Monday, April 26, 2010

Brown… is the new Black

Brown… is the new Black

Over the last several weeks I’ve joked with my co-hosts, Liza Marie and Steve “Trig” Cancino, on our radio show (Rebel Radio) about the fact that I’m often mistaken for being more Italian, than Puerto Rican.

With my pale complexion, spiky hair – ala MTV’s Jersey Shore – and “fugged
aboutit” accent, I’ve been asked about my Guido affiliations on many occasions. And while it’s something I laugh about, it’s not something I purposely set out to carry as a badge of honor. The truth is I’m proud of my Latino heritage and all of its rich cultura and history.

And although the verdict is out on how much of my family comes from the Canary Islands by way of my mother’s ancestry, the Betancourt’s. And just how much of my birth fathers (Sanchez) ancestry comes from Puerto Rico, I know in my heart and soul that I carry more of the Taino spirit in me than the conquistador spirit coming out of Arizona over the last few months.

To divide and conquer: It’s as if a few lawmakers in Arizona have found a way to play a modern
day version of cowboys and Indians.

The cowboys are people like Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, first introduced to us by Soledad O’Brian in her Latino in America series – To bad Arpaio didn’t catch our attention back then. We were to busy crying about how Soledad didn’t feature enough Latino Harvard graduates to pay attention to the overtly racist town and it’s policies, now laws, that she was trying to enlighten us about.

But we really should’ve been paying attention to Arpaio, who is now being investigated for many civil rights violations.

In regards to being an unapologetic racist, Arpaio comes second only to his white supremacist buddy and lawmaker, Russell Pearce, who actually wrote the controversial SB1070 bill just passed into law in Arizona.

Cowboy number two – Pearce has made no excuses for his revulsion of Mexicans, Blacks, Israelis and even Jews and was temporarily looked down upon in 2006 for forwarding an email to his supporters by way of the neo-Nazi National Alliance.

Luckily for him, being a racist in Arizona is no political career ending crime.

But even more disturbing is the fac
t that he’s received and shown support for a man named JT Ready, an outright neo-fascist who took part in a neo-Nazi demonstration in which a Mexican and Israeli flag were set on fire in Omaha, Nebraska.

Just another good ole’ boy barbeque complete with hate-core music, slam dancing and burning swastikas adorning the backdrop of America... which more and more
each day feels as if it should really be spelt AmeriKKKa.

Again… there’s no issue with any of this blatant racism in Arizona – a state which also made sure there was no existence of a Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday until an economic boycott, the loss of 166 conventions and subsequent loss of an NFL Superbowl, finally forced them to approve the holiday. Not for the sake of justice, but for the sake of their economy.

The last of the cowboys is actually a cowgirl, albeit the most dangerous of this ruthless Arizon
a posse…

Cowgirl Jan Brewer, also known as the most dimwitted chick next to Sara Palin, also known as the Governor of Arizona… also known as the white women who defied the big bad black President of the United States, actually became the most dangerous of the posse when she signed this controversial law (SB1070) into effect on Friday, April 23, 2010.

A law which basically makes it probable cause to have any semblance of skin tone that could be considered, illegal, Latino, Native American, light-skinned black… you get the picture.

And if you’re stopped for being any shade of brown, you’d better have your birth certificate,
driver’s license, social security, passport, baptism records and a letter from your mother that reads… “Officer, please don’t arrest, detain or beat my son or daughter… I swear they were born in America… plopped right out of my belly right here in the good ole’ U.S of A!”

For those saying this law will not affect anyone in this country legally. Think again… because just hours before the bill even passed, a man only willing to give his first name as Abdon, was already arrested and taken to the INS building even though he showed his commercial drivers license and
a social security card.

He was only released after his wife retrieved his birth certificate from their home and was able to prove he was a citizen of the United States. (story here)

I have to wonder and pose the question to my audience, whether or not a white president could’ve stopped this bill from being signed into law with a simple phone call…

I can’t help but believe that if President Obama had been Bush’s or Clinton’s skin tone while making this phone call to Jan Brewer… that perhaps the pen-slinging cowgirl would’ve holstered her weapon and not spilt the ink on that paper which now spells racism for this country and a plunge back fifty years in time… when it was illegal to be Black in America.

Obama was quoted as saying, “As a nation, as a people, we can choose a different future – a future that keeps faith with our history, with our heritage, and with the hope that America has always inspired in the hearts of people all over the world…”

The cowboys and cowgirls of Arizona would be wise to draw on that past history in understanding that while they may be able to slaughter us for their own political gain… they’ll never be able to silence our ancestors… and they’ll never be able to enslave our spirit.

Brown may very well be the new black to those still trying to bind us. But they’d do well to remember their own immigration status and passage to this country… If they’re not original Native Americans… they’re all walking on stolen land.

Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Time to Pull Up Your Pants Son

Time to Pull Up Your Pants Son

I think it’s safe to say that when a school celebrates a makeshift holiday called, “Pull up your pants day,” we’ve lost the battle concerning our youth being respectful in school.

Plantation High School – who the hell named this school – in South Florida celebrated the day in honor of a speech President Barack Obama gave back in November 2008 in which he stated, “Brothers should pull up their pants.”

A local Wal-Mart supplied the school with 200 free belts to help the cause. And teachers said there were no incidents, adding that all of the students were on their best behavior.

Reading the article, reminded me about a statement I recently heard activist NYOIL make on Hot 97’s Street Soldiers a few weeks back. When he spoke about how respectable the young men and women behaved while participating in his Blackbird Fly Conference and Gala Event.

The young ladies dressed like princesses and queens in beautiful gowns, complete with crowns. And the young men who accompanied them dressed like young royalty, looking as sharp as ever in their rented tuxedos. It’s no wonder they carried themselves with a great deal of pride as they walked around.

If you’ve ever dressed like this yourself you’d understand that it affords you the ability to walk with your head held extra high, feeling like a million bucks, dressed in a way that often reflects on the inside who we’d always like to be on the outside.

Dressing in such a glamorous way often causes people to stop and stare, to pay attention to us as we enter or exit a room… and as a first impression, there is no better way to say, “I respect myself and I expect you to respect me the same…”

So it’s of no great surprise that with the young men of this next generation walking around like penguins, in a clumsy-like shifting from side-to-side, trying to keep their pants up walk, they look every bit the buffoonish way they often seem to act.

They’re behavior is simply mimicking the dress code they’ve adopted from the penitentiary system.

I myself remember walking around my cell when I was 15-years-old without a belt and no shoe laces, trying to find another way to hang myself so that my mother wouldn’t beat me senseless for getting caught writing graffiti.

But for me there really wasn’t anything cool about it… And I never found a reason to bring that style home with me… granted my 12 hour bid wasn’t long enough for me to become accustomed to the fashion, but you get the meaning. I didn’t see being arrested as a badge of honor the way many do in our inner-cities.

Being a part of the Hip Hop generation often means we’re not quick to speak out against issues that can be perceived as, “Selling out…”

The Stop Snitching campaign is a wonderful example of just how far we’ll go to keep shut about behaviors killing our neighborhoods, because we don’t want to be seen as taking the side of the law, who is often seen as not on our side.

But there are times when we have to stand up and say, “Enough is enough…” And for me personally this is one of those times when I have to use my voice to make that statement.

I don’t believe in censorship of any kind, but I also shouldn’t have to walk down the street with my young daughters while staring at the ass or dirty draws of some young wannabe thug.

I don’t believe in policing what people wear, but I do believe in the indecency laws on the books that should prevent me as a father from having to stare at some young mans boxers.

I’m not interested in seeing if you’re wearing Calvin Klein, Fruit of the Loom, or Hanes underwear young brothers. It’s time for you to pick up your damn pants and have some respect for the young ladies and for that matter the older ladies in your community… As a mater of fact it’s time for you to have some respect for yourselves.

New York State Senator Eric Adams has recently launched a campaign to “Ban the Sag,” by placing six billboards all over Brooklyn that read, “Raise your pants… Raise your image,” and “We are better than this…” And frankly I agree not only with his message, but with his campaign to pass a bill that would make the practice of indecency in our streets illegal.

I understand that some might say this is just another way to invite aggressive policing into our communities. But in my humble opinion this isn’t about fashion, this is about asking our communities to dress appropriately and to respect the young ladies we have walking around these same neighborhoods we’re aiming to change for the better.

How can you have a daughter and think this is acceptable? And as a man in your community how can you condone a dress code that you know those emulating will never have a chance of being taken seriously… that they’ll never have a chance to land a decent job.

Make no mistake about it… this isn’t about dressing in a manner that we don’t believe to be fashionable. This is about combating a way of life that spells nothing but failure for those who adopt it for themselves.

This is about being a responsible adult… and telling the youth that they need to respect themselves enough to pull up their damn pants.

Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.

Monday, April 12, 2010

La Mission… Is Our Reality

La Mission… Is Our Reality

What is a dream if not for the realization that it’s achievable? And what reality is worth living in if all dreams are broken before ever having had the opportunity to manifest themselves into veracity?

One of my newest friends, Michael Holman, recently told me that the lie is that we’re lazy… the truth is that our dreams are often shattered leaving our spirits completely broken. This in turn leaves us in a state of hopelessness, a state many mistakenly perceive as laziness.

Over five years ago I decided to actively chase my own dream of becoming a published author.

But with no formal education as a writer and no connections to the publishing world I had no idea how I’d see this dream through to fruition…

Nevertheless, when the stories I fought so hard to share with the world made me the first Puerto Rican from the Bronx to sign a major publishing deal for a memoir… I realized that it was destiny dictating the importance of documenting where I came from.

It was destiny that ensured that if I ran hard and fast enough, I’d eventually catch up to my dreams and meet them up close and personal.

And to this day I continue to be gifted, not financially, but spiritually though networking encounters with others who’ve run just as hard to make their dreams their realities.

This past Friday (04/09/2010) was no exception when my friend Kay Shaw, Director of Strategic Partnerships for the National Black Programming Consortium, invited me to meet her good friend Peter Bratt and watch his powerful film, La Mission, starring his brother Benjamin Bratt.

I was elated because it was one of three films I really wanted to see last year at the New York International Latino Film Festival. But time wasn’t on my side back then and I wasn’t able to make the screenings.

Truth be told… I wasn’t supposed to see the film at that time. Because with all I was going through personally as a result of my relocation back to Bronx to save the hood, I don’t think I could’ve handled the depth of emotion I felt when I finally watched it the other night.

As it was, I almost walked out of the theater twice because of the emotional exercise the film was running me through.

La Mission, a film about the Mission District of San Francisco where Peter and Benjamin grew up, so intelligently deals with many of the issues minorities face on a daily basis. The only word I could use to describe it would be genius.

It’s simply and without question… a work of Genius!

During the Q&A after the film, Peter Bratt spoke bluntly when he mentioned that some people have asked him why he chose to tackle so many issues in one film. His answer revolved around the fact that many minority families deal with all of these issues on a daily basis.

At dinner later that night one of my first questions to Peter was, “How did you get so much content into two hours in such a seamless manner?”

And then I probably hit him in rapid fire succession with questions about the way he addressed homophobia, Latino machismo, black and brown relationships, a single father trying to raise his only son, a neighborhood that has issues with gang violence, alcoholism, the war overseas, domestic violence, the immigration problem… and I can go on and on.

He never really answered the question about how he covered all the bases in two hours, but it was more of a rhetorical anyway.

Plus, I’d only give away his secrets in this blog… so it was a good move on his part not to give me a direct answer.

But here I am several days later still wondering how one writer / director dealt with all of these issues in the span of one film, in a way that was so subtly informative that when the film was over, I remained stuck in my seat trying to process everything I’d just seen?

It was as if the powerful imagery I’d just viewed now wanted to reintroduce itself into my thoughts allowing me an opportunity to understand the power of what I’d just witnessed…

Furthermore I wondered how on earth Peter managed to capture it all in a way that couldn’t possibly draw cries of stereotyping, glorification of violence or any other mistake Latino filmmakers formulate when trying to share our painful stories of struggle and survival on the big screen?

When Peter asked me if I was going to eat anything for dinner I said, “To be honest… my nerves are shot…”

It was as if what I’d just observed on the screen made me realize that our stories can be told with dignity and pride without ever losing their authenticity… and it moved me in a way that this writer still can’t find the words to express in great enough detail.

There is a scene in the movie that has played itself over and over again in my head…

The scene depicts a fight in the middle of the street and just when it’s about to climax into an all out war, an elderly Native American man steps into the picture and says, “Nephew… that’s enough…”

Three simple words from an elder… order is restored, respect is displayed, and the spirituality of life is discovered.

It was a scene that sent tears streaming down my face instantaneously as I wished that this generation had enough respect for their elders to actually freeze and obey a command of, “Stop,” during a violent altercation.

Imagine if we respected our elders that much in the streets of Compton, the South Bronx, Chicago and the Mission District of San Francisco…

Imagine how beautiful our neighborhoods would be if we became neighbors again, if we respected our heritage, our history and our past greatness.

And it was during this process of imaging what kind of world that would be, which made me very emotional.

La Mission is a dream realized by two brothers wanting to tell a story about where they came from. And although I could sit here and talk about the brilliance of the acting – because it unquestionably was – I’d much rather prefer to spend these words writing about the brilliance of the Bratt brother’s dream being realized.

Moreover, how that dream can blossom into thousands of quality films by people of color who now have a blueprint to follow.

Marsha Norman said that, “Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.”

And with films like La Mission it becomes brilliantly apparent that sharing our souls with the world through writing and filmmaking allows us to realize our greatest dreams.

La Mission in life should always be to chase your dreams… and when you catch them, let them know they never stood a chance of escaping you when they took off running.

Because in the end… our dreams are worth living for!

Stay Brown…

Ivan Sanchez is the author of Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.

Monday, April 5, 2010

I’m Not a Man… Until I’m Free

I’m Not a Man… Until I’m Free

I often wonder if my messages are being clouded by the reality that some of my audience now has this preconceived notion that I’m just plain angry, thus spewing unfounded rhetoric of nonsensical ramblings that I consider of the utmost importance for the future of our people…

And when I say
OUR people, I’m speaking about the most undeserved humanity has to offer.

Yes, I write for Urban Latino Magazine. But the issues I literately conquer each week are issues that affect those I see as voiceless, those whose lack of education has not afforded them the intellect to voice their frustrations in forums like these.

I’m speaking to Blacks, Latinos and even lower class Caucasians who have fallen from middle-class to lower-class in the midst of the devastating economic recession that has more of us unable to afford to be treated with dignity by a justice system whose verdicts only fall in favor of those with deep pockets.

I’m speaking to those who have given up and allowed the system to brainwash them so-much-so that they have accepted without question their destinies of life in and out of privatized penitentiaries or maybe the lesser cruel outcome of death at the hands of their neighbors.

How brain dead does one have to be to willingly and without fight accept that type of a fate?

How much of a punk does one have to be to sit idly by and watch their communities plunge into the deepest pits of despair and desolation without ever lifting as much as a faint cry in angst?

So yes, I’m angry… I’m downright pissed off…

But I’m even more confused at how those so willing to fight one another over dirty
looks and fictitious families disguised as gangs remain too afraid to stand up and fight for a positive shift in the socioeconomic conditions of their families, their neighbors and their communities.

Honestly, I’m damn ashamed of my generation’s lack of interest in improving the civil rights of our people.

And just one day after the 42nd Anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I’m mortified that all “we as a people” have managed to do is dishonor his legacy, his life’s work and his untimely death.

For those not paying attention, the racism of Dr. King’s day has been replaced with the modern day form of slavery – that being classism.

The chains of our African American ancestors have been replaced with the silver bracelets (handcuffs) of police departments across the count
ry who continues to lock us up and throw away the key at an alarming rate, locking minorities, we 3rd class citizens, into a repeated cycle of poverty laced bondage.

Welcome to the new Jim Crow Era.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Jim Crow Laws in existence between 1876 and 1965 – not that long ago – it was basically the segregation of Whites and Blacks.

It was quite frankly, “Don’t put your black lips on my water fountain…” “Don’t put your black ass on my toilet in the restroom,” and “Get your black feet off the sidewalk when a white person
walks by.”

Does that upset anyone? Do I have your attention? Are you as pissed off as I am right about now?

Today, those same laws would certainly and without question apply to Latinos and any other non-white nationalities in this country.

My question is would we stand for it?

And my personal and humble opinion is unequivocally “YES!” of course we would.

Because we have a modern day form of those laws in existence as you read this blog. And we’re too preoccupied with ourselves to care that many around us are being subject to these types of gross injustices.

With the introduction of Author Michelle Alexander’s new book titled,
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, we can no longer ignore the factual evidence now being placed in front of us.

There is a quote in Alexander’s book from President Richard Nixon’s White House Chief of Staff, H.R. Haldeman, which reads,
“The whole problem is really the blacks. The key is to devise a system that recognizes this while not appearing to.”

Please go back and read that quote again and let it marinate for a minute…

Can you imagine the President of the United States being told blacks are the problem, we need
a system that controls them, but we can’t appear to be controlling them?

Since that time we have gone from 300,000 people in prison to 2.3 million in prison, with an additional 5 million on probation or parole.

Does this sound like the control of blacks and Latinos to anyone?

It’s high time we realize that these systems were put in place over forty years ago to control the progression, or lack thereof, of African Americans and eventually other minority populaces, primarily Latinos, who also inhabit inner-city communities across the country.

And it’s about damn time we begin as a collective to get serious about breaking this chains and cycles of oppression.
According to the National Urban Leagues, “State of Black America Report,” Black men and women earn 62 cents on the dollar earned by whites; Less than half of black and Hispanic families own homes and 40 million people are living under the poverty line in this country, this being based on pre-recession data. Conditions are much worse today.

And here we are locked into a system that prefers to spend $45 thousand dollars a year to confine a 19-year-old, non-violent criminal, than to use that money for programs designed to actually treat, rehabilitate and educat
e that same 19-year-old.

Bryan Stevenson stated on the
Bill Moyer Journal, imagine “What kind of America we can create if we invest in deconstructing the systems that have created poverty, reinvesting in jobs, reinvesting in a kind of politics of hope. We talk about it, but we don’t make it real unless we deal with the most hopeless, marginalized, subordinated communities in our society.”

Mr. Stevenson is one who is trying to carry on the war waged against the system so many decades ago by Dr. King.

As I hear the sirens screaming outside my window I recall Dr. King’s speech when he powerfully said, “I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promise land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promise land! And I’m so happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any ma

The next day Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered.

I just wish some of you would rid yourself of that fear of man, that fear of the system… and journey with me to the summit of that same mountain Dr. King was climbing.

It’s time we remove these chains and walk as free men in our communities!

Ivan Sanchez is the author of
Next Stop: Growing up Wild-Style in the Bronx (Touchstone – Simon & Schuster, 2008). The book is the first memoir released by a major publishing house written by a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. Sanchez is also the co-author of It’s Just Begun: The Epic Journey of DJ Disco Wiz, Hip Hop’s First Latino DJ (powerHouse, 2009). He was awarded the National Novel honors for his first fiction offering and is currently working on several new books about NY Latinos. He is also the co-host of Rebel Radio on Urban Latino Radio.