"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

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