The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now

This week in North Philly Notes, we highlight a program entitled, “The Working People of  Philadelphia, Then and Now,” which honors a reissue of Bruce Laurie’s classic labor history,  Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850.

The program is one in a series planned in conjunction with the reissuing of 30 out-of-print Temple University Press Labor Studies and Work titles in open access format.

Thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Press, in collaboration with Temple University Libraries, will reissue 30 outstanding labor studies books in PDF, EPUB, and MOBI formats and make them freely available online. Chosen by an advisory board of scholars, labor studies experts, publishers, and librarians, each book contains a new foreword by a prominent scholar, reflecting on the content and placing it in historical context.

VannemanLast week, Matt Wray penned an essay for Public Books on  The American Perception of Classby Reeve Vanneman and Lynn Weber Cannon.

He writes, “… the 1987 publication of The American Perception of Class came as something of a shock. Many in the social sciences, particularly those affiliated with the New Left, seemed not to know what to make of the renegade ideas put forth by Vanneman and Cannon, whose central claim was simple and elegant: one should not mistake the absence of class conflict for absence of class consciousness.”

 

The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now

On November 7, at 6:00 pm at the Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Sq. in Philadelphia, Temple Libraries and Temple University Press are presenting a panel entitled, “The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now.”

Laurie_Cover_SM.jpgIn 1980, historian Bruce Laurie published The Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850. The book has now been reissued and is freely available online thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. This title is part of a larger collection of open access books on Labor Studies and Work published by Temple University Press.

In celebration of its return, please join us for a conversation with historians and Philadelphia natives Francis Ryan and Sharon McConnell-Siddorick. They will discuss questions such as: what was it like to be a worker in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century? How was the Philadelphia working class constituted by race, ethnicity, gender, and occupation? What were some of the major problems, hopes, and aspirations that workers shared? What were the cultures, organizations, and institutions that workers created? In what ways have things changed for the better for Philadelphia workers in 2018, and in what ways are they still struggling?”

Registration is requested https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-working-people-of-philadelphia-then-and-now-tickets-50361771414

About the panelists for The Working People of Philadelphia, Then and Now.

Speakers:

Francis Ryan is graduate program director at Rutgers University’s Masters in Labor and Employment Relations program in New Brunswick, New Jersey. His book AFSCME’s Philadelphia Story: Municipal Workers and Urban Power in the Twentieth Century was published by Temple University Press in 2011. He is the editor of The Memoirs of Wendell W. Young III: A Life in Philadelphia Labor and Politics, forthcoming from Temple University Press.

Sharon McConnell-Sidorick is an independent historian and author. She attended the University of Pennsylvania on a Bread Upon the Waters Scholarship for returning women and graduated with a degree in Anthropology. She received her Ph.D. in History from Temple University. She is the author of Silk Stockings and Socialism: Philadelphia’s Radical Hosiery Workers from the Jazz-Age to the New Deal (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), and has written for Jacobin, H-Net and Pennsylvania History. She wrote the forward for the new edition of Bruce Laurie’s The Working People of Philadelphia, 1800-1850, published by Temple University Press, 2018.

Moderator:

Cynthia Little began her involvement with public history in the 1970s when she was a doctoral student in history at Temple University. She has worked at the Philadelphia Area Cultural Consortium, the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and most recently at the Philadelphia History Museum. She has consulted on public history initiatives including for the local tourism industry and the City of Philadelphia. Many of the projects she created have highlighted labor history.

About The National Endowment for the Humanities

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov

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The Myth of Sexual Violence as Only a Crime Against Women

This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post Sex and the Founding Fathers author Thomas Foster’s recent article about sexual violence that appeared October 24 in The A-Line.

By Thomas A. Foster

In our national discussions about sexual assault and sexism that swirled around the Brett Kavanaugh hearing, we veered toward the historical view of sexual assault as a gendered crime. Men played a variety of roles in this national drama—as perpetrators of sexual violence, as raging patriarchs who have been angered by the audacity of women to accuse men of sexual violations, and as pro-feminist allies—but they did not figure prominently as survivors of sexual assault or harassment.

Indeed, if men figured as victims at all in our national discussions, it was primarily as targets of lying women, as victims of a “vast conspiracy,” as Brett Kavanaugh phrased it in his opening statement before the Senate Judicial Committee. Or, as President Trump put it: “It is a very scary time for young men in America, where you can be guilty of something you may not be guilty of.”

As an historian of sexuality in early America, I cannot hear such assertions without being reminded that the notion that every man should be concerned about the power of women’s false accusations of sexual violence is a very old one. It has always relied on misogyny and an inversion of the realities of our courts and culture—a paranoid, sexist fantasy that places powerful men in positions of vulnerability and vulnerable women in positions of supposed authority.

The book Look e’re you Leap; or, A History of Lewd Women (Boston, 1762), for example, warned men by deploying tales of rejected women who used false accusations of rape and seduction to have their revenge. Newspapers in eighteenth-century America routinely included similar fictional tales and just as many stories of trials and false accusations of rape to extort money. One problem with this fearmongering, as Tyler Kingkade points out, is that men are actually more likely to be victims of sexual assault than of false rape accusations brought by women.

Senator Feinstein prefaced her hearing remarks with the statistic that 1 in 6 men have been victims of sexual assault. Even with significant underreporting, 1 in 5 sexual harassment charges filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission come from men. Other figures confirm sexual violence against men as a significant problem. The Department of Defense reported that of nearly 20,000 reports of sexual violence in 2014, for example, roughly half were from men. Sometimes recognizing the existence of an issue does not mean that we take it seriously. Just as with comments that dismissed Kavanaugh’s alleged assault, sexual violence against incarcerated men is an open secret. All too often, it is treated as a source of humor.

Part of the reason that men have not been largely recognized as victims of sexual violence is that our nation has yet to move beyond the gendered definition of sexual assault established by previous generations. In colonial America, rape was explicitly a gendered crime and it remained defined as a crime against women for centuries. It was often also seen as a crime against the victim’s male guardian, a violation of one man’s patriarchal authority of a female dependent. It was only in the 1970s that states began revising sexual assault laws to include male victims. Only in 2012 did the FBI move away from its definition of rape as a crime against a “female,” a definition that had been in use since 1930 when it began tracking such crimes. The FBI definition, however, still focuses on “penetration” and excludes men who are forced or coerced to penetrate. When a CDC study in 2012 included men who were forced or coerced to penetrate in its study of intimate partner violence, it found that men and women reported relatively equal rates of non-consensual sex. The media reporting on the study, however, reverted to the soundbite that women were “disproportionately affected by sexual violence.”

The women’s liberation movement was effective at helping us recognize that power is at the center of sexual assault, instead of lust, as had been the previous interpretation. Feminism provides the tools for understanding sexual violence against men, even if popular culture has still largely defined sexual assault as a crime against women. Including men in a broader discourse about sexual violence, one that still takes into account gender, forces us to think more about root causes of sexual exploitation, rather than letting expressions of it define the problem in today’s society. One danger of defining sexual violence as a gendered crime is that vast portions of the country will reduce some of what is discussed to boorish behavior rather than expressions of abuse.

A young man who commits the kind of sexual assault that Brett Kavanaugh was accused of, is not only a man who does not respect women; he is a person who abuses power and authority for personal satisfaction and gain. The Kavanaugh hearing has shown us many things about ourselves, including that we have progressed very little in our understanding of root causes of sexual assault, and, I fear, therefore, even less in our ability to prevent it.

The Evangelical Crackup? The Future of the Evangelical-Republican Coalition

This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post an blog entry by Paul Djupe and Ryan Claassen, co-editors of The Evangelical Crackup?, from the blog Religion in Politics.

For academics who study American religion and politics, there has been no greater gift than the 2016 election. Rarely do we get the chance to see the strands pulled apart to reveal the true connections, but the conventional wisdom-breaking campaign of Donald Trump helped us bring some questions into sharper focus. In this post, we’d like to recap a few of the most interesting observations, from some of the top scholars working in (American) religion and politics today, from the volume we edited.

Honestly, we did not foresee that we would produce quite this book. The “?” in the title came later. If everything we thought we knew materialized, evangelicals might have taken a principled stand in rejection of the Republican nominee and his morally-challenged character. Instead, as the venerable scholar of evangelical politics, Clyde Wilcox, posted on Facebook (to the effect of), “I’ve been studying evangelicals for 30 years and don’t know them anymore.” That is a crackup in itself, but it is not the one we thought we would be writing about. Let’s turn to the top 11.

  1. Evangelicals were on their own in the 2016 elections.

One of the most startling realizations of 2016 was that white evangelicals were willing to so warmly embrace a candidate with such a character deficit and dubious religious bona fides. One possible explanation is that white evangelicals were essentially left to their own devices, which Djupe and Calfano explore in Chapter 1. White evangelicals did not know many #NeverTrump evangelical leaders. Their clergy were not speaking out in large numbers and when they did they were perceived as Trump supporters. And evangelicals’ perceptions of elites were strongly colored by their immediate surroundings. The signs point to religious abdication in the 2016 election.

  1. Evangelicals’ presence in the GOP activist ranks continues to grow.

Since the 1970s, religiously involved evangelicals have tripled their presence among Republican activists (at the national convention). They are the only religious group whose representation has increased markedly over time, though religiously engaged Catholics have increased their presence a bit too. So find Layman and Brockway in Chapter 2, characterizing evangelicals as the “life of the party.”

  1. Evangelicals’ shift into the GOP from the 1960s on was driven by racial attitudes more than social issues like abortion.

Picking up Randall Balmer’s thread about the genesis of the Christian Right, Ryan Claassen compares the relative effects of abortion and racial attitudes on Republican voting across the critical time period of 1972 to the present. Of course support for Republicans is linked to abortion attitudes, but the shift over time would not have been so strong without racial conservatism. This provides strong evidence the engine of evangelical voting patterns is racially charged, which resonates with Balmer’s origin story of the Christian Right rooted in opposition to federal civil rights actions.

  1. Republican platform language has become more religious and more strident in the last 2 decades.

Ever since the 1980 national convention, the Republican platform has called for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. But the shift in platform language was just beginning. As Kevin den Dulk describes in “the challenge of pluralism” (Chapter 4), Republicans have increasingly employed religious language and more particularistic religious language. In the near term, the strategy to reinforce the evangelical-Republican fusion makes sense, but in the medium to long term?

  1. Evangelical political tolerance levels have been increasing as their minority status and educational attainment grow.

Even for their most disliked groups, like atheists and gay Americans, evangelicals have grown steadily more tolerant of their basic rights to participate in society. There’s a wonderful tension here between Andrew Lewis’ Chapter 5 findings and den Dulk’s Chapter 4. The explanation for the different approaches to pluralism are fairly obvious, tracking the incentives to elite party leaders versus followers, but would otherwise be out of reach if they were not side by side.

Evangelical Crackup_sm

  1. Young evangelicals are not much different than older ones and young evangelical liberals are in many ways dissimilar from other young liberals.

Prognosticators look to young evangelicals to ascertain the future of evangelical politics.  If the shared culture that made older evangelicals politically distinctive fails to unite young evangelicals in the same way, then the evangelical base of the Republican party may turn out to be the “house built on the sand” (Matthew 7:26).  In Chapter 8 Jeremy Castle examines young, liberal, evangelicals to see whether a crackup is underway.  He finds that, even among young evangelicals, liberal politics remain rare.  More importantly, he finds that evangelical culture continues to shape the attitudes and behavior of the liberal subculture within evangelicalism.  Accordingly, he concludes that the existence of young, liberal evangelicals does not signal that a crackup of the relationship between evangelicals and the Republican party is on the horizon.

  1. Evangelical Latinos are a bridge to the Republican Party.

Latinos have shown a steady drift to the Democratic Party for decades, but the rise of evangelicalism among Latinos in and outside of the US raises questions about whether this trend will continue. It turns out, as Taylor, Gershon, and Pantoya find in Chapter 9, that Latino evangelical Protestants are distinctive – they are more Republican than other Latinos, but they are not as Republican as white evangelicals (see also Burge’s post on this question). For now, Latino evangelicals are a small portion of the population[1], but their numbers are growing – they are the group responsible for stemming the losses among the Southern Baptist Convention, for instance. It remains to be seen what the strident rhetoric and policies from Trump are doing to Latino evangelical support.

  1. Evangelicals are not more insulated from disagreement than others.

Among the reasons given for why evangelicals’ politics are so distinctive is that they pray in an echo chamber – a disagreement-free zone. While it’s true that evangelicals have more church-based friends, they report disagreement in their core social networks at the same rate as other religious groups. Djupe, Neiheisel, and Sokhey find in Chapter 11 that, on average, their networks feature partisan disagreement among a quarter to a third of their discussion partners. This does not mean that they respond in the same ways to disagreement, but that question remains for another project – in fact, a related question is investigated in Chapter 12.

  1. Evangelicals may have come to the Republican fold for the culture, but they stay for the economics.

McGauvran and Oldmixon dispel notions in Chapter 15 that evangelicals are not on board with free market economics of the Republican Party (putting aside Trump’s violation of that orthodoxy in terms of free trade). However, there is a good bit of nuance that is worth thinking about. Evangelicals have gained in socio-economic status in the last 40 years and income helps solidify evangelical support for conservative economic policies. Interestingly, so does more engagement in evangelical religious communities. There’s quite the research question hiding in plain sight for the researcher with congregational data.

  1. Young evangelicals react more negatively to their parents than non-evangelicals.

Observers have focused a great deal of attention on young evangelicals, thinking that they cannot possibly share the same racially tinged politics as their parents and grandparents. Dan Cox, Robbie Jones and colleagues look for signs of better intergroup relations and find an interesting pattern. Young evangelicals feel less warmly toward the evangelical label when they are surrounded by fellow evangelicals in their social networks; on the other hand they embrace evangelicalism more when they do face diversity. This result does not portend a crackup within evangelicalism any time soon, though it is important to note that the analysis does not include former evangelicals – those who have left the faith tradition for whatever reason (and that list is likely to include political disagreement).

  1. Evangelicals have consolidated or perhaps are demonstrating ‘ironic continuities’.

We were lucky to have Robert Wuthnow and John Green offer concluding comments on our guiding question and their conclusions do not differ except in shading. Wuthnow notes that while everything has changed since the 1980s, evangelicals have remained consistent in their Republican support. That fact pushes him to distinguish ‘political evangelicalism’ from the religious practice of ‘evangelicalism.’ Green is on the same page as far as identifying the consolidation of evangelicals at the core of the Republican Party, emphasizing their political fit and shared identity, but does not admit to sharing a sense of irony about it.

These are just a few of the nuggets that appear in The Evangelical Crackup. You can also find work on religious authority (Ryan Burge), the spread of ‘In God We Trust’ mottos (Tobin Grant and Joshua Mitchell), new measurement schemes for evangelicals (Tobin Grant and David Searcy), the distribution of the Christian Right and Left in the states (Kim Conger), in addition to a sustained treatment of Christian conservative legal organizations at the heart of so many current and enduring disputes (Dan Bennett). Djupe taught these chapters while they were in press and really enjoyed the conversation across chapters. The ability to talk about the development of the movement’s connections to the GOP and the near comprehensive examination of evangelicals across units of analysis certainly belie easy assumptions about evangelicals, but also offer a compendium of findings that should be of interest to researchers as well.

Paul A. Djupe, Denison University Political Science, is an affiliated scholar with PRRI, the series editor of Religious Engagement in Democratic Politics (Temple), and co-creator of religioninpublic.blog (see his list of posts). Further information about his work can be found at his website and on Twitter.

Ryan L. Claassen, Kent State University Political Science, is author of Godless Democrats and Pious Republicans (2015) and author and coauthor of numerous political science articles. Further information about his work can be found at his website.


Notes

1. In the 2016 CCES, those with an Hispanic identity constitute just over 7% of the sample (4747/64600) and 570-630 of them (depending on the measurement strategy) are evangelical – 12.6% of Latinos and about 1% of the total sample.

The Utility of Women’s Caucuses in Today’s Political Climate

This week in North Philly NotesAnna Mitchell Mahoney, author of Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures, writes about the importance of women and bipartisan caucuses.

The toxic masculinity displayed perpetually by politicians and tracked by scholars (https://www.genderwatch2018.org/) in our current political climate reminds us of the importance of formal and intentional women’s spaces. Women’s organizations inside and outside of institutions serve many purposes including strategic planning and action for policy change as well as support for women who do disproportionate amounts of household, professional, and emotional labor. My book, Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures: The Creation of Women’s Caucuses, examines under what conditions women state legislators carve out a space for themselves within legislatures where men make up three-quarters of members.

Women Take Their Place in State Legislatures_smThe more things change, the more they stay the same.

My research found that many of the reasons women formed caucuses in the 1970s and 1980s are very similar to the motivations of today’s women caucus entrepreneurs. The bias and exclusion women felt when they were increasing their numbers in state legislatures continued to be reported by the women legislators I interviewed between 2009-2013 when their numbers plateaued around 24%. Apart from experiences of discrimination, women also reported wanting relationships with other women who shared their experiences as a woman in politics to learn from them and feel supported. This year has seen an increase in the number of women filing to run for state legislative seats (https://www.genderwatch2018.org/). If more women enter legislatures, will they seek out women’s only spaces?

What is in it for them?

In 2016, 22 states have such organizations whose missions vary from agenda setting policy caucuses, to those who take up policies on an ad hoc basis, to those whose primary mission is social – supporting each other as women, no policy consensus necessary. These caucuses allow legislators to express certain identities, signifying themselves as experts in certain policy areas and advocates for certain constituencies. Caucuses help members build relationships and gain information useful for accomplishing their goals. These groups also provide opportunities for leadership. Other studies have shown, depending on the proportion of women in the majority party, the presence of a women’s caucus may be correlated with higher proportions of women in leadership positions, increasing their status within the institution, getting them closer to the reins of power themselves (Kanthak and Krause 2012). Savvy entrepreneurs who want to strengthen women’s caucuses use many of these arguments when trying to motivate other women to join while simultaneously refuting counterclaims that women no longer need these spaces or that bipartisan caucuses themselves are inappropriate.

What is in it for all of us?

In light of today’s hyper-partisanship, one may ask what use a bipartisan caucus is, especially if it is only social in nature. Does it really matter? If the other side is populated by traitors and extremists, why even attempt relationships? In subsequent research, my colleague Mirya Holman and I found that states with women’s caucuses (even those that were only social) had an increased co-sponsorship rate among women indicating that policy outcomes are possible – even when policy is taken explicitly off the table for the caucus. Further, during the Kavanaugh hearings, much was made of the bipartisan relationship between Senator Coons and Senator Flake.  Bipartisan, personal relationships never go out of style in legislatures – even if they are strained during hyper partisan times (Victor and Ringe 2009).

Bipartisan caucuses are one place such relationships are formed in legislatures that prioritize partisan loyalty and gender norm expectations. In addition to the benefits for participants, women’s caucuses make three significant interventions to legislative institutions. First, by creating a legislative organization that signifies gender as politically salient, women legislators are challenging the false gender neutrality of politics. In my book, I make visible male dominance within these institutions that many consider androgynous. Observers may note this advantage in the social norms of legislatures where men call out women for speaking in groups larger than pairs, where men exclude women from social gatherings where they actually make the deals, and through more formal processes where party leaders concentrate women legislators in less powerful committee appointments and exclude them from leadership positions.

Second, the establishment of women’s caucuses inside male-dominated legislative institutions can provide a safe space for marginalized legislators to support each other, as well as help develop and refine legislative initiatives. Caucuses are a way to counteract institutional norms that may require women to play a man’s game, adopt a particular political persona, or adhere to someone else’s definition of appropriate political priorities. When gender norms are challenged or broadened in a public space like legislatures, the possibilities for all women grow.

Finally, as conduits for advocacy organizations into the legislature, women’s caucuses may contribute to better representation for many different constituencies.  These potential interventions are significant and indicate the importance of these organizations beyond the adoption (or not) of women-friendly policy.

Scholars must continue to probe the value or necessity of these bipartisan organizations. One day they may no longer be necessary as women are wholly incorporated into the institutions in which they serve. However, it may be that women will always seek comradery and support from those with similar lived experiences, regardless of how far their workplaces come in accommodating their presence. For now, the symbolic importance of women’s spaces within male-dominated institutions continues to signal that women belong in office and women can work together (even if in limited ways). More tangibly, the handful of women’s caucuses that participate in recruiting and training women for campaigns hold out hope that they may have a few new members come next session.

References

Kanthak, Kristin, and George A. Krause. 2012. The Diversity Paradox: Political Parties, Legislatures, and the Organizational Foundations of Representation in America. New York: Oxford University Press.

Victor, Jennifer Nicholl and Nils Ringe. 2009. “The Social Utility of Informal Institutions: Caucuses as Networks in the 110th U.S. House of Representatives.” American Politics Research. 37(5): 742-766.

 

 

 

Celebrating Banned Books Week with a University Press community response to censorship

This week in North Philly Notes, in honor of Banned Books Week, we repost an article by Claire Kirch that appeared in Publishers Weekly on September 13, about Target’s practice of redacting certain key words in the product descriptions of their books and how the University Press community responded. 

Publishers Call Out Target for ‘Censoring’ Book Descriptions

A number of publishers, most of them university presses, are taking Target Corporation to task for redacting certain key words in the product descriptions of their books. They say the Minneapolis-based chain retailer has scrubbed certain words from their descriptions, including “transgender,” “queer,” and even the term “Nazi.”

While some of the redacted product descriptions were corrected by Wednesday morning, a number of publishers say their product descriptions currently contain asterisks instead of key words.

PW reached out to Target’s public relations department several times about the glitch but, as of press time, had received no response.

Heather Gernenz, publicity manager at the University of Illinois Press, said Cáel Keegan, the author of the November release Lana and Lilly Wachowski, alerted the press on Monday that the word “transgender” had been replaced in three places by asterisks in the product description on Target.com. The book is about transgender siblings,

Gernenz requested online that the description be corrected. And, although the product description for the paperback edition of the title was quickly changed, Gernenz had to make a second request before the description for the hardcover edition was updated by Wednesday morning.

Publishers told PW that Target.com has fixed some initially-altered product descriptions. But several books having to do with LGBTQ issues continue to feature redacted words, such as We Make It Better: The LGBTQ Community and their Positive Contributions to Society (Mango, Oct.) by Eric Rosswood and Kathleen Archambeau; and Trans: A Quick and Quirky Account of Gender Variability (Univ. of Calif. Press, Jan.) by Jack Halberstam.

Titles with LGBTQ themes are not the only ones being affected on Target.com, either. Some publishers told PW that their books about Nazi Germany also contain redactions. For example, Adolf Hitler’s last name along with the term “Nazi,” have been scrubbed from the product description of World War II: The illustrated Story of the Second World War by John Burns (Classic Illustrated Comics, 2015).

As it happens, Target has redacted words from book product descriptions before. In late December, Nina Packebush tweeted about the fact that the word “queer” had been removed from the product description of her YA novel, Girls Like Me (Bedazzled Ink, 2017), about a pregnant teen who identifies as pansexual.

Packebush told PW on Wednesday that a Target representative had responded to her complaint by explaining that the company regarded the word “queer” as a slur, and thus removed it from the description. After pressure from Packebush, her publisher, and others, the word was put back into the product description by January 6. Subsequently, however, Target replaced the word “queer” with “trans.” The change, Packebush points out, leaves the site with an inaccurate reference to the book’s protagonist.

According to Ohio State University Press director Tony Sanfilippo, Target’s move might be a well-meaning policy gone awry. “I understand that they might want to avoid controversy. But if they want to keep Nazis off their site, or Nazi-themed products out of their search results, there are ways of doing that that don’t censor. If you can’t say ‘Nazi,’ you can’t stop Nazis. And if you can’t search for books about the trans community and trans issues, your search engine and your corporate philosophy are morally flawed.”

Claire Kirch is the Midwest correspondent for Publishers Weekly.

Copyright (c) 2018 Publishers Weekly PWxyz LLC. Used by permission.

A Q&A with Judge Nelson A. Diaz

This week in North Philly Notes, an interview with Nelson A. Diaz, about his inspiring new autobiography, Not from Here, Not from There.

You came to America as a child—literally—in your mother’s belly. Can you discuss the experience of being part of the wave of Puerto Rican immigrants post-World War II?
During the 1940’s and 1950’s, many Puerto Ricans came to New York in search of greater job opportunities because the economic hardships confronting Puerto Rico after WWII. My mother came to New York to provide a better life for me. She was a woman who was ahead of her time because she was a working mom at a time when most mothers stayed at home with their children. She did not have a choice. She worked as a seamstress in a factory to make ends meet. Although I grew up in very humble circumstances, my mother always provided the example of love, hard work, and faith. The Marine Tiger where she landed was a famous ship used in WWII for transport of soldiers and many came to the shores of NY the same way having American citizenship since 1917. Public Policy in the availability of Public Housing made a major difference in our lives.

You grew up in Harlem and had some hardscrabble experiences. What was that period of your life like?  You talk about being in fear at age 15. What helped you get through that time and not just survive, but thrive?
Growing up in poverty does not give you many options. Violence, gangs, and drugs are all around. I had a lot of problems in school much of which stemmed from my inability to speak and read in both English and Spanish. Trying to live in two different worlds – Puerto Rican culture and American culture – was difficult. I was not doing well in school and was always struggling to get better grades. At the age of 15, I went from being a D student to an A student in one year through the saving grace of the church.

Through faith, I felt hope. Hope for my future, an expectation that better things lied ahead and a strong desire to work hard for it. Through faith, I no longer felt unworthy and I knew that I could achieve greater things, not only for myself but also for others. The intervention of people in my life made a difference.

Not From Here_smYou faced considerable discrimination in Philadelphia (e.g., passing the bar). Was there a particular experience that made you learn and grow?
Growing up as a poor Puerto Rican kid from Harlem, I always had to overcome the barriers of stereotypical attitudes: a school counselor who believes that you are not college material, or institutional or systemic bias in law schools and government, or law firms and corporate boards that lack diversity even though there are highly qualified people of color. That is why civil and human rights are important issues that I have spent my life fighting for. I have spent a lifetime breaking barriers so others can walk through the doors—whether it was becoming a founding member of Black Law Students Association and the Federation of Puerto Rican Students because I understood the power of coalitions of interest; or becoming a community activist to protest the lack of diversity and open up law school doors for others; or promoting economic development in the Latino community; or becoming the first Puerto Rican White House Fellow, where I worked for Vice President Mondale and was able to promote Latino diversity in the political arena and influence public policy both domestically and internationally; or becoming the first Latino judge in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; or becoming the first minority administrative judge and presiding over court reforms that brought seven years of backlogged cases to the present and saved the courts millions of dollars; or fighting for the human rights of Soviet Jews; or becoming the first American judge to sit on a Japanese Court; or fighting against segregation in housing nationwide; or promoting the inclusion and promotion of minority and women lawyers in the profession; or fighting for diversity on corporate boards. I may have been the first, but I did not want to be the last!

The history of anyone but Caucasian who had passed the Pennsylvania Bar demonstrates that until the Liacouras Bar Committee found discrimination in the Bar exam the Commonwealth of PA since its founding, the bar had only admitted 67 African Americas and no Latinos before 1969 when I entered Law School. It was apparent that it was impossible to believe that I might get admitted and the city was so segregated by neighborhoods with continuous racial conflict between neighborhood boundaries.

Eventually, your career took off with appointments as the General Counsel at HUD, and as a city solicitor who helped with immigration issues. Can you describe your experiences?
The White House Fellows program gave me an education on the world and lifted my profile in my professional life.  The Judicial appointment and election also changed the public perspective of me. Both of these appointments, including the Administrative Judge title, were avenues of increasing diversity in the workplace. Although I was flattered to have been asked to by Henry Cisneros, who is a trailblazer and friend, to become his General Counsel at HUD, I did not want to go to Washington, DC. Henry was persistent and I eventually agreed. By breaking another barrier—becoming the first minority General Counsel—I was determined to increase the numbers of minority and women lawyers hired, retained and promoted because of the shocking lack of diversity among the government attorneys. I have always felt that the inclusion of minorities and women is an important step to changing systemic bias that exists in most institutions. As Latinos, we need to select our own leaders and continue to help each other climb the ladder of success.

Your book’s title is curious, it suggests a lack of belonging. Can you discuss that?
The title of my book, “I am not from here and I am not from there/No soy de aqui, ni de alla,” is about being a Puerto Rican born and raised in New York. We are not accepted here because of stereotypes and prejudice and yet not accepted as Puerto Rican from the Islanders because we were born in the States. It begs the question so where do we belong? That is a difficult barrier to overcome. You continue striving for excellence, inclusion, and moving the agenda forward so there is equality for all. There are many examples of rejection on both sides of the Atlantic both professionally and community where Puerto Ricans resided.

My parents lived most of their lives in Puerto Rico while I lived all of my life in the United States. I visited regularly since the age of 10 was educated in the issues of both countries, despite my professional capacity and assistance was there rarely an opinion they sought or cared particularly as you can see from the major Hurricane Maria. When they used my help it was limited to educate their officials and not my expertise which normally was ignored. That never gave me pause to keep trying wherever possible.

Do you think you achieved the American Dream?
Latinos positively contribute to the wellbeing of this great country. My story demonstrates some of the many ways, Latinos contribute to America. I hope that this book is seen in a bigger context than just my story. In the backdrop of the negative and racist attitudes about Latinos being only “criminals and rapists” my story is one of many, Latinos who work hard every day to put food on the table, house their families as best as they can and educate their children to have equal opportunities for the future. Isn’t that what everyone wants – the American Dream? History has eliminated most of our contribution and we fail to tell the story of how we have made America better.  My book will hopefully inspire young people to strive for a better life.

In winning U.S. House primary, Ilhan Omar breaks barriers and sets an example

This week in North Philly Notes, we re-post a recent editorial, written by Stefanie Chambers, author of Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus that appeared in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune about Ilhan Omar winning the U.S. House primary.

Ilhan Omar’s victory Aug. 14 in the DFL primary for Congress is a cause for celebration. Her triumph is especially gratifying for those in Minnesota and beyond who value opportunity and democratic inclusion.

Omar is well-positioned to become the first Somali-American and female Muslim member of the U.S. House. Moreover, she may enter the House with another Muslim woman, Rashida Tlaib, who won a Democratic primary in Michigan.

Omar’s political rise from state representative to congressional candidate implores us to consider how she achieved so much political success — against the backdrop of rising hostile and hate-filled rhetoric aimed at both Somalis and Muslim Americans — in a few short years.

In 2016 Omar was elected to the Minnesota Legislature, becoming the first Somali-American elected to a state house. She was an against-the-odds candidate, because Somali-Americans are often viewed with suspicion even in the communities they call home. Her election provided the media with a positive story about new Americans thriving in our democracy.

Omar’s success is a sharp contrast to the negativity espoused by America’s current president. During a 2016 campaign stop, then-candidate Donald Trump failed to acknowledge the progress being made in the Twin Cities to incorporate Somali refugees into the fabric of the larger community. Rather, out of ignorance or political expediency, he reiterated many misperceptions about such refugees, stating, “Here in Minnesota you have seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state, without your knowledge, without your support or approval.”

Trump went on to falsely state that “everybody’s reading about the disaster taking place in Minnesota.”

During Omar’s 2017 appearance on “The Daily Show,” she told host Trevor Noah, “I am America’s hope and the president’s nightmare.”

SomalisintheTwinCitiesThe hope that Omar mentions was apparent when I was conducting fieldwork in the Twin Cities in 2014 for my book Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus. At the time, Omar was a City Council staffer, already a well-known presence in the community and a source of inspiration to young Somali men and women.

During one interview with a group of Somali youth leaders, one woman told me: “She fights for what she believes in and has a public presence. We admire her willingness to stand up for the things she believes are right. She’s smart and knows how the system works. … She’s our mentor.”

This aligns with the theory that when young people have role models in public life they’re more likely to feel included and consider careers in public service, I suspect many young Somalis/Muslims were inspired by her historic first.

Omar’s victory is not the only Somali-American political success story in Minnesota. There are now several Somali-Americans in elective office. Others have run unsuccessfully. With so few women or people of color running for office proportionally in the United States, this trend is promising.

The success in Minnesota is also the result of innovative initiatives by political, business and charitable leaders in the state to expand opportunities and incorporation of Somali refugees and other recent immigrants. Outreach efforts have led to employment of Somalis in state and local government agencies and police departments. A growing number of Somali-Americans hold positions of leadership in labor unions.

Indeed, the Twin Cities are often viewed as a model for innovation by policymakers from regions around the world struggling to incorporate refugees into their communities. The combination of so many Somali-Americans’ desire to serve the public and the receptiveness of various community leaders has created opportunities for a group often vilified and condemned by white nationalists and their panderers.

We should all be proud of Ilhan Omar and the other Somali-American Minnesotans who have chosen public service in order to strengthen their communities. Political and economic leaders in other states should take a close look at how Minnesota has opened doors for new Americans eager to be part of our democracy.

Stefanie Chambers is professor of political science and chair at Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., and author of Somalis in the Twin Cities and Columbus: Immigrant Incorporation in New Destinations, published by Temple University Press. She is producing the documentary Dreaming in Somali: New Americans in the Twin Cities.

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