive) to draw conclusions from the specific to the general; from local to global.

German Sociologist Ulrich Beck, who coined the term “risk society” and who and advocates for a cosmopolitan society, argues for a new face [fr] of cosmopolitanism:

Le cosmopolitisme est la prise de conscience du destin commun qui lie désormais toutes les parties du monde dans le partage des mêmes risques. [..] Il ne s’agit donc pas là d’un cosmopolitisme qui vient d’en haut comme celui incarné par les Nations unies ou par la Cour internationale de justice. Cela ne veut pas dire non plus que tout le monde devient cosmopolite, amateur de diversité culturelle ou polyglotte, ou que nous sommes tous conscients de ce phénomène. Cela signifie simplement qu’il y a de fait une cosmopolitisation qui vient d’en bas et qui change notre vie quotidienne, notre mode de consommation, notre vie politique, ou nos relations à l’intérieur même de nos frontières nationales. On peut parler en ce sens d’un « cosmopolitisme banal ». [..] Le risque global peut être l’une des forces aptes à produire des institutions cosmopolitiques capables de surmonter les intérêts appréhendés seulement à l’échelle nationale. Car les gens et les États peuvent apprendre qu’il faut résoudre les problèmes nationaux dans une société cosmopolitique. Cette perspective cosmopolite est réaliste ; c’est le nationalisme qui dans ce contexte est idéaliste : il regarde en arrière et n’apporte pas de vraies réponses aux sociétés.

Cosmopolitanism is the awareness of a common destiny that, from this moment on, unites all parties of the world in sharing the same risks. [...] Therefore, it is not a question of a cosmopolitanism that is imposed by some authority, as embodied by organizations such as the UN or the International Court of Justice. Nor does it mean that the world is becoming cosmopolitan and more accepting of cultural diversity and increasingly polyglot, or that we are all more aware of this shift. It simply means that there is in fact, a cosmopolitan movement that is emerging from the ground up and that is changing our everyday lives, our habits as consumers, our political lives, even how we view things within our own borders. You can sort of call it an “everyday cosmopolitanism” [...] The overall risk may be one of the forces that is capable of producing cosmopolitan institutions that can overcome those interests normally understood only on the national level. Because people and countries can learn that national problems need to be resolved in the context of a cosmopolitan society. This cosmopolitan perspective is in fact realistic, it's nationalism in this context that is idealistic. It looks to the past and doesn't offer any real solutions to societies.

July 30 2013

Immigrants Are Much More Than an Abstract Number (Part II)

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

This is the second and final part of an interview with Mexican journalist Eileen Truax. You can read the first part here.

Mexican journalist and author of Huffington Post Voces Eileen Truax [es] recently released her book ‘Dreamers: The Fight of a Generation for its American Dream.’ Migrant Journeys talked to Truax, who spoke about the responsibility of the mainstream media and their coverage of immigration issues, among other topics.

Robert Valencia: Let’s talk about the role of media, especially the English-speaking media. We always hear about stories that concern Latinos but in the sections solely dedicated to Latinos, such as NBC Latino or FOX Latino. Do you think that the fact that mainstream media have exclusive platforms for Latinos may have a counterproductive effect since the point is to share the story of immigrants with those who are not connected to this issue or who are not close to the Latino community?

Eileen Truax: I share the same inquiry, however, this doesn’t mean these alternatives should disappear. It is important that these platforms address the topics of a community. The problem is that these platforms become the only place that talk about this community. Mainstream media still see immigrants (or what they call “ethnic” groups) as foreign bodies that invade this country. When you read Los Angeles Times or The New York Times or you watch TV, the discourse is still “them”, or “the Salvadoreans” or “the Asians”, but there is never an inclusive language or something like “we as an American society.” But we, immigrants and citizens alike, share the same problems. When the housing market crashes or there’s a change in the healthcare system, it affects us all. If our education system suffers another blow, your kids and mine are being affected. That is to say we have problems not just related to Latinos or Asians, but we have issues as an American society because we’re one country. Whoever thinks that just because a person is not named Gonzalez is not affected by what occurs in the Latino community has no common sense and is not familiarized with the reality of our country. The big problem is that mainstream media are in denial, that is, they haven’t accepted that diversity is a reality in this country.

RV: Undocumented immigrants also pay taxes that have amounted to $1 billion dollars, but these stories don’t make it to the national spotlight. What should we do as journalists or communicators to take these stories get to the general public and counterattack the “amnesty” rhetoric?

ET: What we need to do is to give [these stories] a human face all the time. I think that we should stop

Eileen Truax. Photo used with permission.

Eileen Truax. Photo by René Miranda, used with permission

chasing the news that stirs controversy. Unfortunately, the rhythm in which we see ourselves immersed in as a result of the surge of the Internet, despite being positive, has forced us to become “slaves of a click button.” There are three myths since the onset of Internet for those who are involved in journalism. First, that we have to be the first in delivering news before anybody else because then we lose. The second myth is that the more clicks we receive for our story then it becomes more important, and the third one is that people don’t read in full, so we have to give information piecemeal because people don’t like to read online. I believe these three myths are ruining in-depth journalism, which precisely has the function to make reality understandable to society. We are becoming people who just announce stories and we don’t take time to understand what’s happening. Case in point: “A truck crashed. A human trafficker was detained. Four were abducted. Two were killed.” This reads like an ad, but we don’t go in depth into these stories. We don’t know who the person who went to jail was or what happened to the immigrant who just arrived or the person who went to jail. We are not seeing stories in the long term; we just care about who publishes the story on the web first and how many clicks we receive. We even forget about our own mission and we have the moral obligation to tell stories we learn about. If you’re a reporter and have the privilege to discover stories first hand, we have the obligation to tell them and find the way to do so.

RV: Do you think it’s necessary to deploy more border security officers even if immigration to the United States has decreased considerably and thus this could represent an unnecessary expenditure to taxpayers?

ET: One thing is that the bill enacts a program that will allocate human and material resources to border security, and another is that a budget will be approved for this end. We had a similar experience in 2007 with the creation of a virtual wall on the border. Recession came and there were no funds to finance what the law approved. Now, budgets are approved each year, so just because the law says we can earmark millions and millions of dollars to the border doesn’t mean each year when budgets are approved the money will be there. I don’t believe this is the most important factor, the problem is that we’re losing the focus of what immigration reform is. The very same initiative is founded on its name; it starts by determining the element of security to later talk about immigration. Determining the well-being or the recognition of rights of more than 11 million people based on how the government can successfully protect the border is purposeless. Again, from my viewpoint, the failure of it all is that we are not understanding immigration reform as a human rights and social justice matter, but rather as an issue of state security and partisanship.

RV: Anything else you’d like to add that was not discussed in this interview?

ET: We must stop thinking about immigration as a partisan matter and a negotiating prize come Election Day. We must think of people and I believe that in order to achieve this end a fundamental tool is to have a close approach to the DREAMer story. I return to the beginning of this interview, because I still believe that the DREAMer generation is the most generous face of undocumented immigration and what this country can be. These youth seek to legalize their status and give back to this country. By definition, the DREAMers are people who want to continue their higher education studies and become doctors, lawyers, nurses, etc. They are young people who will become the labor force in this country, the ones who will be paying retirement for those who are now seating in Capitol Hill and the “baby boomers” who know they don’t have a generation below them that is wide enough to sustain their social security and retirement funds. We’re not talking about just doing a favor to a handful of youth; we’re talking about keeping this country buoyant if these are the youth that will become the working force while we’re retired. So the question is, where do we want them? Do we want them to work in the shadows at a restaurant or do we want them becoming successful professionals who spur economic growth and stability? Let’s answer these questions and then we’ll understand the need for an immigration reform.

July 26 2013

Immigrants: Much More Than an Abstract Number

This post is part of our series on Latin America: Migrant Journeys in collaboration with The North American Congress on Latin America (NACLA). Stay tuned for more articles and podcasts.

This is the first part of an interview with Mexican journalist Eileen Truax.

Mexican journalist and author of Huffington Post Voces Eileen Truax [es] recently released her book ‘Dreamers: The Fight of a Generation for its American Dream’. Migrant Journeys talked to Truax, who offered her insights on the immigration bill that the U.S. Senate recently passed, and explained why “the DREAMers” –more than 65,000 youth brought to the U.S. as children by their migrant parents, and who remain classified as “undocumented”–offer a perfect example of some of the contributions of immigrants to the United States.

Robert Valencia: Tells us more about your book Dreamers. What made you write this book?

Photo courtesy of Editorial Océano

Photo courtesy of Editorial Océano

Eileen Truax: Because I’m an immigrant myself, I was born in Mexico City and have lived nine years in Los Angeles, where I worked for La Opinión, America’s most influential newspaper in Spanish. During my time at this newspaper I covered immigration issues, and I found compelling and moving stories, some of them related to successes, or very dramatic. In this process I learned of this pattern, especially the presence of children of immigrants, or the so-called DREAMers. In reality it wasn’t the focus of attention for those covering the news, but the DREAMers were always there. I considered that it was necessary to take a second glimpse of particular stories from these youth who have features that set them apart from the rest of the immigrants. I believe this is how we’ll pave the way for a more humane immigration system. They’re Americans, save for a document.

RV: Many times we hear the anti-immigrant rhetoric on the media. Why do you think this is?

ET: For too long, I thought it was a lack of sensitivity, but in recent years I have found that it’s the lack of an approach to this problem. We tend to talk about immigration as a whole, like a generic thing that suddenly becomes abstract: 11 million people. But what’s the singularity about this? What’s the human aspect of this? We can’t give a soul to an abstract entity. For this reason, we must tell the stories of at least one immigrant. Let’s forget about the 11 million figure, let’s talk about the person who arrived in the U.S. with no documents and no knowledge of English. How does he or she manage to survive the first day if that person doesn’t know anybody, doesn’t have a place to sleep nor has a work permit? If it’s a family, how do their kids who don’t speak English manage to go to school? This way we can see a chain of stories and the challenges these people face, as well as the efforts to conquer the “little Everests” they face every day. When a person can understand the immigrant drama, sensitivity flourishes. Lest we forget we are talking about human beings who, in the end, are the beneficiaries of an immigration reform.

RV: Janet Napolitano stepped down as Secretary of Homeland Security. During her tenure we saw important measures for the DREAMers such as deferred action, a two-year program that allows them to be eligible for work authorization. How does her resignation affect the pro-immigrant movement?

ET: We must consider two things. The first is that the level of impact will depend on who replaces Napolitano, and what continuity will be given to the Administration’s policies or whether we’ll see a change of direction.  It will also depend on the vision the team will have. My second observation is that, though Napolitano was very vocal in several themes, we witnessed the largest number of deportations in America’s recent history, that is, 400,000 deportations per year is no small number. We’re talking about hits or misses in this administration. President Barack Obama has sided with the DREAMer movement and with the immigrant movement in general, but he’s the chief of this administration that has conducted these massive deportations. We have to wait and see who will take over and whether we’ll see a change of direction in current policies.

RV: Ann Coulter, a prominent figure of the U.S. conservative movement, said that by legalizing 11 million people the future of the Republican Party will be jeopardized, implying that the beneficiaries will vote in favor of Democrats as a sign of gratitude for passing the bill. Do you think it’s prudent to pigeonhole a Latino community who clearly is not monolithic in their political preferences? What do you think about this?

Eileen Truax, photo courtesy of René Miranda

Eileen Truax, photo courtesy of René Miranda

ET: It’s perverse to talk about an immigration reform while fixing attention to the political parties. What we need to understand is the need of a fair immigration reform seen from the human rights and criminal justice perspective, not just as partisan booty or capital gain for a particular party. If we don’t change our perspective we can’t do justice. The theme of immigration must be based on respect toward human rights. If we use these 11 million people as political prize we’re not doing the right thing as a country or as society, and lawmakers are not being compliant with their duties. Immigration reform must seek to give political certainty to 11 million people who are already here and who contribute to our society, and we as a society must protect those who live in it. Comments like this steer away the reform’s objective. Besides, this concern is premature and opportunistic because it will take 13 years for a person, once the bill is approved, to become a citizen.

RV: We have seen opposition of this bill in the House of Representatives at the helm of Rep. John Boehner (R-OH). Can we talk about optimism given the possibility that the reform will die down on the House floor?

ET: At this very moment we can’t have any certitude, not even the very same congressmen know exactly what the perspectives are with respect to the advancement of the bill in the next couple of months. I believe it will be after the August recess that some positions toward this bill will be defined when legislators go back to their respective localities. I hope these communities remind legislators the reason they’ve been put in Capitol Hill and that we have the right to tell them the position they must adopt regarding this matter. I would not talk about optimism because the perspective is vague. What I do believe, however, is that we’re at a juncture where everybody has to do something. Despite the things we don’t like about this reform and its peculiarities, the fact that we have an immigration reform bill is an opportunity nobody should miss. It’s the duty of activists and organizations to close ranks and become one front, while it’s the duty of journalists to seek different angles of the story, reminding congressmen and society that this goes beyond the militarization at the border. Let’s not forget who in reality will benefit and the characteristics of each group: There are sections of the bill that talk about farmers, another one talks about the DREAMers, etc., and we perhaps may forget to tell these stories. There are many particular things in the 1000-page-long bill, so we can’t focus the immigration debate just on border security.

July 17 2013

#Justice4Trayvon Rallies Across America

NYC #Justice4Trayvon rally reaches Times Square, July 15, 2013. Photo posted by Macey J. Foronda on Twitter

Thousands joined peaceful protests held in many U.S. cities after the acquittal in Florida on July 15, 2013 of George Zimmerman in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin. Protesters condemned the “Stand Your Ground” laws, legislation in effect in more than 20 states that allow the use of force as self-defense when a person feels reasonably threatened, as racist. Global Voices social media editor Asteris Masouras curated updates and photos of the protests on Storify. On the day following the protests, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder slammed ”Stand Your Ground” laws as dangerous to public safety, in line with research asserting that they result in an increase of homicides.

July 16 2013

The Perils of Putting a Label on Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden, the man who revealed the existence of surveillance programs run by the the United States National Security Agency (NSA) has triggered divisive public and media debate. Is he a traitor? A hero? A fugitive? Or a spy? How should his actions be described?

When Glenn Greenwald published an article about NSA surveillance on 6 June, 2013, opinion initially focused on the information itself. However, the topic of interest quickly changed when the newspaper revealed its source on four days later. The man became more important than the information, and Edward Snowden became the subject under debate.

On 23 June, 2013, as Snowden left Hong Kong for Moscow, discussion became fervent about categorizing the tech specialist. For some, he was a fugitive. For others, a spy. He escaped the arrest warrant issued two days previously by the United States, and has allegedly given information to Russia.

Many people, including journalist Blake Hounshell (@blakehounshell), are asking the question:

@blakehounshell: OK @ggreenwald and @attackerman is Edward Snowden still a ‘whistleblower'?

Edward Snowden. Capture d'écran de la vidéo de son entretien via

Edward Snowden:  screen-shot from the video of his interview by Laura Poitras

Given the lack of an official definition, it is up to each individual – including journalists – to decide for themselves how to label Snowden's actions. He is not only the man who revealed the surveillance program, he is also the man who has raised questions about our role as citizens. His life has become a symbol in itself.

Whistleblowing: a moral choice

A whistleblower, the term invented in the 1970s by Ralph Nader to avoid the negative associations of ‘mole', ‘informant’ or ‘snitch', is someone who is aware of a government's wrongdoing and decides to alert the public to it.

As Snowden said during an interview with the Guardian:

It was seeing a continuing litany of lies from senior officials to Congress – and therefore the American people – and the realization that that Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies that compelled me to act. Seeing someone in the position of James Clapper – the Director of National Intelligence – baldly lying to the public without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy. The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.

From this viewpoint, the perspective of the citizen, author and cryptography expert Bruce Schneider argues in favour of whistleblowers on his blog:

Whistle-blowing is the moral response to immoral activity by those in power. What's important here are government programs and methods, not data about individuals. I understand I am asking for people to engage in illegal and dangerous behavior.

Such behaviour puts whistleblowers at odds with powerful institutions. They distance themselves from a system which they judge to be unfair or wrong, and label it as such. This action is a message in itself: It is a reminder that a democratic government is not only relevant to a small group of people, but the whole population. It is a reminder that each citizen has a role to play.

Edward Snowden explains that his acts were guided by his conscience:

Citizens with a conscience are not going to ignore wrong-doing simply because they'll be destroyed for it: the conscience forbids it.

Receiving the message

The whistleblower is defined by his or her relationship with the public – an audience whose role is to look at the information in all of its elements. An audience which reacts according to its own perspectives and acts as judge.

First of all, the audience looks at the data revealed. This requires expertise and mediation on the part of journalists, who make a judgement as to the validity of the information. Governments also have to make this judgement. By accusing Snowden of spying, the United States invalidates the questions being asked by the countries involved, namely what type of information did the US collect on its allies.  The Nouvel Observateur quotes [fr] a European authority:

Si c'est vrai que les Américains ont espionné leurs alliés, il y a aura des dégâts politiques. Cela dépasse de loin les besoins de sécurité nationale. C'est une rupture de confiance et on est parti pour quelque chose de très sérieux.

If it is true that the Americans have spied on their allies, there will be political damage. It goes much further than the need for national security. It represents a breakdown in trust and that is something very serious.

Subsequently, interest turns to the messenger, and the efforts made to divulge the information. The reception of what Snowden has to say is also influenced by the approach he has taken. Why did he reveal this information? Why did he act illegally? Has he fled? Where? Why is he suspected of spying?

These questions help the public to make an informed judgement. The information revealed forms only one part of the whistleblowing – the way in which it is revealed by the whistleblower and presented by the receiver are also of great importance.

In a tirade against the normalisation of spying over the internet, Jacques Gaillard writes on Bakchich [fr]:

Mais l’abolition de nos jardins secrets est de nature à modifier à terme notre conscience de nous-mêmes, exactement comme un nouvel homme a surgi lorsque les miroirs ont été capables, enfin, de renvoyer une image très fidèle de notre visage (et même de notre nuque, si on a deux miroirs).

Je ne vois qu’une solution pour déjouer les pièges cumulés du business et de la National Security Agency : fabriquez-vous un « faux moi » sur les réseaux a-sociaux, faites des fautes d’orthographe pour laisser croire que vous êtes inculte et pauvre, exhibez des goûts de chiotte et inscrivez des morts au nombre de vos followers.

But the eradication of our secrets will modify our self-awareness over time, in the same way that a new humankind appeared when mirrors were finally able to show a very accurate reflection of our faces (and even the backs of our heads with two mirrors).
I see only one solution for finding a way around the traps of both business and the National Security Agency: create a ‘fake self’ on anti-social networks, make spelling mistakes to make them believe you are uneducated and poor, exhibit the worst of bad taste and add dead people to your followers.

July 10 2013

Should Korean Culture Be Blamed for Asiana Plane Crash?

As more details are coming out about the Asiana Airlines plane crash which claimed two lives and injured 181 passengers, Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller ‘Outliers' has been widely quoted in articles and online venues. The book points Korea's hierarchical culture as the main contributing factor of the 1997 Korean Air Plane Crash at Guam airport. The Marmots Hole blog commented on such analysis.

July 08 2013

Korean Reactions to Asiana Airlines Crash

One of South Korea's two major airlines, Asiana Airliner's plane crashed in the U.S. while landing at San Francisco International Airport, killing two and injuring 181 passengers. Korea Bang translated various comments Korean nets users have made about this tragic incident.

July 04 2013

Obama in Africa: Catching Up with China

President Obama is currently touring Africa on a visit scheduled from June 26 to July 3, 2013. He was recently in South Africa after having visited Senegal and Tanzania. Many commentators see this trip as a catch-up mission, as an attempt by the United States to respond to the Chinese economic breakthrough [fr] in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Since 2010, China has been the leading commercial partner in Africa [fr], although four years ago, at the time of Obama’s visit to Ghana, the US were in this position. Obama’s speech in Ghana four years ago left many Africans sceptical and there seemed to be little common ground.

In the video below, Global Voices contributor Abel Asrat for Global Voices in Ahmaric gave his point of view on Obama's policy in Africa as of today:

On Twitter, doubts over the reasons for Obama’s visit to Africa were reflected by use of hashtag Wolof  #ObamaTakh which translates just well as “Because of Obama” as “Thanks to Obama” – appeared several days before his arrival in Dakar.

Until his arrival on Senegalese soil this was the first acceptance of the word which took over the social networks. Then the mood changed, as @LebouPrincess, a Senegalese based in DC,  underlined on Twitter:

Plus impressionnant que l'arrivée du Air Force One c'est le revirement des #kebetu (Twittos en Wolof] lol guemoulene dara [vous êtes versatiles] #ObamaTakh

What was more striking than the arrival of Air Force One was the return of hashtags #kebtu, (Tweets in the Wolof language) lol guemoulene dara [you are versatile] #ObamaTakh.

The following day Obama managed to get the Senegalese somewhat on his side by mentioning the Senegalese Fight during his discussions with President Macky Sall and saying some words in the Wolof language: Nio Far (We are partners),Teranga (hospitality) and Jerejef (Thank you).

Central to discussions between the two presidents were the conflict in Mali, drug trafficking and economic issues [fr]:

Le président américain Barack Obama a annoncé, jeudi à Dakar, que son administration était en train de « chercher des modalités de reconduction » de l’AGOA [African Growth and Opportunity Act], la Loi américaine sur la croissance et les opportunités en Afrique.
S'exprimant au cours d'une conférence de presse conjointe avec son homologue sénégalais Macky Sall, au lendemain de son arrivée au Sénégal pour une visite officielle de trois jours, le chef de l'Etat américain a indiqué avoir demandé à son administration de travailler pour arriver à une reconduction de l'AGOA.
L'AGOA est un programme unilatéral de préférence commerciale signé par le Congrès des États-Unis et permettant l'exemption de taxes et l'accès à un quota libre pour plus de 6 400 produits provenant des pays éligibles de l'Afrique sub-saharienne.
Le président Obama a par ailleurs réaffirmé la volonté de son administration de travailler à développer les relations commerciales entre son pays et le Sénégal.

The American President, Barack Obama, announced on Thursday in Dakar that his administration was currently “researching ways to renew” from the AGOA (African Growth and Opportunity Act), the American law covering growth and opportunities in Africa.
During a joint press conference with his Senegalese counterpart, Macky Sall, the day after his arrival for a three day visit to Senegal, the American head of state indicated that he had asked his administration to work on renewal of the AGOA. The AGOA is a unilateral programme covering commercial preference signed by the United States congress, allowing tax exemption and access to a free quota for more than 6,400 products coming from eligible countries in Sub-Saharan Africa. What is more, President Obama restated the desire of his administration to work on developing commercial relations between his country and Senegal.

In Senegal and elsewhere, the most commented upon moment of the press conference given by the two presidents, was when Barack Obama, freely and almost certainly with the backing of his Senegalese counterpart, broached the topic of gay rights in Africa. Sabine Cessou on Rue89 explains how questions were selected [fr] during the press conference :

Les questions des quelques 300 journalistes présents ne pouvaient pas être posées librement, mais avaient été sélectionnées à l’avance. Ce processus a permis à seulement deux journalistes sénégalais et deux journalistes américains de poser quelques salves de questions chacun.

The questions from the 300 journalists were screened beforehand. The process allowed for two Senegalese journalists and two american ones to ask the tough questions.

Macky Sall’s response did not disappoint Senegalese traditionalists [fr]:

Fondamentalement, c’est une question de société. Il ne saurait y avoir un modèle fixe dans tous les pays. Les cultures sont différentes, tout comme les religions et les traditions.
Même dans les pays où il y a dépénalisation de l’homosexualité, les avis ne sont pas partagés. Le Sénégal est un pays tolérant : on ne dit pas à quelqu’un qu’il n’aura pas de travail parce qu’il est homosexuel. Mais on n’est pas prêt à dépénaliser l’homosexualité. C’est l’option pour le moment, tout en respectant les droits des homosexuels.
Nous ne sommes pas homophobes au Sénégal. La société doit prendre le temps de traiter ces questions sans pression.

At heart, this is a question of society. It would not be possible to have a fixed model in every country. Cultures are different, just as religions and traditions are.
Even in countries which have decriminalised homosexualisity, opinions are not shared. Senegal is a tolerant country: nobody is ever told that they will not work because they are homosexual. However, we are not ready to decriminalise homosexuality. That is our choice for the present, while at the same time we respect the rights of homosexuals.
We are not homophobes in Senegal. Society must take time to deal with these issues without pressure.

In the US, Kimberly McCarthy had been executed the previous day in Texas, and her cutting remarks about the death penalty had created the same unanimity: the Senegalese president remarked to his interviewer that certain countries still applied the death penalty – without naming the United States – although it is abolished in Senegal (the last capital punishment was in 1967) which, on the other hand, is careful not to preach to others.

As @hpenot_lequipe, a journalist for the french newspaper l'Equipe, remarked on Twitter:

Très intéressant échange entre Obama et Macky Sall. Pour une fois, un président africain ne s'est pas écrasé devant E-U. Respect.

Very interesting exchange between Obama and Macky Sall. For once, an African president who doesn’t fall before the US. Respect.

And from @Toutankhaton, member of the african diaspora in Paris :

Bravo à @macky_sall pour sa réponse cash à @barackobama ! Peine de mort vs mariage gay! #obamatakh

Bravo @macky_sall for his kosher response to @barackobama! Death penalty vs gay marriage! #obamatakh

Below is the video of the press conference by Xalimasn from Senegal:

Photos from Obama’s visit can be viewed on the Facebook page of the Dakar Echo.

In South Africa, his welcome seemed a little less cordial, as the Washington Post's foreign affairs blogger Max Fisher points out:

For much of the 1980s, the United Kingdom and United States were perceived by some South Africans, not wholly without reason, as tolerating the apartheid government. That may help explain why some of Obama’s critics in South Africa criticize him for supporting the “apartheid state” of Israel. The groups also cite U.S. drone strikes and the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


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