Sunday, September 11, 2011

Airport Security

Welcome everybody to our 9/11 edition of Ghetto Hippie.  Today I've posted an article that I wrote for a Swedish Magazine called MANA. (That's right, people in Sweden ask me to write for their magazines.)  The article they asked me to write is about discrimination against Latino's in the post 9/11 U.S. from a personal perspective. If you want to check out the magazine go here.  Hope you can read Swedish, if not, Google will gladly translate.  You won't find my article on the website, it's only available in hard copy.  So if you want a hard copy of my article in Swedish, order the magazine.  If you are content reading it on the web in English, you can read right here on Ghetto Hippie.  As a bonus, you get the full article I wrote, it was cut substantially by the editors of the magazine. So without further adieu:

I develop a pit in my stomach along with a corresponding bead of sweat every time I go through airport security in the United States.  By all accounts I am a law abiding citizen.  In spite of having nothing to hide, I feel angry and fearful as I walk through the roped aisles on my way through security. 
There is something quite disturbing about being told by armed individuals to take anything off even something as simple as sneakers.  Insisting that my flip flops are a potential weapon is absurd and insulting.  We are told that it is a necessary security measure in lieu of the famous “shoe bomb” attempt in 2001.  Instead, I always wondered if the idea came from some sadistic person charged with defining airport security protocols saying: “Let’s just make everyone take off their shoes because we can”.  I’ve taken many flights since 9/11 and with one exception; I’ve had no problems traversing the brief journey through security.
The exception came in 2007, when I was returning from a brief vacation in Mexico.  As a U.S. born Puerto Rican, travelling to Mexico feels somewhat familiar.  I’ve made many journeys to Puerto Rico and it’s clear that former Spanish Colonies share a certain kinship.  Beautiful Spanish architecture is a commonality shared by Latino Nations.  A token of genocide and colonization bequeathed to us from the Conquistadores. 
                Unlike Puerto Rico, Mexico has preserved much of its pre-colonial architecture like the pyramids of Teotihuacán.  At first I felt sheepish as I and hundreds of tourists transcended the steps of the ancient structures.  Tourism is typically a voyeuristic endeavor but Teotihuacán was built for the purpose of hosting hundreds of people.  The scene felt appropriate, seemingly honoring the intents of its design. Here I stood with citizens from around the world and yet there were no metal detectors or body scans. 
                I returned to the United States the day after I visited Teotihuacán.  As I meandered through the security at the Mexico City International Airport I was on such a high that I didn’t have a pit in my stomach.  I placed my carry-on bag on the conveyor belt and started to slip off my shoes when I noticed I was the only one removing shoes.  I didn’t understand what was happening until it dawned on me that people can keep their shoes on in Mexico.  I realized how foolish the exercise really is.  We’ve been asked to remove our shoes to protect us from a theoretical shoe bomb in spite of the fact that anyone could bring such a device in from Mexico or any other country for that matter.  As I sat on the plane I became convinced that the exercise was really just about power and control.
                Arab people have paid the largest price for America’s post 9/11 security culture.  Discrimination against Arabs has practically been encouraged.  We are made uncomfortable, told that we are in danger, and asked to assist in reporting “suspicious activity” or people.  The dominant culture has defined Arab people as the embodiment of “suspicious” much like Japanese people during World War II.
In addition to the acute discrimination against Arab people, Latinos have been victims of racism in the post 9/11 era.  Since 9/11 there has been intensified border security focused almost exclusively on keeping Mexican people out of this country.  Armed vigilantes were roaming the border of Mexico in states like Arizona and Texas around the time I was returning home from my travels.
I imagined what it would be like passing through customs as a Mexican American.  I supposed many law abiding citizens would walk through with a pit in their stomachs.  Wondering if this is the time they might come under scrutiny, presumed to be an invader coming to steal a slice of the American Dream.  These thoughts were lingering somewhere in my mind as I grabbed my bag from the conveyor belt at baggage claim. 
As I headed to the first checkpoint, a federal officer approached me and asked if I could come with him.  He was a Latino male, most likely having Mexican heritage.  He said that he would like to search my bags and that this was a routine check.  I turned around and watched everyone else walk in a different direction.  The officer could see the frustration on my face.  He asked me why I looked so nervous, convinced that I was hiding something.  He pushes me up against a divider and tells me not to move.  I tell him to get his hands off me.  He and his partner begin feverishly going through my things ripping through gift bags and reading my journals.  Meanwhile I’m racking my brain wondering if I penned something that could be misconstrued as a legitimate reason to detain me. 
I made clear to them that I thought the search was unwarranted.  His partner, a white woman several years older than me looks up from my journal and says to me: “You’re deep”.  She had realized this search was in vain.  It was probably the Spiderman puppets I bought for my kids that gave it away.  Her partner looks at me; my bag completely empty with all of my stuff strewn across a table and says: “this bag feels heavy; I’m going to X-Ray it.”  When the X-Ray search yielded nothing, he told me that I was free to go and left me to pickup my belongings and put them back in the bag.
I will never know if I was stopped that day because of mere chance or if racism played a role, and that’s the problem.  The power brokers in our country have demanded that we give up some of our liberties in exchange for security.  I do not see this culture of fear and scrutiny as a path to freedom.  It should be seen as the obstacle that it really is.  I don’t believe we can heal from the history of racism, in an environment of fear.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Wisconsin Recall

I'm calling the election.  I'm saying that the Democrats will retake the senate in Wisconsin.  You heard it here first!

And for the record, I'm not a fan of the recall effort or the Democratic Party.  I am however a fan of collective bargaining.  And just so you know, just because the Dems won tonight doesn't mean that they will be able to restore the collective bargaining rights that were stripped by Governor Walker.  That's like 30 million dollars (or more) to maybe possibly restore rights that were won decades ago.  You'd like to think that 30 mil could by more than that.  Just sayin.

Update: Looks like I was wrong!/sistertoldjah/status/101149291518767104

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Marriage Equality in New York

Many of my neighbors and homies are celebrating tonight because New York State finally passed  Marriage Equality.  I'm pretty happy too.  Some queer people aren't psyched about marriage equality because it could be seen as a distraction from the continuing discrimination faced by trans people and all queer people.  I definitely hear that.  I think there are a lot of thoughts to be shared on this issue but there is one thing I want to make clear:

I give no credit to our political system for the passage of marriage equality in NYS!

All of the credit goes to the tireless activists that have fought in the streets and demanded justice for decades.  Just like the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, the powers that be, eventually had no choice but to capitulate.

Just look at Barack Obama, a man who as an aspiring state senator nearly twenty years ago supported gay marriage.  As a presidential hopeful, he completely changed his position.  I believe that he changed his position because he assumed that supporting marriage equality was an unelectable position.  Most politicians don't take important stands because something is the right thing to do.  They finally take stands when the groundswell of public opinion has given them no alternative. 

Sure, Republicans could have balked again at marriage equality but the writing was on the wall.  New York residents weren't going to stand for it.  See Frank Padavan a man who was a state senator for 38 years and was voted out of office over this very issue.  Andrew Cuomo knew this, that's why he jumped on it from the beginning.  Now he can go ahead and grab the praise as a crusader for a just cause.  He will do this while he advocates policies that will literally choke the concept of public education into an apparition, leaving poor working people with no hope of climbing out of debt while attempting to gain knowledge and some basic upward mobility.  At the same time, he will save the many millionaires and billionaires in our state the burden of paying taxes that they've already been paying for several years. 

I say the credit goes to Andrew Cuomo over my mom's dead body.  My mom was a feminist professor and gay rights activist.  She fought for a handful of marginalized working class queer students on her community college campus when it wasn't fashionable to carry the banner of "Equality".  No this victory has nothing to do with Andrew Cuomo, it has to do with Danny Garvin, a man who was at the Stonewall Inn in June 1969, the night of the famed riot.  He traveled back to the Stonewall Inn this evening to watch the vote on TV.  This victory is his. 

I refuse to give credit to some Republican Senator for finally realizing that people have the right to be treated as human beings.  Not when we remember the names of people like Brandon Teena and Jorge Steven Lopez Mercado and the many stolen lives that died because of institutionalized discrimination and hatred. 

The powers that be are responsible for the years of discrimination that LGBTQ people have faced. 

And the people are responsible for demanding the justice that is symbolized by this vote!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The New Jim Crow

Hey y'all.  If you caught my recent post entitled: Your Dream Supreme Court Nominee, than you read about Goodwin Liu, the brilliant, progressive, Asian American Lawyer nominated by President Obama to the Ninth Circuit of Appeals.  Unsurprisingly Liu was filibustered and has since requested that his nomination be withdrawn making it unlikely that he will ever make it to the Supreme Court. It seems apropos that Liu, a progressive attorney with impeccable credentials, would be denied the opportunity to serve on the federal bench if you believe the assertions that Michelle Alexander makes in her book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness".

Last weekend I had the pleasure of hearing Ms. Alexander speak at Riverside Church in Harlem the same church that Dr. King once spoke at. It might have been the greatest speech I've ever witnessed in person.  Michelle makes the claim that the analogy between the Jim Crow system of the South and the U.S. Criminal Justice System is not only appropriate but factually accurate.

If you have not read her book, please do.  Put it on the: "I'd be disappointed if I didn't read this in the near future" list and move it to the front of the line.  Than do me a favor and ask at least five other people to read it.  We need as many people as possible to see the criminal justice system for what it is, a system of segregation.

If you accept, Michelle's premise that the criminal justice system is the New Jim Crow, than you have to ask yourself some pointed questions.  What are you doing about it?  Are you sitting by while a Jim Crow System is occurring right under your nose? Does your lack of action amount to tacit approval? The question that I asked Michelle is: where is the back of the bus?  Or in other words where is the location for civil disobedience to protest this unjust system?  My answer is that the courtroom is today's lunch counter and ultimately the arena where this battle will be fought.

Let's shut this system down.

And on top of all of that you can watch the video of her speech right here:

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Your Dream Supreme Court Justice: Goodwin Liu

Goodwin Liu

So, for those of you that believe we can work within the system to make the change we hope to see and also consider yourself a progressive, I have a task for you. Call your senator (if he or she is Republican) and kindly ask he/she to not vote to filibuster the nomination of Goodwin Liu. Who you say? Your dream Supreme Court Justice, that's who. "But wait, I haven't heard of a Supreme Court opening." That's because Goodwin Liu has been nominated to the 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals. He is forty years old, Asian American, and considered by some to be the most liberal judge nominated to the federal bench in some time. Now, let's be clear, Liu is not William Kunstler. He is however, undoubtedly progressive. He's also a graduate of Yale Law School and a Rhodes Scholar. Did I mention that he is forty years old? In other words, if nominated to the 9th circuit, Liu stands an excellent chance of being the first Asian American to be nominated to The Supreme Court. This is why Republicans are scared of him. He was nominated last year and spent an entire year waiting for a vote, and although he was approved (along party lines) by the Judiciary Committee, he never made it to the Senate Floor. His nomination lapsed. At the beginning of the year, Obama nominated him again and he was approved by the Judiciary Committee again, along party lines again. But now, just this evening, HarryReid brought Liu's name to the Senate Floor for the first time. This means in the next day or two, Liu should get an up or down vote in the senate unless...

He is filibustered. Assuming all Democrats vote against the filibuster, they still need seven republicans to join them. Now this is tricky because Republicans prefer to block senators behind closed doors. Many of them are on record as saying they are opposed to filibusters of court nominees. This was evidenced recently when the senate approved Edward Chen and Jack McConnell, two other controversial Federal Court Nominees. Several Republicans joined the Dems in voting against a filibuster. Liu is a little more controversial for a few reasons. He is eminently qualified. That's right; he has impeccable credentials and received the highest rating possible from the American Bar Association. He also has the support of many Republicans not in the Senate, most notably Kenneth Starr (yes that Kenneth Starr). So why does this make him controversial? He would be so hard to defeat down the road as a potential Supreme Court Nominee. Republicans know this and are scared to death. Some see him as a liberal equivalent of Antonin Scalia.

People have said that Liu supports reparations, same sex marriage and recognizes a constitutional right to welfare. Some of these things are true; he is almost certainly in favor of important issues like gay marriage and a woman's right to choose. But some of the assertions about him are inaccurate, like his support for reparations. These exaggerations have been created to paint him as a radical extremist.

One of the other reasons that Republicans don't like Liu is because he had this to say about current Supreme Court Justice and G.W. Bush nominee Samuel Alito:

“Judge Alito’s record envisions an America where police may shoot and kill an unarmed boy to stop him from running away with a stolen purse … where a black man may be sentenced to death by an all-white jury for killing a white man,” Liu wrote. “I humbly submit that this is not the America we know. Nor is it the America we aspire to be.”

If you're a progressive that still believes our system can be repaired you're probably not a fan of Samuel Alito and you probably are a fan of Goodwin Liu. If I'm right, today might be the day that you want to call your republican senator or your cousin that has a Republican senator. Just sayin'.

John Stewart vs. Bill O'Reilly

Watch this. Jon Stewart makes the case that you're not insane if you believe that Leonard Peltier, Mumia, and Assata are innocent. Don't get me wrong he could have said a lot more but at least he said something.

Monday, May 16, 2011


So I have some breaking news:

Osama Bin Laden is dead. 

I figured some of you may not have heard.  But it's true he's dead.  Killed in Pakistan and buried at sea, with a proper Muslim funeral.

I logged onto saw a little banner saying:"Breaking News: President Obama will address the country on a matter of National Security."  I wasn't sure what happened but I knew it was big.  After a while it became clear that Osama had been killed in a mission authorized by the president.

Yes, Obama killed Osama.

As the news was coming out, reporters were saying things like: "There is a feeling of jubilation in the White House."  I remember thinking, Really? Jubilation? The jubilation spilled over into the streets of DC and NYC, as well as the Daily Show, and my email inbox.  In fact, America decided to throw itself a party to celebrate the killing of Osama.  My first reaction was surprise.  My second one was disgust.  I was not sure why, even if you hated Osama, why his death would be a cause for celebration.  For some reason I figured the whole thing would be more somber.  Sort of like a dress in black affair, where we remember the people who died in the towers on 9/11.

Now that I've had a few days to digest everything I've concluded that the common reaction of jubilation was appropriate.  Not because I think it is a rational or even sane response, rather I think the reaction fits within context of a "blood thirsty" country.  Politicians make a living insisting that they will kill people, by supporting the death penalty or by displaying overwhelming support of military force.  The United States is one of the few "developed" countries that still uses the death penalty. We've spent the better part of the decade fighting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our favorite sport, football, is a sport where men sacrifice their bodies in a gladiator style ritual that can result in a unique brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy.  (See Dave Duerson) And within this context of acceptable violence, it makes perfect sense that we chose to accept the notion that it is appropriate to celebrate the death of another human being.

I imagine if we changed our reactions we would be forced to examine other realities within our societal consciousness.  The justification for killing Osama was that he was a mass murderer that needed to be brought to justice.  And by celebrating his death we can stop there.  Instead of asking about the hundreds of thousands of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan.  We have to see those deaths as acceptable losses.  If not, we have to ask what makes killing thousands upon thousands of innocent Iraqi's morally justified?  The fact that Osama masterminded the 9/11 attacks?  We've essentially created a narrative that says a justified killing is one that is carried out by our nation and an unjustified one is one carried against us.

There is a problem with that logic.  (Actually there are several but I'm choosing to focus one one.)  We have an assumption that the power structure that orders the bombings that blow up babies in Iraq is only violent over there.  I would argue that the "blood thirsty" nature of our power structure allows the devastation of our own people right here in the USA.  It’s the reason that companies like Exxon Mobil paid absolutely no income taxes in 2009, while our political leaders debate whether or not to cut funding from Grandma's health or your sisters birth control.  In fact it's the same arrogance that led to the financial meltdown, allowing millions of Americans to lose their job while privileged suits collected millions of dollars in bonuses. I'm not in anyway implying that it would be OK to support violence abroad if it weren't directed to us at home as well.  I'm making the point that a nation that is violent abroad, will inevitably be violent at home.

The truth is that we are expendable and invisible just like Iraqi civilians.  And who wants to be expendable or invisible? So it's easier to believe a lie.  It's less complicated to believe that our country is on a quest for justice to defend our honor and democracy from the "evildoers" that want to take it away.  Because if we don't accept the lie and analyze the truth we might have to do something about our predicament.  We might see that our silence has been bought by HD TV, Nintendo Wii and Mickey Dees.  We might see that we have these toys and treats because we are really glorified pawns.  And that would be a total bummer.

Actually...'s fun to be a glorified pawn.  So party on!

Monday, March 21, 2011



She shined brightly from her little perch in Loisaida.
Her light was so powerful that it shone clear across the Hudson River,
 travelling the twists and turns of Route 17,
passing Monticello and the Roscoe Diner,
settling in the Southern Tier.
She illuminated a little house in Endwell, NY.
You could smell the arroz con gandules and
hear the congas and guiros playing.
Her children and her grandchildren were there,
along with their friends that became grandchildren.
Everyone knew her as Abuelita
 in this suburban sanctuary
of Puerto Rican Culture.
She would come to visit just to supervise our progress;
making sure we stayed true to traditions.
She brought Barranquitas up
to this small house
by way of Avenue A. 
She even learned to make vegan rice pudding
demonstrating some flexibility in that rough exterior. 
I can remember watching her roll Pastelillos by hand;
even as a child, I knew I was witnessing something special.
I’m sure her life had many narratives,
the most amazing stories I’ve probably never heard.
But for a kid like me, she was Puerto Rico.
Her love stood as proof that I was Borikeño.

It’s fitting that she passed away in the small community
that she built a home for in the Southern Tier.
Her body will be transported to
Mount Hope Cemetery in Westchester County,  
so that she can hold her spot between
Puerto Rico and upstate NY,
continuing to shine across the Hudson River
and through the twists and turns of Route 17.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Best of 2010 Parts 4-9

Yay it's 2011. I can't believe we've made it!  So far I've posted 3 Best of 2010's.  I owe you seven more.  Today I'm posting six rapid fire "Best Ofs". You'll have to stay tuned for the last one. So In case you missed my first three, here they are:

Biggest Event to Happen to the Holy Game Since a Guy Name Michael Retired for the First Time: The Decision

Biggest I Should Have Lost My Job Moment, But Didn't: Regis Philbin 

Best Impersonation of Ebenezer Scrooge: Lester Freeman

So now here's the next six:

Best Blog in the World:

Duh. I mean if you're not down with radical feminism, than you're pretty whack.  And if you are down, than you should read  Perhaps Naomi Wolf should check it out too.

Best Proof That I Was Right About Michael Vick: tie Barack Obama and Tucker Carlson

I've written more than once about the case of Michal Vick.  I wrote that he would have "an opportunity to become a figure of redemption in Black America".  Barack Obama's recent comments on the subject prove me right.  I also wrote in a separate commentary, that you can't discuss the "nationwide" hatred for Michael Vick without also looking at the racism of the criminal justice system.  And good old Tucker Carlson proved me right when he called for Michael Vicks execution the other day.

Best MC I Never Heard of Until We Met In Germany: Cihuatl-Ce

If you want to meet a radical, Latina MC from LA all you have to do is travel to Chemnitz, Germany.  At least that's how it worked for me meeting Cihuatl-Ce.  My band, Broadcast Live, was selected to give a Hip Hop Workshop and performance in Germany and so was "Cihuatl".  The rest is history.  My favorite line from one of her songs?  "Leave you castrated with the jagged edge of my chipped tooth".  Check out her music.  Speaking of Germany...

Best Trip Taken By Me This Year: Germany

As I mentioned earlier my band, Broadcast Live, traveled to Germany on tour and it was a blast.  My partner LJ made the journey that much better by taking me on a bike ride through Berlin.  Check out the pictures at the Broadcast Live Facebook page. My most memorable moment?  Reading Dickhardtstrasse on a street sign. (Strasse means street in German.) Sorry for the potty humor but it's a true story.

Best Gathering of Diverse, Radical People in the United States: US Social Forum in Detroit

I wasn't expecting to be amazed at the US Social Forum but I was.  It's not that I didn't think it was going to be cool, I did.  It's just that I didn't expect it to be so diverse in age, class, race and gender identity.  The reason is simple, so few events really are.  So I don't know where the next one is going to be but it will take place in 2014, count me in.

Best Gathering of Diverse Radical People in New York State That I Helped to Organize: The New York State Prisoner Justice Conference

What does it take to get 200 Criminal Justice Activists together to discuss ways to work collectively in order to make the change we want in New York State?  It takes a handful of people to say: "We should try to gather around 200 Criminal Justice Activists from across the state to discuss ways we can change our justice system."  And twenty people (or so) working day and night to make it happen.  My mentor, Naomi Jaffe said it was one of the most well organized events that she's ever participated in.  And she's got a Wikipedia page, so there.

One more to go...