"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

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



1 comment:

  1. Hey,

    There's going to be a free speech assembly in New Orleans at Duncan Plaza Park (by City Hall) on Saturday, July 30th starting at 10AM. Hope you can join us. Also, check out weekly organizing committee meetings for creating a Liberation Square here in NOLA - meetings are on Thursday evenings at 8PM, St. Jude's Basin Hall (410 Basin St). Call Mike for more info - 504.587.0080.

    Ted Morée