Posts in Category: Featured Articles

Sonia Sotomayor and Rita Moreno discuss men, moms, love, life

Posted by NiLP
by Amy Argetsinger
Washington Post (March 12, 2013)

Sonia Sotomayor had already teased out all the details of her pal Rita Moreno’s hot love affair with Marlon Brando (“we were obsessed with each other”), which naturally led into a conversation about their upbringings. The Supreme Court justice divulged that she had no memory of her mother kissing or hugging her; the actress said her mom had terrible taste in men that colored her own choices growing up.

“I made a lot of mistakes,” sighed Moreno.

“Don’t we all,” Sotomayor shot back.

So it went during a rollicking and surprisingly candid 90-minute onstage conversation between two Latina pioneers at Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Hall that had a sold-out audience screaming with laughter and shouting with solidarity Monday night. Though the two women are from different fields and different generations, they seemed to share an easy camaraderie. Judging from their questions, both were clearly familiar with each other’s new memoirs, which the event was arranged to promote. (Sotomayor’s “My Beloved World” reviewed)

“It was like being in a room with my wife and her girlfriends,” Adams-Morgan neighborhood activist and non-profit director Bryan Weaver told us. “Except one of them is 81 years old and the other is a Supreme Court justice.”

This is the point where we sadly confess: We weren’t there! The event, organized by the National Hispana Leadership Institute and the Eva Longoria Foundation was officially closed to reporters, at the request of Sotomayor. Why? Court officials did not say, though justices have frequently imposed such rules on semi-public speaking engagements at law schools and other such venues, explaining that the presence of reporters would inhibit candor or distract from the natural give-and-take.

Which is pretty silly if you think about it. Because Monday night’s event was open to the general ticket-buying public. And you know our friends the general public – they love to talk, and they love to tweet. It was pretty easy to recreate the evening with their help. (Thanks, in particular, to Isabel Lara and Midy Aponte for their dispatches from the night.)

The mutual admiration society between the two goes back a while. Moreno said she burst into tears when she first heard a Hispanic woman was appointed to the highest court; Sotomayor asked Moreno to read the audio version of her new memoir.

If Moreno, the first Latina to win an Oscar, was a little looser and more outspoken than her stage partner – well, hey, she’s Rita Moreno. (“I’m a raucous Puerto Rican!” she told the room. “I like to sing, I like to dance, I like to drink, I like to get buzzed.”) Plus, in a format where the two were asking each other questions, the former prosecutor had the upper hand. When Moreno complained that she was doing all the talking, Sotomayor responded, “I am used to asking questions and getting answers.”

But Sotomayor did talk candidly about a breakup with a boyfriend, and how a female friend counseled her that “lust is one thing, love is another.” And she bonded with Moreno over how their Spanish-speaking moms embarrassed them by mispronouncing certain words – “sheet” and “beach” always coming out like profanities.

Other highlights: Moreno breaking out into song, unaccompanied, a tune about missing one’s homeland and loving what one can’t have that left everyone in the room with goosebumps. . . . Sotomayor asserting that “it’s only the people you love that hurt you, because the others ‘que te importa.'”. . . Sotomayor insisting that she’s really just “an ordinary person” blessed by extraordinary circumstances.

The event was billed as a Q&A but the rapport between the two women was so fluid that they just kept talking to each other, without going to the audience for questions. In the end, it was the justice, not the actress, who gave the acting advice. Sometimes, Sotomayor told the audience, if you are intimidated by a task at hand, play it like a role – pretend to be someone you admire. “To be successful in life, you have to ‘play’ more than you are,” she said.

Sounds fascinating. Wish we could have been there.

Rise of Latino Population Blurs US Racial Lines

Posted by NiLP
by The Associated Press
NPR (March 17, 2013)

WASHINGTON (AP) – Welcome to the new off-white America.

A historic decline in the number of U.S. whites and the fast growth of Latinos are blurring traditional black-white color lines, testing the limits of civil rights laws and reshaping political alliances as “whiteness” begins to lose its numerical dominance.

Long in coming, the demographic shift was most vividly illustrated in last November’s re-election of President Barack Obama, the first black president, despite a historically low percentage of white supporters.

It’s now a potent backdrop to the immigration issue being debated in Congress that could offer a path to citizenship for 11 million mostly Hispanic illegal immigrants. Also, the Supreme Court is deciding cases this term on affirmative action and voting rights that could redefine race and equality in the U.S.

The latest census data and polling from The Associated Press highlight the historic change in a nation in which non-Hispanic whites will lose their majority in the next generation, somewhere around the year 2043.

Despite being a nation of immigrants, America’s tip to a white minority has never occurred in its 237-year history and will be a first among the world’s major post-industrial societies. Brazil, a developing nation, has crossed the threshold to “majority-minority” status; a few cities in France and England are near, if not past that point.

The international experience and recent U.S. events point to an uncertain future for American race relations.

In Brazil, where multiracialism is celebrated, social mobility remains among the world’s lowest for blacks while wealth is concentrated among whites at the top. In France, race is not recorded on government census forms and people share a unified Gallic identity, yet high levels of racial discrimination persist.

“The American experience has always been a story of color. In the 20th century it was a story of the black-white line. In the 21st century we are moving into a new off-white moment,” says Marcelo Suarez-Orozco, a global expert on immigration and dean of UCLA’s Graduate School of Education & Information Studies.

“Numerically, the U.S. is being transformed. The question now is whether our institutions are being transformed,” he said.

The shift is being driven by the modern wave of U.S. newcomers from Latin America and Asia. Their annual inflow of 650,000 people since 1965, at a rate that’s grown in recent years, surpasses the pace of the last great immigration wave a century ago. That influx, from 1820 to 1920, brought in Irish, Germans, Italians and Jews from Europe and made the gateway of Ellis Island, N.Y., an immigrant landmark, symbolizing freedom, liberty and the American dream.

An equal factor is today’s aging white population, mostly baby boomers, whose coming wave of retirements will create a need for first- and second-generation immigrants to help take their place in the workforce.

The numbers already demonstrate that being white is fading as a test of American-ness:

-More U.S. babies are now born to minorities than whites, a milestone reached last year.

-More than 45 percent of students in kindergarten through 12th grade are minorities. The Census Bureau projects that in five years the number of nonwhite children will surpass 50 percent.

-The District of Columbia, Hawaii, California, New Mexico and Texas have minority populations greater than 50 percent. By 2020, eight more states are projected to join the list: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey and New York. Latinos already outnumber whites in New Mexico; California will tip to a Latino plurality next year.

-By 2039, racial and ethnic minorities will make up a majority of the U.S. working-age population, helping to support a disproportionately elderly white population through Social Security and other payroll taxes. More than 1 in 4 people ages 18-64 will be Latino.

-The white population, now at 197.8 million, is projected to peak at 200 million in 2024, before entering a steady decline in absolute numbers. Currently 63 percent of the U.S. population, the white share is expected to drop below 50 percent by 2043, when racial and ethnic minorities will collectively become a U.S. majority. Hispanics will drive most of the minority growth, due mostly to high birth rates, jumping in share from 17 percent to 26 percent.

The pace of assimilation for today’s Latinos and Asian-Americans is often compared with that of the Poles, Irish, Italians and Jews who arrived around the turn of the 20th century and eventually merged into an American white mainstream.

There was a backlash. By the 1930s, an immigrant-weary America had imposed strict quotas and closed its borders. Those newly arrived were pushed to conform and blend in with a white mainstream, benefiting from New Deal economic programs that generally excluded blacks. The immigration quotas also cut off the supply of new workers to ethnic enclaves and reduced social and economic contacts between immigrants and their countries of origin.

“America of the Melting Pot comes to End,” read a 1924 opinion headline in The New York Times. The author, a U.S. senator, pledged that strict new immigration quotas would “preserve racial type as it exists here today.”

Today, data show that Latinos are embracing U.S. life but also maintaining strong ties to their heritage, aided by a new stream of foreign-born immigrants who arrive each year. Hispanics, officially an ethnic group, strive to learn English and 1 in 4 intermarry, taking a white spouse.

Nowadays, immigrants face less pressure to conform than did their counterparts from a century ago. Latinos are protected as a minority, benefiting from the 1950s civil rights movement pioneered by blacks. Nearly 40 percent of Latinos now resist a white identity on census forms, checking a box indicating “some other race” to establish a Hispanic race identity.

While growing diversity is often a step toward a post-racial U.S., sociologists caution that the politics of racial diversity could just as easily become more magnified.

A first-of-its-kind AP poll conducted in 2011 found that a slight majority of whites expressed racial bias against Hispanics and that their attitudes were similar to or even greater than the bias they held toward blacks. Hispanics also remained somewhat residentially segregated from whites in lower-income neighborhoods, hurt in part by the disappearance of good-paying, midskill manufacturing jobs that helped white ethnics rise into the middle class during most of the 20th century.

The AP survey was conducted with researchers from Stanford University, the University of Michigan and NORC at the University of Chicago.

Harvard economist George Borjas projects that by 2030, the children of today’s immigrants will earn on average 10 percent to 15 percent less than nonimmigrant Americans, based on past trends, and that Latinos will particularly struggle because of high rates of poverty, lack of citizenship and lower rates of education. In 1940, the children of early 20th-century white ethnics fared much better on average, earning 21.4 percent more than nonimmigrants.

About 35 percent of Hispanic babies are currently born into poverty, compared with 41 percent of blacks and 20 percent for whites.

“How America responds now to the new challenges of racial and ethnic diversity will determine whether it becomes a more open and inclusive society in the future – one that provides equal opportunities and justice for all,” said Daniel Lichter, a Cornell sociologist and past president of the Population Association of America.

The demographic shift has spurred debate as to whether some civil-rights era programs, such as affirmative action in college admissions, should begin to focus on income level rather than race or ethnicity. The Supreme Court will rule on the issue by late June.

Following a racially lopsided re-election, Obama has spoken broadly about promoting social and economic opportunity. In his State of the Union speech, he said that rebuilding the middle class is “our generation’s task.” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a rising star of a mostly white Republican party now eager to attract Latino voters, is courting supporters in both English and Spanish in part by pledging programs that would boost “social mobility.”

Left unclear is how much of a role government can or should play in lifting the disadvantaged, in an era of strapped federal budgets and rising debt.

The Latino immigrants include Irma Guereque, 60, of Las Vegas, who says enjoying a middle-class life is what’s most important to her.

Things turned bad for the Mexico native in the recent recession after her work hours as a food server were cut at the Texas Station casino off the Strip. As a result, she couldn’t make the mortgage payments on a spacious house she purchased and was forced to move into an apartment with her grandchildren.

While she’s getting almost full-time hours now, money is often on her mind. Her finances mean retirement is hardly an option, even though she’s got diabetes and is getting older.

Many politicians are “only thinking of the rich, and not the poor, and that’s not right,” Guereque said in Spanish. “We need opportunities for everyone.”

Associated Press writers Elaine Ganley in Montfermeil, France, Jenny Barchfield in Rio de Janeiro and Michelle Rindels in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

As the Competition Heats Up, So Does a Fight Over Homegrown Peppers

New York Times
Published: February 22, 2013
Correction Appended

SANTA FE, N.M. – Chile peppers are to New Mexico what oranges are to Florida, apples are to Washington and peanuts are to Virginia: a defining source of chest-thumping pride. It is also the state’s official vegetable and the reason for such thing as the state’s official question – “Red or green?”

Chile peppers are a crop under assault, though – from foreign competitors like Mexico, where harvesting could cost less than one-third of what it costs in New Mexico. Meanwhile, prolific growers in California surpassed the state years ago in the quantity of chile peppers harvested from its fields to become the nation’s No. 1 producer, according to statistics from the federal Agriculture Department.

Farmers have also been facing a vexing challenge on the ground: keeping chile grown outside New Mexico from being sold as homegrown, a deceptive practice that is common and hard to detect.

Charlie Marquez, a lobbyist for the New Mexico Chile Association, described the situation as “disturbing.” State Representative Rodolpho S. Martinez, a Democrat whose district encompasses the heart of chile country, stared ahead, rubbed his knuckles and called it an “outrage.”

Last month, Mr. Martinez introduced a bill to add some teeth to a 2011 law that everyone had hoped would safeguard the status of New Mexico’s chiles, but has fallen short. The new bill aims to force out-of-state chile peppers, in their natural and processed forms, to display on their package an unusual disclaimer: “not grown in New Mexico.”

“It’s to guard against impostors, to keep them honest,” Representative Martinez said on a recent morning.

Protecting New Mexican chile peppers has been a tough battle, in part because not every legislator buys into the idea that the right way to do it is to create more rules. The state, hobbled by a sluggish economic recovery, has also found it difficult to find money to finance new programs.

Representative Martinez’s bill passed unanimously in the House Agriculture and Water Resources Committee last month. Then, on Wednesday, it was shelved by an 8-to-7 vote in the House Judiciary Committee after a spirited debate over whether it might be too burdensome for small growers. On Thursday, though, there was already talk that the bill could be resurrected after the committee’s chairwoman, Representative Gail Chasey, a Democrat, said, “It is not necessarily dead.” An identical bill has already been introduced in the Senate. Washington State trademarked its apples in 1961 and Virginia trademarked its peanuts in 2006. In the late 1980s, under stiff competition from states like Texas and California, Georgia wrote into law exactly what type of seeds and soil would yield its sweet Vidalia onions. A year later, the federal government endorsed the same parameters and the brand was certified in 1990.

Wendy Brannen, executive director of the Vidalia Onion Committee, which handles marketing and research on behalf of growers and packers of Vidalia onions, said that more than protecting the crop, “the State of Georgia worked hard to build the Vidalia brand.”

New Mexico has opted for a modest and incremental approach. Its 2011 law gave inspectors from the state’s Agriculture Department the ability to seek court injunctions against companies that falsely advertise their chile peppers as being from New Mexico by allowing them to inspect stores and audit companies’ sales books. Last July, the department began requiring a certificate of authenticity to accompany chile peppers from the field to the point of sale or processing plant. Katie Goetz, the department’s spokeswoman, said the most obvious violations found so far have been in red chile pods sold in plastic bags that feature the words “New Mexico chile,” as well as “Hecho en Mexico” or “Made in Mexico.”

Under the same bill, Mr. Martinez proposed going after out-of-state chile peppers sold under brands bearing names of cities, counties and other New Mexico localities known for their chile production, like “Hatch chile,” named after the southern village that hosts a huge chile festival every year. Its main targets, however, are big chain stores, which he said may not be as diligent as roadside vegetable stands about checking the origin of the products they offer.

“Maintaining our brand is important,” Representative Martinez said, even if for a declining industry. In 2011, chile peppers were harvested along 9,500 acres of land. Nearly a decade earlier in 1992, harvested fields covered more than 34,000 acres, according to the New Mexico Chile Association.

Mr. Marquez said a chile pepper harvester makes about $90 a day in New Mexico and about $20 in Mexico, which results in a big discrepancy in their sale prices. Still, he went on, “We’re so proud of it, we’re willing to pay a premium for New Mexico chile.”

The question, however, is whether the average customer can taste the difference in chile peppers that come from this place or that.

Yes, Mr. Marquez said, “if you’re comparing chile from New Mexico and chile from Colorado.” But, he conceded, “30 miles south of the border, in Mexico, they’re growing chile that is very similar to ours and the vast majority of people probably couldn’t tell them apart.”

Correction: February 25, 2013, Monday

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: An article on Friday about a fight in New Mexico over chile peppers that are grown outside the state yet are being sold as “homegrown” referred incorrectly to the existence of an official state question. The state does indeed have such a question, having adopted it in 1996. (The reporter suggested that if the state were to adopt an official question, it no doubt would be: “Red or green?,” as to which pepper is preferred. That is, in fact, the official question – about the state’s official vegetable.)