Fernando Ortiz Today

This week in North Philly Notes, Robin Moore, editor of Fernando Ortiz on Music, writes about the relevance and influence of Ortiz’s writing on Cuban music, history, and culture

Who is Fernando Ortiz, why should anyone care about what he wrote, and what does he have to offer to readers today? Those are important questions, especially given that Ortiz lived and wrote many years ago; that his writings focus primarily on black music in other countries; and that—as an author trained in late nineteenth-century Europe—he inherited many biases toward Afro-descendant expression. As such, some of his observations sound dated or even racist by the standards of the present day. The relevance of his writings in 2018 may not be immediately apparent to everyone.

I first became acquainted with a few of Ortiz’s books as a graduate student at the University of Texas in the early 1990s. I planned to write a dissertation on Cuban music, and Ortiz loomed large as an individual who undertook the first detailed studies of Afro-Cuban culture in that country, based in large part on ground-breaking ethnographic excursions and interviews. His work was impressive in many respects: he published tremendous amounts of material, many thousands of pages over the course his career, and on a wide array of topics. He read widely in half a dozen languages. His knowledge of Cuban history and access to primary and secondary sources supporting such work were extraordinary. Fernando Ortiz on MusicSMIt became clear to me that countless individuals interested in black history, African-influenced languages in the new world, drumming and dance traditions, Afro-descendant religions, the Atlantic slave trade, and other topics had drawn heavily on Ortiz as they pursued academic work in the US, the Caribbean, South America, and elsewhere. Those influenced by his work in the U.S., for example, include the dancer Katherine Dunham; the anthropologist and founder of black studies in the United States, Melville Herskovits; and the art historian Robert Farris Thompson. Simply put, Ortiz was very influential; and if his work had written in English rather than Spanish, I am certain that it would have met an even more enthusiastic reception internationally.

Cuba, along with a few other Latin American/Caribbean countries, has a unique cultural profile because of the large numbers of enslaved Africans brought the island, and the fact that many of them arrived rather late (clandestinely the slave trade continued there well into the 1870s). In broad strokes, Cuba and the United States share a history of European colonization, the decimation of local indigenous populations, and the use of slave labor. Yet the fact that free and enslaved Africans and their descendants have constituted a majority of the island’s population for most of the past two centuries, and that African-derived traditions have been re-created in overt ways there, means that Cuba looks and sounds very different from the United States. I find that the study of Cuban music and history suggests interesting points of comparison for those based in the U.S. It helps us recognize similar Afrodescendant cultural influences in our own country. Cuba’s music and dance traditions that blend influences from West Africa and Europe are quite similar to our own, providing insights into processes of cultural fusion and how Afro-descendant cultures manifest themselves in repertoire such as black gospel. Reading about Cuban and Caribbean history helps us situate US history within a broader framework and makes us realizes that our “unique” cultural forms — from rap to blues to jazz — emerged out of broader processes.

Not only do I find the ethnographic data in Ortiz’s work still broadly relevant, but I consider even his ideological flaws and limitations to be instructive. The post-WWII period, which represents the apex of Ortiz’s career, was one in which leading authors throughout Europe and the Americas began to seriously question racist beliefs about non-European people for the first time. Much of this soul-searching was inspired by the Nazis and their horrendously racist views of non-Arian people, of course, as well as political challenges to colonial rule in Asia, Africa, and elsewhere. Ortiz’s struggles with entrenched Eurocentric points of view, notions of racial and cultural hierarchy, and the “proper place” of Afrodescendant culture within his country represent a corollary to similar debates taking place throughout the Western world and beyond. Including Ortiz in the study of racial debates of the era expands our understanding of such discourse beyond the spheres of U.S. and European academia. It helps “decenter” that literature by underscoring the important contributions and perspectives of those in developing countries. And it helps us better appreciate the true extent of slavery’s impact on politics, culture, and ideology throughout the Western hemisphere.


Revisiting The Kerner Report, 50 Years Later

This week in North Philly Notes, we look at the Kerner Report 50 years later, and our new book,  Healing Our Divided Society edited by Fred Harris and Alan Curtis. 

Following the terrible summer of 1967 disorders in many American cities, like Detroit and Newark, then-President Lyndon Johnson appointed a bipartisan citizens investigative commission, the Kerner Commission, to analyze the sources of unrest and propose solutions.

On February 29, 1968, the Commission issued its historic report which concluded, “Our nation is moving toward two societies, one black, one white – separate and unequal.”

The Commission recommended significant, long run federal government-led progress in reducing poverty, income inequality, wealth inequality and racial injustice in America.

Healing Our Divided Society_smHealing Our Divided Society is a fifty year update of the Kerner Commission, a kind of Kerner Report 2.0, edited by Fred Harris, former U.S. Senator and the last surviving member of the Commission, and Alan Curtis, President of Eisenhower Foundation, the private sector continuation of the Commission—along with contributions by a 23-member National Advisory Council of distinguished Americans, including Nobel Prize winner in Economics Joseph Stiglitz, Children’s Defense Fund President Marian Wright Edelman, and Stanford University Professor Emeritus and Learning Policy Institute President and CEO Linda Darling-Hammond.

“In Healing Our Divided Society,” writes former Secretary of State John Kerry,” Senator Harris and Dr. Curtis have curated brilliant pieces authored by a diverse group of respected experts and activists, to examine the places we’ve gone wrong and wrestle with what we must do to live up to the promise of our country, and respond at last to the alarm bell of the Kerner Report.”

Occupied by the Vietnam War and concerned about the legacy of his domestic policy, President Johnson rejected the “two societies” warning.  But leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy strongly endorsed the Kerner Report in 1968.

Since then, Healing Our Divided Society concludes that there has been only some progress, much of it in the late 1960s and in the 1970s—yet we have learned what works and must assemble “new will” among a broad-based coalition of Americans to legislate a better life for the poor, working class and middle class of all races in the nation.

Over the 50 years since the Kerner Commission, we have elected an African-American president.  There has been an increase in the number of other African-American and Hispanic/Latino elected officials and an expansion of the African-American and Hispanic/Latino middle class.

Yet there has not been nearly enough progress, and, in some ways, things have gotten no better or have gotten worse over the last 50 years.

Celebrating the Olympics and Black History Month

This week in North Philly Notes, we pay tribute to both the Olympics and Black History Month by reposting our Q&A with Tommie Smith for his book Silent Gesture.

Q: Congratulations on your book. Why did you wait almost 40 years to tell your story?
A: My life wasn’t ready to be told in story until there was a closure with my athletic, teaching, and coaching career. The time I needed to devote to such an adventure was too great. You have to begin somewhere to be great. The race began in 1968 and now it is time to tell the journey of “how did I get to this race, and where did I go when it was over?”

Q: You say you “never regretted” your actions on the victory stand, “and never will”—that it was, as you write—”something I felt I had no choice in doing.” Did you think at the time that your protest would become one of the most famous protests in sports history?
A: I do not feel remorseful about the act on the victory stand as it was an act of “faith.” Because I believe in “hope” for our changing society, the evidence of non-equality had to be challenged. At the time, my “visual” on the victory stand was not thought of as a portrait to be classified as a picture of history, but as a cry for freedom.

Q: Do you think that such a protest could take place now?
A: Making the same gesture now is defeat; let us repeat the cry with sounds of understanding and deliverance.
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“This is a book about principle, commitment, belief; and consequences. And the consequences of consequences. Tommie Smith says his gesture was done in the name of human rights, and in these pages, he offers himself up, in the fullest-the complexity, the scars, the pain, and the affirmation of his own humanity. Should there ever be an appointed time, would that I might show half the commitment and courage. Bravissimo!”
Delroy Lindo

Q: Can you briefly describe the Olympic Project for Human Rights and discuss your participation in it?
A: The Olympic Project for Human Rights was a non-violent platform used in the athletic arena as a cry for freedom. It originated on the San Jose State University campus in 1967. I was one athlete who chose to involve myself for the human rights issues.

Q: You and your family received death threats and hate mail before and after Mexico City. Were you prepared for this? How did you handle living in fear?
A: My family received hate mail and death threats which altered our daily routine, but we had to continue to remain calm and socially aware. There are still some [people] who do not change and there are some who have made progress.

Q: You have been “forever linked” with John Carlos (Bronze medal winner at the 1968 Mexico City games) on and off since the Olympics. How has your relationship with him been over the years since your “silent gesture”?
A: I had not known John Carlos until my senior year in college, in 1967. Since then, my response to John has been a respectful acquaintance.

Q: You talk about how San Jose State welcomed you back and dedicated a statue to you and John Carlos. How have attitudes towards you—and your actions—changed over time?
A: When I returned to the San Jose State University for the statue dedication, attitudes were fresh, warm and respectful. The student body and administration was knowledgeable and unafraid in their quest to identify pioneers from the past and ideally, former students such as John Carlos and me.

Q: You have worked as a track & field coach and talk about your coaches in Silent Gesture. Do you have any particular mentors and coaches that influenced you?
A: There are two coaches in my past that I will forever remember because of their knowledge and their social attitude. They were positive “in the time of need.” Lloyd C. “Bud” Winter, my college coach and Bill Walsh, my professional football area coach with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Q: Silent Gesture dispels the rumors that you were a member of the Black Panthers. Your book also clears the record that the Mexico City Olympic Committee did not take for your medals back, or throw you out of the Olympic Village. Can you discuss these rumors?
A: Tommie Smith has never been a Black Panther. I am still in possession of my gold medal—I won the race fair and square, and so the medal is mine. I stayed in the Olympic Village until the race was over, and I returned the next day to get my belongings. As I was leaving, the press was everywhere, so kicking me out of the Olympic Village was a “helpful exit.”

Q: I understand at one point in time you were interested in selling your medals. Is that true? Why did you consider this?
A: I will answer a question with a question…Can you find a Humanitarian donor for $500,000?

Q: You are a hero to many for your actions—who were your heroes?
A: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who had a Dream of Freedom and Equality, and my father, Richard Smith, who taught me pain is obvious, but how you react is not.

Q:  What do you think yo ur legacy will be?
A: I want to leave a legacy that says, “Tommie Smith was a Man who also had a Dream and a Vision and his Standing was not in vain.”


The origins of the Gender Wage Gap and The Cost of Being a Girl

This week in North Philly Notes, Yasemin Besen-Cassino, author of The Cost of Being a Girl: Working Teens and the Origins of the Gender Wage Gapreveals her findings about how the origins of the gender wage gap begin as teens enter the workforce. 


In the past few weeks, we have been bombarded with news from all over the world on gender inequality in the workplace. From Hollywood to media to politics, many sectors point to unequal pay in the workplace as well as other problems such as sexual harassment. Unequal pay has been a systematic problem of workplaces and women’s lives. A wide range of discipline and approaches have offered explanations to this persistent problem. Some have focused on the women and have argued the women have lower pay because of their own characteristics- they study different topics, have lower education, less job experience especially because they leave the workforce due to childcare and parental leave. Some have focused on occupational characteristics: women and men are concentrated in different jobs, different sectors and different positions. Women’s positions tend to pay less and have less authority. No matter how they looked at the pay, there always remained an unexplained portion: the cost of being a woman. As I studied these dominant theories, I sat at a coffee shop, where a teenage barista brought my coffee. It occurred to me at that coffee shop that we were looking at this problem all wrong. Even though the focus of the theories seemed different (workers vs. jobs), almost all the studies on the wage gap studied the same population: the adult workforce. However, work experience does not begin with the completion of formal education. Many teenagers work while still in school as working part-time while still school is a quintessentially American phenomenon. Therefore, work experience, and potentially the wage gap starts long before the start of “real” jobs. In The Cost of Being a Girl, I look at a substantial yet previously neglected portion of the workforce: teenage workers. Focusing on this group includes a previously understudied portion of our workforce to offer a more comprehensive understanding. More importantly, the teenage workforce is like a social laboratory: at these early ages these typical explanations of the wage gap “women have babies” “women leave the workforce” “women do more house work” are not relevant. If we look at 12-13 year-olds: they do not have spouses, they don’t have children. They are at the same education and skill level: what happens when we look at the wage gap?

  • Using NLSY data, I find that 12- and 13-year-old boys and girls have equal pay. Once they become 14 and 15, we see the emergence of the first wage gap which widens with age.
  • Some individual characteristics, such as race and age, exacerbate the wage gap. Age makes the wage gap wider—the older girls get, the wider the gap; African American girls have an even wider pay gap
  • The types of jobs are important too: girls remain in freelance jobs whereas boys move into employee type jobs. Even within employee type jobs, girls are put in positions to deal with difficult customers, do more aesthetic labor (buy more clothes to fit the look) and are less likely to deal with money.
  • Girls are expected as part of their jobs to buy the clothes and products they are selling to maintain the look of the company; as such, many girls end up accumulating credit card debt.
  • Among freelance jobs: girls tend to do babysitting. Through informal networks, their job description changes, includes unpaid hours and many other chores, whereas many boys who babysit have higher pay, little unpaid hours and clear job descriptions.
  • Experiments show that potential employers are not willing to give female babysitters raises: if she shows a connection to the child, and asks for money, she is seen as manipulative. If she does not show an attachment, she is seen as cold. Either way, care is seen in opposition to money, and asking for money is discouraged.
  • These early jobs also have long-term effects. With the longitudinal data set, I find that women, many years later, experience the effects of having worked as a teenager. Early work experiences benefit men but not women: results in lower pay for women. Especially girls who have worked in apparel sector report feeling overweight years later.
  • Girls are given mixed messages: they are told they can be anything they want at home and school but they are discouraged because they experience firsthand the problems of the workplace.
  • Girls are less likely to report serious issues in jobs like sexual harassment because they feel it is “not their real job.”

Temple University Press’s 2017 Best Sellers

This week in North Philly Notes, we showcase our most popular books of the past year: The Top 10 best sellers of 2017!

  1. Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden Cityby Joseph E. B. Elliott, Nathaniel Popkin, and Peter Woodall. Revealing the physical and cultural intricacies of Philadelphia, from the intimate to the monumental.
  2. The Man-Not: Race, Class, Genre, and the Dilemmas of Black Manhoodby Tommy J. Curry. Introduces the conceptual foundations for Black Male Studies, going beyond gender theories that cast the Black Male as a pathological aspiring patriarch.
  3. The Forest and the Trees: Sociology as Life, Practice, and Promise, Third Editionby Allan G. Johnson. An updated exploration of sociology as a way of thinking.
  4.  Tasting Freedom: Octavius Catto and the Battle for Equality in Civil War America, by Daniel R. Biddle and Murray Dubin. The life and times of the extraordinary Octavius Catto, and the first civil rights movement in America.
  5. The New Eagles Encyclopedia, Ray Didinger with Robert Lyons. The best-selling book on the Philadelphia Eagles, completely updated and expanded.
  6. The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics, Revised and Expanded Edition, by George Lipsitz. A widely influential book—revised to reveal racial privilege at work in the 21st century.
  7. Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts: Charting the Future of Teaching the Past, by Sam Wineburg, How do historians know what they know?
  8. We Make the Road by Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change, by Myles Horton and Paulo Freire, edited by Brenda Bell, John Gaventa, and John Peters. Two pioneers of education discuss their diverse experiences and ideas.
  9. Believing in Cleveland: Managing Decline in “The Best Location in the Nation,” by J. Mark Souther. Explores how civic and business leaders used image-making in an effort to reimagine and revive Cleveland in the decades after World War II.
  10. Phil Jasner “On the Case:” His Best Writing on the Sixers, the Dream Team, and Beyond, edited by Andy Jasner. Three decades of reporting by renowned Philadelphia Hall of Fame sportswriter Phil Jasner.


What Temple University Press staff wants to give and gift this holiday season

This week in North Philly Notes, the staff at Temple University Press suggest the Temple University Press books they would give along with some non-Temple University Press titles they hope to read and receive this holiday season. 

Mary Rose Muccie, Director

1761_reg.gifGive: Just in time for Christmas, we’ve reprinted P Is for Philadelphia, an alphabet book, beautifully illustrated by Philly school children, that celebrates everything that makes the city great. I’ll be giving it to my 7-year-old niece, Hailey, and can’t wait to read it with her.

Get: Earlier this year I read a review of The Bedlam Stacks, by Natasha Pulley and have had it on my list ever since. Set in mid-1800’s Peru, it’s a combination of science fiction and fantasy, mystery and adventure. If I don’t get it, I’ll be giving it to myself!

Irene Imperio, Advertising and Promotions Manager
Give: P Is for Philadelphia. Although Amazon doesn’t have copies we do!!!  And it’s fun for the whole family!

Karen Baker, Financial Manager2427_reg.gif
Give: I would give We Decide!, by Michael Menser, to my son-in-law because he is very interested in politics and democracy.

Get: I would like to receive I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart because I think he is hilarious.

Ryan Mulligan, Editor 

GiveThe Cost of Being a Girl I’ve discovered while publishing this book that there are people on Twitter who search for the phrase “wage gap” just to tell anyone who happens to be talking about it that the concept is a myth – that women’s wages are lower because they have less experience on average and go into lower-paying fields.

2400_reg.gifThe irony is, this book takes that contention head-on by looking at a population where all labor is equally unqualified and low-skilled: teenage workers entering the workforce for the first time in fields like retail and food service. Even here though, Besen-Cassino shows us that male workers are fast-tracked towards management, while female workers are pegged for “aesthetic labor” and “emotional work” that pays less and takes a significant toll on the worker’s well-being. These dynamics not only reveal the biases of the workplace, but set teens on unequal tracks that continue into adulthood. And the book is really compelling reading. So I’d give this book to all those Twitter trolls.

GetLocked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform by John Pfaff.  A lot of criminologists I talk to are really excited about this book. Mass Incarceration is one of the US’s defining issues of the day, of concern across the political spectrum thanks to its disproportionate hold relative to the rest of the world, its effect on American families, and its costs. Pfaff’s contribution, undertaking a sensical review of the dauntingly hard-to-consolidate evidence, sounds like discovering a new verse to a song you thought you knew by heart.

Ann-Marie Anderson, Marketing Director

Give:  2453_reg.gifI’d give a copy of Tommy Curry’s The Man-Not to aid in understanding the stereotypes (and oppression) of black men.

Get: I’ve already received my holiday supply of books to read, but I have just learned about Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, a survey of African American art from 1963-83 which was a crucial period in American art history.  The book purports to bring to light previously neglected black artists, like Sam Gilliam, Melvin Edwards, Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, and many others.

Sara Cohen, Editor

Give: This holiday season, I’ll be getting my friends and family copies of Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City. As the editor of this book, I learned a ton about Philadelphia’s Gilded Age history, and it’s really changed the way I think about and read 2381_reg.gifour city.  It’s a great gift for the urban historian/architecture critic/fine photography connoisseur/Philadelphian in your life.

Get: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I haven’t read it since I became a mother, and because it’s partially about how weird it is to create and be responsible for another being, I’ve been meaning to reread it.  Plus, 2018 will be the 200th anniversary of the book, and rereading it seems like a great way to celebrate it’s bicentennial.

Aaron Javsicas, Editor-in-Chief

Give: Pennsylvania Stories–Well Told, by Bill Ecenbarger. Bill is a superb writer, and he showcases some 2445_reg.gifof the wonderful weirdness — but also nobility, industry, and the dark side — of our often overlooked commonwealth. From the Pennsylvania pencil and fireworks industries, to the turnpike, to the author’s ride-along with John Updike, to the unfortunately significant presence of the Klan, Ecenbarger treats his subjects with humor, insight, and honesty. I love this state and know a lot of other folks who do too, so this will be an ideal gift.

GetGood Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America, by Nancy Rosenblum. National politics over the last eighteen months or so have been quite inspirational — by which I mean, it has inspired me to focus local politics. This book looks like a great way to get your mind around what that means, by examining our neighborly democratic interactions. Local relationships form the underlying fabric that supports our larger democracy, so what makes that fabric strong or weak?

Joan Vidal, Senior Production Editor

GivePennsylvania Stories—Well Told, by master storyteller William Ecenbarger. This compelling collection of articles originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, which features topics that range from Byberry to Zambelli Fireworks to deer hunting to John Updike, makes a perfect gift for anyone interested in Pennsylvania history and popular culture.

Get: the novel Lilli de Jongby Philadelphia author Janet Benton, which tells the story of a young Quaker woman who decides to keep her baby girl after giving birth in an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. Through a series of journal entries that detail her struggles, she sheds light on the daily lives and social norms of the people and communities around her.

2456_reg.gifDave Wilson, Senior Production Editor

Give: Phil Jasner “On the Case”. This book is about the long-time Philadelphia Daily News sports writer and Naismith Hall of Famer who had a tireless work ethic in his quest to report Philadelphia sports. Phil’s son, Andy, also a sports writer, assembled a book showing just a sliver of his dad’s greatest moments and Phil’s passion to report accurately while exhibiting a tireless work ethic. This book is a wonderful tribute by a son to this father. The book shows the amazing relationships Phil had with great Philadelphia sports legends, and the chapter introductions from prominent Philadelphia sports figures make this an entertaining and touching read.

Nikki Miller, Rights and Permissions Manager


GiveExploiting the Wilderness by Greg L. Warchol as a holiday gift.  As an animal lover, I think this is a great book that offers a look into the wildlife crime that occurs in Africa and what can be done to stop it.

GetLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.  I’ve read great reviews about this book and can’t wait to start reading it over the holidays.

Kate Nichols, Art Manager

GiveKalfou: A Journal of Comparative and Relational Ethnic Studies, published by Temple University Press on behalf of the UCSB Center for Black Studies Research. As per George Lipsitz, the Senior editor, “In addition to its featured peer-reviewed scholarly articles, Kalfou devotes parts of each issue to short features focused on the places where ideas, activism, and art intersect.” As Volume 4, Issue 2 was just published, the journal is more important and timely than ever.

Rachel Elliott, Marketing Assistant

Give: 2384_reg.gifThe Audacity of Hoop by Alexander Wolff, because it is a visually compelling book that brings the president, often an inaccessible figure, down to the real world. We get to see him as he is in real life.
GetWe Should All Be Feminists because it has been recommended to me several times already! I love learning more about women’s issues and inclusive feminism and this book explores exactly that!

1912_reg.gifGary Kramer, Publicity Manager

Give: I recently attended the 20th-anniversary party for Ellen Yin’s restaurant, Fork. While the menu has changed since she published her memoir/cookbook Forklore, the recipes and stories collected in her fabulous book are timeless, and still wonderful to read and savor.

Get: I’ve been wanting to read Sherman Alexie’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me since it was published. One of my favorite authors has written a memoir about his mother. But I just know this is going to break my heart, so I’ve been resisting it. But if someone gave it to me, I’d feel obligated to read it.

Is It McCarthyism Yet?

This week in North Philly Notes, Rachel Ida Buff, author of Against the Deportation Terrorwrites about immigrant rights in this xenophobic era.

Travel bans based on nations of origin; local law enforcement officials compelled to perform federal surveillance work; lists of suspected subversives; prohibition of solidarity or sanctuary work; massive deportation; and the disappearance of the names of the deported from mass media. These recent trends are part of a renewed xenophobic turn in U.S. politics. They also have historical precedent in the infamous era of McCarthyism.

Often filtered through middle school readings of The Crucible, memories of McCarthyism tend to feature an honest person confronting the inquisitorial voices of Joe McCarthy and his notorious House Committee on UnAmerican Activities (HUAC). But the McCarthyist Red Scare featured assaults against foreign-born activists as well as a massive and well-publicized roundup of Mexican Americans in the Southwest and California: Operation Wetback.

Buff approved 032017.inddWell before the heyday of HUAC, anti-communist legislators succeeded in passing laws aimed at curtailing the allegedly subversive activities of “foreign-born radicals.” The 1940 Smith, or Alien Registration, Act made advocating governmental overthrow, or belonging to any group believed to advance such an agenda, deportable offenses. Subsequent laws extended deportability to include guilt by association, as well as targeting particular areas of the globe as undesirable nations of origin for immigrants attempting to enter the United States.

These anti-subversive laws were frequently used against immigrant labor and community leaders accused of “UnAmerican activities,” like organizing for wages and rights.  These foreign-born Americans were vulnerable to McCarthyism, much as contemporary Muslim and Arab American leaders are subject to enhanced scrutiny and the possibility of detention and deportation.

Under the Smith Act and subsequent McCarthy era laws, local law enforcement agents often provided evidence in the trials of immigrants accused of subversive activities.  The push for 287(g) and “secure communities” policies today has clear antecedent in this use of municipal forces. As many police unions point out, however, this use of local policing for surveillance and repression alienates immigrants, making all communities more dangerous.

Billed as “cleaning up the border” of “illegal aliens” suspected of political subversion, Operation Wetback commenced in 1954. This Immigration and Naturalization Service campaign eventually resulted in the deportation of a quarter million Mexican Americans, some of them legal residents and American citizens. (Estimates vary; in 2015 then-candidate Donald Trump claimed that this program resulted in 1.5 million deportations.)

While unsuccessful in stopping the flow of migration across the U.S.-Mexico border, Operation Wetback institutionalized the kind of deportation sweeps of immigrant communities currently taking place. And it was during this campaign that the names of those in deportation proceedings vanished from popular media accounts, being replaced by the ominous science fiction of the “illegal alien.” How many people who do not interact regularly with immigrant communities can name just one of the over two hundred thousand deported in 2017?

Campaigns of repression, like McCarthyism or the wave of xenophobia prevalent today, portray foreign-born people as dangerous, subversive, and UnAmerican. Their power is to rob vulnerable non-citizens of their power and livelihoods. For example, the announcement of the cancellation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program was timed to coincide with the first day of school, forcing thousands of young DACA recipients to experience this traditional time of excitement with dread.

Brave individuals stood before HUAC and refused to name names, eventually exposing the grim machinations of repression as the real UnAmerican activities. Similarly, immigrant rights advocates labor to defend the rights of those targeted by the forces of xenophobia and hate. Their efforts are part of the struggle to defeat McCarthyism, then and now.

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