"El Brujo Speaks"

"El Brujo Speaks"
José Torres-Tama is an award-winning interdisciplinary artist. He explores the Latino immigrant experience, the underbelly of the "American Dream" mythology, and New Orleans Creole history through spoken word poetry, critical writings, visual arts, short films, and performance art. He is the recipient of a Creation Fund Award by the National Performance Network for the commissioning of “ALIENS, IMMIGRANTS & OTHER EVILDOERS,” a sci-fi Latino noir and genre-bending solo that explores the persecution of immigrants in the land of the free. “ALIENS” has toured extensively across the country with sold out houses at Pangea World Theatre in Minneapolis and Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Critics have praised it for putting a human face and heart on a demonized people and exposing the hypocrisy of a country that vilifies the same people whose labor it exploits. Torres-Tama is an NEA award recipient for his multidisciplinary performance work and a Louisiana Theater Fellow. In 2008, he was awarded a Joan Mitchell Foundation grant for the publication of his first art book. Published by the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, the book is titled “New Orleans Free People of Color & Their Legacy,” and it documents his expressionistic portraits of 19th Century Creoles. Since 2006, he is a contributor to NPR’s “Latino USA,” a weekly news program. His radio commentaries explore the Latino immigrants who have aided the reconstruction of post-Katrina New Orleans. Currently, he is working on a creative non-fiction book titled “FROM CHOCOLATE CITY TO AN ENCHILADA VILLAGE: Latino Immigrants & the Post-Katrina Reconstruction of New Orleans,” which chronicles his dramatic escape on a stolen school bus three days after the levees breached, and seven years of documenting the neglected stories of immigrants who have contributed tremendously to the recovery of the Big Easy. (Top blog photo from “ALIENS” by Jonathan Traviesa, and bottom image by Ben Thompson.) www.torrestama.com

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Between Barack and the GOP Hard Place in 2013

It is most unfortunate that the beacon of Democracy with a capital “D”, these United States that boasts its founding by immigrants, has been engaged in an era of persecution of Latino immigrants for the past decade. It often operates like a capricious Narcissus behemoth, and seduces itself continuously with a distorted image of grandeur and righteousness. It demands that other nations observe human rights and due process of law while it continuous a prison facility called Guantanamo, where torture has been documented. It has given itself the power to jail people deemed enemy combatants at will, and imprisons an astounding 7% of its population through an ever-growing prison industry. All in the name of  F R E E D O M.  
 
In a 2012 summer series, the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper counted the state of Louisiana as the biggest incarcerator of people in the United States, with rates of imprisonment that overshadow China.  The series was titled "Louisiana Incarcerated".

It’s tragic.  It’s a country gone mad, a sci-fi farce that we could have never dreamed of.  What has happened to our cherished beliefs for social justice?

We are at a crossroads for its soul, and the new leader at the helm of the Union, the “one” like Uno in The Matrix film, the handsome dark knight of a multiracial complexity that we so readily embraced as exemplary of a Utopian futuristic post-racial America, who promised C H A N G E and H O P E with bold capital letters, the one who we wanted to believe because he articulated the truths we wanted so desperately to hear has been an even bigger disappointment because he has lacked the courage to carry out his promises, and he has been seduced by the power of the captain’s chair. 

He has moved towards the dark side while killing us softly with his words, and killing other innocents with his drones.

I find Obama an even greater tragic figure because he exemplified heroic potential, a new millennium FDR for the people and the universe. We wanted to believe that he would be an exceptional new leader, and we drank the Kool-Aid of his campaign promises.  We asked for more sugar water because we were parched, beaten, and literally “Bushwacked” by Boy George and his cronies. I could not stand to hear Bush speak because all I heard was the “class dummy” from a wealthy family, whose stolen presidency gave him power to bend us and exact his bombastic revenge for calling him out for his many misspellings and misdeeds, for his “presidenting” and his “You are with us or against us!” Yosemite Sam threats.   

Now, I find myself between Barack and a GOP hard place.     

In the fall of 2008, during the “Yes, we can!” autumn, I was one of the many millions rooting for the messianic-like figure with a multiracial heritage, the poet’s tongue, and the alluring qualities of intelligence and heart to do the right thing and re-steer the post-Bush calamity called America. Hope was the word, and candidate Obama seemed to embody the greatest possibility of our future aspirations for an "American Dream" that had become critically elusive for many.

I was not yet a United States citizen and could not vote for the first ever hybrid candidate of color, but it did not keep me from advocating for his ascension to the country’s highest office. I read both his books, and Dreams from My Father moved me deeply.  Wherever I performed that fall, from the University of Maryland outside of DC to the University of California at Santa Barbara on the West Coast, "Obamanos" was the word I shouted out in my shows and lectures. Like millions of others, I was one hundred percent sold that he was the "one", and I became an Obama advocate extolling his praises back home at the Faulkner Society's Words & Music Festival in New Orleans shortly before the pivotal election. 

My citizenship application was mired in bureaucracy, but I had hoped to have it in place to vote for Barack that November.

After 40 years of being categorized as a “permanent resident alien” in these United States, I wanted the right to be able to vote. My application for naturalization was submitted in May of 2007, but I was not naturalized until April 2009. It took nearly two years for me to transition from an “alien” to a citizen. 

In 2007 and through 2008, the government was flooded with thousands of applications from long time legal residents wanting to become citizens, and many of them were Latinos wanting to finally have the right to vote.

Maybe it was the zeitgeist, the sprit of the times, the collective awareness that residents’ rights were being reduced, and the growing vilification of Latino immigrants across the country that drove us to finally apply for citizenship. For many of us, the United States is our adopted country, and it is more casa, home, than the romantic Latin America of our births, which we have left behind for this new dream. 

I am an immigrant from Ecuador, and having arrived at the age of seven, I finally became a citizen at the age of 49. It was inspiring to consider voting for candidate Obama, who was the son of an African immigrant.

I did not get a chance to cast a vote for Obama, but like millions nationally and across the global village, I was in a post-Civil Rights nirvana watching the inauguration of President Barack Hussein Obama on television that fateful January of 2009. It had all the appearances of a mythic struggle coming to a glorious fruition, and the long legacy of exclusion of many people of color in the experiment called the United States was evolving into another epoch, an era of American hybrids and perhaps of greater tolerance for the “other”.

The freshly minted new executive chief made many promises on his campaign trail and invigorated us on that day to rescue the great empire in critical condition, but since, many of those promises have been broken.

The outgoing Bush left an eight-year nightmare in the making. “Dubya” left quite a legacy; an Iraq War built on lies, the condoning of torture and a base for it in Guantanamo, Cuba, an economical disaster that keeps on giving and as deep as the Great Depression, an environmental nightmare with his oil buddies plundering the land at will, and a racial divide with many Civil Rights progressions being repealed. 

Under Bush, Cheney, and the Karl Rove spin machine, language was terrorized and Orwellian doublespeak was the norm: “Freedom” became “war.”  “Justice” became “torture.”  “Patriotism” became “silence.”     

In retrospect, like in a Hollywood movie script, we expected the dark knight in the well-pressed suit to cure a country with ills that were much too severe to undo in less than four years. I understand that, but Guantanamo has not been closed. It remains a dreaded prison encampment that stains any proclamation that the United States is a country based on freedoms and due process.

It is an international embarrassment, and many innocents have been tortured and made to languish there. Ironically enough, Guantanamo is carved out in the Cuban soil of the longtime despised and demonized communist dictator Fidel Castro, who is a fragile and invisible figure these days.


It is more than shameful. It is an epicenter of human rights violations, but then again we celebrate China for its embracement of capitalism while it remains an oppressive regime. 

I have always believed that if Cheney could have had it his way, as the Darth Vader specter persona he projected, he would have enjoyed transforming us into China with unfettered capitalism and brutal repression of the populace as the norm, with Civil Rights diminished as an antiquated notion.

But like his predecessor, Obama has embraced the war machine, and the escalation of war in Afghanistan broke my heart. I wanted to believe that Obama was not another man of war.

While we hear of the so-called “successes” of that war on terrorists and the Taliban, it is hard to justify what now seems like a premature awarding of the Noble Peace Prize to a politician who blankly/coldly made a case for more war as a means to end war in his address to the nation in December of 2009, practically a year later from having become the new president elect.

He escalated the war two months after being awarded the prestigious Nobel.

None of us could have ever expected this gut punch decision back when Obama appeared to be the candidate of the people, the one who would end useless bloodshed of others, especially of people of color.

Again, we obviously projected more, and he strategically let himself be a blank canvas for our repressed dreams and heroic fantasies. 

He is a masterful politician. He is a skillful chameleon. He can speak with a poet’s tongue, but leads us to a similar path of hopelessness.

How do I feel now that I actually voted for President Obama? 

Like other Latinos: We found ourselves between Barack and the GOP hard place of anti-immigrant legislation. Since Arizona Governor Brewer passed her odious anti-immigrant law SB 1070 in 2010, other Republican Governors in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah have joined her in passing similar bills in 2011.

But I had no other choice, even with Mr. Obama’s record of immigrant deportations that have numbered in the three hundred thousand plus per year, a figure that his administration has boasted about in the crackdown of “illegal aliens”.

Instead of advocating for the humane immigration reform as promised and considering the support of the Dream Act, Mr. Obama’s immigration policy is a nightmare none of us could have ever imagined. Who would have ever imagined that the son of an African immigrant would have deported more immigrants during his first term than any other president before him. 

I never expected to be in such a dilemma, but the Democratic President, who promised Latinos immigration reform in his first year, has deported millions of undocumented immigrants. He is more “hopeless” than “hope,” but we were so beaten we believed his self-championing rhetoric as the candidate of our greatest esperanzas. 

His summer 2012 half-dream reprieve called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) to slow-down the deportation of young immigrants with strong educational tracks and no criminal records was a clear cosmetic political move, which according to a 2012 ProPublica article has not done much to assist teens who could be best served by the full measure of the stalled Dream Act.

Obama has starved Latino voters on immigration reform that any crumbs he throws our way that will seemingly reduce his deportation on steroids program has most yelling Ave Maria! According to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, this new process will still be handled on a “case-by-case” review of qualifying teens, and it is unknown as to how many will actually be helped to remain in the country.

Watch Maria Hinojosa's insightful Frontline documentary Lost in Detention, and it will break your heart with the harsh reality of immigrants snared in the prison industry and rapes of women detainees. 

If I chose not to vote, what is the alternative? We would have handed a De facto vote to Romney and his GOP Party that blatantly attacks our immigrant brothers and sisters.  Romney has pandered to the Latino community by saying his father was born in Mexico, but remained utterly mute about the six Republican Governors that have signed anti-immigrant laws.

Even now, as the GOP trips all over themselves to court Latino voters after waking up to the fact that they have been attacking our immigrant brothers and sisters for years, I remain simply astonished that not one Latino journalist dared to ask Romney what he thought about the most infamous of those Republican Governors, Jan Brewer, whose SB 1070 was awarded a recent victory by the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the “papers please” provision. This aspect of her bill gives police the authority to inquire about the immigration status of anyone they stop.

I don’t imagine the notorious Phoenix Sheriff Arpaio stopping the blonde quarterback of the Arizona Sun Devils’ college football team for looking suspect.

Latinos know this gives credence to police who will stop us for simply looking suspect, as in brown, as in “illegal” in their myopic eyes.

I am a brown Ecuadorian Mestizo male, and when I travel to the Florida Beaches from my home in New Orleans, Louisiana, I have to take my passport to traverse Alabama and Georgia, where some of the most draconian anti-immigrant measures are in place.

Conceptually speaking, I would have asked Romney if he was is in bed with Jan Brewer on her politics of anti-immigrant legislation. That would have been a fair question to ask.  Is he in the same camp/bed as the other five Republicans Governors that have joined her? 

I cannot believe that not one Latino journalist or even mainstream media reporter ever dared to ask him this straightforward question, one that would have hopefully revealed more of his stance on immigration, rather than his idiotic self-deportation platform.

Does the rest of the GOP camp sleep with Brewer on this hot topic?

If they are serious about courting Latinos voters, let’s begin the Immigration Reform conversation by repealing all six anti-immigrant laws, and let the GOP declare that Governor Jan Brewer is not part of their new kindler, gentler makeover.

Quite frankly, I felt like a Latino Hamlet at the voting office: to vote or not to vote. 

But I knew I could not afford to abstain and neither could other Latinos. Considering the margin of the popular vote was a tight four million, we would have thrown ourselves into the GOP fire and brimstone cauldron of immigrant haters, and they would be dancing on our graves.

This was not what I had hoped for in my first exercise to realize the right to vote in a national election.

On November 6, 2012, I voted for Obama because I had no other choice, but I literally held my nose as my performative act to exemplify how I found myself between Barack and the GOP hard place.

During the inauguration ceremonies, I was not glued to the TV in a nirvana-like haze. I did not even watch because President Obama and his secret drone war is more of the same, proving that we are a war apparatus.  

Our cherished freedoms and inalienable rights in these United States are based on the unquestioned power the imperial storm troopers and its “Death Star” exercise at will across the known universe. We are not Luke Skywalker and the rebels frighting for freedom. We are the Republic gone wrong.

Both parties push for war in the name of freedom. Obama is more of the same.

What we need to C H A N G E is a flawed two-party system where we are forced to choose the lesser of the two evils.

This country has been at war with some foreign nation of “evildoers” since I first traversed its soil in 1968, and I wish I could tell you that things are different now.   

I wish I could proclaim that the U.S. is an instrument of peace and progressive change for the betterment of all humankind.  Maybe my children will see  a better future and bear witness to the transformation of a country that adheres to the ideals it propagates. Maybe this future is not so distant.

I am grateful that I have been able to cultivate my artistic voice here, but it pains me to not progress towards the ideals that others often project upon what America loves to pretend to be. 
  
To face the reality of the crimes perpetrated in the name of freedom makes us all accomplices if we dare not speak up.  Like the AIDS slogan states, silence equals death.  

Make art that matters!

José Torres-Tama
ArteFuturo Productions
www.torrestama.com

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Bearer of Difficult Truths: Because I Dare to Remember Against a Culture of Amnesia

My memory will retain what is worthwhile. My memory knows more about me than I do; it doesn’t lose what deserves to be saved. ---Eduardo Galeano 

I believe in remembering a people’s truth. 

I believe that writers and artists can be instrumental in creating work that serves as the conscience of our times.  I believe in chronicling the personal experience to counter the “official accounts” that inevitably cultivate historical lies to silence and control, and render some people invisible, los invisibles, by disappearing them through the controlled mainstream media tentacles of misinformation.

In the Latin American tradition, I believe the poet, writer, and artist has a social responsibility, a mythic duty, to document and articulate the people’s struggle, la lucha de la gente, when they are denied effective means to have their voices heard in their fight against oppression and their many oppressors.

Since the storm, I have been reminding the citizenry of New Orleans and informing folks nationally and internationally that the post-Hurricane Katrina Big Easy, the romantic birthplace of Jazz, was rebuilt by thousands of hard working Latino immigrant workers, and most were cheated of their promised pay by ruthless local and national contractors.

They were brutalized by local police officers; languished in New Orleans Police Dept. jails without due legal process; subjected to the most abhorrent working and living conditions imaginable; some became indentured servants within hotels in the French Quarter; others were conveniently deported by Immigrations and Customs Enforcements Agents after they finished many a construction job.

In June of 2009, the Southern Poverty Law Center released its research data that up to 80% of Latino laborers who aided the reconstruction of New Orleans were victims of wage theft, and the “undocumented” status of many was exploited in a city that has a long legacy of labor exploitation.

Immigrant men and women gave of their sweat, blood, and some of their lives to rebuild an ungrateful city that abused their labor—as easily and effectively as it exploited enslaved Africans when “cotton was king.”

It should come as no surprise.

My brown people, my Mestizo brothers and sisters, who are descendants of a mythic and painful oppression exacted from one century to another by the cross and sword of Spanish Colonizers, other European plunderers, and the unfettered capitalism the U.S exports, became, and still are, the new people of color to exploit to no end in this post-hurricane reconstruction epoch.

Brown became the new black in the dirty South, a soil soaked with the blood of the systematic oppression of the “colored others.”  Today, in New Orleans and in many parts of the South, many African Americans still struggle to gain a very elusive state of equality in the same terrain they raised with their arduous labor from one generation to another, and I write this introduction in the wake of a series by the Times-Picayune New Orleans daily which exposes the state of Louisiana as the biggest incarcerator of people in the United States, with rates of imprisonment that overshadow China. It is astounding, and many behind bars are disproportionately African American.

The jailed people of color now include many incarcerated immigrants as well because making more prisons has become a huge industry in the world’s prison capital, and immigrants have been easily snared as new occupants for the big business of jails and their jailers.

Fear of incarceration has been a big factor in keeping the immigrant labor force under control for a perfect storm of labor abuse.  Since most immigrants could not speak English and were fearful of reprisals by their bosses if they complained about being cheated and their inhumane housing conditions, they were the ideal workforce to brutalize in this Deep South port city that has built its wealth on slave labor—just like its fatherland.

The vicious cycle continues: Welcome to the “Slave Labor Fiesta” of Twenty-first century USA.

*****

This is an excerpt of the introduction for the creative non-fiction book I have been working on titled From Chocolate City to an Enchilada Village: Latino Immigrants and the Post-Katrina Reconstruction of New OrleansThe sardonic title is from a seminal piece that was recorded as a radio commentary for National Public Radio’s Latino USA, a weekly news journal.  The renowned Latina journalist Maria Hinojosa introduced the commentary, and the piece aired nationally for the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina in August 2006.   

It was one of the first radio commentaries that explored the labor abuse many immigrant workers were experiencing as they toiled in the rebuilding efforts.  This book is dedicated to the thousands of Latino immigrants who gave of their blood, sweat, and some of their lives to rebuild the flooded pueblo of New Orleans after the epic devastation caused by the failure of the federal levee system in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, a storm that was a Pandora of water and winds that revealed a country mired in lies and the incompetence of the Bush regime.  "Dubya" and his criminal cronies abandoned the people and city of New Orleans at its most desperate hour, and this should not be forgotten.

“The city that care forgot” has never officially cared to thank the immigrants in any way, but I remember what they have contributed.  They, the invisible, los invisibles, are a big part of the reason why the pace of the recovery has been so strong after such unimaginable wreckage the Big Easy was post-Katrina.

I remember them.  I have not forgotten.  I honor their memory.

It is the dirtiest little secret of the reconstruction of New Orleans.  

It remains the untold and most neglected story of the Big Easy recovery, but as an immigrant myself, it is my duty to speak the unspoken and chronicle the many challenges my immigrant brothers and sisters have faced in rebuilding this historic port city.  Many fight to remain, but many are courageous enough to stand up and fight for their human rights!  ADELANTE!
 
Make art that matters!

José Torres-Tama
ArteFuturo Productions
1329 Saint Roch Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117
504.232.2968



Friday, July 29, 2011

The Media Silence about LA Dodging Anti-Immigrant Laws & The Cone at Shadowbox

Amigos and virtual community:

Today, July 29, 2011, marks the first year anniversary of Arizona's infamous SB 1070 officially becoming a law, and since, it has spawned other states to follow. The new confederacy of Southern states signing harsh anti-immigrant laws has grown considerably this summer, and Tennessee is expected to join South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia with similar Arizona copy-cat laws that demonize Latino immigrants. In Louisiana, the great news is that two such laws, not one but two, were actually voluntarily withdrawn by their respective legislators. A highly effective grass roots campaign and coalition to oppose the passing of these bills was formed by local organizations such as the Congress of Day Laborers, PUENTES New Orleans, Catholic Charities, and the Jesuit Social Research Institute of Loyola University.

Representative Ernest Wooton, an Independent from the Belle Chase area, was forced to voluntarily withdraw his bill called The Louisiana Citizen’s Protection Act or H.B. 411 in a legislative session on June 6 in Baton Rouge. Wooton made a show of continuously identifying "illegal aliens" with exaggerated emphasis on the word "illegal". Had it passed, his bill empowered local and state police to detain anyone they suspected of being undocumented. The $11 million fiscal expense to implement his bill was not received favorably by Louisiana legislators already grappling with a $1.6 billion budget deficit. However, even the state's conservative lawmakers did not exhibit a bloodlust to criminalize Latino immigrants who have been vital to the recovery of this Gulf State post-Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and post-BP oil spill. I filmed three legislatives sessions in Baton Rouge, and while I am no fan of this state's red conservative tendencies, I have to confess that Wooton's colleagues did not exhibit his outrageous passion in trying to pass his odious bill.

In May, Representative Joe Harrison, a Republican from Houma, was forced to table his bill H.B. 59, and in the Judiciary committee I filmed, he encountered strong opposition to his anti-immigrant law by Representative Joey Bishop, Democrat from New Orleans, and Representative Walker Hines, a New Orleans Republican who in late 2010 switched ranks from his previous Democratic affiliations. Both were critical and unsupportive of a bill that criminalized Latino immigrants who had helped to reconstruct the devastated city after the flood. It was grand political theater indeed, as befitting the inherent drama of Louisiana politics, but the biggest headline that this Gulf State has resisted drafting a despicable anti-immigrant law is nowhere to be found in local, statewide, or national media news. This great good news story has been flying below the media radar, and outside of a short Associated Press article that followed the initial deferment of HB 411 in mid June, there has been nothing. Simplemente nada!

The New Orleans Times-Picayune daily hardly mentioned it and public radio stations have been silent as well. One would think that this would be great news to profile for the local and statewide Latino community and for the national community in general. Unlike its neighboring states of Alabama and Georgia, Louisiana has not joined in passing another Juan Crow law.

For those of you who may not know, the 2011 summer marks the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, a heroic coalition of racially integrated black and white students who risked their lives riding on Greyhound and Trailways buses into the segregated Deep South. In Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, they encountered terrorist-like attacks by Ku Klux Klan members, local and state police, and white residents opposed to their commitment to desegregate public facilities, restaurants, and buses. The Freedom Riders challenged the racist Jim Crow laws that kept the South in an officially condoned state of apartheid. Fifty years later, this hatred has been reborn in Juan Crow laws that openly demonize a new race of color. Fear in the Deep South is rearing its ugly face again. We must not relent in defeating this new cancer! Adelante MI Gente!

WHEN AN IMMIGRANT DIES IN NEW ORLEANS…
Also, on July 29, 2010, the Congress of Day Laborers held a vigil and protest that took place in New Orleans. Latino immigrant activists and their allies took to the streets to protest the mysterious death of José Nelson Reyes-Zelaya, a twenty-eight year old El Salvadorean immigrant. He died in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents after 24 hours of being in their detention facility. Members of the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice filed a Freedom of Information Act petition that was handed to ICE agents in front of their offices on Poydras Street (across from City Hall). To this day, the NOWCRJ and the Congress of Day Laborers have not received any further information. Shortly after his death on July 17, 2010, ICE authorities released a statement that the death of Mr. Reyes-Zelaya was a result of "apparent asphyxiation" from suicide. He was the eighth immigrant to die in ICE custody by July 2010, and customarily, ICE classifies these deaths as "suicides".

Sadly but not surprising, there was hardly any news coverage in the local media or public radio station about this tragedy, and it exemplifies how little immigrant lives matter in New Orleans, a city that has been rebuilt by thousands of Latino immigrants after the storm. Currently, Latino immigrants are fighting for the right to remain in a city that they have reconstructed, but they live in a parallel universe where their suffering goes unnoticed.

THE CONE OF UNCERTAINTY: New Orleans after Katrina
We rarely hear enough about the Latino connection to New Orleans, and in the many post-Katrina narratives, our stories of trauma and displacement were practically non-existent in the mainstream media. Even in the more thorough National Public Radio coverage, Latinos and the large Vietnamese community were missing in action. Fortunately, NPR's Latino USA did cover our stories, and I did an interview with them days after I escaped the flooded city on a stolen school bus, which was rescuing African American families. I was on the same bus that the iconic composer and musician Allen Toussaint was riding out of the social storm, and I intuited that if Mr. Toussaint was getting on that bus I needed to hop on as well.

Also, the rebuilding of the city owes much to the Latino immigrant work force that was brought in by the thousands, and they cleaned out the Superdome and the Convention Center, salvaged the city's many hotels to reignited the tourism engines, and repaired churches, hospitals, schools, and many homes. As an immigrant myself, it is my rightful duty to tell this untold story of the Katrina experience.

The Cone of Uncertainty is my multimedia show that chronicles my escape, and it's informed by the dramatic film footage captured by Afro Cuban filmmaker Williams Sabourin O'Reilly, who began filming at five in the morning on Monday morning as the storm was still passing through. For the 6th Anniversary, The Cone will be remounted in full for the first time since it was shown in New Orleans in March 2006 for three shows only at the Ashé Cultural Arts Center, as a work-in-progress when the city was still fragile. The Cone will be presented at the latest alternative theater venue in the Big Easy called the Shadowbox Theatre, which is located on Saint Claude Avenue. It runs Thursdays through Sundays from August 25 - September 11. The exact dates and more details are below.

Make art that matters!

José Torres-Tama
ArteFuturo Productions
2426 Saint Claude Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117
www.torrestama.com
504.232.2968

http://elbigeasyamigoblogger.blogspot.com

NEW ORLEANS FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR
OGDEN MUSEUM ART BOOK available at
http://www.torrestama.com/ogdenbook/index.html

ArteFuturo Productions Presents
The Cone of Uncertainty: New Orleans after Katrina
José Torres-Tama’s Critically Acclaimed Post-storm Multimedia Solo

WHERE: Shadowbox Theatre @ 2400 Saint Claude Ave. (in the Marigny)
For tickets call 504-298-8676 or go to www.theshadowboxtheatre.com.

WHEN: Thursdays - Sundays, August 25-28, Sept. 1-4 & Sept. 8-11, 2011
All shows @ 8PM - $10 at the door & 2 for $16 (All Students $8)

"Cone pulls no punches in describing ‘the apocalyptic abandonment’ of New Orleans’ people." ---American Theatre

"But like the best performance artists, Torres-Tama seduces his audience through humor and the ability to play disparate characters." ---Theater Journal

ABOUT THE CONE: José Torres-Tama was a firsthand witness to the apocalyptic abandonment of a city whose people were made to beg for water and buses before television cameras. He offers a politically provocative and moving work that sheds light on the Latino immigrant experience of post-Katrina narratives, where Latinos were rendered invisible in all the mainstream media coverage. Performed with a magical realist Latino voodoo aesthetic, The Cone is an inventive fusion of personal stories, exaggerated characters, and dramatic film footage of the storm. Torres-Tama plays five distinct characters and invokes the spirit of a nearly three hundred year-old city that has engaged in an arduous reconstruction process.

SHOW’S HISTORY: The Cone of Uncertainty debuted at Highways Performance Space in Los Angeles in November 2005 with support funds from the National Performance Network www.npnwqeb.org. The Cone script was further developed through a ‘05/’06 Fellowship award from National Association of Arts and Culture www.nalac.org, as part of a Ford Foundation initiative to support Latino artists. The Cone has toured extensively across the country with performances at LSU, Ohio State University, Vanderbilt University, the University of Maryland, and numerous art centers. In January 2011, it was staged at the prestigious National Hispanic Cultural Center in Albuquerque.

In May 2009, The Cone made its European debut in the United Kingdom with performances at Roehampton University in London, the Bluecoat Arts Centre in Liverpool, and the Centre for Performance Research in Aberystwyth, Wales, as part of an international tour that was profiled in American Theatre magazine’s March 2009 issue.
http://www.torrestama.com/cone/index.html

Monday, July 4, 2011

RE: Anti-Immigrant Hysteria Overshadows 4th of July Freedom Celebrations

Amigos and virtual community:

"What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless …

--Frederick Douglass
(an excerpt from a speech at an Independence Day rally in 1852)

I have come across this Frederic Douglas quote a number of times before, and with another Independence Day passing over us, let’s address the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom while anti-immigrant hysteria is sweeping the country. For those of you who may not be counting, Utah (March 15), Indiana (May 10), Georgia (May 13), Alabama (June 9), and South Carolina (June 27) are the most recent states that have joined Arizona in passing harsh legislation that demonizes Latino immigrants.

In the name of liberty, these edicts usher in a new Juan Crow era. Like Arizona’s SB 1070, they employ flawed and broad language that makes all Latinos subject to detention if we look undocumented enough. As an Ecuadorian immigrant with a permanent suntan, the Fourth of July has always been a difficult holiday for me to fully embrace, as difficult as other U.S. holidays with historical baggage like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving.

One celebrates a so-called “discoverer” who mistakenly named the indigenous people of the Americas “Indians” because he thought he had landed in the Indian subcontinent of his original destination, and the other celebrates the beginning of genocidal practices to remove the American Natives from their land. For the uninformed, any questioning of the harsh historical realities that these holidays mask usually renders the inquirer unpatriotic.

That would be me, and when I bring up the inherent flaws of a holiday of gratitude for the slaughtering of American Natives celebrated by slaughtering millions of turkeys across the land, you can imagine that I may not be the most welcomed guest to this big eating party. In addition, I have been a vegetarian for more than thirty years. I do eat fish on rare occasions, but in general, the kill turkey day of thanks is a tough one for me on many levels.

However, I am inspired to question because I like to believe that questioning governmental injustices is the most patriotic exercise afforded by our constitutional rights. But myths that have been ingrained as truths are hard to crack in a country that readily sweeps its disturbing legacies under a carpet embroidered with popular and grand beliefs that portray its pursuits as the most noble. The political proclamations that we are the cradle of freedom in the modern world will be even more difficult for me to stomach this 4th of July in the wake of the many states, especially in the South, that have recently passed anti-immigrant laws.

South Carolina Republican Governor Nikki Haley is the latest Southern governor to enlist her state in the new anti-immigrant confederacy. Ironically enough, she is the U.S. born daughter of Indian immigrants, as in the India Columbus was looking for, and she rode a wave of Tea Party endorsements to the Governor's Mansion. Speaking at her signing of bill S 20, Republican Senator Grooms, a supportive colleague, identified the targets of this law with the usual hateful rhetoric Conservatives spew to demonize Latino immigrants. “They cling together in illegal communities and bring with them drugs, prostitution, violent crime and gang activity.”

If only the Statue of Liberty in far away New York Harbor could have heard him, and shouted back her compassionate and honorable petition, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” If only Lady Liberty could chime in on the immigration issue, maybe, she would point out that the persecuted immigrants of today are the “huddled masses” the poem below her colossal feet aspires to embrace.

Instead, my stomach turned while watching the YouTube press clip of a woman of color joining good ole boys in directing hatred towards my immigrant brothers and sisters. It’s so brilliantly insidious when Republicans conscript people of color to push their xenophobic agendas. We have seen this before and the GOP’s revered Ronald Reagan, who left us the first Trillion-dollar deficit, knew the valuable political trend he was initiating with the appointment of uncle Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court.

These are strange times, and like myself, I don’t imagine other Latino immigrants too eager to wave those ubiquitous U.S. flags made in China on the 4th. One hundred and fifty plus years ago Mr. Douglas pointed out the contradictions of Independence Day celebrations for enslaved black Americans in the South. Today, immigrants know too well that they live in a parallel universe where freedom remains an abstract ideology far from their reality of being proclaimed enemies of the state.

These laws implicate all immigrants, especially foreign-born brown people or people that can be perceived as foreigners because they speak with an accent. They exemplify a divisive surge of xenophobia that is not uncommon in times of great economical despair. We have seen this before, and it is a painful truth of the many paradoxes in the so-called land of the free.

Make art that matters.

José Torres-Tama
ArteFuturo Productions
2426 Saint Claude Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117
www.torrestama.com
504.232.2968

http://elbigeasyamigoblogger.blogspot.com

NEW ORLEANS FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR
OGDEN MUSEUM ART BOOK available at
http://www.torrestama.com/ogdenbook/index.html

Juan Crow Laws Flying in the Southern Breeze

Amigos and virtual community:

In mid June, Louisiana recently dodged a grave anti-immigrant law that was deferred by a local legislator, and the statewide Latino community and the many immigrant families and workers who have been invaluable to the reconstruction efforts of New Orleans can sigh in relief. However, the real story is that this major news item has been flying below the local media radar. It has been barely covered in print and web media, and news radio stations have added to the silence of a tremendous victory for Latinos, especially since neighboring Alabama and Georgia have passed dramatic anti-immigrant bills that inspire racial profiling and make school teachers accountable for reporting foreign-born children, as in Latino boys and girls, to the authorities to verify their legality.

The Alabama and Georgia laws are disgraceful, and the media silence is just as shameful. Human justice for immigrants is the Civil Rights issue of our times. Below is my full essay.

--El JTT

Juan Crow Laws Flying in the Southern Breeze

Across the nation and here in New Orleans, cultural celebrations have been staged to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Riders, but in the wake of this legendary Civil Rights event that challenged segregation and institutionalized prejudices in the South, states like Alabama and Georgia have recently passed harsh anti-immigrant bills. Both laws empower state and local police to decide who can be considered “illegal or undocumented” and detain the suspects until they prove their legal status.

They open a racial profiling door that will undoubtedly lead to stopping people with a permanent suntan, brown looking Latinos and/or even light-skinned African Americans, who could be mistaken for Hispanic. As if we need more incentives given to police in Dixie who readily suspect anyone outside their Caucasian color line? It’s hard to imagine a blue-eyed Auburn quarterback or his Georgia State sandy-haired counterpart, both with their respective jerseys, arousing the suspicion of their local sheriffs.

It looks like a new millennium version of Jim Crow. These Juan Crow rulings tragically welcome another era of fear for the colored other, and while the illegal moniker is used like a new word for terrorist, it is all part of a strategic sideshow to direct the anger of millions of rural and small southern-town folks, many of whom are unemployed, towards another race that can be collectively criminalized.

In both Alabama and Georgia, Republican legislators have pushed anti-immigrant laws with the support of a predominantly white electorate being manipulated to hate immigrants today the same way two generations ago their fathers and grandfathers were taught to hate their black neighbors, who were supposedly taking their jobs back then. The more things change the more they remain the same, and even the infamous KKK is channeling their vitriol towards a growing population of Latino immigrants in the South—not just the undocumented.

In this Gulf State, Representative Ernest Wooton, Independent from the Belle Chase area, voluntarily withdrew his bill called The Louisiana Citizen’s Protection Act or H.B. 411. It proposed to make a criminal of anyone who transported an illegal alien to a hospital or church if the person knowingly knew the foreigner’s status was questionable. H.B. 411 passed the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee in late May, but in early June, its $11 million fiscal expense to implement precluded its passage in the House Appropriations chamber.

Louisiana has a $1.6 billion budget deficit, and any regulation carrying an additional financial burden had little chance of surviving a legislature grappling with dramatic cutbacks. The withdrawal of Wooton’s bill comes on the heels of a similarly deferred anti-immigrant bill called H.B. 59 by Representative Joe Harrison, Republican from Houma, Louisiana. Harrison was forced to withdraw his bill in May after New Orleans activists from the Congress of Day Laborers and PUENTES along with allies from Catholic Charities and the Jesuit Social Research Institute of Loyola University mounted a successful campaign against it.

The great news is that Louisiana has resisted the new confederacy of Southern states implementing laws that generally vilify all Latinos because of their inherent flaws in using broad language to detain anyone who may “look undocumented”.

I am a brown man, often mistaken for Creole here in New Orleans, and under such laws, a policeman can randomly decide that I look like an illegal alien. Wooton’s law would give the police the power to detain me, and if I did not have my U.S. passport to prove my legality, I could be jailed.

In an interview, I asked Mr. Wooton about this measure, but he emphatically replied that his bill was not a racial profiling initiative. For now, I am relieved that I do not have to contend with this scenario, but when I go on vacation and cross Alabama and Georgia on my way to the Florida beaches, I will have to bring my passport with me just in case.

My cafe con leche complexion generally inspires reasonable suspicion from most white officers in good ole Dixie. However, we may just need to stage a wave of immigrant freedom riders in Greyhound buses to converge en masse in Alabama and Georgia to challenge these Juan Crow laws against our people.

Make art that matters.

José Torres-Tama
ArteFuturo Productions
2426 Saint Claude Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117
www.torrestama.com
504.232.2968

http://elbigeasyamigoblogger.blogspot.com

NEW ORLEANS FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR
OGDEN MUSEUM ART BOOK available at
http://www.torrestama.com/ogdenbook/index.html

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

ALIENS ARE COMING Lecture at TULANE University's Freeman Auditorium 7PM - FREE

After a national four-city tour of the ALIENS, IMMIGRANTS & OTHER EVILDOERS performance piece, I am back in New Orleans to present a multimedia lecture called ALIENS ARE COMING: Fears of a Brown Invasion & the Vilification of Latino Immigrants in the USA. This lecture is the accompanying program to the ALIENS performance piece, and it is informed by the research I have conducted over the past three years on the rise in hate crimes against Latino immigrants.

ALIENS ARE COMING TULANE, FRIDAY, MAY 13 Freeman Auditorium:
Latino immigrants in the United States are no longer living la vida loca of Ricky Martin’s 1990s popular anthem, and I find myself longing for those days when we were supposedly ushering in a new Latino boom. ALIENS ARE COMING explores the widespread hysteria, driven by political zealots, concerning “illegal aliens”. Right-wing conservatives and Tea Party Candidates (is there a difference?) have divisively stoked the fires of xenophobia to a mad frenzy, and they have inspired hideous hate crimes against Latinos—whether they are rightful citizens, legal residents, or undocumented workers.

They have employed fear mongering against Latinos across the United States, and the word “immigrant” itself has become synonymous with criminals and terrorists. In ALIENS ARE COMING, I comment on the current vilification of Latino immigrants as a strategic cultural practice not uncommon to a country that has engaged in the accepted genocide of American Natives, the enslavement of Africans, the demonization of Muslim culture, and the imprisonment of more than one-tenth of its current population while proudly calling itself the capital of the free world.

This is a heady and humorous performance analysis of a brief history of abuse of power in the U.S.A., and I will open the program with an excerpt from the ALIENS performance piece. In addition, I will present a collage of the best hits of "illegal aliens" 2010 campaign ads produced by the pushers of fear. You know who they are.

ALIENS ARE COMING will be presented at the Tulane University Freeman Auditorium inside the Woldenberg Art Center (Drill Road and Newcomb Circle) on Friday, May 13 at 7pm.

http://www.tulane.edu/~newcomb/lectures.html

The lecture is FREE and open to the public. The program will serve as the opening event for a photography exhibition called The History of the Future/La Historia del Futuro at the Newcomb Gallery, which brings together the photographic collaborations of Michael Berman and Julian Cardona. Their fine art images document the people and the landscape of the U.S./Mexico border region. www.newcombartgallery.tulane.edu

My lecture presentation at TULANE has been made possible with support from Tulane University’s Interdisciplinary Committee for Art and Visual Culture (ICAVC), Roger Thayer Stone Center for Latin American Studies, and Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

CONGRESS OF DAY LABORERS MAY FIRST MARCH:
Also, I will explore the contributions of Latino immigrants to the reconstruction of post-Katrina New Orleans. This glaring fact of the reconstruction remains conspicuously absent from most of the mainstream post-Katrina media narratives. This August, it will be six years since the reconstruction, and the remaining Latino immigrant workers and their families, who have reconstructed this city with their sweat and blood, are a persecuted people. They are being targeted and deported in greater numbers. Their labor has been exploited by an ungrateful city, and it is becoming harder for many to live in the Big Easy,

“The city that care forgot” has never officially cared to acknowledge the contributions made by the thousands of Latino immigrants who have been invaluable to our recovery. It is the greatest untold story of the post-Katrina rebuilding, and I continuously repeat it because it is one of the most egregious omissions of our recent history. Official governmental and cultural institutions remain suspiciously silent about the abuses many immigrants have suffered during the reconstruction. Thousands of private businesses and local homeowners, the many galleries/museums and cultural arts organizations, and the general public have all benefited from their arduous labor.

Some day soon, it will be recognized for what is: one of the greatest perpetrations of extensive labor abuse in the history of this country, which has an insatiable appetite for labor exploitation. As much as it breaks my heart, the exploitation of labor should come as no surprise in the port City of New Orleans, which was once built by the slave labor of an African people. Since the storm, the new slaves of color have been the brown Mestizo Latino immigrants, and they transformed "chocolate city" into an enchilada village, rebuilding a destroyed metropolis that would not be where it is today without their labor.

Latino immigrant workers were responsible for bringing the Big Easy back from the dead with a committed work ethic of epic proportions. Like a locusts of reconstruction angels, they descended upon the fragile pueblo, and restored the engines of the viable tourist industry by salvaging the many flooded hotels before they were condemned. They put up roof after roof on house after house that allowed residents to return home. They refurbished the now majestic Superdome, and it has become the most iconic symbol of our progress with the New Orleans Saints football team reigning as the 2010 Super Bowl Champions.

In last year's epic BP oil spill disaster, it was Latino laborers who did the heavy cleaning on the soiled Louisiana shoreline. This entire Gulf Coast state and its people have benefited tremendously from the Latino immigrant labor force, yet they are now fighting to remain. The RIGHT TO REMAIN was the prevailing theme of the recent May 1 demonstration by el Congreso de Jornaleros/The Congress of Day Laborers. They took to the streets of downtown New Orleans to proclaim their human rights and ended their march at City Hall. The series of new images here are from that march.

Make art that matters,

José Torres-Tama
ArteFuturo Productions
2426 Saint Claude Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117
www.torrestama.com
504.232.2968

http://elbigeasyamigoblogger.blogspot.com

NEW ORLEANS FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR
OGDEN MUSEUM ART BOOK available at
http://www.torrestama.com/ogdenbook/index.html

Friday, April 8, 2011

Fear Mongering of Immigrants Is Alive and Well in Louisiana

Go to LATINO USA'S site at
http://www.latinousa.org/932-2/
to hear the full program and an edited version of this commentary
that began airing across the country on Friday, February 11, 2011.

In the weeks following the Arizona shooting of Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords, we heard from both parties about a need for civility in framing political discourse and differences. The hate mongering rhetoric employed by most Republican Tea Party candidates in the 2010 elections was loaded with vitriol, and we kept hearing a cry to “take the country back”. Coming from mostly white conservatives and Christian fundamentalists, I find this phrase disturbing, especially with a multiracial president in the White House whose detractors only see a black man in the highest office.

Rarely is Obama referred to as the multiracial executive chief that he is, and the media plays along with this racially limited depiction of a hybrid president. Unfortunately, this divisive omission echoes one of the biggest fears still lingering in this country, which is the fear of the races mixing. Obama is the scariest representation of this great white fear nestled in the crevices of the old patriarchy, and its so-called Grand Old Party is bearing witness to the overall complexion of the general population change across the country.

We Latinos are becoming a greater factor, and the permanent suntan of most of our people is changing the color spectrum dramatically. Brown is the new black, and it frightens the old guard to the core of their wavering stranglehold on power. As such, its insidiously strategic politicians stoke the fires of xenophobia within its similarly scared base of supporters to take us back to the good ole’ days when their power and abuses of it went unquestioned.

How far back do these folks want to go? Perhaps, they long for the nostalgic 1950s when lynchings of African Americans was a ubiquitous sport in the South, keeping colored folk in a constant state of terror. Latinos and Asians were similarly marginalized, and Texas Rangers had lynching parties of their own with brown Mexican bodies as the strange fruits rotting in the brutal Southwest sun. Across the great land of the free, people of color were not afforded the freedoms exercised by their white counterparts, and we lacked a political voice to challenge the blatant institutionalized racism of those dark times.

In his 2010 re-election campaign, Louisiana’s Republican Senator David Vitter succeeded in taking us back a few decades. His “illegal aliens” attack ad had brown men crossing a ripped up border fence and receiving hefty welfare checks at the expense of white taxpayers. This was pure fabrication because undocumented workers are not eligible to receive such benefits. Just as disturbing was the endorsement Vitter received from the Times-Picayune. The local newspaper recommended voting for a candidate who first painted himself as “Mr. Family Values”, and was caught with his hypocritical pants down in 2007, linked to the notorious DC Madame’s prostitution ring.

That outing prompted a New Orleans Madame who proclaimed Mr. Vitter was a constant client of the Canal Street brothel she ran in 2002. When his opponents brought up the prostitution infidelities, the Senator’s response was that “his God” and the good people of Louisiana had forgiven him. In New Orleans, Latino organizations such as PUENTES and the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce had no forgiveness for Vitter’s offensive ad, which criminalized all Latinos with Hispanic looking actors arriving in droves to cheat the state. With the support of prominent leaders from the African American and Vietnamese communities, they organized to have the thirty-second race baiting promo off the air.

It equaled Sharon Angle’s commercial, which pushed fear of “illegals” into the hearts of white Nevada voters, but that state’s Latino electorate flexed its massive muscle, defeating the Tea Party candidate’s gubernatorial ambitions. In Louisiana, Vitter’s hate and fear campaign yielded victorious results. Even in the blue city of New Orleans, the Republican garnered strong support, but I would not be surprised if he is found to have hired undocumented workers to reconstruct his home after the storm, exploiting their labor while criminalizing them simultaneously.

Latino immigrants continue to do much of the reconstruction work in the Crescent City, but they are repeatedly cheated by contractors who exploit their tenuous status and don’t’ pay them. Criminals target them because they are known to carry cash. When they are murdered, their lives mean little to the local police, who corroborate with ICE to deport them. Under local Sheriff Gusman’s watch, dozens of immigrants have literally disappeared after they were picked up. In early February under freezing temperatures in front of his jail, the New Orleans Congress of Day Laborers held a twenty-four hour vigil to protest his brutal practices. They called out the names of Leornardo Ortiz, missing since 2008, Guadalupe Saldibar, missing since 2009, Jesus Contreras since 2010, and a dozen others for whom they held signs with silhouetted dark figures with the year they were disappeared next to their names.

I hope that New Orleanians wake up and smell the café con leche and have the decency to acknowledge the inhumanity that many immigrants have suffered here while rebuilding our city. Gusman, a Democrat, abuses his authority, and Vitter used fear as his re-election platform. Neither have been models of civility. When police officials and politicians engage in direct vilification of a people, they contribute directly to the general mistreatment of those targeted. In a depressed economy, undocumented immigrants are easy scapegoats.

How many believe that they are loosing their jobs to immigrants and are willing to pick up a weapon like the Arizona shooter to release their hatred, the kind of hatred inspired by Vitter’s poisonous campaign and the human rights violations exacted by the local sheriff?

Make art that matters,

José Torres-Tama
ArteFuturo Productions
2426 Saint Claude Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70117
www.torrestama.com
504.232.2968

http://elbigeasyamigoblogger.blogspot.com

NEW ORLEANS FREE PEOPLE OF COLOR
OGDEN MUSEUM ART BOOK available at
http://www.torrestama.com/ogdenbook/index.html