“At the close of his presidency, Barack Obama -who won a Noble Peace Prize at the beginning of his presidency in 2009- failed to live up to his 2008 and 2012 campaign promises to achieve comprehensive immigration reform. In fact, during the eight years of Obama’s presidency, his administration affected the removal of more noncitizens from the United States than any other president in history. It is clear, in retrospect, that despite the many lofty promises made by Obama, his immigration policy was a near-total failure.”
Yesterday Argentina added itself to a short list of Latin American countries that provide access to abortion. This development came thanks to years of activism. This work did not cease as the pandemic appeared and worsened in the Southern Cone. In September, NACLA published a report that examined how during the health crisis “[f]eminism may have become more visible in the streets, but inequality has intensified in the home”. Yesterday’s victory was important, but the struggle for a woman’s voice in laws about her body continues. Below you’ll find Claudia Rivera Amarillo’s article from September about Latin American feminism in the age of covid.
One of many motivations to vote against Donald Trump was immigration policy. From the first day of his initial campaign, when he demonized people coming to the US from Mexico, Trump’s rhetoric and policies have been delineated by racism and xenophobia. Lowlights have included the Muslim ban, the wall, and the separations of families resulting in caged children. However, while electing Joe Biden does mean a change, is that change enough? Biden was Barack Obama’s Vice President and therefore an important part of his administration. As much as people have focused on Trump and his policies, with an incoming Biden administration, it is important to remember that the infrastructure for private prisons caging people at the border and speedy deportations was well-established by the Obama administration. Kristan M. Campbell summarized Obama’s record on immigration with the following:
As we move towards the beginning of a Biden presidency, it is time to think about immigration policy. Campbell’s article is a great place to start as we reflect on how Trump’s crimes were built upon Obama’s failures.
While fiction and writing have little to contribute to the immediate cure for our pandemic, in this conversation Ken Liu affirms storytelling’s place in developing the ethical contours of vaccine distribution. Indeed, you cannot put a good story in a syringe, but the humanities have a lot to offer regarding who, how, and when we get those needles in our arms. Liu developed the idea of stories being the transmitters of our values much more in this essay.
Argentina took a historic step last night when its senate voted to legalize abortion. Here is Buenos Aires’s daily Clarín giving the news. The Catholic church resisted the measure, with the Argentine-born Pope even tweeting his opposition. The final debate lasted many hours, and the vote was not taken until 4:00am. Despite the hour, there was a large, green-colored crowd that celebrated outside.
Written by Kaya Genç, here is a nice profile of Turkish novelist Ahmet Altan. He has been in prison since 2018, essentially for, and I quote the article here: ‘“sending subliminal messages’ to topple Turkey strongman Recep Tayyip Erdoğan”. This was not Altan’s first encounter with censorship. As far back as the 1980s, a court found a previous novel “obscene” and it was ordered burnt.
Teaching online has meant computers. Keyboards clacking, mice clicking, and screentime are a constant for me, my students, and a lot of other people. People complain about their eyes, their backs, and the awkwardness of ending a zoom call. However, even though these grievances are valid, the truth is that we are fortunate. If the pandemic had happened twenty or thirty years ago, online learning likely would have failed. Even today, when more and more of us are supposedly digitally literate and even digital natives, the learning curve for many students and far more teachers has been precipitous. In those doldrum moments when students feel down about online classes, it feels important to remind them that we are still working towards graduation; that despite the speed bumps, their lives continue to progress. There are many people around the world who are not so blessed.
Before the pandemic I lived a computer life in many ways. However, since March, what was once a lot of time online has become a lot more. Reflecting on this in recent days has brought me to some old subjects that are relevant today. In fact, the present-day relevance shows just how prescient they were years ago. They are subjects that revolve around privacy, our government, and the role of technology.
The first is the story of Aaron Swartz. Below you will find a documentary about his life, his ideals, and his quest to keep the technology for the people. Thinking about Swartz brought me to reading Corey Doctorow’s recent novel Attack Surface. Science fiction -the category booksellers use for this book- is not usually where I spend a lot of time. However, I enjoy Doctorow’s depictions of what technology is capable. I am only a quarter of a way through the book, but his protagonist’s navigation between using her hacker skills to defend protestors one day and to prosecute them the next, is a provocative way to push the ideas and ideals that Swartz defended into our current conversation. Swartz warned us about the internet’s power. It is now more present in our lives than ever and we should be thankful for many reasons. However, this tense trade where we receive a useful tool and sacrifice our privacy deserves reflection.
Crisis has a way of revealing cracks, weaknesses, and tensions. Be it racism, economic inequality, or healthcare, the crisis produced by the pandemic has melted the patina that covered these subjects. Still resilient, they cannot hide as they did before and what once felt unsolvable now feels as if it might get the multigenerational attention that has long been needed. At least this is what I hope.
The new thinking on racism and inequality is partially fueled by infection rates. Across the US, minorities and the impoverished are the people most likely to get sick and also the most likely to die. There are many factors that influence these statistics, but there is one in particular that should horrify us all and needs to inform our thinking about the future: Who processes our food and how are those people treated?
Two podcasts have gone deep on these questions. The first, a summary of a New Yorker article, looks at the larger picture and also shows how one major Trump donor, Ron Cameron, trades his employees' safety for profits. The second, from the new Spanish-language news podcast El hilo humanizes the plight of migrants working in the US food industry. Taken together, they provide a multilingual and more complete idea of the human price that is paid for the food that we eat. These issues have existed for years, but the importance of accessing food during a pandemic has brought them to the forefront. Hopefully this attention means positive change for the men and women who process our food.
In an ideal world, higher education would be a chance to take risks, try new things, and solidify a sense of identity. However, in the US the cost of university study is so prohibitive, that most students and their families feel a need to avoid the unknown that comes with experimentation and search for a safer bet. College is now seen as an investment for the future; a time when money is spent with the understanding that the degree and job that await will have a higher salary, better benefits, and more security. The calculation made by these families is understandable.
It is also one of the reasons that I’m proud to teach in the Department of World Languages and Cultures. The work we do adds value to students’ education. Regardless of a student’s major, studying a language alongside whatever else they are doing makes them a more attractive job candidate, increases their intercultural competence, more creative, and more prepared for the increasingly global world where they will live.
So, if what you’re after is a job when you graduate, take a couple of minutes to see a few ways that language study adds value to your future:
The irony is stark. While the virus has us physically separated, it is also difficult to think of a historical event that has so inexorably linked the world. Asians have used the same methods to confront the same challenge as people throughout the Americas, Europeans, and Africans. Has a natural disaster or a war ever reached so many corners of our planet in such a personal way? What about an economic crisis? It seems to me that it is possible to argue that Coronavirus is one of the world’s most wide-reaching experiences.
Considering the scale that I’m trying to describe, our university feels inconsequential. However, for our students and the people who work at Salem State, the abrupt closing in March and the breakneck transition to online classes were violent disruptions to well-honed routines. Like everyone else on Earth, it feels like the virus’s arrival will mark a before and after in our lives. It isn’t clear to me that the future contains a return to the pre-virus past that we enjoyed.
As we moved from routine to disruption to uncertain future, it was heartening to see our department and our university keep our students at the center of our efforts. Those efforts were, no doubt, imperfect, but it was a wonderful thing to see. The fall semester now looms and with it come unknowns. What will classrooms look like? How well will we adapt to the online portions of our pedagogy? Time will tell.
For now, I wanted to share a couple of videos we made. First, one to tell our students that we missed them. Second, a virtual way to express how proud we are of our graduates. Whatever the next semester brings, we look forward to spending it with our students.
In the weeks before the pandemic forced the western hemisphere into our houses, protests surrounding a cancelled election in the Dominican Republic echoed throughout Latin America and the Dominican diaspora in many parts of the world. Locally, Lawrence and Boston joined these protests. So, what is all the noise about? NPR’s Latino USA provides us a good panoramic view of what is happening:
In a whirlwind of currents that start with race, cross with immigration, question the publishing industry’s biases, lay bare marketing’s cynicism, and ultimately reflect into our faces many of the US’s tensions, the publication of Jeanine Cummings’s novel American Dirt has provoked controversy.
Myriam Gurba wrote a review that was considered so scathing that one webpage refused to publish it unless she included at least something redeeming. Gurba refused and eventually “Pendeja, You Ain’t Steinbeck: My Bronca with Fake-Ass Social Justice Literature” was published elsewhere. David Schmidt wrote not one, but two pieces on the novel, with the second suggesting that Cummings repurposed passages that had appeared in books by Luis Alberto Urrea and Sonia Nazario. David Bowles was interviewed about it on NPR and Esmeralda Bermudez wrote that her "skin crawled after the first few chapters".
At the same time, American Dirt has been selected for Oprah’s coveted Book Club and Sandra Cisneros wrote a blurb that includes the claim that Cummings’s book is “the great novel of las Américas”.
Helpfully, Maria Hinojosa put Gurba, Urrea, Cisneros, and Cummings herself to difficult questions. The answers she got spoke far more about issues haunting the US than the novel itself. The interviews are certainly worth hearing:
Culture is what we teach. Most often it is conveyed through literature, cinema, and music. Language almost always plays an important role as well. However, often times one of culture’s most present aspects is overlooked or, at best, a decoration in the background.
Food and, more specifically, cooking, are part of daily life. They are more central to a culture than any of the aforementioned expressive representations. However, it is difficult to put food in a book and more difficult still to read about food and somehow understand; imagine the difference between a description of a dish and its consumption.
Nevertheless, the University of Texas at San Antonio has done a great service to anyone interested in the history of Mexican cooking. Their library has digitalized more than 1,800 cookbooks that date from 1789 to the present.
Here is the webpage that provides access and an inspirational video. It is difficult to explore this and not get hungry.
As students learn a new language, they increasingly become aware that vocabulary is the largest obstacle. At first grammar feels overwhelming, but there is a point where -even unmastered- it wanes in comparison to the never-ending battle to transform new words into part of one’s vocabulary. Despite what many apps and online teaching tools would like you to believe, there is still nothing like vocabulary lists and old-fashioned memorization. That understood, technology can still have a place. Today I came across this tweet that explains how to transform Google Sheets into a translation tool. Indeed, Google’s translation skills can sometimes fail, but generally speaking, this strikes me as a useful tool. Happy translating…