Driving through Alabama yesterday while on tour, Texas indie rock band Girl in a Coma got pulled over by la Migra. Their crime: Driving While Brown. Seems the Border Patrol agents stopped the band because they saw two Latinas in the front seats, the van had Texas plates, and was "full of luggage." It was one in the morning. The agent asked them for their papers.
Apparently la migra can stop anyone within 100 miles of the U.S. Border, including both coasts, and the Gulf of Mexico.This means anyone in the cities of New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Houston, among many others, can be stopped. In fact, 2/3 of American citizens live in this "constitution free zone." 197.4 million people. Some states such as Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, and others, lie completly within this zone. No warrant or probable cause is needed for what the government calls a "routine search."
Girl in a Coma, driving twelve miles outside of Mobile, Alabama, were deep in the "constitution free zone." Apparently if you're Brown and have guitar cases piled in the back of your citizenship is questionable.
No other details except according to bass player Jenn Alva they were listening to Elvis Presley on their iPod.
Clicking through Salon.com this morning and came across this piece about how a recent chef's suicide may be linked to the guy's participation on the reality cooking show Kitchen Nightmares. Turns out the guy's the second suicide of a contestant from the show. The common denominator of both suicidal cooks: they were berated on national TV by the star of the show, asshole celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey. Apparently the top chef's such a bully he drives contestants to take their own lives.
Of course I quickly YouTubed Chef Ramsey to witness the hullabaloo myself. I was not disappointed. The guy is truly a screaming jerk. No soothing voice of Padma Lakshmi here. Check out Chef Ramsey's visit to a Mexican Restaurant. I'm on the fence about this one. Yes, Ramsey's an unrepentant jerk who may or may not have driven two people to their deaths. But putting stale tortilla chips that have been handled by a table of grubby kids BACK into the chip warmer? You go, Gordon!
I had no plans to blog about TV so soon but last Friday's episode of Outlaw gave me no choice. You remember Outlaw? From NBC? The lone prime-time show in all of TV land with a Latino lead? Jimmy Smits as Cyrus Garza, unrepentant womanizer, gambler, self-retired from the US Supreme Court? I wrote about it here. And do so again today.
The episode in question opens with Judge Garza canoodling in a Vegas hot tub with a naked blonde. Justice Samuel Alito, we are reminded in this risque scene, Garza is not. The phone rings mid-canoodle and Garza's got a new case. In Arizona. Yeah, that Arizona, home of phantom beheadings, Sheriff Joe, and the draconian anti-immigrant bill. In this ripped-from-the-headlines, made-for-TV case, a white cop has shot a Mexican. Bad enough, race-relations wise, but it gets worse: shot Latino turns out to be a legal citizen. A taxpayer. Speaks English and everything. Uh oh. White cop is in big trouble.
As the facts of the case unfold, turns out the Latino guy was loitering on a street corner, minding his own business. But since said street corner was "two miles from the border," and it was night, that was enough probable cause for the cop to stop and ask for some papers. Homeboy, of course, gets pissed (wouldn't you?), a scuffle ensues, and next thing you know the white cop shoots the dude. Three times. Once in the back. Judge Garza to the rescue as he flies to Arizona to take up the timely case. (Unclear, at this point, what happened to the naked blonde. Just sayin'...)
If ever there was a clear example dramatizing how racial profiling can spin out of control, this scenario was it. And on prime-time TV no less. Grist for civic minded, water cooler discussions on the complexity of illegal immigration. Practically a public service broadcast. Will the cop go to jail? Were the civil rights of the guy violated? And, hey, doesn't the Latino actor look a lot like Richard Montoya from Culture Clash? In any case, heady issues to tackle in a TV show. Props to the NBC network whose usual contribution to the public interest are healthy diet tips on The Biggest Loser.
As a Professional-Latino-Who-Cares-About-Such-Things, I fast forwarded my TiVo to see what would happen next.
And wouldn't you know it, things get even more interesting. A major plot twist. The ol' second act reversal. And in the first three minutes. Garza, the Latino lawyer, the Mexican American, the Brown guy, doesn't automatically side with his fellow wronged Raza. ¡N'ombre! That would be too obvious. Instead, Garza chooses -- that's right, CHOOSES -- to represent the White cop. Become his advocate. Vigorously defend his gringo client, the cop who shot the Chicano. What tha--? Wow! Badass twist. Did not see that coming! I sat up in my chair, eager to see how this would play out.
A Brown guy representing a white cop who shot a Latino US citizen who the cop assumed was an illegal because the guy was Brown all in the context of a controversial law legally sanctioning racial profiling? What kinds of insights regarding racial profiling, the law, and it's fair application to illegal immigrants, I wondered, would these topsy turvy dramatic elements lend themselves to exploring? Well, it turns out, not many. What started out so promising became, as the story plodded on, muddled, confusing, and, finally, problematic.
The basic defense of the crew-cutted cop was not that he hates Mexicans, but that he was only following the law. He had no choice to stop him. And so when the Latino guy resisted the cop, again, had no choice but to shoot the unarmed man. And did I mention three times. Once in the back. Hm. Sounds to me like a bit of an over reaction: U.S. citizen doesn’t want to show his passport when standing on a street corner, cop shoots him. But no one seemed to address that issue. Other arguments took center stage...
Garza, it turns out, is a big proponent of States’ rights, he actually says it right before the second commercial. States rights, as we all know, is -- and has been -- code for all kinds of racial shenanigans, primarily by Southern states trying to deny various civil rights of its Black citizens. What this has to do with the Arizona case is not made clear by the TV writers. That’s the muddled part. The problematic part happens at the closing arguments.
(PLEASE NOTE: I have, admittedly, skipped over all kinds of plot business. Mainly because the story beats seemed only to be red herrings existing solely to waste time between the ads for new cars. I’m talking scenes like the Latino guy is a hot head, so maybe he deserves to get his ass kicked by the cop. Another where the cop is recorded saying racist comments, and then Garza proves they were taken out of context. One where Garza and his Black Guy Best Friend drink a couple of beers while parked at the foot of the 20 ft steel border wall with Mexico (yeah, I know, it makes no sense) and a cop harasses them. Another where the comely legal assistant who has a crush on Garza and so may or may not appear at the Judge's door that night in slinky lingerie bought at the hotel gift shop. And of course a scene where angry Chicano protesters almost flip over vendido Garza’s car. Blah blah blah. Like I said, plotty business stuff to get us the final act.)
In any case, CUT TO end of the show and the Cop on the stand: Would you have stopped the Latino guy if he was white, the prosecutor finally asks him? Dramatic pause as everyone waits for his answer. No, the cop finally admits, I wouldn’t have. The courtroom gasps. The cop is toast. That is until Cyrus Garza steps up for his closing argument, and stands before the jury:
It is irrelevant to this case, Garza tells them, whether the Arizona law is just or not. What matters, he argues, is that we don’t send good men to prison to make a point about a law. That would be un-American. Nobody should be sacrificed so politicians can send a message. For that reason, he concludes, the cop must be acquitted.
And of course they do. Not guilty. And to add insult to injury, the jury foreman reading the verdict is a Latino. And they made a special point to have the actor correctly roll his rrrr’s when pronouncing the shot dude’s Mexican name. I guess that’s their version of dramatic irony.
But what bothered me about the show wasn’t so much the sloppy ending, or the way an interesting premise and a twist on character expectations was not fullfilled. What set me off was Garza’s sanctimonious argument about how un-American is was to “sacrifice a man for political expediency, to send a message.” What tha--? Talk about a one-sided argument.
What do you think, I would ask Garza, what do you think the whole point of Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer signing the anti-immigrant law is if not to send a message at the expense of not one guy, but millions of Latinos? People who look just like you. Every half-baked proposal to build a wall or ban Spanish or get rid of Ethnic studies is nothing more than Republican politicians sending a message to their right wing base that they are indeed tough on immigrants. To vote for them in the primary. All on the backs of Latinos, illegal and otherwise. Not that is un-American.
Anyway, didn’t mean to rant so long. This is, at the end of the day, a network TV show and not a Spike Lee movie. Still, I was really hoping for some kind of profound and transcendent resolution to the ideas, legal and moral, that the show purported to explore.
Didn’t get it.
And the comely legal assistant who was contemplating showing up in the Judges room in slinky lingerie? They failed to deliver on that too. Oh well, there’s always next week. Or maybe not. Ratings for the show have been pretty bad. And as much as this week's episode annoyed me it at least got me thinking. And writing. Not only that, but with the loss of Outlaw the entire American TV landscape will once again be absent a TV show featuring a Latino in the lead.
"Do you want some horchata?"And thus began Season 2 of Parenthood, the NBC drama about an upper class white family in the Bay Area. Typing this, I realize saying a TV family is White is way redundant. But I emphasize the point because of the incongruous nature of the tasty Mexican rice drink smack dab in a gringo kitchen. I mean, a buck-fifty street corner drink whirring about in a fancy blender amongst the Pottery Barn decor? Crazy. What, were the Bravermans out of wheat germ for their morning smoothies?
Still, the Horchata line was, from my perspective, a bizarre and gratifying moment. Wonderfully strange because of the aforementioned discordant presence of Mexican drink in a Norman Rockwell household: cheeky; gratifying in its suggestion that Latino culture is seeping, slowly -- horchata glass by horchata glass -- into the so-called mainstream of America. Well, at least into its one-hour drama scripts. Which, again, from my perspective, is not a bad thing at all. I love television. All of which is an admittedly long-winded intro to theme of this week's episode of Connect the Dots: the fall TV season has begun. And lots of Phantom sightings of Brown people among the pilots, second season repeats, and sitcoms.
First up, famed African American actor Blair Underwood plays a Cuban on NBC's The Event. Billed as 24 meets Lost, the intentionally puzzling show is under scrutiny because of it's unintentionally puzzling casting decision: Underwood plays a Latino. An Afro-Cuban to be precise. A color-blind casting choice which has left more than a few Latinos-Who-Care-About-Such-Things angry, because, well...probably because Blair Underwood isn't Latino. Nor is he Cuban (Afro or otherwise). He's not Dominican, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Venezuelan, Brazilian, or even from South Central. Jose Vasconcelos' utopian theory of La Raza Cosmica notwithstanding, I'm going to have to side with the angry Raza on this one. Not so much because it's the same old story of Latinos not getting a chance to actually play a Latino (which it is), but Blair Underwood as a Cuban? Puh-lease. Check out the Latino debate here. And the Latina mag story, glossing over the controversy, here.
Two new judges picked for American Idol. Simon Cowell out, Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler and Selena impersonator Jennifer Lopez in. I am a big Aerosmith fan from waaaay back in the day. And I'm not talking the corny "Crazy" 90s era Aerosmith, with the Alicia Silverstone jailbait videos, I'm talking "Dream On," "Toys in the Attic" badass early 70s Aerosmith. Not sure, though, how I feel about J-Lo's legitimacy as a judge for a singing competition. At least one in which contestants actually have to sing and not have their voices layered, over produced and digitally processed to hit certain notes. Go here for an unadulterated version of what Lopez sounds like before the sonic magic of Pro Tools. Be forewarned. It ain't pretty.
Speaking of judges, the one new TV show with an actual Latino in the lead is Jimmy Smit's Outlaw, also on NBC. Smits plays Cyrus Garza, a conservative Supreme Court Justice who in made up TV world was appointed by George Bush. (I'm guessing Will Smith was not available to play the Mexican American character.) The right-wing Garza's got daddy issues since his lefty Chicano father was buddies with Cesar Chavez and RFK back in the radical 60s. A quick scene of Garza watching Papi and his 60's New Left amigos on YouTube and ten minutes into Episode 1 the now remorseful Garza quits the Supreme court over a death penalty case. Great. The first Latino Supreme Court Justice on prime time TV and the vato quits before the first commercial break. How's that for a role model right at the start of High-spanic Heritage month? Oh, and did I mention homeboy's depicted as a playboy and degenerate gambler? Big deal. So the producers got some stuff right. Thankfully, in the real world, we've got salsa loving Sonia Sotomayor for our heroes. She's a badass. And probably would have made a better American Idol judge than Jenny from the Block.
"Do you want some horchata?"
Did I mention the words were spoken by actress Sarah Ramos (picture above), who plays the eldest Braverman kid? Apparently Miss Ramos is Latina. I didn't know that. She's featured this week among the young Raza celebrities in Latina mag's 25 Brightest Latino Stars Under 25. I would have probably guessed wrong on the Latinoness of many on the list. Sara Paxton? Jake T. Austin? Ni modo. These actors, and others of the Bright 25, claim their Raza bonafides by having one parent Mexican, or Argentinian, or Spanish, or a mixture of all of the above. And who am I to disagree. Talk about the future is Meztizo. La Raza Cosmica indeed. Still, one name on the list stirred the rabid cultural nationalist in me: Levi Johnson? Latino? C'mon, we have to set some kind of standard here.
Finally, the Senate Republicans in one fell filibustering swoop prevent the Defense Authorization Act from making it to the Senate floor. That's right, they didn't vote against it. They voted to not even let it be debated and voted upon. Amongst the casualties in the bill's failure are Don't Ask Don't Tell and the Dream Act, amendments added to the bill. Both measures affect millions, and both are significant to America's future. DADT deals with a wide section swath of U.S. citizens spanning all economic groups, a lot of them rich, organized, and politically connected. The Dream Act deals with a bunch of non-voting, illegal Brown kids wanting to go to college. How does this news fit our TV theme post? No surprise which group affected by the rejection of the Senate bill got the media's attention the next day. On Rachel Maddow's cable show, for instance, nearly 4/5ths of her progressive show dealt with DADT. The Dream Act? Two brief mentions totally about 15 seconds in the 60 minute show. A quick glimpse of the headlines in papers across the country reflected the same invisibility. Tavis Smiley, at least, addressed this very issue. Props to him. But the discussion took place on his radio show. And so who did Tavis feature that same night on his popular nationally broadcast PBS TV show? Ken Burns.
Do you want some horchata? Yes, please, with a shot of Tequila in it...
Make it a double.
Stephen Colbert takes up the United Farm Workers challenge for ordinary Americans to Take Our Jobs, a campaign for people to actually go to the fields and do the work of migrants. Every member of Congress was invited to participate. So far, none have signed up for the offer.
From the Washington Post:
The UFW launched the campaign to counter claims that illegal immigrants are taking jobs from American workers -- with the argument that most people would never take these jobs. Colbert signed up to be one of the few who did -- for a day."Since we launched the "Take Our Jobs" more than three million people have visited our web site, www.takeourjobs.org. Of those visitors, 8,600 have expressed an interest in seeking employment as farm workers. Despite these numbers, only seven people have taken us up on the offer to take a job in agriculture," the UFW said in a press release.
And as postscript to Colbert's Immigrant for a Day stunt, he's now actually going to go before Congress this Friday to testify alongside Rodriguez before a subcommittee of the the House Judiciary Committee. Don't know whether to laugh or cry. Incidentally, working as a field worker was Colbert's second choice. His real dream immigrant job was to be Luchador.
|The Colbert Report||Mon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c|
|Fallback Position - Migrant Worker - Zoe Lofgren|
Really liking Las Robertas, a band straight outta Costa Rica. Yeah, that Costa Rica. The Central American country. Unsure exactly how the band crossed over to the States, avoiding not only the sometimes limiting and reductive rock and español label, but landing straight onto the pages of uber hip indie music blogs (Gorilla vs. Bear entry here), and ultra hip alt labels (go here).
But I'll save that inquiry for another day. All I know is I so wanna make a music video for them.
For now, enjoy the warm and fuzzy stylings of Las Robertas at their MySpace page. Their new LP comes out October 12 on Art Fag Recordings -- CD, vinyl, and, not surprisingly, in trendy "limited edition cassette." Hipster culture, it seems, knows no borders. Ni modo. Las Robertas are pretty badass. Facebook page here. And for an inside baseball, navel-gazing analysis of what the band means in contemporary hipsterdom go here.
I know I know. Sometimes I sound like a broken record when it comes to my absolute frustration with the near total absence of a Latino voice in the mainstream political discourse. (See Huffington Post/Bill Maher critique below.) And while I sometimes question the value of Brown folks blathering side-by-side with the 24/7 parade of talking heads (I mean, how many times can we watch Rachel Maddow and Chris Hayes banter screwball-comedy-like making fun of Sarah Palin Christine O'Donnell?...OK...a lot) for better or worse we live in a cable news driven age.
What's blabbed about on Morning Joe becomes column inches in the Washington Post which then become signs thrust about at Tea Party rallies. It would be nice if on occasion a Brown perspective was contributing to the conversation.
If any good came out of the recent media attention on the Arizona anti-immigrant law it was the various cable channels need to actually put some Raza on air to see what was up. Not that talking to a Latino was CNN and company's first instinct.
As usually happens in these TV news narratives of Someone-Oppressing-a-Minority, the sage voice of the oppressed is almost always a black guy. Usually Al Sharpton. So no surprise, then, in the immediate days following Jan Brewer's signing of Arizona SB 1070, the good Reverend appeared everywhere. Homeboy even led a march of angry Latinos. Not that I don't appreciate the props from my fellow person of color, but it would be nice if Larry King would have let one of us speak for ourselves.
Enter U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva (D. NM).
Not sure where I first saw the good congressman, but from that moment on I was a fan. Any guy called Mecha-Boy by right-wing blogs and a weasel by Michelle Maklin is a badass in my book. And in the fine tradition of not only Barney Frank, but the late great Texas Congresman Henry B. Gonzales, the rumpled, disheveled look from Representative Grijalva somehow adds an "everyman" authenticity to his words. Not that he needs the packaging. Son of a migrant worker, Grijalva's father entered the U.S. through the Bracero Program. He's worked in education. And has called for the economic boycott of his own state.
Here's a video of Grijalva giving a tour of his office. (Thanks to Crooks and Liars for originally posting the video.) While the video's music of Flaco Jimenez is a bit of an obvious cue choice to my post-Chicano ears (Hacienda, perhaps, a more interesting choice? Or even Steve Jordan...) I am nonetheless, heartened by the attempt. Enjoy.