Category Archives: Migrants

MIGRANTS: Republicans and Latinos

Here’s another commentary about what Republicans need to do to earn any kind of decent percentage of the Latino vote in November. (I’ve read several of these now.)

Polls I’ve heard have Romney getting 28 percent of Latino vote. This story says 26 percent, less than John McCain polled in 2008. Romney met with a Latino coalition the day after his wife spoke, according to La Opinion, hoping to cultivate some better feelings.

Yet all this will be hard to accomplish. The R leaders may want to de-emphasize the strident rhetoric, but Rs on the ground don’t seem willing to go along.

To wit: A Puerto Rican delegate to the RNC was shouted down with chants of “U-S-A” when she began to speak in her accented English. (See video above)

PBS’s Ray Suarez provides some context to the event, which explain it as something other than what the video makes it appear, though this may not make it more palatable to Latinos.

And of course, the peanut incident — where delegates threw peanuts at a black CNN camerawoman saying, “this is how we feed animals” isn’t probably going to help much, either.


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MIGRANTS: Sicilia, Libya and other desperate straits

Time Magazine has a great post about illegal migration from Africa — northern and southern — into Europe.

Libya under Gaddahfi apparently controlled smuggling squads, using migrants, usually from sub-Saharan Africa, as a way of prying what he wanted out of Italy.

Now that’s changed, as has the pull of jobs in Europe, which is suffering from its own economic crisis.

Also on the same post is a link to photographs by Mexico City photographer Keith Dannemiller of Mexico’s patron saint of lost causes. His photos (one of which is above) are always worth checking out.

It appears the website, Roads and Kingdoms is well worth favoriting. Great idea for a site! I’ll be following….


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Filed under Global Economy, Migrants

GLOBAL ECONOMY: Guatemalan mayor declares Internet access a human right

It was only a matter of time. The mayor of an Indian town in Guatemala has declared Internet access to be a human right.

Many Indian communities suffer because they are so isolated from the world.

Anthropologists and tourists often like their Indians very traditional. But tradition has had a way of impoverishing Indian communities.

I’ve been to Indian towns where most people don’t know how to type, use a fax, or drive. Those are formulas for poverty in the global economy. I once met a guy who was learning to type who said he was the first in his village to learn that skill.

To breaking from those impoverishing traditions is one reason why so many Indians are converting to Protestantism in Latin America.

It’s an ironic thing, but the only way to maintain a strong Indian culture is not to embrace isolation, but, as this mayor has, embrace the world. That way a village can develop economically so that its people don’t have to migrate defenseless into a world where education is the currency of value.

There was a time in the 1990s when it was fashionable on the left in Latin America to talk about the pernicious effect of globalization on the poor. But really what Indian communities need above all is more globalization, which is to say, more connectivity — that is, more roads, more Internet connections, more people who know how to type, more people who speak Spanish or English, etc.

One village in Chiapas I went to (pictured here) was part of a coffee cooperative. The only thing they wanted, coop members told me, was a connection to the Internet, which would connect them, in turn, with coffee buyers in Mexico City, or Seattle, and they wouldn’t have sell their beans to the local intermediaries who gave them rock-bottom prices.




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LOS ANGELES: Oaxacan marching band

I attended the inauguration of the L.A. office of FIOB — Frente Indigena de Organizaciones Binacionales (Indigenous Front of Bi-national Organizations), which works to help Indians, mostly from Oaxaca, here in the U.S. and back home.

Before the inauguration, a brass band set off marching playing around the block. Very cool.

Click above for a video of a little of that, then let me know what you think.


Filed under California, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Southern California

MIGRANTS: Remittances worldwide increasing

Migrant remittances to their native countries worldwide are on the upswing, with $399 billion expected to be sent home this year, up from $372 billion last year.



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DRUGS: Narco “canonized”

I guess it was only a matter of time, but … Nazario Moreno, deceased leader of La Familia Michoacana, the narco-Catholic drug cartel now finding itself on hard times due to his death and that of others in the structure, has apparently been “canonized” as a folk saint.

Folk saints are nothing new to Mexico. Juan Soldado is the unofficial patron saint of migrants. Toribio Romo, a priest from Jalisco, holds a similar position. Jesus Malverde, who likely never lived at all, began as patron saint of the poor mountain folks in Sinaloa who became, in turn, the drug traffickers who made the state famous and turned Malverde into the patron saint of narcos.

Michoacan has also been fertile ground for strange religious movements — witness the community of New Jerusalem under excommunicated Padre Nabor in another part of the Tierra Caliente. (I wrote about New Jerusalem and Malverde in my first book, True Tales from Another Mexico.

Moreno, though, was particularly bloodthirsty, and considered a messiah by his followers. One of his nicknames was “El Mas Loco” — The Craziest One. Who knows? Maybe in Apatzingan, Michoacan — an area known for violence, heat, and dope — that’ll be what recommends him to the faithful.



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CULTURE: Los Cenzontles need your help

David Hidalgo and Jackson Browne

Los Cenzontles, the cool Mexican roots band from the Bay Area, is trying to put out a new disc. They’re looking for funding for the disc, Regeneration, which you can give by clicking on this link.

Several months ago, I wrote about a session I attended with the band and David Hidalgo of Los Lobos and Jackson Browne. Very cool time.

I recently heard the rough cuts of the session and they’re great. I wrote the liner notes to the album, too.

So help out a band that’s worth your time and money, Los Cenzontles.

David Hidalgo and the Roland button accordion


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MIGRANTS: Remittances to Mexico rise

If, as I’ve long thought, Mexican immigrants are terrific economic barometers, it seems the economy is recovering.

Banco de Mexico reports that remittances sent home from the U.S. were higher in May than they’ve been in 43 months: rising to $2.336 billion, according to Reforma newspaper.

Economists should use Mexican immigrants as economic barometers. They are virtually nationwide, and they go where the jobs are. Plus, they’ve shown themselves remarkably reflective of good and bad economic times. There was a reason pre-Katrina New Orleans had few Mexicans: the economy was on its back and there were no jobs. Few Mexicans in Detroit, too. But Charlotte? Nashville? Minneapolis? They all have large populations.




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Filed under Mexico, Migrants

LOS ANGELES: Tuba thefts, again

Once again, tuba thieves have struck. This time: Whittier High School. Four sousaphones.

Last time, Saturday Night Live did a Weekend Update bit on the phenomenon.

Lightheartedness aside, I find the topic interesting because tubas are the emblematic popular instrument of our time in Southern California — just like the electric guitar was in the 1970s.

A reporter could probably have fashioned a whole beat writing about the culture surrounding electric guitar during those years. (In Claremont, where I grew up, there were easily 20 guys in my high school class who played guitar, and, if memory serves, six guitar stores within a few-mile radius.)

I think the same is true today of tubas. Their popularity says a lot about the region and the time.



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Filed under Culture, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Southern California

PODCAST: Juan Gutierrez, Oaxacan baker in Santa Monica

Juan Gutierrez, Oaxacan baker in Santa Monica

Welcome to a new feature of my blog — podcast interviews — which I hope to do more of.

The first one is a conversation with Juan Gutierrez, a Zapotec Indian from Oaxaca. His Panaderia Antequera in Santa Monica is believed to be the first Oaxacan-owned business in the L.A. area, opening in the late 1980s.

The conversation is about his arrival here, working at Shakey’s, and opening his bakery — a piece of oral history of a people’s move north.

These last few years a mini-boom in Oaxacan owned businesses has been underway in L.A., spurred by several factors: the idea many have now that they’re not going to be returning home; the size of the Oaxacan immigrant consumer market in L.A.; and a general dispelling of the fear and intimidation with which many Oaxacans, formerly campesinos, viewed business.

The interview is in Spanish and runs about 24 minutes.

I’m hoping to talk to more folks like Mr. Gutierrez, pioneers, people with interesting stories — as well as authors of books that are relevant to the themes of this blog.

Feel free to suggest some.

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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Podcast, Southern California

MIGRANTS: Hernan Hernandez, Los Tigres del Norte

Today is the birthday of Hernan Hernandez, bass player and singer for Los Tigres del Norte.

I toured several times with the band to shows around Mexico, seeing parts of the country that I’d never have seen had it not been for their great generosity. I was already a huge fan by the time I met them, and knew the words to many of their songs.

They remain, I think, the best band out of Mexico — The  Only Band That Matters, isn’t that what they used to say about The Clash. Same with Los Tigres. Great chroniclers, amazing reps of migrant Mexico, too. Here’s a story I did from those years on Los Tigres for LA Times Magazine. Always wanted to write a book about the band….

Anyway, one night, Hernan was sick from, I think, food poisoning. They took him to a doctor.I think he got some intravenous fluids, but was still sick.

They went to the show, in a town in Puebla. Got there late. The crowd was rowdy, throwing rocks. But then the band went on and played for four hours or so. Just an amazing show.

Hernan played the whole show, sweating, sick, faint, barely hanging on. Reminded me of Michael Jordan during that playoff game years ago. Never forget that night. A real pro….Happy Birthday, Hernan!


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Filed under Culture, Mexico, Migrants

VIRGIN: The Virgin of Nadeau Street

Much of the sweetness of the Virgin of Guadalupe, I believe, lies in her eyes, which are cast down, and the humility that implies.

Always an oasis in LA, whenever I see her.


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Filed under Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Virgin

LOS ANGELES: Carwasheros and the immigrant economy

Covered this story yesterday, about carwash workers suing a family that owns three car washes in the area.

There’s been several of these lawsuits lately, all alleging the same practices at different car washes: non-payment of overtime, breaks denied, pay records falsified, etc.

The story again showed how much of the LA economic ecosystem is made up so entirely of immigrants. Immigrant business owners; immigrant workers. Often the customers are immigrants. Such a major change in only a few decades.

Also, many of the Westside carwash workers come from one town — Libres, in the state of Puebla, Mexico. In occasionally covering this issue over the last few months, I’ve run into many from that town. They assure me that hundreds of men and women from Libres work in the carwash industry, particularly in Santa Monica, Palos Verdes, Malibu, Venice, and similar areas.

The guy I spoke to for the story, Marcial Hernandez, was one of them.


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Filed under California, Los Angeles, Migrants

LOS ANGELES: A sauna that’s my favorite place in Hollywood

Check out a column in today’s LA Times about the sauna in Hollywood, in the club now owned by LA Fitness, where I love to spend time in and which is well worth visiting for all it can tell you about Los Angeles, I think.

I always liked the idea of the region as a place where people come and live with their own, more or less oblivious to others from elsewhere who live nearby. This, too, is on display in the sauna.

It’s a raw place; you may hear things that offend a PC sensibility, but L.A.’s geography of multiculturalism can be messy, which makes it so interesting.

Don’t pay attention to the commenter who says the only language you hear in there is Spanish. That’s nonsense.


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MIGRANTS: “We’re like cockroaches. We’re surviving.”


Roberto Chavez

Over the weekend, I spent time at Westmoreland and Francis avenues, a few blocks west of MacArthur Park, where on Saturday and Sunday a kind of street-vendor mall spontaneously pops up.

On a couple blocks, vendors crowd together, looking for all the world like some street in Mexico City, and selling toothbrushes, electric hair curlers, bleach, boots, DVDs, tools, laptops, cellphones, clothes of all kinds. Each vendor has  a little space – first come, first served, I take it.

I met Roberto Chavez, from Honduras, who owned a hardware store at 6th and Union for 10 years until Home Depot and 99-cents stores moved in and crushed him.

“Since then, I’ve been on the streets” selling wallets and ladies purses lately at the Roadium Open Air Market swap meet.

Chavez said his father was a journalist and died when Chavez was 5. His mother cooked at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa, he said. Chavez said he came here more than 30 years ago.

Street vending is part of the economy that L.A. cannot do without, he said, because it helps keep its cheap labor force here.

“People just try to survive here,” he said, looking at the vendors that surrounded us. “Nobody’s making money.” Most folks have full-time jobs and come here to sell on weekends to make ends meet. Otherwise, he said, they’d have to return home. It’s too expensive to be poor here, with cars, rent ($700 for a miserable single apartment that he has to share to afford, he said).

“You can measure the economy here,” he said. “We’re like cockroaches. We’re surviving.”

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