Continuation of the Front Page Articles

Presentation by Jose Zapata Calderon

NAACP—Sponsored Forum and Candle Light Vigil in Solidarity With Family and Friends in Louisiana and Minnesota

Madedonia Baptist Church in Pomona, CA
July 8th, 2016

We are all here, as we have gathered before, to reflect – and to continue our work to stop the senseless violence in our communities. We cannot, for one moment, put aside the conditions in this country – and those who use these conditions to spread fear, hatred, negative stereotypes, and hostility. These conditions include the state of the ECONOMY, growing demographic changes — conditions that are forcing our diverse communities to compete, rather than collaborate, for the diminishing resources in health, education, employment, and quality of life. With an increasing global society — it is easy to scapegoat the most vulnerable among us and create anger toward our increasingly diverse communities.

We are all here today – remembering the lives of Alton Sterling in Louisiana and Philando Castil in Minnesota – two African American men whose deaths once again bring to light the issue – that more than 500 people have been killed by police in 2016 – and that racial profiling and excessive use of force are on the upswing.

We are also here to reflect on what happened in Dallas – and that a peaceful demonstration was turned into a stage of violence – with the media tending to blame “the Black Lives Matter” movement – when the violent acts were clearly carried out by individuals who had nothing to do with this movement. As we have said in the past, there is a foundation to the anger and frustration in our communities – but it is important not to take this anger out on one’s self, or on others (particularly those close to us in our communities) – but we need to turn frustration into organizing to change the conditions which are creating our anger.

It is no accident that we have an increase in hate crimes. When presidential candidates, such as Trump use the frustration of working people with the economy – to call for a ban on Muslims’ entry to the U. S. and targets Mexican and Latino people – and influences public attitude with the help of the news media — to call for the deportation of the eleven million undocumented — and force Mexico to fund a wall to keep them out – there is a direction being promoted here that targets specific groups as a threat to national security – and influences public opinion – (with 25% approving of such policies as religious profiling, surveillance, special ID’s, and incarceration).

There is no getting around the issues of poverty and race in our communities – and the problems of crime, violence, substandard housing, unemployment, lack of jobs, and environmental degradation. Mass deportations and mass incarcerations have been expanding to unconscionable levels in recent years – leading to separation of families – children left without parents – poverty, unemployment, homelessness – in our communities. We do have to change the stereotypical media portrayal of our Muslim and people of color communities. We do have to change the reality of a renewed form of racial segregation, profiling, and criminalization of our communities. We do have to take concrete steps such as those proposed in a report by the Center for Popular Democracy and Policy Link titled Building From the Ground Up: A Toolkit for Promoting Justice in Policing:

  1. Stop criminalizing everything: de-prioritize enforcing and prosecuting low-level offenses.
  2. Stop using poor people to fatten city budgets.
  3. Kick ICE out of your city. The report suggests that cities sever ties between ICE and local police department. ICE should not be able to request these holds. Nor should they have access to the address and names of family members of people detained by local police.
  4. Treat addicts and mentally ill people like they need help, not jail. Some issue – like acting erratically due to mental illness or possessing and using drugs due to addiction – are actually better served by medical attention, not incarceration.
  5. Make policy makers face their own racism. The report recommends that policy makers should have to evaluate the potential racial impact of any new laws they create, and involve community organizers and people who work with disadvantaged population in every step of the process.
  6. Actually ban racist policing. But at the very least, cities, counties and states should provide avenues through which private citizens can take the police to court when they believe they’ve been profiled.
  7. Obey the Fourth Amendment – prohibiting “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
  8. Involve the community in big decisions. Every city should have an adequately funded community oversight board with significant investigatory and disciplinary powers.
  9. Collect data obsessively. The report says that cities and departments should maintain a transparent and searchable database on every stop, frisk, summons, use of force, arrest, and killing they conduct.
  10. Body cameras. Body cameras are far from the solution. But they can be important and helpful, especially when the local community supports their use, guided by clear regulations.
  11. Don’t let friends of the police prosecute the police. Cases against police officers would be tried by independent prosecutors, not the district attorney who works with them all the time.
  12. Oversight, oversight, oversight. The report proposes external oversight committees – ones that oversee the implementation of reforms and proactively identify issues in police operations and practices.
  13. No more military equipment. President Barack Obama did recently issue and executive order prohibiting police departments from obtaining specific equipment – namely tracked armored vehicles, grenade launcher, large caliber weapons, ammunition, and bayonets.
  14. Establish a “use of force” standard. The report says that all departments should issue a statement affirming that their officers should use minimum force to subdue people. They should develop clear and transparent standards for reporting, investigating, and disciplining officers who do not comply.
  15. Train the police to be members of the community, not just armed patrolmen. Police should be trained on how to develop better relationships with their communities – training that incorporates culture, diversity, mental illness training, youth development, bias, and racism.

Brothers and sisters – it is time to build a movement to not take our frustrations, conditions, and fears on oneself – or take it out on our friends, families, and neighbors – but to use our energies and abilities to build unity in our communities – to fight for legislative actions (at the local, state, and national levels) that directly address racial profiling, excessive use of enforcement – without addressing the foundations. With so many problems being faced by our society, there is the need for coalitions to develop between all of us — in advancing a leadership that combats prejudice, racism, sexism, and homophobia — and builds our unity in advancing solutions to the structural issues of racism, poverty, and inequality in our communities.


The Future of Public Education

At the The Next System Teach-in at UC Santa Barbara on
April 16, 2016
By Jose Zapata Calderon

Muchisimas Gracias por la invitacion. Hay momentos en nuestras vidas que nos transforman. Yo se que muchos de ustedes se acuerdan de momentos transformativos en sus vidas. La base de me mi transformacion era entre la connecsion de mi educasion, mi trabajo, mi familia, y movimientos para desarollar cambios. Mis palabras hoy vienen de mis experencias como trabajador, profesor, padre, abuelito, y – mas que todo – como un hijo de padres inmigrantes — y como lider y organisador por la mayor parte de mi vida — en los campos, en uniones, en escuelas, en colegios, y en varias comunidades.

  • Siempre comienso mis presentaciones en español para enseñar la fuerza del lenguaje – y tambien para enseñar un ejemplo de algo que se puede usar como forma de opresion o de liberacion. Si uno no puede participar – es muy duro desarollar las mas altas posibidades de desarollar nuestras capacidades. Cuantos de ustedes me entienden? Bueno, a todos ustedes que me entienden – Les damos una A y a los demas una F.
  • El poder de la palabra es muy fuerte y sabemos que puede resultar en excluir estudiantes – puede resultar en bajo autoestima – en ellos creer que la culpa es de ellos y no de un Sistema que da la culpa a los maestros y no a las condiciones historicas y estructurales que son el base del problema.   En este momento estoy usando el poder de la palabra para oprimir.


I will stop here because I know that there are many of you who do not understand Spanish.   I began my presentation by thanking all of your and especially the Next System teach-in coordinators Emily Williams and Gary Lytlefor inviting me to be here with you today.   I explained that there are moments in our lives that are transformational and that everyone here can point to transformational moments in their lives that became the foundations of principles and values for long-term change. The foundations of the transformations in my life had all to do with the connections between education, labor, family, and social change activism.

It is in this context — that my presentation today is based on — my lived experience as a worker, professor, father, grandfather – and most importantly – as a son of immigrant farm workers – and as a social justice organizer in the fields, in unions, in the schools, in colleges, and in diverse communities. I always begin my presentations in Spanish to reflect power relations – and to show, for a moment, how exclusion can be used as a form of oppression. If one is not able to participate, there is no way that one can develop one’s capacities to the highest levels. I asked how many of you understand me – and shared that those who understood me would receive an A and those who did not – an F.   We know that this form of structural exclusion can result in low self-esteem in our students with a belief that they are responsible – and a power structure that places the blame on our teacher – and not on the historical or systemic conditions that are the foundations of the problem.

It is this systemic and structural oppression that I want to talk about to you today – and I am so heartened to be speaking to so many of you who are building and constructing with the tools of education – for, as we know, education is truly a tool for overcoming domestication, scapegoating, and exclusion.    

With the growth of a global economy, there is the need for a type of educational system that promotes the building of new models toward a democratic society. However, there is a trend emerging in our present educational system that wants to take us back to the days of reproducing individuals to fit a more authoritarian philosophy. This trend seeks to promote a managerial “banking” system where the power of disseminating knowledge is being transferred to the needs of the business and political establishments. This shift fits into the early twentieth century industrial model of schools where students were socialized in assembly-like rows to be taught the status quo and not to be heard from. With the promotion of standardized tests and quantitative methods that evaluate the performances of both teachers and students, there is a diminishing of the space for the creation of democratic bridges between what is being learned in the classroom and the challenges of democratic decision-making in our communities. This trend is characterized by the growth of for-profit corporate charter schools and companies who are redefining the meaning of education by taking money out of public schools. In the debate over the state of our educational system, unfortunately — many taxpayers have been led to believe that the issue is only about the quality of our teachers and not about the poverty and racism – the structural inequities that many of our underrepresented students and their families confront every day in their communities. There is no getting around that in many of our cities half of all black and Latino young people are not graduating from our high schools – and that most are finding themselves on the unemployment lines, in poverty, or in jail. Einstein once said that every child is born a genius – but we all know now how easily this capacity can be taken away before and after birth. Think of the mother working in the fields in her 8th month of pregnancy – and pesticides swarming all around her – affecting whether that child is going to be born with hands, with legs, with the brilliant mind of our generations. Think of the child who is born without access to good nutrition, good health care – and immigrant parents who work double shifts without the time needed to fully care for the needs of that child. Think of the young woman who is scorned in school for not being able to speak English – scorned for having an accent – the young woman who is paid less because of her skin color, because of her gender – and the young man and young woman bullied because of their sexual orientation. There are structural issues here and that is why we have to fight for structural solutions such as supporting the campaign of Healthy Kids, Healthy Minds – for we know that the success of our students is also tied to the state of their health and the conditions in the homes and communities from where they come from.

Of course there are those who think that the success of our educational system can be done just by changing the curriculum or improving our teacher training. There are others who hail the growth of charter schools and advocate voucher systems to solve the problem. What we already know is that these efforts have been attempted and that there are consistent flaws in their implementation. We know now that the method of standardized testing has resulted in minimal improvements. And we know that charter schools are overall not doing any better than public schools – and, in fact, educating fewer English learners and special needs children – and contributing to racial segregation.

In this realm of thinking, there are those who advocate that low test scores are caused by bad teachers – and that if you Get rid of the bad teachers — all students will get high test scores.  The reality is, as we know, that teachers do not give tenure to themselves. Instead of acknowledging that test scores are highly correlated with family income – instead of acknowledging the structural issues of large class sizes, the lowest per pupil funding rates of k-12 schools in the nation, the decrease in programs and services for students with the greatest needs, the rise in tuition and fee increases in our system of higher education, and the limited access to public preschool — they prefer to blame teachers and the very idea of public education. We know otherwise – we know that the improvement of education will not be done through laws that blame all teachers, campaigns by privately-funded corporations, and solutions that leave out the economic, resource, racial, and historical factors ( the foundations of many of the problems in our educational system). This trend, brothers and sisters, — rather than tapping the passionate reason as to why so many college graduates become teachers — vilifies teachers and is forcing many to turn away from the educational world as a career.

The real issue, we know, is not the quality of education — but it is the issue of inequality. There is no getting around, as Professor Mark Warren in his article Transforming Public Education points out that children from poor families score lower than those from higher-income communities and that there is a growing achievement gap between high and low-income students. There is no getting around that students of color, particularly Black and Latino, end up in schools that have less qualified teachers, larger class sizes, fewer and older textbooks, older facilities, and fewer computers than schools in more affluent communities.

There is no getting around the issues of poverty and race where more than a third of all black children are in poverty – where large numbers of African American and Latino Children grow up in poverty neighborhoods – with problems surrounding them of crime, violence, substandard housing, unemployment, lack of jobs, and environmental degradation. These conditions affect the lives of the young children – young people. These conditions result in Black and Latino have the highest suspension and expulsion rates – with Black students, for example, who make up 16 percent of public school students have over 31 percent of the suspensions and expulsions. And we know where many of these students who drop out or who do not graduate – end up — in what is called the school-to prison pipeline.

Mass deportations and mass incarcerations have been expanding to unconscionable levels in recent years – leading to separation of families – children left without parents – poverty, unemployment, homelessness – in our communities. Our prison population has exploded from about 300,000 to more than 2 million in a few decades.  The majority of those incarcerated are black and brown. There are more African Americans under correctional control today — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. And these realities are connected to the right to vote. As of 2004, more African American men were disenfranchised (due to felon disenfranchisement laws) than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified, prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race.

Yes, we know the outcomes — And with a felony conviction – we know that these young people cannot get a job when they get out – they cannot vote.

With so many problems being faced by our society, there is the need for coalitions to develop between our parents, teachers, students, unions, and community-based organizations, and in advancing new forms of research, learning, and practice that can help develop a citizenry and a leadership in the future that takes up the structural issues of racism, poverty, and inequality in our communities. Brothers and sisters, we do have to change our schools.   We do have to change the media portrayal of our Black and Latino brothers and sisters – and the low expectations and bias – and the blame of parents — that some of our teachers and administrators have of our people of color as a result of some of these stereotypes. We do have to change the reality of geographic segregation – and the amount of resources that go to higher-income – upper-middle class schools – resulting in these students having less expulsions, more graduating – having privilege pathways to higher education and ultimately higher incomes and better jobs. We do have to change our schools but we also have to change how they interact and deal with the communities of inequality from where many of our students are coming from – yes we have to do this- – by accepting the reality of geographic segregation and that our focus also has to include organizing against all forms of racial segregation and taking up the issues in the communities where our students are coming from – the issues of housing, development, jobs, health, and immigrant rights. This is why, in my work, we are in unity with the movement to amend Proposition 13 so that, while homeowners and small businesses can be protected against escalating property taxes – that large businesses are properly assessed based on the fair market value of their properties – and that there is equality in ensuring equality of resources in all school districts – regardless of where they are located.

We need a movement – an educational justice movement – the seeds of which we are already beginning to see among young people nationally, among teachers, among parents that are focusing on both changing the schools from within but connecting to the larger issues of poverty, racism, inequality in our communities – which are often the source of many problems in our schools.

     As an example – In Pomona, a city, which is 70% Latino, 10% Black, and 7% Asian Pacific Islanders – my students used community-based engagement and research, alongside parents, in helping to defeat a bill that would have wiped out district elections (which have resulted in more representation of people of color). We have advanced community and coalition-building (again, with parents, students, teachers, and community-based organizations in transforming a city-based strategy of dealing with “gangs” simply through enforcement and incarceration to one that understands that “gang violence would not exist if they (gangs) did not satisfy the desperate needs of young people for family, education, mentoring, housing, employment, health, spiritual, and social support.” It has been these grassroots efforts that have been effective in developing an “economic justice plan” that includes the capacity-building strategies of quality jobs, housing, health, education, and pre-school/after-school programs (particularly in the low-income sectors of the community). More recently, we have brought Pomona Unified school and city officials together with parents, students, and our community-based organizations in joining together to implement the concept of “community schools.” This partnership has led to the school holding forums with the Center for Democracy – the school being a co-sponsor with community-based organizations and parents in implementing DACA immigrant rights clinics, driver’s license workshops, Matricula clinics drawing thousands – and Cesar Chavez Pilgrimage marches on the issues of funding for education, ethnic studies, and support for the minimum wage. More recently,   our coalition has endorsed and is actively organizing support for SB 1050 (introduced by one of my former students, Senate Pro Tempore Kevin De Leon) which, if passed, will help to level the playing field and create a pipeline of educational opportunity and success for K-12 public school students — especially those who are low income(with 58% who are from low income families) and includes English learners – and foster youth of all backgrounds — to be better prepared for and graduate from California’s public universities.

Our support for these initiatives needs to be based on an educational justice movement that is proactive in our schools — that is based on a type of teaching, learning, and organizing where: there is a passion for creating spaces of equity; but – where at the same time – connects to the issues of poverty, racism, exclusion, and inequality in our communities — where students are exposed to a curriculum that does not just deal with the problems in the society but that looks at the systemic and structural aspects of inequity; that brings to center stage the contributions of communities who (because of poverty, racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia) have historically been excluded from our textbooks; and that involves students in working alongside excluded communities on common projects to implement transformative social change.

As we seek to develop coalitions, it is important for us to look toward new ways of carrying out democratic forms of learning and curriculum building in our classrooms – that include a vision goes beyond the measurement of the quality of one’s capacity merely on standardized testing – to one that that allows for the fullest potential, creativity, and capacity of our students, of our teachers, of our parents, of our community leaders – to connect to new models of building democratic participation in our communities– new models that can help in advancing a more democratic and socially just culture in our schools and in the larger society.

There are too many media commentators, too many books, too many politicians, too many pessimists — that have us believing that we cannot cultivate. The reality is that our communities know a lot – but are diminished in the possibilities for positioning and taking back the legacies of creation that have been so much a part of our history.  

We know that there is no secret to reaching this level and that it takes our organizing efforts – and the support of each other to change the structural obstacles. Whether the optimal possibilities can come to be realities for our children – for our young people – for our brothers and sisters in the future – has a lot to do with the engagement of all of us here and our communities in advancing an educational justice movement locally and nationally for the resources, leadership, and changes that are needed to meet the needs of our children, parents, and families.

I want to urge all of you – to leave here with a passion – to use whatever opportunity the past and the present have developed – to go as far as you can – in accumulating all the knowledge that you can –and using that knowledge to build new schools — a new society – on the level of the future – in trying out new prescriptions of cultivation in how we structure our communities, our schools, our cities, our spaces of higher education. This is the real challenge – to not shirk our responsibilities of cultivation to the legacies of past generations – and take on the problems of our communities – This is the real meaning of why we need to build strong coalitions again and a strong movement locally and nationally.

We are geniuses – and we have to change the mentality of a society that begins to stratify one from the time one is born – according to the village that raises us – and the resources available to deter or advance the resources of potentiality.

We need you to cultivate – to create spaces in our homes, programs, and with families that are examples of the kind of world that we want to live in.

But, in addition to cultivating and creating those spaces- it is essential to build a powerful and political social movement – where we are together – not alone as individuals – but in coalitions, — in partnerships — finding a common ground with students, parents, and community-based groups – to take on the challenge of organizing our co-workers – in our schools, in our communities to build a strong movement for the future of public education – for the future of social and economic justice — to get involved in building new collaborations to ensure that the priorities of this country are not just about profit for a few – but are about sustaining and ensuring the resources necessary for the many.   Let us all cultivate together — then — so that our families – so that our future generations — have the type of high quality education, employment, nutrition, healthcare, and caring that they deserve. Si Se Puede!


Presentation at “Changing Landscape of the U. S”

Presentation at “Changing Landscape of the U. S.: 50 Years Since the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act at Chinese American Museum Panel by Jose Calderon

I want to thank the Chinese American Museum and staff for organizing this most important forum. I am honored to be part of a panel which includes three prominent leaders (Linda Vo, Stewart Kwoh, and Mike Eng) which I, and our communities – strongly respect. I would like to begin with a background to the 1965 Act, bring in a particularity connected to how the ACT affected Latina and Latino immigrants, while promoting the ongoing need to unite our diverse communities.
It was after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that Congress passed the 1965 Immigration and Nationality (Hart-Celler) Act – an act which did away with the aspects of national origin, race, or ancestry as a basis for immigration to the U. S.. The act eliminated the restrictive national origins quota system that was originally passed in 1924 when nativism and xenophobia were at an all-time high (favoring Northern and Western European immigrants because they were thought to be genetically superior and restricting others because of their supposedly genetic inferiority). The Act replaced this quota system and replaced it with an allocation of immigrant visas based on a seven-category preference system for relatives and permanent resident immigrants (based on the policies promoted — for the reunification of families) – policies which took into account occupational skills, relatives living in the U. S., and political-refugee status.
Although the U. S. government expected that most of the immigration would come from Europe, many European immigrants had already come earlier and the European economy was doing well. This reality opened the doors to unprecedented numbers of Immigrants from Asia, Mexico, Latin America, and other non-western nations – and dramatically changed the demographics in the U. S..
This is a point to emphasize — Since 1965, the majority of family-sponsored immigrants have come from Asia and Latin America rather than Europe. It is also important to point out that , between 2009 and 2011, immigrants from Africa have outnumbered Europeans. Hence, in the three decades following the passage of the 1965 ACT, more than 18 million legal immigrants have entered the U. S. – more than three times the number admitted over the preceding 30 years.
This happened as a result of this 1965 ACT which limited Eastern Hemisphere immigration to 170,000 and placed a ceiling on Western Hemisphere immigration to 120,000 — with a cap of 20,000 per nation. This Act, for the first time, placed a quota on immigration from Mexico and Latin America – and, given the proximity of the border – this had a particular effect on the Mexican people – many in the thousands who began to cross over without documents.
This fact is important because, as many researchers have written (such as Kevin R. Johnson and Douglas Massey) – not all was equal in the passage of the act – and as it can be argued – did not fully result in equal treatment under the law. The 1965 Act, although appearing to be impartial and fair, included a form of racial discrimination – less visible than the national origins quotas system. There was an anti-Latino underside of the immigration act. Congress backed reforms with a hope of significantly restricting the number of Latina/o immigrants to the U. S. – expressing the fear that, absent bold new restrictive steps in the ACT – that Latino immigrants might overrun – and possibly destroy American society. There was an intent to cap immigration from Mexico as well as Latin America – and thus, establishing a foundation for modern immigration enforcement that resulted in a series of U. S. immigration laws and enforcement measures directed primarily at Latinos. Those measures have continued to the point – where we have had up to 400,000 immigrants being deported yearly today. There is no doubt that the Act created a new path for eliminating discriminatory laws that had excluded Asian immigration. On the other hand, by placing an artificial ceiling on legal migration from Mexico – (coupled with the end of the Bracero program in 1964) the legislation advanced the growth of an undocumented immigrant population subject to removal from the U. S.. It can be argued that this trend in immigration to the U. S. contributed to changes in the racial demographics of American society in the post-1965 period, the public’s view of immigration, and ultimately the overall direction of U. S. Immigration law and its enforcement. With an increase of undocumented, particularly from Mexico and Central America – there was an increase in enforcement of U. S. Immigration laws (a total of fifteen restrictive immigration bills from 1965 to 1995 and 16 enforcement operations between 1993 and 2010)). The restrictive process, primarily directed at Mexican migration, contributed greatly to the steady growth of the undocumented Mexican population. The ACT marked the beginning of a series of escalating restrictions on Mexican migration, greatly bolstered immigration enforcement in the U. S./Mexico border region as well as the entire country, and contributed to a growing concern with the number of Mexican immigrants in the U. S.. The law built on and greatly reinforced the deeply entrenched anti-Mexican racism in the U. S. – which advanced a perspective that undocumented immigrants were an economic and social threats. So, although eliminating the discriminatory national origins quotas system, removing rigid barriers to immigrate to the U. S. from Asia, and offering the appearance of neutrality and objectivity to the American immigration system – the ACT also had some questionable results in limiting the extent of migration to the U. S. from the Western Hemisphere.
On the positive side, we know that the large numbers of immigrants from Asia and from Latin America – have led to major demographic changes with a rise of ethnic enclaves and rise of ethnic businesses. These new arrivals have transformed the demographic, economic, and cultural environment of many communities. At the same time, as we all know (from our experiences in places like Monterey Park), the demographic changes have also led to ethnic/racial conflict between old-time residents and the new immigrants – with some movements, such as the English Only movement, proclaiming that the immigrants are taking over the country and destroying American culture.
The demographic changes have been dramatic. In 1960, the foreign-born share of the population was just 5% – whereas by 2013 – it had doubled to 13%. Further, the ethnic composition of immigrants has changed. In 1960, according to a PEW Research study, the overwhelming share of immigrants were of European origin and few were Latin-American/Caribbean or Asian. By 2013, a census survey found half of immigrants were Latin-American/Caribbean and 27% were Asian, while the share of the immigrant population had fallen to a mere 13%. And the future is no different. Based on the most recent census data, the Pew Research Center is projecting that the first and second generation immigrant segment of the American population will swell to 37% by 2050 as compared to 15% back in 1965. Since passage of the 1965 Hart-Celler Act, family preferences have been the central pathway to legal immigration to the U. S.. In 1970 and 1980, 25% and 40% of legal permanent immigration resulted from family reunification – and in the 1990s about 55 percent used family preference for immigration. Between 2001 and 2010, family reunification represented nearly two-thirds of the total documented immigration to the U. S..
While attention in 1965 focused on fixing policies for regulating immigration, the immigrant rights efforts today are focused on legalizing the 12 million undocumented in the U. S. An argument that is still in the forefront today – which was one of the main arguments for the implementation of the 1965 Act – is the call to not separate families – that to separate families is to go against the values of principles of a just and equal democracy – and that there is the need for legalization measures that can ensure family unification and reunification. This argument makes sense when there are an estimated 8.8 million families with a head of household or spouse who is undocumented – and, when among these mixed-status families (which include 16.6 million persons, there are more than 80% of the children who are U. S.-born citizens (an estimated 4.5 million).
In this context, it is important to understand our diverse histories and how the 1965 ACT affected our particular communities. If we do not absorb and appreciate these particularities, there is the danger of allowing a historical systemic strategy that is used to divide our families and to blame the victim rather than building the types of coalitions which, in recent years, have made California an exemplary state in its support of undocumented immigrants. It is no accident that, alongside the demographic changes, there have been dramatic changes in public opinion – and this has been due to the Dreamers, labor, and people of color coalitions that have united. It is no accident that — In 1990 – over a majority of Americans saw immigrants in a bad light and saw them as a threat. It is no accident that by 2014, 57% saw immigrants as contributing to the country through their hard work – and only 35% now see them as a threat. We need to thank everyone here – and all those who have sought common ground – for these transformations – and we cannot stop here.
The legacy of any gains made from 1965 to the present need to continue in uniting all that can be united in building these exemplary coalitions — such as those that we have seen in recent years that have united our communities of all colors – in working together on a state level for policies such as driver’s licenses for undocumented, collaborating together” on a national level against enforcement policies which racially profile our communities – and “fighting together for” executive orders such as DACA and DAPA – and not stop until there are policies in place that will immediately lead to permanent residency and citizenship for our 12 million undocumented immigrant brothers and sisters- a legalization with no expansion of temporary guest worker (bracero) programs and with labor law protections.

Crossing Campus and Community Engagement Borders

Through Building Sustainable and Democratic Partnerships

Presentation by Jose Zapata Calderon

National Campus Compact Network Leadership Conference

LaVerne University


Muchisimas Gracias a Campus Compact, a La Verne University, por la invitacion.  En invitarme – yo veo que ustedes estan cruzando fronteras — porque yo no soy una persona tradicional de la academia.  Soy conocido como un activista – y me gusta la categoria de activista intellectual.  Y, a veces, personas como yo – no son tan aceptadas como otros que nomas enfocan en sus estudios y no hacen para usar esos estudios para transformer la sociedad.    Este momento es un ejemplo de crear fronteras como un obstaculo a nuestra comunicasion, a nuestra colaboracion, a nuestra capacidad de crear espacios de sostenimiento y de democracia.  En este momento algunos de ustedes estan sintiendo el mismo character de oppression y exclusion que algunos de nuestros estudiantes, algunas de nuestras familias, algunas de nuestras comunidades sienten cuando hay inigualdades o falta de reservos en la sociedad.

Que pasara si continuara en hablar nomas en el Español?

Siempre comienso mis presentaciones en español para enseñar la fuerza del lenguaje – y tambien para eseñar un ejemplo de algo que se puede usar como forma de opresión o de liberacion.  Si uno no puede participar –  es muy duro desarollar las mas altas posibilidades de desarollar nuestras capacidades.  Cuantos de ustedes me entienden?  Bueno, a todos ustedes que me entienden –  Les damos una A y a los demas una F.

I will stop here because I know that there are many of you who do not understand Spanish.   I began my presentation by thanking Campus Compact, La Verne University President Deborah Lieverman, and all of you  for inviting me to be here with you today.   In inviting me, I explained, that all of you that invited me have crossed borders – because I am not a traditional academic.  I am known as an activist – I actually like being categorized as an activist intellectual.  At times, persons like myself – are not as accepted as other academics who primarily focus on their studies and do not use those studies as tools to transform the society around them.  This moment (I explained when I was speaking Spanish) right now is an example of creating borders as an obstacle to our communication, our collaboration, and our capacity to create spaces of sustainability and democracy.  I explained that, at this moment when I was only speaking Spanish, some of you were being treated with the same type of oppression and exclusion that some of our students, some of our families, and some of our underrepresented communities are treated with – when there are inequalities or lack of resources in the society.  I explained that I often begin my presentations in Spanish to show the strength of language – and to begin with examples of the possible two sides of oppression and liberation.  If one cannot participate – it is very difficult to cross those borders that help us reach the highest levels of our possibilities or capacities.

It is in this context that I speak to you today – as an activist intellectual whose passion for education emerged from my history as an immigrant, as the son of a father and mother who were immigrant farmworkers all their lives; as a student who learned firsthand the connection of engagement to social change practice by working with Cesar Chavez and the UFW back in the ‘70’s, as a parent of three children and two grandchildren (whose foundation of familia and engagement lies in the love and support of my wife, Rose), and who now —  as a teacher and learner —  as an emeritus professor — have maintained my passion for connecting the classroom to social change through the building of community partnerships that are both sustainable and democratic.

It heartens me to see the rooting of Campus Compact in 1100 member institutions of higher learning and its tradition of building bridges and sustaining community engagement efforts that are helping to build the kind of diverse, equal, and just society that we all want to live in.

And it is transformative community engagement that we need at this time when there are various trends in competition with each other:  – one that wants to take us back before the civil rights movement and one that is about the future.  In our educational systems there is a trend that wants to take us back to the days of reproducing individuals to fit a more authoritarian philosophy. It is  an outlook that promotes a type of a managerial “banking” system where the power of disseminating knowledge is transferred to the needs of the business and political establishments. It is an outlook that fits into the early twentieth century industrial model of schools where students were socialized in assembly-like rows to be taught the status quo and not to be heard from. At the same time, there is another trend  that is advancing new forms of research, learning, and practice that are engaging our teachers, faculty, and students in critical thinking and problem-solving to find solutions to our community’s problems. This is a type of learning that is manifested by  a vision of  developing a citizenry and a leadership that is more engaged and excited about participating in making the future society. This is a trend that has developed numerous  studies that show how much students benefit from connecting their learning in the classroom to community engagement:  – that, in addition to improving their grades and advancing principles of collectivity (that go against the grain of individualism); — that it enhances the skills of working with diverse populations, and develops a workforce — a form of career preparation that the report I was part of, A Crucible Moment, identifies as creating a “more informed, engaged, and responsible citizenry.”   As many of you know, higher education is being challenged right now by various forces outside of academia – who are reducing the expectations of a college education to “labor market needs” – to “industry availability” – to job preparation alone.  The National Governor’s Association report Degrees for What Jobs? Raising Expectations for Universities and Colleges in a Global Economy is one example of this trend where higher education’s function is described as being primarily as “workforce preparation.”   However, another trend, does see the value of a higher education that promotes critical thinking, having a public voice, ethical and moral jusdgment, and having a long-termcommitment to act collectively for the public good and for a high quality of life for all.  For example there are 700 companies globally that have developed corporate responsibility reports that fit right into our teaching and learning practices of advancing diversity, human rights, economic sustainability, and various community engagement dimensions.  It is in this dimension that Campus Compact has made great contributions – and we need to continue to do so.

As part of this  latter trend, Campus Compact has indeed been a leader in helping to create spaces of equity; where students are exposed to a curriculum that does not just deal with the problems in the society but that looks at the systemic and structural aspects of inequity; that brings to center stage the contributions of communities who (because of poverty, racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia) have historically been excluded from our textbooks; and that involves students in working alongside excluded communities on common projects to implement transformative social change.

We have advanced and need to continue the creation of examples of democracy in our classrooms.  Many of us, from the influence of Campus Compact and community-based participatory leaders, have been in the forefront of  practicing what Ira Shor, in his book Empowering Education, calls a critical-democratic pedagogy for self and social change. This approach works to develop a student-centered classroom that involves both the teachers and students in the “habits of inquiry and critical curiosity about society, power, inequality, and change” (Shor, 1992:15).  At the same time, it follows with the critical-holistic paradigm that is based on empowering community participants to “help themselves by raising their level of consciousness about their problems and the societal causes and remedies available.”   — An approach that combines the creation of a democratic space for dialogue and inquiry in the classroom as part of working alongside community participants to advance models of “social action and social change for the purpose of achieving social justice.  This type of engagement has moved our community-based faculty to challenge their traditional control of the classroom and to have confidence that their students will empower themselves to complete their projects.  With workshops, retreats, readings, and online examples from Campus Compact and others,  engaged faculty have contributed to ensuring curriculum development and  structure in the classroom alongside creating a voice for students and community partners in developing their specific interests.  Although this type of pedagogy, we have learned,  inherently includes ambiguity and uncertainty, the outcomes include hundreds of examples of the benefits to the campus and our community partners.

We have advanced in creating new models of collaborative research – models, such as that promoted by  Randy Stoecker —where research develops out of a perspective of “trying to understand” the participants we are working with, what is happening to them, and what they can do about the problems that are affecting them”   This type of participatory research and involvement emerges from a question that comes from the participants themselves regarding a problem that they would like to resolve.  In this process, the participants, in a sense, become collaborative social scientists.  That is, they begin by discussing a problem, analyzing how they will deal with the problem, implementing a plan of action, carrying out the action, and evaluating the results.

We have made great strides in bringing to center stage those who have been historically excluded – a type of “reconstructing knowledge” that Professors Anderson and Collins have described as moving from an exclusionary perspective to one that shifts “the center” to include “the experiences of groups who have formerly been excluded.

This trend is one that promotes the particular histories of individuals and communities as part of appreciating the cultures and histories of the many people who make up this country. The outlook is that, in understanding our historical differences, there is a foundation to genuinely understand what unites us. At the same time, to meet the challenges of an increasingly global society, there is a need for students to learn about the contributions of the diverse mosaic that comprises the various people of the world. There are many examples in our history of individuals who belong at the center stage of our teaching and learning. These are individuals who have used their knowledge to point out injustices and who used their skills and abilities to empower their communities. We have many examples of individuals in our history that our students are often not taught deeply enough about—examples who made a choice to use their skills and abilities as a means of service to the community, as a means of advancing spaces of equality in our communities. Two examples of such individuals are

Michi and Walter Weglyn, in whose name I held an endowed chair position at Cal Poly Pomona for two years. They were examples of individuals who used their lives to conduct research and to use that research in service to the community and to advance social change policies.

They were examples, not only in the academic sense (with Michi Weglyn producing a book, Tears of Infamy: The Untold Story of America’s Concentration Camps) but also in the participatory action sense. Hence, Michi Weglyn’s book and efforts

helped advance a movement that eventually led to reparations for more than 80,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II and exposed the kidnappings of thousands of Japanese Latin Americans who were forced to serve as prisoners of war during that time.

Similarly, in the last decade, we have had a number of leaders pass away who, like Michi and Walter Weglyn, unconditionally paved the way in frontier areas of service, research, and action in our communities.

We have the example of Kenneth Clarke who, along with his wife Mamie Clarke, studied the responses of more than 200 Black children who were asked to choose between a white or a brown doll. Their findings, which showed a preference of the children for white dolls, led to a conclusion that segregation was psychologically damaging and played a pivotal role in the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregated education. In recent years, we had the passing of Gloria Anzaldua whose book, Borderlands, courageously critiqued both sexism and homophobia in the dominant culture as well as in her own culture.   There are other examples:  Fred Korematzu, Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Rosa Parks, Harvey Milk, Chief Joseph  — of everyday individuals who dreamed, who had a vision, and who used their skills and abilities to organize, to empower others, and to turn injustice on its head.   Many of my students don’t know their histories and it is only through our classes – that they learn about the contributions made by these individuals and groups in opening the doors to historically excluded groups in this country.

This influence, in applying connections between civic knowledge and civic engagement, helped me in making the connections between history,  community engagement,  and community-based participatory research.

An example of connecting history to community engagement, I take the students from my classes to Delano California to learn first-hand  about the many Filipino farm workers who, because of anti-miscegenation laws in this state, never married and passed away in an elderly farm worker village (Agbayani Village) built through the collaborative efforts of students and farm workers.  As part of the reciprocity for the gift of direct experience,  and in honor of the legacy of the sixty seven elderly Filipinos who have all passed away, we return to Agbayani every year, to sustain the history of these elderly— and to frame the many pictures of their life stories that they left behind.   Before visiting Agbayani, the students read about such leaders as Pablo Manlapit, a farm worker organizer in the farm worker fields and Phil de la Cruz and Larry Itliong, organizers in the fields of California,  In addition to framing the pictures of the elderly, some students have written journals as part of documenting the oral histories of those who knew the Filipino elderly.  One Pitzer student – Laura Aquino – for example, went back to Delano and made a film on the history of the Filipino farm workers.  Last year, other forms of reciprocity that the UFW took as forms of helping their efforts – but, for us, were forms of engagement that led to social change outcomes  — involved our students in learning about the ill effects of methyl bromide, making signs and leaflets,  and organizing an educational picket to inform the public.  Upon returning from the alternative spring break, we learned that methyl bromide had been banned nationally.   Another example —  On the last day of our visit, Dolores Huerta requested our presence at a county commissioner meeting to protest the cutting of a health program that served poor farm workers and immigrants.  After sitting in at the meeting of the county commissioners – we were part of a victory that resulted in the program being continued.

In another class that I taught, Restructuring Communities,  students had the opportunity to study the diverse perspectives on the meaning of democracy as applied to the plight of new immigrants, particularly Latin American undocumented workers in the United States.   Through jointly reading an abundance of literature on the global factors affecting immigration, we were able to have deep discussions on the myths that are created about immigrants taking jobs and social services from residents.

This class was an example of connecting history to civic engagement for social change.   In order for the students to get engaged, they first had to know some of this country’s history when it came to issues involving immigration.  We used the book Harvest of Empire by Juan Gonzalez to understand how the United States’ “success was due in large measure to the unique brand of representative democracy, the spirit on bold enterprise, the respect for individual liberty, and the rugged devotion to hard work that characterized so many of American settlers.”  At the same time, my syllabus also included literature on one of Gonzales’s other contentions that “there was another aspect to that success … the details of which most Americans knew nothing about, but which was always carried out in their name.  It was “a vicious and relentless drive for territorial expansion, conquest, and subjugation of Native Americans, African slaves, Latin Americans, and others … one that our leaders justified as Manifest Destiny for us.”

In this context, students were more equipped to understand the contemporary debates over immigration, free trade, globalization, and the many myths that have been created regarding the immigrant’s taking of jobs, importing disease and crime, and the stealing of social services.

In the class on Social Movements,  I developed alongside Campus Compact – where, in the early years – I focused primarily on service learning and a curriculum that primarily taught about the history of farm workers and day laborers dating back to the early 1900s.  Over the years, however, the syllabus developed to include articles on the issues of community development and sustainability.  Now, in addition to students traveling to the headquarters of the United Farm Workers to carry out such projects as I have mentioned and  to work alongside all the historic figures they have read about in their books —  A primary aspect now, – is to have the students experience how the union has survived by creating alternative forms of sustaining itself through the development of six radio stations throughout the Southwest, low income housing projects that serve immigrant and farm worker families, and a museum, book store and conference/educational center.   In the readings, I include articles that have been written on our Pomona Day Labor Center that got started in 1997 through our efforts – and is an example of sustainability.  This aspect ultimately develops discussions on how students will sustain themselves long-term or whether it is possible to sustain a movement based on “doing for the public good: without losing one’s values and principles.

It is important to continue this aspect of curriculum development to advance a trend in our society that appreciates the contributions of diversity and multiculturalism and builds the types of partnership that are necessary to meet the challenges of the demographic changes taking place in our communities and in the global economy.

We see the changing demographics all around us. It was not that long ago – that there were only a few of us at these graduations.  When I started at the University of Colorado back in 1968, there were only a few of us Latinos.  Now, we are the largest minority group on college campuses with two million Latino and Latina students or 19% of the college population, but we still only obtain  slightly less than the 3% of the PhD’s and 9% of the B. A.’s.

Today, we still  need to transform our colleges and universities to meet the demographic transformations occurring in the communities around our campuses.  There are many inequalities on our campuses – and many of our colleges and universities are stratified much like the larger society.   Our colleges still need to embrace community engagement on our campuses – particularly when it involves changing those inequalities – everything from admission policies that are obstacles to the recruitment of underrepresented students to ensuring good wages and benefits for workers of color who are usually the ones who cut the lawns, clean the dorms, put the food on the table in the dining halls, and who maintain the college facilities.

As we have learned from the experience of Campus Compact in the last twenty five years, the global world is close to home – right here on our campuses – but also in our local communities.   The reality is that the demographics of the largest twenty cities are now majority Black, Brown, and Asian. In New York City, three-fifths of those residing in the city are foreign born with the majority not being able to vote.   This is true in or own backyard here in Pomona where the city is now close to 70% Latino – with many of them being immigrant.  – And these immigrants do contribute much to the economy — $70 billion per year according to the Urban Institute – and they do pay taxes. This means that the places where immigrants live are highly overrepresented, yet immigrants are structurally excluded.

In the last ten years – I have been part of various projects —   as a Civic Scholar with Campus Compact, — and more recently as part of an AACU National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement —  where the idea has been advanced of developing the classroom as part of the civic realm, as part of the reality of global interdependence, that encourages a critical analysis of the challenges that we are facing politically, socially, and economically.   There is no contradiction here and the new partners can include, not only unions, but the entrepreneurial communities – many who have stated the qualities of what abilities they want in new employees: effective listening and oral communication skills; creative thinking and problems solving skills; the ability to work with diverse populations; the ability to work ethically, collectively and collaboratively in the decision-making processes; the ability to cross borders in knowing other cultures; and the ability in “thinking on the level of the future” to provide new innovative solutions to systemic problems.  These issues are in our backyard.    The recent influx of children and families from Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador brings to light issues of violence, poverty, drug cartels, and the federal government’s policies on whether they should be treated as refugees or not.  These are prime issues for our students, faculty, and community engagement centers to get involved with.  The potential is there not only for learning about these communities – and not just reading about policy change theories in the classroom – but to leave room for the actual practice of organizing, empowering, and using research to create new models of social change.

The expansion of this trend with sustainable resources is important for the creation of new knowledge and for the creation of a new future – in connecting the classroom and the community – between the local and the global – not on a short-term basis but long-term – where the campus and faculty make long-term commitments to specific sites, specific communities and specific issues that cross borders in understanding and helping communities to get at the root of problems.

I have the fullest of confidence of Campus Compact with its track record and what it has already achieved – and I am confident that it will continue to strengthen community partnerships and continue creating spaces that are examples of a more equitable and just society – where civic engagement is a tool for the recruitment and retention of underrepresented students – and where it serves as a pipeline for students from k-12 – that can lead to positioning but without loss of principles and values – the principles and values of creating a democracy that  is participatory and ensures the full voice of our communities.  Campus Compact already has the roots in our universities and colleges – and is positioned not only to advance community engagement – but also create to create the types of models of the kind of world we want to live in – with policies that have the interests of the highest quality of life for our communities.

It is impressive that Campus Compact has survived 25 years within the tidal waves of those who want to reduce higher education to simply career training – and it is more important then ever to build on the achievements to ensure that we, locally and globally, continue in a path that ensures economic development alongside ensuring the fullest potential of advancing the highest levels of democracy in our voice, in our thoughts, and in our practices.   As part of how far we have moved along this path, it is imperative that we continue be in the forefront of creating campuses that are models of a long-term commitment to sustain community engagement for positive systemic and structural social change – as a part of the culture of the campus throughout the various disciplines.  This takes the development of a long-term strategy and perspective that all of you are here to help develop – a commitment that sees our work in the context of improving democratic spaces of diversity – and that allows for the full participation of our students and our communities together in finding solutions to the problems of inequity that are prevalent on both  our campuses and our communities.

“Aqui Estamos! Cultivando Nuestra Esperanza!  We Are Here!  Cultivating our Hope!,”

Presentation Made by Jose Zapata Calderon at the Cal Poly University, Pomona 20th RAZA graduation with the theme, “Aqui Estamos! Cultivando Nuestra Esperanza!  We Are Here!  Cultivating our Hope!,” on Saturday, May 31, 2014 with over 1400 in attendance.  

Let me start by thanking Lorena Marquez, the Cesar Chavez Center, the faculty, the students, and all those who have given me the honor of addressing you today.

Well here we are cultivating our hope – cultivating our future.  We have come a long way – look around you – we have come a long way. That is why we sing De Colores – because once in awhile, through the dark clouds, there are rainbows.  It was not that long ago – that there were only a few of us at these graduations.  When I started at the University of Colorado back in 1968, there were only a handful of us.  We had to take over a building to get more of us there.  And they still did not believe us.  Joe Coors, the owner of Coors Beer Company, made headlines by proclaiming that if we were not smart enough – why should there be affirmative action programs to admit us.  We went throughout the state and found over eighty who were qualified – and he still insisted on that position.  We boycotted Coors beer at that time – and today I do not drink Coors beer.  But, today, there has been a change – and we have to thank all the previous generations who sacrificed to make today a reality.  We have to thank our mothers, our fathers, our grandfathers, our grandmothers – our families – Let’s stand up and applaud them – for – if it was not for them and the sacrifices of our previous generations – we know that we would not be here today – Que vivan nuestros padres, nuestras madres, nuestros abuelitos, abuelitas – que vivan nuestras familias

As you know, I am a Doctor – like the other faculty members here.  We often get introduced as Doctors in our barrios and it is no surprise how many of our people don’t know what a Doctor is.  It is no surprise because there are so few of us. While we have turned hope into action by now being the largest minority group on college campuses with two million Latino and Latina students or 19% of the college population, we still only obtain  slightly less than the 3% of the PhD’s and 9% of the B. A.’s.   Here is where we still have to cultivate our future.  There are only a small percentage of us who have reached the level of obtaining a doctorate.  In some of our barrios, there is still a lack of understanding of what a doctorate means.  When my mother was still alive and I was working on my doctorate – when I returned to my barrio – and someone burned themselves badly, I was called on to help provide a solution.  I had to explain that I was not that type of doctor.  A month later, I remember my mother talking to me on the phone and explaining that there was a chisme in the barrio that “Jose is studying to be a doctor, pero no sabe nada.“

The reality is that  — we come from a legacy of brilliant scientists.  Yes we do.  Born with the highest levels of capacity – but historically put down by more dominant forces who squandered our resources and used their means of communication to make our generations believe that they were lesser than they were – in conditions that an economic structure created to use our labor for large profits which kept us at the lowest levels of wages possible – and with an ideology that pushed to make us believe that our conditions were of our own making.  Yes – this was so – hiding the conquest of our land, our labor power – and turning our collective indigenous practice of production into individualized manifest destinies of profit for a few at the expense of the many.

Einstein once said that every child is born a genius – but we all know now how easily this capacity can be taken away before and after birth.  Think of the mother working in the fields in her 8th month of pregnancy – and pesticides swarming all around her – affecting whether that child is going to be born with hands, with legs, with the brilliant mind of our generations.  Think of the child who is born without access to good nutrition, good health care – and immigrant parents who work double shifts without the time needed to fully care for the needs of that child.  Think of the young woman who is scorned in school for not being able to speak English – scorned for having an accent – the young woman who is paid less because of her skin color, because of her gender – and the young man and young woman bullied because of their sexual orientation.

The capacity for genius – our esperanza – diminished by the creation of borders – where our  land was taken, where our labor – came to be appreciated only to the extent of its capacity to grease the wheels of profit.  Our capacities diminished by segregated schools and by generations forced from their land to serve as field workers, domestic workers, janitors, miners, housekeepers, dining hall workers.

Diminished by an educational system that left out the contributions of such leaders as Jessica Govea – who was a national leader in the grape boycott and in exposing the ills of pesticide poisoning – a poisoning that eventually led to her early death at the young age of 58.  She labored under the mist of pesticides sprayed by insensitive agricultural interests – who eventually  were forced to change their practices when thousands stood up to them and yelled “Huelga” – a cultivation of hope — for the world to hear.

A cultivation of hope to turn around a silenced voice – at every turn – rising up as early as the 1930’s – with the Chicana and Chicano Movement in the late 60’s and 70’s – to the present – with our young people, many of you hear today – now taking the lead and raising your voices – “Ya Basta” – “I am Undocumented and Unafraid” – resulting in many victories for our communities.  It was only a few years ago – in 2006 when a million of us marched in Los Angeles in 2006 against the Sensenbrenner bill – for immigrant rights – and began a historic wave of demonstrations – and get out the vote drives that have now turned California from a state that was anti-immigrant – to one who is now the model nationally for immigrant rights. It was not that long ago that the voters supported Proposition 187, Prop 209, and English Only policies in California.  Today, the majority of voters support legalization.  Brothers and Sisters, because of many of you here today  – you have been part of cultivating – California as an exemplary state in supporting our immigrant brothers and sisters – and in cultivating new horizons for all our communities.

Because of your organizing efforts – in this state – we have challenged the federal government’s immigration enforcement policies and have passed legislation supporting: cities opting out of e-verify, implementation of the Trust Act to limit the practice of local police in detaining individuals because of their immigration status, the right of undocumented students to attend college with financial aid, the right of anyone stopped at a checkpoint to call a friend or relative with a license to pick up their car, and the passing of AB 60 that will allow our immigrant brothers and sisters to obtain a driver’s license.  We celebrate that this last Wednesday, the State Senate passed a bill allowing our undocumented brothers and sisters to obtain student loans from the state to attend California Universities.  And — we continue to work today to pass SB 1005 – a bill that gives the right to health care regardless of immigration status – and to work for COPA – a proposed bill, AB 2014  that will give qualified undocumented immigrants who pay state income taxes to receive relief from federal enforcement.

We are the descendants of scientists who built great pyramids using the highest levels of mathematics and science to tell time – to place building structures in equal proportion to the sun and the stars, to survive movements of the earth and fault ruptures (common practices now adopted in building structures all over the world).  We are the descendants of creators who worshipped the balance of nature and the sacredness of the universe (something that our scientists today warn us about with ozone depletion and climate change modifying our earth cycles and threatening our very existence).

It is important for all of us – regardless of what career we follow – to absorb the meaning of our capacities that we have to create – why that capacity was diminished – and how we have been able to cultivate that capacity back.  We are celebrating part of cultivating that capacity back by your graduation today!  Que vivan los estudiantes!

You are all leaders now — and our future lies in your hands – you are the future leaders.  And as leaders – we are called by our communities to be problem solvers.

This was the strength of Cesar Chavez.  I dare to say that he was an activist scientist – although he only went to the eighth grade – he was not afraid to experiment – to diagnose a problem, prescribe a solution, implement a plan, and learn from the lessons of applying theory to practice.  Of course, he made mistakes – but that is what science is all about – going into frontier areas where no one has ever gone – and learning from trying something new.  You know,  I was moved by the union’s use of cooperative living in the early years – everyone living on $5 a week.  Chavez saw this as part of making a commitment to principles and values based on truly giving of one’s life to change society.  However, the practice became problematic when some of the organizers, doctors, lawyers – got married.  So, something new had to be tried – the issue of how to sustain oneself – and sustain a movement – without the loss of values and principles based on interests of the community.  The solution was found in creating radio stations, low income housing entrepreneurial initiatives, huelga stores – to help fund the organizers and the organizing efforts.  There is a lesson here for all of us today.  All of you graduates have obtained skills that have the capacity to place you in another economic realm.  You are all facing the issues of how to now sustain yourselves – and I am sure that your parents are asking the same question;  Ahora, que trabajo puede obtener mi hijo, mi hija?  Another question is the same question that Chavez and the union were trying to grapple with – is it possible to sustain oneself and not lose the principles and values of serving community, building collectivity, — using ones’s abilities to create spaces of social justice and equality?

Let  me say to you today – this is not only possible – but it is a necessity.  And, as I have shared with many of you, in our everyday organizing efforts, when you ask the question “how is it possible to do all that you do” – I respond to you that it is of the essence, (especially now after graduating), to cultivate the keeping of your balance – to find time in creating your mission – to find time in taking care of your health – in taking time to strengthen and develop the mind.  I am a runner and have found my role models in the Tarumaras of the Copper Canyon in Mexico who have mastered the art of conditioning the body to run hundreds of miles.  Similarly, I have learned that there is no secret to conditioning the mind – and that all the diminishing practices of our educational system and our stratified society can be turned back – by holding our heads high, being both teachers and students in our everyday lives and absorbing all the knowledge possible to create new pathways for higher levels of learning and practice.  There are too many counselors, too many books, too many commentators, too many false leaders that have us believing that we cannot cultivate.  The reality is that our communities know a lot – but are diminished in the possibilities for positioning and taking back the legacies of creation that have been so much a part of our history.

We know that there is no secret to reaching this level and that it takes hard work, discipline, passion – and the support of each other to change the structural obstacles.   Whether the optimal possibilities can come to be realities for you – for our brothers and sisters in the future – has a lot to do with the engagement of our communities in ensuring  the resources that are needed to meet the needs of our children, parents, and families.

I want to urge all of you – to not stop now – to use whatever opportunity the past and the present have developed – to go as far as you can – in accumulating all the knowledge that you can – whether as a teacher, lawyer, engineer, manager, community organizer – and using that knowledge to build a new society – on the level of the future – in trying out new prescriptions of cultivation in how we structure our communities, our schools, our cities, our spaces of higher education. This is the real challenge – to not shirk our responsibilities of cultivation to the legacies of past generations – and take on the problems of our communities – This is the real meaning of what we are celebrating today.

We are geniuses – and we have to change the mentality of a society that begins to stratify one from the time one is born – according to the village that raises us – and the resources available to deter or advance the resources of potentiality.

There are two trends developing right now that I sense.  One is about the future as it is emerging and one that wants to take us back to a time before the civil rights movement. On the one hand, there is a trend that has been seeking to build unity among this society’s diverse groups in building the types of alliances and partnerships that are necessary to meet the challenges of a global economy.   This includes cultivating the resources that are necessary to meet the needs of our students- our families.  The other trend is one that is seeking to place the burden of the country’s economic deficit problems on the backs of our young people and their families, our immigrants and poor people, our working people – through cutbacks at the bottom and not at the top.  More than ever, we need the voices of our families – we need your voices – to ensure that such programs such as Medicaid – which provides health coverage for millions of our families — is not cut.  We all know that such cuts would only result in an increase in the number of uninsured – and directly affect our families – many who are just trying to survive.

We need you to cultivate – to create spaces in our homes, programs, and with families that are examples of the kind of world that we want to live in.

But, in addition to cultivating and creating those spaces- it is essential to get involved in building new collaborations to ensure that the priorities of this country are not just about profit for a few – but are about sustaining and ensuring the resources necessary for the many.   Let us all cultivate together — then — so that our families – so that our future generations — have the type of high quality education, nutrition, healthcare, and caring that they deserve.

More than ever, there is a need to build leadership and empower nuestras communidades – para cultivar los mas optimos resultados de vida para nuestras generaciones del futuro – para nuestras familias.     Y que tambien puede resultar en espacios de democracia en donde hay espacios para levantar nuestras voces en ser lideres – para asegurar que las prioridades de esta socieded se establecen en nuestros futuros lideres – en nuestros estudiantes – en nuestras familias.  Si se Puede!



Monterey Park in the ‘80’s and 90’s: Storefront Signage and the English-Only Movement

IMG_0767[1]Presentation below by Jose Zapata Calderon as part of a panel, “Monterey Park in the ‘80’s and 90’s: Storefront Signage and the English-Only Movement” on November 14, 2013 (with USC Professor Leland Saito and L. A. Times Reporter Frank Shyong) sponsored by the Chinese American Museum.  The panel presentation comes at a time when the Monterey Park city council is once again discussing the requirement of businesses to have signs in “Modern Latin” letters (A through Z) and “Hindu Arabic” numbers (0 through 9).  This, although the city’s fire chief told CBS that the department has no problem identifying the buildings through their GPS system.  While some city officials and others argue that these requirements would “improve police and fire response times, promoting business and improving public safety” – other residents argue that the requirements are simply another means of targeting the growing Asian Pacific population (which is now 70% of the community) and an attack on the appreciation and historical contributions of immigrants and their diverse cultures and languages.


Monterey Park has exemplified the kinds of economic, demographic, and political changes that have been taking place throughout Southern California.  In 1960, Monterey Park’s population was 85 percent Anglo (non-Latino white), 12 percent Latino, and 3 percent Asian.  In the 1970’s, however, there were a number of changes which deeply affected the demographics.  Briefly, these included the emergence of the Pacific Rim as an interrelated economy; a significant increase in the second and third generation Mexican-origin population; and, (together with the established Nisei – second generation Japanese Americans) an increase in Chinese immigration from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Southeast Asia.  By the 1986 Special Test Census, the Asian Pacific population had increased by 70.6 percent to become a 51 percent majority, Latinos 30.5 percent, and African Americans 1.9 percent.

These changes, on the one hand, created an internationally-diverse community but, on the other resulted in conflicts between the varied groups over the issues of land use, condominiums, high-rise apartments, and traffic.

Related to these issues of growth and development, conflict developed over the questions of language and immigration.

In 1985, Monterey Park received a national award for its cross-cultural programs. At the same time, a “slow-growth” coalition emerged, the Resident’s Association of Monterey Park (RAMP).
These developments occurred after two Latino city councilmen and one Chinese councilwoman were voted out of office.  The new council majority, with the leadership of Barry, Hatch, an outspoken advocate for restrictions on language and immigration, enacted an ordinance (9004) requiring signs to include an English-language description of a firm’s business.  Hence, in 1986, Monterey Park became the second California city (after Fillmore) to pass an ordinance declaring English its official language.  The measure also denounced the concept of sanctuary and encouraged local police to cooperate with the U. S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in apprehending undocumented immigrants.

Barry Hatch went as far as to blame immigrants for a long list of ills including crime, disease, and the use of government services that “might otherwise go to citizens.”  These actions, together with an English Only movement throughout the state which attacked bilingualism, deepened the divisions.  In response, the Official English law was immediately challenged by a multi-ethnic group of residents, the Coalition for Harmony in Monterey Park (CHAMP), which collected five thousand signatures on a petition to rescind the ordinance.  Seeing this broad support, one council member of the three who had supported Official English changed his vote, and the measure was rescinded.  The coalition, in addition to including Latino, Asian Pacific, and Anglo residents, also included various growth-oriented developer interests.  After the Official English measure was defeated, these individuals formed their own coalition, Americans for A Better Cityhood (ABC) that sought to take the CHAMP coalition in the direction of fighting the “racism” of the leaders of the Official English and slow-growth movements.  The CHAMP coalition, rejecting the rampant growth-oriented leaning of the ABC coalition stood back from the recall.  The ABC coalition, mobilizing its considerable financial resources, collected enough signatures to hold a special election to recall the two councilmembers, Barry Hatch and Pat Reichenberger, who had strongly supported the Official English legislation.  However, in the April 1987, the Monterey Park voters rejected the recall by 62 percent – which appeared to be a victory for the English Only advocates.  Part of the reasons for this outcome was that the ABC coalition focused on issues of race and hired bilingual people to go door-to-door focused on those issues (while hiding their pro-growth interests).  At the same time, the CHAMP coalition stood back from the recall and continued organizing in preparation for the next election.

In the April 12, 1988 election, both the trends of no-growth and English Only were defeated with the election of a candidate who called for an “inclusivity” of the voice of the residents in advancing “planned development” and an appreciation for the many languages and cultures that were contributing to the economic and social sustainability of the city.  This candidate, Judy Chu, brought together a base of majority vote from all the ethnic groups represented in the city – including some of the members of the original Resident’s Association of Monterey Park (RAMP coalition) who proclaimed that their interests were economic — in stopping rampant growth – and not in support of any anti-immigrant measures.   An exit poll, carried out by the Southwest Voter Research Institute and the Asian Pacific American Voter Registration Project, showed that the majority of voters went beyond supporting a candidate on the basis of ethnicity to supporting a candidate who was Chinese but represented some of the larger common interests of planned development and ethnic unity.

In 1988, Councilman Hatch tried to revive his campaign on the language issue – and introduced an ordinance requiring two-thirds English on all business signs, led a move to fire the city’s independent and progressive library board, and used his office to complain about the increasing number of Chinese books in the library.  None of these campaigns were successful.  The city’s Planning Commission and Design and Review Board recommended no action on signs, and in the end a compromise ordinance was passed, requiring only slightly more English signage.  (Elsewhere in the San Gabriel Valley, Asian Pacific American business owners won a federal court suit against a Pomona city ordinance requiring at least 50 percent English on their signs; the mandate violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments right to free speech and equal protection according to Judge Robert M. Takagusi – (July 14, 1989).  Further, in the April, 1990 election, Barry Hatch was defeated in every precinct in the city, receiving the lowest vote among six candidates.

This segment of history in Monterey Park shows how class and ethnic issues can intersect in the struggles over how a demographically changing community can develop.  No-growth movements laid the basis for a united struggle against rampant unmanaged development.  Some individuals, such as Barry Hatch, went further to largely blame the Chinese immigrants – and brought on the added dimension of racism which both divided and united old and new residents.  Ultimately, an emerging trend which advocated managed development and appreciation for the contributions of the newcomers – became the primary trend.

Hidden in the debate over the issue of growth — was the English Only movement who – still today — proposes that “only English” should be used in our institutions – on our signs —  and has been persistent in organizing efforts to eliminate bilingual education and advancing a list of initiatives that it says are meant to combat a “movement to turn language minorities into permanent power blocs.”

I was one of the leaders in the CHAMP coalition and what we argued to defeat the English Only ordinance back in 1987 still holds today.  Often hidden in the debate over the use of other languages, is the deteriorating condition of education, literacy, and preparation. Rather than frontally assaulting this national dilemma, energy has been diverted toward seeking someone to blame.  In the debate over English Only and the use of no other language other than English (in our classrooms or on our businesses), many taxpayers have been led to believe that the issue is about those who support immigrants and more funding for language programs, and those who don’t.  The real issue is how we can go about promoting  the appreciation of and respect for the diverse cultures and languages which comprise the mosaic of our society —  and rather than excluding immigrants — bringing them into the economic and political mainstream.  The reality is that our society, as was promoted by Judy Chu in her city council election back in 1988, has been enriched by the contributions of immigrants through their revitalizing industries, hard work, cultures, taxes and consumerism.

We can best ensure the potentiality of our communities through supporting language rights: the right to the use of different languages, multi-lingualism and multiculturalism as part of advancing a need that even the business sector is saying is needed to survive in a rapidly integrated global economy.

Below is a PDF of an article Jose wrote that was published in the book Transforming the Ivory Tower by Brett C. Stockdill and Mary Danico. Click the link to see it’s contents in the Google PDF reader.   – Luci

Transforming the Ivory Tower, One Activist Intellecutal’s Experience in Surviving and Transforming the Academy

One Activist Intellecutal’s Experience in Surviving and Transforming the Academy

Affirmative Action Must Remain Part of College Admissions Policies

Jose Zapata Calderon
Posted:   06/28/2013 08:27:12 PM PDT
Updated:   06/28/2013 09:35:17 PM PDT

The recent affirmative action case before the Supreme Court is among many, in recent years, that have sought to wipe out any use of race in college admissions.

These important cases are emerging at a time when diverse groups are being pitted against each other over diminishing resources and where some white students, not sure about having a job in the future, are claiming that there is “reverse” discrimination in the admissions policies of numerous colleges.

The cases are also coming when there is increasing competition for limited local and federal education funds and when racial discrimination is being written off as though it didn’t exist anymore.

Memory is short, and some critics have forgotten how segregation divided this country not too long ago.

Today, there are those who argue that affirmative action has resulted in the development of a growing middle class among underrepresented minorities. They also argue that such policies don’t serve the needs of those who are stuck at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder.

What they fail to point out is how affirmative action has helped in opening the doors to social mobility for some of these same individuals now in the “middle class.”

Critics also argue that we need “class-based” solutions such as full employment, national health care and quality education that can pull everyone up simultaneously. What they fail to point out is how people

of color, even if they reach middle-class status, confront unequal resources and a glass ceiling that prevents them from moving into managerial positions.

Critics are hiding behind the argument that we need to strive for a “color blind” society, arguing that affirmative action only serves to divide working people by allowing one group to benefit at the expense of another. This logic leaves out that specific groups, because of racism and sexism, have been historically excluded or left at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder. It leaves out the historical existence and use of special preferences for those who are more privileged, such as the children of large donors or alumni.

Affirmative action has not only resulted in diversifying our campuses with more women and students of color, it has been part of a movement to diversify the curriculum.

Affirmative action has helped to pave the way for underrepresented groups to attend college, to graduate and to write the histories of individuals who have been excluded or left out.

Affirmative action has been part of including these voices, to explain why one group got stratified at one level as compared to another and to interpret why some groups were institutionalized at the lowest levels of the society.

There would be no need for affirmative action if every individual who wanted to attend college were granted that right.

In the meantime, we need to support efforts that consider race, ethnicity, gender and economic status in admissions policies. Real unity among all those concerned will be brought about as we direct our energies to the policy-making arena and promote the idea that there is no contradiction in preserving affirmative action alongside “class-based” solutions.

Jose Zapata Calderon is president of the Latino and Latina Roundtable of the San Gabriel and Pomona Valley, and emeritus professor of sociology and Chicano studies at Pitzer College in Claremont.

We need to support efforts that consider race, ethnicity, gender and economic status.


Build Unity For A Just Immigrant Rights Policy

Jose Zapata Calderon
Professor in Sociology and Chicano Studies
Pitzer College

As an immigrant, who was brought to this country by my parents who were farm workers all their lives, the immigrant rights conversation taking place has a special meaning that we see in the eyes of the dreamers and all those who have faced the wrath of a broken immigration system: it is about making way for a new space of equity so that our future generations do not have to go through what our parents and family members – suffered through in sacrificing their lives so that we might survive.

We know that the recent legislative proposal around immigration did not come out of the blue sky but are related to the changing demographics and the growing political power in our communities.  In both the 2008 and the 2012 elections – we saw the rise of multi-racial coalitions that clearly were the foundations of Obama’s victories.  African Americans, Latinos and Asian Pacific Americans backed Obama by huge margins.  Nationally, in the last election, nonwhite voters made up 28% of all voters, up from 26% in 2008. Obama won 80% of these voters, the same as four years ago.  Labor was part of this coalition – and came out strongly for Obama.

It was not that long ago that many labor unions were anti-immigrant.  Now, it has been immigrant workers that have revitalized the labor movement.  Alongside —  the Dreamers have played a major role in moving policy at a federal level – like no other organization has been able to do in recent years.  The Dreamers, before the 2012 elections, showed the capacities for exerting this political power by presenting 11,000 signatures, courageously leading protests in the streets, and holding a series of sit-ins inside of Obama campaign offices across the country.

It was this pressure, and the work of many community-based legal teams, that led to Obama’s executive order granting “deferred action status” and implementing a Deferred Action Policy.

The best strategy that these combined forces have been able to advance has been one that has organized at the local, state, and national levels.

On the local level, in the city of Pomona, I have been part of coalitions that have included immigrant, labor (UFCW), student, faith-based, and community-based organizations.  The Pomona Habla coalition, on a local level, is an example of a coalition that has taken a local issue about immigrant rights and connected it to policy changes statewide (while building support to change immigration policies nationally).  The Pomona Habla coalition developed when the police began to openly locate checkpoints in front of schools, businesses, and in neighborhoods that primarily affected Latino families and immigrant workers. The tensions in the city reached an all-time high when the police held a four-way checkpoint, with the involvement of police from forty cities, resulting in the stopping of 4,027 vehicles, the impoundment of 152, and the issuing of 172 tickets.  In response, the coalition led a demonstration of more than a thousand people and stationed students and community members at every checkpoint.  The research and actions resulted in the city council agreeing to stop “4-way checkpoints, to only allow the conducting of checkpoints in residential areas, and to develop an ad hoc committee to review citizen complaints and recommendations.  The coalition became a model for the passage of ordinances in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Baldwin Park allowing an unlicensed driver the opportunity to allow another licensed driver to take custody of the vehicle.  These statewide efforts led to the introduction of a bill by Assemblyman Gil Cedillo, and signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, restricting local police from impounding cars at traffic checkpoint simply because a driver is unlicensed.

More recently, a similar coalition of labor, students, faculty, faith-based, and community-based supporters helped turn around last year’s firing of 17 undocumented immigrant dining hall workers by college administrators– and joined in a huge victory  by dining hall workers voting for a union. These were all examples of bringing together the immigrant, labor, student, and community constituents into one coalition.

On a state level, it is no coincidence that California is now an exemplary state in its support of undocumented immigrants.  It was not that long ago that the voters supported Proposition 187, Prop 209, and English Only policies in California.  Today, the majority of voters support legalization.  Along the way, we have had marches such as the 2006 march, in which one million people marched against the Sensenbrenner bill – a bill that was ultimately defeated in the Senate in 2006.  We have had legislation supporting: cities opting out of e-verify, the right of undocumented students to attend college with financial aid, the right of anyone stopped at a DUI checkpoint to call a friend or relative with a license to pick up their car, and now a bill, AB 60 that would give a California driver’s license to any person who shows payment of taxes, regardless of their immigration status.

It is the character of the work of these grass-roots coalitions in both organizing and turning out the vote on a state, local, and national level that have been the foundation for bringing to the forefront a national dialogue that is now highlighting  the contributions of undocumented immigrants – and  how much their labor is needed by the service, business, and agricultural establishments.

And it is only these coalitions and their efforts that can ensure legislation that is truly just – and that rewards, not criminalizes our 12 million immigrant brothers and sisters for their contributions – contributions that amount to hundreds of billions of dollars to the U.S. economy each year through their labor, businesses, taxes, and purchasing power.  We know that without the labor or our immigrant brothers and sisters, many industries in California and this country would be in economic distress – and these industries are literally demanding the need for these workers – but want them, as in the past, to continue as cheap labor – with such a long way to citizenship – that there seems to be no end to the line where they want to send them to.   Our undocumented brothers and sisters have earned the right to keep their families together and to receive back the benefits that they have already contributed to this economy and to economies abroad.

It is important for our coalition efforts, in uniting all that can be united, that we not get sidetracked, divided, or coopted by the proposals that are now being turned into policy at the federal level.

On one level, we are seeing the enactment of proposals designed to maintain a cheap labor force that is kept waiting.  Waiting – without being allowed any public benefits, including health care.  Waiting – only allowing those who have been in the U. S. since before Dec. 31, 2011, with no criminal record, to apply.  Waiting – and placed in a probationary legal status – only if one is able to pay what is being labeled as a “penalty” of $500, an additional application fee, and back taxes.  Waiting – and if one is able to make it through the probationary period of six years – have the “probationary status” renewed by paying another $500 penalty.  Waiting for ten years – and then – only if the border is 90% secure – and if one is able to come up with $1,000 – Only then,  will one be able to apply for a Green Card of permanent legal residency.  Waiting – this is not Citizenship – citizenship would take another three years – and possibly longer — depending on a determination by those in power – whether border security targets have been met.

In order to meet these security targets – what is being proposed is more of the enforcement policies that  have resulted in record level deportations that have risen to an annual average of nearly 400,0001 since 2009.

Instead of supporting $3 billion for surveillance technology, including unmanned drones and military-grade radar and  $1.5 billion toward the construction of a double-layer fence – our coalitions need to continue to call on President Obama — to listen to the mandate of our communities —  to  use his executive power to immediately stop the deportations of most undocumented, who are not  hard-core criminals, but whose only crimes are to work to feed their families here and abroad!

This focus on enforcement and against a speedy process  goes against the many studies that show how much undocumented immigrants would contribute to the economy – stimulate the economy if they were allowed legalization as quickly as possible.    According to the American Progress organization – a speedier legalization would result in an additional $1.4 trillion to the Gross National Product between 2013 and 2022.  Resident workers would benefit with an  additional $791 billion in personal income – and the economy  would create an average of an additional 203,000 jobs per year.  Within five years of their legalization, undocumented would be earning 25% more than they are earning resulting in an additional tax revenue of $184 billion — $116 billion to the federal government and $68 billion to state and local government.  Hence, the sooner legalization can happen – the more the significant gains for all working people – and the greater the gains for the U. S. economy.

In the new proposals being discussed in the Senate, while we can support the policies of an expedited citizenship path for those immigrants who were brought to this country as children (regardless of their age) and agricultural workers, – we must work for a speedier process that results in the immediate legalization of the 4.2 million who have been waiting in line – some up to 20 years.  – And fight for a speedier process for the legalization of the 12 million. This means the allocation of funds for processing – and not for enforcement – take the millions being proposed for more fence and more border officers – and use it for a more efficient means of doing away with the backlog – and doing away with anyone having to move to the back of the line and wait 13 years, 40 years, and possibly an endless period of time.  It means supporting a policy that ensures immigration rights for same-sex couples – part of keeping families united – ensuring the right of LGBTQ partners here to petition for their immigrant partners to be able to join them in the U. S..

Our coalitions must stay united and not give in to those politicians and organizations which claim that any kind of legalization will lead to loss of jobs for residents.  Post-Amnesty studies indicate that while undocumented workers in certain industries do bring downward pressure on wages, the findings show that it is not the immigrant that is to blame.  The way to eliminate this downward pressure is by giving undocumented workers labor protection.  As the exploitation of wages is reduced and working conditions improved, more equality is created between immigrant workers and resident workers.  Again the UCLA research by Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda shows that the legalization of our 12 million undocumented workers would raise wages, increase consumption, create new jobs, generate new tax revenue, and add about $1.5 trillion to the U. S. gross domestic product over the next ten years. Furthermore, it would raise the wage floor for native-born workers and naturalized immigrants alike.”

Our coalitions have to be careful of  the proposals by conservative politicians, including Marco Rubio, who propose a temporary worker program, like the bracero program, that is nothing more than a legal means of exploiting workers — paying them low wages with few benefits — shipping them back before they can be organized — and exploiting their cheap labor as part of breaking unions both here and abroad.

Finally,  while our work is focused on local, state, and national strategies – our coalitions must keep an eye to cross-border global issues.  It is important to understand that immigration patterns will not significantly change because of domestic immigration policies alone.  Instead, immigrant workers will remain in — or return to their homeland when the economy in these countries improves.  If the U. S. federal government is really interested in doing something about immigration long-term, it must work with other national governments to strengthen the sending countries’ economies.  In particular, there is no reason why the U.S. cannot develop bilateral job-creating approaches in key immigrant-sending areas.  In the case of Mexico, it is in the roughly 5% of Mexican municipios (counties) that contribute the largest share of immigrants to the U. S. However, the U. S. and Mexican governments have not shown any serious interest in this developmental approach.  This is certainly a viable alternative to the punishing enforcement policies being proposed.

Overall, we have to keep our communities united – build exemplary coalitions — such as those that we have seen in recent years that have strengthened the labor and immigrant rights movements – that have seen no contradiction between taking up local issues (such as checkpoints and organizing against racial profiling programs such as Secure Communities), fighting on a state level for policies such as driver’s licenses for undocumented, “fighting together” on a a national level against enforcement policies that only serve to racially profile our communities – and “fighting together for”  policies that will immediately lead to permanent residency and citizenship – with no expansion of temporary guest worker (bracero) programs and with labor law protections.

Latin@s and Social Movements in the Obama Years

Jose Zapata Calderon
Professor in Sociology and Chicano Studies
Pitzer College
Although the social movement that crossed race, class, sexuality and gender lines before 2008 was exemplary, there is now another type of social movement that has emerged. This movement, led by conservative right wing groups, has been stirring racial divisions by using the economic crisis to scapegoat immigrants. At the same time, the promises of the Obama administration have not been kept. Instead, under this administration’s immigration policies close to 387,000 deportations have occurred nationally, the implementation of a Secure Communities program has led to arbitrary arrests for minor offenses and violated the due process rights of both citizens and non-citizens, and an existing program of employee immigration-status verification has led to as many as 19,000 people that have been mistakenly identified as being deportable. The ingredients of a social movement are still visible but the strategies have shifted to local organizing efforts that, in California, have resulted in legislation supporting: cities opting out of e-verify, the right of AB-540 students to attend college with financial aid, the right of people without a driver’s license to stop the impounding of their cars, and the establishment of a pilot program designed to protect undocumented workers who pay state income taxes. This paper focuses on these various trends and the prospects for future systemic change.



The significance of the election of Barack Obama in 2008 was in the rising of a social movement of Latinos and broad-based coalitions that advanced a vision for changing the direction of the country and whose interests were served.

The victory by Barack Obama in 2008 represented a transformative social movement that built multi-racial alliances and coalitions, transcended the mythical Black and Brown divide, galvanized new voters, and united hundreds of thousands around a “social change” agenda of issues. In moving large numbers of people around the ideas of equity and full participation in the life and direction of U. S. society, this social movement had the particularity of bringing diverse communities of people together in seeking new answers to their issues and the structural systemic problems being faced by the entire country.

It fit into the ingredients of a social movement where large numbers of ordinary people, disillusioned by the failings of the George Bush administration, came together around “collective and joint actions” with change-oriented goals to assert their rights and to demand a drastic change in the status quo (Snow, Sule, and Kriesi, 2004: 1-13).” The particularity of this activity was that it was manifested in the electoral arena through the use of internet technologies, house meetings, and training of organizers. It had the characteristics of “deep pluralism,” as presented by Phil Thomson in his book Double Trouble, where large numbers of multi-racial alliances emerge in search of a “deeper democracy” to overcome differences, “to achieve power in competitive struggles with other groups,” and to strive “for a politics of common (cross-racial) good (Thompson, 2006: 22-27).”

The author of this paper was part of this social movement. As an academic and community organizer, I was part of a coalition of Latino community leaders and organizations who, very early on in the primary election, developed Viva Obama clubs throughout California (Wall, 1/17/2008). In the primary election, key pro-immigrant leaders in the Latino community were divided in where they would place their vote. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and United Farm Worker’s co-founder Dolores Huerta supported Hillary Clinton while Angelica Salas from the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA) and Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor supported Barack Obama. I was part of a coalition of Latino and African American leaders who came together in the Inland Empire region of Southern California and organized widely publicized press conferences, voter registration campaigns, educational community forums, and get-out-the vote efforts in support of Barack Obama (Wall, 2/1/2008). Some of our supporters and organizers traveled to the states of Arizona, Nevada, and Colorado to get out the vote.

What drove the unity of our coalition, as similar to other alliances throughout the country was Obama’s history in identifying with the causes of oppressed communities and his campaign promises to support immigrant rights, to improve the quality of education, health care, and employment, and to rebuild the type of alliances and partnerships that would be necessary to meet the challenges of a global economy. We were united on the significance of the election as being about the election of a person of color on the one hand, and the possibilities for building a new social movement that would genuinely unite people from diverse backgrounds in advancing a public policy agenda on how the country should be run and whose interests it should serve.


A number of us, who were part of the national coalition to elect Obama, came out of a history as community organizers. Hence, Obama’s stories in his two books and in his speeches throughout the country resonated with the trials and tribulations that many of us had faced or were facing.

In particular, his stories about moving from a student to a community organizer appealed to social movement organizers who often cited his memoir Dreams from My Father where Obama placed himself in the world of the organizer and the unorganized in seeking solutions to poverty, polluted water, and gang violence. These stories that were often also part of Obama’s speeches throughout the country, fit with the experiences of many who came out of the civil rights generation and many others involved in contemporary regional equity movements (Pastor, Benner, Matsuoka, 2009: 216-218).

It was the issue of “inequity,” for example, in our social system that Barack Obama began to question when he was pondering what to do after graduating from college. It was by placing himself in the image of the “other” through his readings, the image of the SNCC workers “convincing a family of sharecroppers to register to vote” or the images of everyday people organizing the Montgomery bus boycott that led to his commitment beyond the individual to listen to the perspectives of others (Obama, 2004: 134, 135). It was by placing himself in the world of the organizer and the unorganized that deepened his commitment that empowered him to empower others. In carrying out interviews in the poor communities of Chicago, he reflected “The more interviews I did, the more I began to hear recurring themes. The people I talked to had some fond memories of that self-contained world, but they also remembered the absence of heat and light and space to breathe – that, and the sight of their parents grinding out life in physical labor (Obama, 2004: 155).” As Obama listened to these stories, they reminded him of his family, their migration, their hardships, and the tenacity to build a better life.

When the community organizers he was working with got tired, he looked out the window and asked the organizers to look with him: “What do you suppose is going to happen to those boys out there?”… “You say you’re tired, the same way most folks out here are tired. So I’m just trying to figure out what’s going to happen to those boys. Who’s going to make sure they get a fair shot (Obama, 2004: 171, 172)?” In asking these questions and challenging those around him, he was asking the organizers to place themselves in those worlds. In the process, he took the time to listen to others and, in his book Dreams from My Father, provided examples of how he came to move “toward the center of people’s lives” in his community.

And it was this realization, I think, that finally allowed me to share more of myself with the people I was working with, to break out of the larger isolation that I had carried with me to Chicago. .. As time passed, I found that these stories, taken together, had helped me bind my world together, that they gave me the sense of place and purpose I’d been looking for. There was always a community there if you dug deep enough. There was poetry as well – a luminous world always present beneath the surface, a world that people might offer up as a gift to me, if I only remembered to ask (Obama, 2004: 190).”

It was no accident then that the strategy of “story-telling” and listening to the stories of others on a one-to-one basis became a cornerstone of the campaign. More than the successful use of new technologies, this strategy worked in recruiting thousands of new leaders through door-to-door contact in neighborhoods and training them in using their life histories, and those of the communities they worked with, as a basis to reach out to the voting public.


This outreach strategy gave rise to an advancement of hundreds of multi-racial collective efforts on a local, regional, and national level comprised of all ethnic/racial groups, hailing mostly from cities and suburbs, largely younger than 30, and among all income classes. With young voters comprising one-quarter of the 44 million eligible voters, the Obama campaign recruited thousands of volunteers between the ages of 18 and 29 (Dreier, 2008). The magnitude of this campaign was exemplified by the field operation in Florida that included 19,000 neighborhood teams led by 500 paid organizers (Stirland, 2008). Using the “organizing approach,” these organizers used personal narratives, a website, and weekend training programs to recruit and train one million volunteers (Burke, 2008). This multi-racial coalition that used the internet, cell phones, house meetings, and door-to-door eye contact with the voting public to find and train teams of community leaders was the foundation of the incredible voter registration and voter turn-out statistics in the primary and on Election Day.

Significantly, as part of this movement, there were two million more blacks, 2 million more Latinos, and 338,000 more Asian Pacific Americans that cast votes in 2008 than in the 2004 presidential election (Lopez and Taylor, 4/30/2009).


In the primary election, there was a question as to whether Obama could build the type of coalition that it would take to win. In terms of the Latino vote, Hillary Clinton got 63% of the Latino vote, including 67% of the vote in Arizona and California (William C. Velasquez Institute, 2/7/2008). Some journalists attributed this lack of Latino support for Obama in the primary to the Black/Brown divide and to the changing urban landscape where Latino immigrants were moving into inner-city neighborhoods and competing with African Americans for jobs, housing, services, and for positions in local governments. Similar to the research in the edited volume Neither Enemies Nor Friends: Latinos, Blacks, Afro-Latinos, others attributed the divide to prejudices shaped in Latin America where darker-skinned indigenous people are looked down upon by those with lighter skin and a Spanish heritage. Earl Hutchison, author of the “Ethnic Presidency: How Race Decides the Race to the White House” proposed before the election that “The tensions between blacks and Latinos and negative perceptions that have marred relations between these groups for so long unfortunately still resonate.” He shared his concern that “there will still be reluctance among many Latinos to vote for an African-American candidate…. When you’ve got competing ethnic groups at the bottom level, you’re going to have friction because of the jockeying just to preserve their niche (Reno, 2008).

Although Hillary Clinton was more well-known than Obama in the Latino community, Obama was able to increase the number of Latinos who voted for him by distinguishing himself from Clinton right before the primary in three key areas: “support of drivers’ licenses for undocumented immigrants, a promise to take up immigration reform in his first year in office, and his background as the son of an immigrant (his father was Kenyan) and a community organizer in Chicago (Lochhead, 1/28/08:A-1).” According to a poll and analysis by the William C. Velasquez Institute, “This shift in campaign strategy seemed to correlate with undecided voters choosing Obama as their candidate of choice in the last week of the primary campaign (William C. Velazquez Institute, 2008).

After the primary, the question was whether Obama would get the Hillary Clinton vote or whether it would be divided and alienated. Obama’s ability to retain an overwhelming majority of Clinton supporters was a key factor in his victory over McCain. Among Democratic voters who wanted Clinton to win the Democratic nomination, 82 percent supported Obama. The Latino vote sided with Obama and the Black/Brown division, that the media and conservative pundits had advanced as a given, never became a reality. At the same time, the coalition that had supported Clinton, made up of Latinos, union households, low income voters, and white women, was able to be united on Election Day. Obama won the Latino vote by 66% to 31%, union households by 58% to 40%, and the low income (below 50,000) voters by 60% to 38% (CNN, 2008).

With Latinos turning out to vote for Obama, they shattered the myth of a Black/Latino divide. Two thirds of Latinos voted for Obama. More voted Democratic than in any presidential election since 1996 (Lopez, 11/7/2008). Like voters nationwide, the majority of Latino voters said they had one concern above all others: the economy. This went along with the data that broke down foreclosures by race where Latinos were more than twice as likely as whites to get a high-cost loan, making them particularly vulnerable to foreclosures (Ruggeri, 11/6/2008).

While the Republicans tried to advance a strategy of using “morality” issues, such as same-sex marriage and abortion, to influence the Latino vote in much the same way that Bush had used these issues in 2004, the use of these “wedge” issues was overshadowed by concerns over the economy, health care, education and immigration.

In contrast to McCain, the Obama campaign was able to motivate and galvanize a broad based coalition by presenting himself as a symbol of the concerns of a working public that was being affected by a deepening economic crisis. A CNN poll in September, 2008, for example, pointed out that McCain exhibited a gap in “connectedness,” and that the voting public by a 62-32 percentage margin, thought that Obama was “more in touch with the needs and problems” of working families (Silver, 2008). This connectedness was attributed to a number of key factors including his promises to cut taxes for ninety five percent of working families and his position to withdrawal troops from Iraq. Nevertheless, while his position on the war initially placed him ahead in his campaign against McCain, he benefited even more from voter concerns over the crisis in the economy. Although polls showed that half of all voters thought that the economy was in poor condition and were worried about how the economic crisis would hurt them financially, McCain made the serious mistake of minimizing the significance of the economic crisis. While 60% of the voting public said that the economy was the most important problem that the new president would have to focus on, McCain focused on the issue of terrorism, a concern that only 9 percent of the voters saw as their major concern (Vaughn, 2008). This allowed for Obama to further his argument that the election of McCain would only be a continuance of the policies of the Bush administration. Although McCain tried, he could not separate himself from the negative feelings that the voting public had toward Bush. About half of all voters came to believe that McCain would continue Bush’s policies and 75 percent said that the country was on the wrong track.

For those of us organizing in Latino communities, the election victory of Barack Obama proved what many of us had been saying all along: that the marches that many of us had helped lead against the criminalization of immigrants in 2006, and in support for the legalization of the 12 million immigrants in this country, would eventually turn into voting power. Indeed, the theme of the massive marches in 2006, “Today We March – Tomorrow We Vote,” resulted in the galvanizing of immigrants and resulted in their application for citizenship in record numbers. As part of this movement, after 2006, numerous community-based church and community organizations held citizenship and naturalization clinics throughout the country. Hence, the number of individuals naturalized in the U. S. went from 660,477 in 2007 to 1,046,539 in 2008. The Department of Homeland Security Office of Immigration Statistics not only attributed this increase to organized responses to proposed fee application increases but, most importantly, “to special efforts to encourage eligible applicants to apply for U. S. citizenship (Lee and Rytina, 2008).” Not only did this movement advance citizenship drives, but also spurred voter registration efforts that resulted in over 500,000 new citizen voters. The We Are America Alliance, alone, registered over 83,000 new voters in Florida, 35,000 in Pennsylvania, 52,000 in Nevada, and nearly 40,000 in New Mexico. The large number of newly registered voters bypassed the record 64% of eligible voters which last turned out in the 1960 election.

While there was a tendency to say that the immigration issue was placed in the back-burner in the election results, it was on the minds of our Latino communities and played a role in the galvanizing of the Latino vote. In an NDN/Bendixen poll right before the election that asked Latinos “How important is the immigration issue to you and your family?” Between 74% and 86% of Latinos in the states of Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada responded that it was very important (America’s Voice, 2008). Some Latino voters, who had supported Bush in the last presidential election, were now polled as being disaffected by the Republican stance on immigration. Since 2006, Republicans in Congress had consistently supported immigration bills, such as the Sensenbrenner bill, that criminalized all undocumented immigrants and anyone who would support them. It was no accident that the Obama people understood the impact of such a divisive policy and flooded Latino districts with Spanish-language ads and campaign literature.


After the election, the ingredients of a social movement that helped to elect Barack Obama has gone by the wayside. While the Obama administration has been forced to focus on the crisis state of the economy, this has not been the only factor that has thwarted some of its initiatives. Consequently, a number of the key policy commitments made before the election are facing legislative hurdles in an environment where the corporate lobbies, defense contractors, drug companies, and conservative special interest groups have staked their ground.

On the economy, Obama’s mortgage payment plan promised to help millions of homeowners by creating incentives for lenders to renegotiate the terms of subprime loans. It also promised to help millions of households by paying off their mortgages and by lifting restrictions on financing. Before the election, Obama also promised a 90-day moratorium on foreclosures by banks and companies that receive any kind of government aid. However, while the stimulus package helped various bank and mortgage lenders to survive, there have been no solid guarantees to renegotiate loans or to help anyone who had already lost their home. Meanwhile, some of the companies who were bailed out a year ago, were given bonuses to their executives. Morgan Stanley, for example set aside $3.9 billion for this purpose while Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. reported record profits of $3.4 billion in the second quarter and bonuses “that would yield a record-setting average payout of $770,000 per employee if sustained the rest of the year (Hamilton, 2009: B-1, B2). The Obama Administration’s calls to stop the abuse of overseas tax loopholes, to develop a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, and to give more power to the government to regulate Wall Street have been blocked by the banking industry, the Financial Services Roundtable, and the U. S. Chamber of Commerce (Pazzanghera, 2009: B1, B3; Pazzanghera, 2009: B1, B6).

On the closing of Guantanamo Bay, Obama promised that he would close Guantanamo bay by January, 2009 and that his administration would develop a task force to review exisiting detention policies and the lawful disposition of detainees in U. S. custody. However, in May of 2009, the Senate by a vote of 90 to 6 voted to block the transfer of detainees to the U. S. and denied the Obama administration $81 million that it had requested to close Guanatanamo. Presently, Obama has caved in to the contention of legislators in both the House and the Senate that their constitutents were afraid of placing detainees on U. S. soil and possibly placing U. S. citizens in danger.

Before the election, Obama had criticized the Bush administration for not being transparent and keeping the truth from the American public. However, the Obama administration’s position on state secrets doctrines in urging a federal judge to toss out a law suit by former CIA detainees was questioned as being no different than the Bush administration’s position in using state secrets privilege to dismiss entire law suits before there could be any proceedings.

Although Obama has consistently stressed the need for advancing a strategy of bipartisan cooperation between the Democrats and Republicans in Congress, his activist governance stance has been horrendously criticized by the likes of such conservative commentators as Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and Rush Limbaugh. The conservatives in the Republican Party, who are now in a position of being the minority party, have thwarted Obama’s strategy of bipartisanship. In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama proposed that a genuine bipartisanship strategy would work if there was “an honest process of give-and-take” and if “the quality of the compromises” served “some agreed-upon goal (Obama, 2006: 131).”

However, the debate over health care reform revealed the pitfalls in this strategy with conservative groups putting aside what was written in Obama’s health care proposals and claiming that his proposals included unlimited coverage for undocumented immigrants, death panels and euthanasia for the elderly, socialized medical rationing, and planned reductions in Medicare benefits. As in some of Obama’s other policy initiatives, the promise that universal health care in America would become a reality “by the end of his first term as president” was blocked by the organized force of these right-wing groups, Republican congressional representatives, and the health insurance industry. Obama’s support for a more affordable “public option,” as an alternative to the status quo proposals of the insurance and pharmaceutical companies, has now been put aside with a requirement that all people buy health insurance with some help from federal subsidies to help those who cannot afford it (Levey, 2009: A-1, A-16).

Rather than the broad multi-racial movement that helped to elect Obama, there is an increase in another type of movement that promotes racism and scapegoats immigrants, underrepresented communities, women, people of color, and working people for the economic problems in this country.

This was especially evident when thousands of conservative protesters, many of them Republican, took to the streets in Washington, D. C. questioning Obama’s citizenship status and his administration’s policies with signs that read: “Is this Russia?,” “Traitors Terrorists Run Our Government.” “Don’t Blame me, I voted for The American (Barabak, 2009: A-1, A-19).” The open attacks on the president’s character in this demonstration and the outburst by Representative Joe Wilson’s (R-S.C.) of “You Lie” in the middle of Obama’s address to Congress precipitated such responses as former President Carter’s that: “an overwhelming portion of the intensely demonstrated animosity toward President Barack Obama is based on the fact that he is a black man (Abcarian, 2009: A1, A16).”

At the same time, during the election campaign, Obama proposed that immigration workplace raids were ineffective, and called for an alternative that could bring the 12 million undocumented immigrants in the country out of the shadows. Since the election, although the Obama administration met with immigration rights leaders from throughout the country and promised to take up comprehensive immigration proposals, there has been an implementation of enforcement policies that have resulted in increased immigration raids, audits of employee paperwork at hundreds of businesses, expanded a program to verify worker immigration status that has been widely criticized as flawed, and bolstered a program of cooperation between federal and local law enforcement agencies. With former Arizona Governor Grace Napolitano at the head of the Department of Homeland Security, the Obama administration moved forward in authorizing as many as sixty six law enforcement agencies to work with Homeland Security in identifying “illegal immigrants and process them for possible deportation under a program known as 287g (Gorman, 2009: A-1, A-9).” Under this administration’s immigration policies, deportations reached record levels rising to an annual average of nearly 400,0001 since 2009, about 30% higher than the annual average during the second term of the Bush administration and about double the annual average during George W. Bush’s first term. Under this administration, the 287G Secure Communities programs have used local law enforcement officers to carry out the screening of people, that should be the work of federal officers. Under the pretext that these policies are meant to arrest hard core criminals, the policies have led to arbitrary arrests for minor offenses and violated the due process rights of both citizens and non-citizens. This administration has expanded the use of E-Verify, an existing program of employee immigration-status verification that has been criticized for using a database that contains thousands of errors and has led to as many as 19,000 people ( of 6.4 million checked) that have been mistakenly identified as being deportable.

Rather than putting an end to these discriminatory policies, this administration has called for these programs, especially Secure Communities, to be expanded to every one of the nation’s 3,100 state and local jails by 2013 although these programs have been shown to be fundamentally flawed, incompetently administered, and prone to target, not only immigrants, but Latino citizens.

This focus on enforcement, rather than legalization, policies has been steadily eroding the strong support among Latino organizations that Obama had right before and after the election.

Ina national survey of 1,220 Latino adults 18 and older (between November 9th and December 7, 2011, the Pew Research Center found that, by a ratio of more than two-to-one (59% versus 27%), Latinos disapprove of the way the Obama administration is handling deportations of undocumented immigrants. This study found that more than three quarters (77%) of those who were aware of Obama’s enforcement policies, strongly disagreed with these policies (December 28, 2011, As Deportations Rise to Record Levels, Most Latinos Oppose Obama’s Policy by Mark Hugo Lopez, Ana Gonzalez-Barrera and Seth Motel).

Globally, according to a PEW Hispanic Research Center survey, approval of Obama’s policies has “declined significantly since he first took office, while overall confidence in him and attitudes toward the U. S. have slipped modestly as a consequence (PEW Global Attitudes Project, June 13, 2012.

Hidden in the media onslaught of coverage on these protests have been the many initiatives that the Obama administration has been able to advance under the worst economic downturn since the depression including: using part of the stimulus package to implement an election medical record system, to save some 25,000 education jobs, and to advance clean energy projects; obtaining approval for 2,500 highway projects; advocating a global response to the economic crisis; dropping the use of the phrase “war on terror;” committing to get a ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; opening the doors of diplomacy on an international scale to reduce global tensions; ending policies that withheld funds from family planning organizations abroad; committing to stop discrimination against gays and lesbians and ending the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell policy;” appointing of five women, four African-Americans, three Latinos, and two Asian Americans to key cabinet positions; and the making of history with the nomination and full U. S. Senate confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor as only the third woman and the first Latina to be appointed to the U. S. Supreme Court.


One of the problems has been that a strategy has been pursued, without a reliance on the transformative alliances that were harnessed before the election. This follows with a type of disenchantment that Professor Phil Thompson analyzes in his study of African American mayors and their efforts to find solutions to urban decline. In his research, Thompson analyzes how the initial excitement of electing Black mayors was diminished among the electorate when many of these elected officials adopted a traditional “pro-growth” urban policy that ultimately ended up serving the real estate and developer interests. At the same time, as the economies in urban areas moved from manufacturing to service industry employment, these mayors were blamed for the resulting urban problems. When the conditions did not change, it resulted in less political engagement by the black poor and middle class and a strengthening of conservative domination (Thompson, 2006: 4, 5). Only in a few cases are there examples where Mayors bucked the system and, by relying on the base that elected them, implemented “alternative models of community building and economic development” that addressed urban poverty and made their policies accountable to the public (Thompson, 2006: 41, 42).

In order for Latino organizations, such as the one that I have worked with, to have the same passion and to build the types of coalitions that existed before, it would have taken Obama’s continuing support of the type of organizing and advancement of a social movement that took place during the election. Public intellectuals Peter Dreier and Marshall Ganz, in their article We Have the Hope, Now Where’s the Audacity, while criticizing the Obama networks for turning to a marketing strategy of “politics as usual,” proposed that the existence of such a mobilization of communities (such as we experienced before 2008) today would have taken the advancement of a strategy that focused on movement-building:

The White House and its allies forgot that success requires more than proposing legislation, negotiating with Congress and polite lobbying. It demands movement-building of the kind that propelled Obama’s long-shot candidacy to an almost landslide victory. And it must be rooted in the moral energy that can transform people’s anger, frustrations and hopes into focused public action, creating a sense of urgency equal to the crises facing the country(Dreier and Ganz, 2009).

Although Obama has put a progressive and transformative strategy of movement-building to the side, this does not mean that the building of a movement should not be on the agenda of social movements and activists. Rather than allowing for a trend that wants to take the country back before the civil rights movement – that seeks to control the economy for the upper 1% — that thrives on creating fear and divisions among working people and – that uses their genuine concerns to blame immigrants for the economic problems in this country – there is the capacity to build another trend at the grass-roots. This trend is seeking to control the excesses of profit by a few – and build more spaces of equity – examples of democracy — examples of a new economy – with the types of alliances and partnerships that are necessary to meet the challenges of a global economy.

In California, various community-based coalitions have arisen to challenge the federal government’s immigration enforcement policies by organizing and passing legislation allowing undocumented students, not only to go to college, but to receive financial aid. I, and my students, have been part of the Pomona Habla coalition’s efforts in changing the Pomona city council policies that discriminated against undocumented immigrants and were part of a larger movement resulting in the passage of a statewide bill allowing anyone stopped at a checkpoint without a driver’s license to have someone come and pick up their car. This will kill the millions of dollars being made by the tow truck and impoundment companies. The governor, as a result of these movements, also signed a bill that called for “neither California nor any of its cities, counties, or special districts require an employer to use E-Verify as a condition of receiving a government contract, applying for or maintaining a business license, or as a penalty for violating licensing o other similar laws.”

Now, as part of these coalitions, we are still moving forward in organizing to enact a new law that gives qualified undocumented immigrants who pay state income taxes the option to enter a program whose participants will gain relief from federal enforcement and whose labor can be rewarded.


In conclusion, the significance of the election of Barack Obama was not just in the individual but in the rising of a new social movement that united people from diverse backgrounds in advancing a vision for change in the way this country is run and whose interests it serves. While Barack Obama’s exceptional history as a community organizer, lawyer, and state senator placed him in a position of mainstream credibility, it was the social movement of broad-based multi-racial alliances that put him over the top. The movement that developed before the election was one for jobs, health, education, security and equality. It was about the very foundations of local, national, and international democracy with a vision of ensuring the resource capacity of diverse local and global communities to survive. Although the social movement that crossed race, class, sexuality and gender lines before 2008 was exemplary, there are now new types of social movement that are emerging. One trend, led by conservative and right wing groups, has been stirring racial divisions by using the economic crisis to scapegoat immigrants, the poor, people of color, and working people. Unfortunately, the promises of the Obama administration, that moved so many, have not been kept, The issues are still there after the election but, in spite of their collective impact, the social movements that were built on a common ground of defending the right of all people to be treated with dignity and equality were thwarted by the policies of the Obama administration that ultimately served the power of the corporate monopolies and monied interests. However, the ingredients of a progressive social movement are still visible but the strategies have shifted to local organizing efforts that, in California, have resulted in legislation supporting: cities opting out of e-verify, the right of AB-540 students to attend college with financial aid, the right of people without a driver’s license to stop the impounding of their cars, and the establishment of a pilot program designed to protect undocumented workers who pay state income taxes. These progressive social movements on the local level are based on defending the rights of immigrants, decriminalizing the labor of the undocumented, and challenging the federal government’s enforcement policies. At the same time, the local organizing efforts are based on the long-term premise of making the Obama administration accountable for the policies promised and the policies being implemented.



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