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Creative activism: when arts meet immigration reform

As the nation continues to grapple with the effects of a broken immigration system, artists across the country are doing their part to highlight the issue. Art can be a powerful medium to address many socio-political issues and artists often react to the circumstances around them. Art has also been a supportive space for people facing violations to tell their stories. And it’s also a great medium to raise awareness and make an impact. We were excited to look at a few examples of how artists have been contributing to the immigration reform movement, inspiring action and change.

One such artistic movement came in the form of The Sound Strike, a coalition of artists that are using their music and reach to work towards repealing Arizona’s controversial SB1070 law. The artists, which include M.I.A, Maroon 5, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Rage Against The Machine, Kanye West and many more, have pledged to work together to raise awareness and oppose the unjust treatment of immigrants in Arizona. Besides their aim of repealing SB 1070, The Sound Strike also works towards “galvanizing a new generation of ideas that reject the old ways of thinking while affirming that we are all equal.” (A similar movement of writers, called WordStrike, calls on writers to boycott the state of Arizona on the same grounds.) The Sound Strike has been assisting with fundraising for immigration reform organizations, raised awareness around the issue through their performances, and conducted press interviews to build opposition and engage fans in dialogue about moving towards a more just and equal society that treats immigrants fairly. Speaking about the movement as a “cultural interruption,” Gabriela (of Rodrigo y Gabriela) stated:

“As a band we consist of all immigrants and we know each other’s stories really well…we can’t really be down with any fear-creating laws…we have many songs about brutality of immigration process…these issues are not new, they have always been there.”

Check out a piece by Sound Strike titled ‘Evil Arpaio’, from the Sound Strike Radio:

Another artist using his work to fight the injustice of SB 1070 and the ongoing mistreatment of immigrants is Intikana, a Hip Hop/Spoken Word artist, activist and educator from the Bronx, New York. Intikana’s work with the immigration issue was most powerfully manifested in his music video titled “Arizona,” which he made in collaboration with fellow rapper Navegante. Made in response to SB 1070, Intikana and Navegante collaborated to make a video that combines a 5-minute short documentary about the life of Benito and Carmela, Mexican farm laborers in Immokalee, Florida and their deplorable working conditions. Working long hours without breaks and in inhumane conditions, the couple pick tomatoes in the fields to support their family. In their work, Intikana and Navegante point out the hypocrisy in the treatment of immigrants today considering the fact that the country was built by immigrants.

Watch the full video - Benito and Carmela’s story followed by the song by Intikana and Navegante:

Keeping with a similar theme of farm laborers, Shine Global, a film production company that focuses on ending the abuse and exploitation of children around the world, recently released and critically acclaimed documentary feature title ‘The Harvest.’ Directed by U. Roberto Romano and backed by executive producer, philanthropist and “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria, the film tells “the story of the children who feed America.” These are the children of immigrants. According to the synopsis on the film’s website:

Every year more than 400,000 migrant child farmworkers in the US journey from their homes traveling from the scorching sun of the Texas onion fields to the winter snows of the Michigan apple orchards, from the heat of the Florida tomato fields to the damp cherry trees in Oregon. These children are American citizens.  All are working to help their families survive while sacrificing the birthright of childhood: play; stability; school.

Watch the trailer for “The Harvest” here and visit the website to learn more about the film and the issues.

Besides spoken word, music and film, other forms of art are equally powerful in immigration activism. Favianna Rodriguez is a well known printmaker and digital artist from Oakland, California. Rodriquez has come to be known for her high-contrast and vivid artwork that depict “literal and imaginative migration, global community, and interdependence.” Her work deals with war, immigration, globalization and social movements in an impressive portfolio of stylized posters for events and much more personal artwork. One of her most striking pieces is titled “El Reencuentro” (pictured above) from 2001. Describing the inspiration for the piece, Rodriguez says:

This piece is a very personal piece for me because it narrates the story of my mother’s experience as an immigrant. In 1970, only months after she had arrived from Peru, my mother became pregnant by an abusive alcoholic. Because she was homeless, the Department of Social Services took away her child at birth to turn him over to an adoption agency. With the language and cultural barrier, my mother could do very little. 31 years later, my brother came searching for his birth family and writes a letter to my mother requesting to meet her. They are reunited in 2003.

Like with Rodriguez’s work, the many tribulations faced by immigrants in the recent past over ever-toughening immigration laws have triggered a slew of artistic movements. Artists have been inspired to use their talents to call for change. Movements such as Alto Arizona provide a forum for artists to showcase their work in relation to fighting unjust immigration laws. Similarly, various artists have also reacted to the campaign to get the DREAM Act passed, combining art and activism to make potent images.

We end with a short rap by Humble the Poet, a Sikh rap and spoken word artist from Toronto, Canada. His music addresses a wide range of social issues, from immigration to religion to sexual abuse. He, just like all the other artists and work we have profiled here, as well as the many others that continue to blend art with activism, lends a strong voice to the movement for comprehensive immigration reform. We need a major overhaul of the system now more than ever, and these artists are able to reach out and raise awareness for this crucial issue confronting our nation today.

Watch the video for the rap titled ‘Life of an Immigrant’ by Humble the Poet or listen to the full track, with music (and expletives):

Photo courtesy of favianna.com

This MLK Day, Arizona moves forward

In the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson, debates are raging over hate-filled rhetoric in the political sphere. According to Daniel Hernandez, the brave volunteer in Gabriel Zimmerman’s office who helped his boss amidst all the chaos-

“I think a lot of people are realizing that the political discourse has, for years, become completely destructive and more about tearing the other people apart instead of trying to work together to build up the nation and the state.”

Political analysts suggest that, while there are no obvious motives for the attack, the current theme in politics recently might easily give more people like Jared Lee Loughner the inspiration to resort to violence. Others are arguing for stricter gun control, an issue that has picked up momentum since the recent shootings.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 17th of this month, we need to take a minute to sit back and introspect on why we have become a nation whose politics are filled with spewing hatred and fear. Taking a cue from Martin Luther King’s own life, struggles and politics, it is time to look forward and strive for a public discourse that is open and civil. President Obama, in his memorial address at Tucson, has also called for an end to the constant barrage of accusations and hatred against each other by all political actors-

…at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Instead of starting a blame game, which inevitably leads to more word wars, why not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year with a renewed fervor for civility? In an effort to counter the hatred on the political arena in the country, people have called for organized movements to bring back civility in political and public discourse. The Anti Defamation League has launched ‘Restore Civility,’ a call for a more respectful political debate. Another project to follow is the “History of Hate, Future of Progress” Story Collection Project, started by Alto Arizona, asking people to uncover stories of intolerance, hate speech and violent rhetoric in their own community.

In addition to remembering those we have lost, there is lots to do this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Celebrate the spirit and courage of the man who continued in his struggles without resorting to political hatred, rancor or anger, despite facing stiff opposition along the way.

Besides the annual MLK Day parades in almost every major city in the country, here is a list of events you can attend to show your support for a more “civilized” public sphere!

Arizona
Those living in the metro Phoenix area can celebrate Martin Luther King and the diversity that is this country by attending the Celebration Festival at the Mesa Arts Center. Come for live entertainment, food booths, medical screenings, a job fair and vendors.

New York
Lets teach our children tolerance, respect and an understanding of diversity and equality. Raising Citizens is a weekend-long Martin Luther King, Jr. Festival at the Children’s Museum. Kids experience discussions of Dr. King’s life and teachings, craft projects, and performances by the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir.

Washington DC
Student sit-ins, roundtable discussions, drama, and music- at The National Museum of American History’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Family Festival you can be part of an inspirational tribute to the life and work of Dr King.

Los Angeles
Cheer on young volunteers as the City Year Corps Volunteers head to Thomas Edison Middle School to give the school a makeover on Jan. 17. From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers will paint rooms, a mural, and landscape, and beautify the campus.

Boston
Boston is celebrating Martin Luther King by hosting a free tribute concert at Faneuil Hall Boston. Join the Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events, the Museum of African American History and the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras (BYSO) in remembering a great man, and listen to poet and activist Nikki Giovanni who will deliver the keynote speech.

Chicago
Northwestern’s Chicago Campus will be hosting Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, for a talk on spiritual symbols and frames of reference for unity in light of what Dr King thought about pluralism.

As Jon Stewart aptly put it:

Wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take this opportunity, and the loss of these incredible people, and the pain that their loved ones are going through right now, wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take that moment to make sure that the world that we are creating now, that will ultimately be shattered again by a moment of lunacy, wouldn’t it be a shame if that world wasn’t better than the one we’d previously lost?

Lets hope for a better tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of iill.net

This Memorial Day join Kayne West and thousands of others to protest unjust Arizona law

Leave it to four students to stand as role models of determination against unjust laws such as Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070. Gaby, Felipe, Juan and Carlos walked 1500 miles from Miami to Washington D.C. over four months, to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of undocumented students around the country who, despite having lived here most of their lives, are unable to contribute and follow their dreams because of a broken immigration system. Walking through some of the most conservative states in the country, the Trail of Dreams students collected signatures from 50,000 people, demanding humane and just immigration reform. Despite their efforts, matters went from bad to worse as Arizona passed the controversial anti-immigrant law, SB1070. Rather than be discouraged, the Dreamers have set off once again walking from Scottsdale to Phoenix to join the National Day of Action against SB1070 on Saturday, May 29th.

In the five weeks since Gov. Brewer signed off on SB1070, legislators in 10 other states around the country are pushing for similar bills, even as immigrant rights advocates and human rights activists around the world have condemned the law that criminalizes undocumented immigrants and allows local police to question anyone who they think looks “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, effectively mandating racial profiling and creating fear and distrust within communities. While there has been great national and international pressure against the law and the human rights crisis that will occur if SB1070 is implemented, the vigils, rallies, boycotts, fasts and acts of civil disobedience have been met with inaction on the part of President Obama and his administration, who, besides initially denouncing the law, have done nothing to halt its progress.

Tomorrow, on May 29th, tens of thousands of people from Arizona and around the country will take part in over 60 actions of protest and civil disobedience to send a clear message to the federal government that unjust laws like SB1070 cannot exist in light of of fundamental human rights and the tenets of the Constitution. The National Day of Action against the draconian Arizona law will culminate in a huge protest march at the State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona with thousands of students, teachers, workers, families, immigrant and indigenous people participating.

THE ASKS: The National Day of Action demands that President Obama wakes up on the right side of history this May 29th and takes  a decision to-

- Reassert the federal government’s exclusive control over immigration law by making clear that state and local police do not have the inherent authority to enforce immigration law. Arizona’s law is a result of the federal government’s failure to maintain control of immigration enforcement and its inaction regarding elimination of all forms of racial profiling.

- Immediately suspend and terminate all police-ICE partnerships, including 287(g) agreements and Secure Communities which have actively transferred federal immigration authority to the states, setting the stage for laws like SB 1070 to pass.

-Direct the Department of Homeland Security to refuse to take custody of anyone charged with violating provisions of SB 1070.

A culmination of all the diverse acts of resistance that have been taking place already, tomorrow’s Phoenix protests will also be echoed in all corners of the country in cities like Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, San Francisco and many places in between. Those who cannot make it to Phoenix can take part in a virtual march to demand intervention and express their outrage at the President’s inaction on SB1070 and comprehensive immigration reform.

Leading the way, a diverse group of artists and musicians have announced a boycott of all performances in Arizona until the new law is revoked. In a campaign called the Sound Strike, organized by Zack de la Rocha, the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine, artists like Massive Attack, Michael Moore, Kanye West, Sonic Youth, Joe Satriani, Tenacious D and Los Tigres De Norte have taken a stand against the law and called on their fans to sign a petition demanding an end to the draconian law. De La Rocha’s initiating words -

Fans of our music, our stories, our films and our words can be pulled over and harassed every day because they are brown or black, or for the way they speak, or for the music they listen to. Some of us grew up dealing with racial profiling, but this law (SB 1070) takes it to a whole new low.

So on this Memorial Day Weekend, get yourself to Phoenix at your “disobedient ” best, and join in this massive mobilization for human rights and reform. If you can’t be there, show your support wherever you are. Inspired to do something now? Send a letter to President Obama telling him just how high the stakes are, and demanding that the federal Government restore fairness NOW.

Photo courtesy of altoarizona.com

Oh Arizona! Jokes aside, how many racist laws can we deal with?

The British band Massive Attack played in New York City last night, and while their entire performance was framed by high-tech LCD projections against war, racism, corporate monopolies and violations of civil rights around the world, the specific moment at which the audience erupted in cheers was when the visuals denounced the harsh new law targeting immigrants in Arizona. In addition to inspiring creative forms of old-school activism, it looks like Arizona’s giant fiasco around the highly controversial and potentially racist anti-immigrant law, SB1070, has inspired some interesting (and appropriately ridiculous) humor. In the name of satire, the ACLU has launched a glorious new website called “The Deprofiler” which offers free “white people” masks that promise to protect against the threat of “reasonable suspicion” that Arizona’s new law places on people that are not white, and especially on the Latinos that account for 30% of Arizona’s population. Their pitch reads-

Being Brown was never easy. But now, due to SB1070, it can get you thrown in jail. Deprofiler.com allows you to print a mask of a friendly white person’s face to wear while you’re in Arizona. Now you can bask in the freedom and confidence of knowing you’ll never be harassed by the police. Get yours.

So if you’re worried, just select the mask of your choosing (they offer a selection of “whites”), print out a pdf, cut to holes in it for eyes, attach a piece of string, and you’re ready to go. Their sharing tools urge you to help keep a friend out of jail so “help a friend be white today!” Hysterical as it is, it’s more than just laughs; the final step asks users to take action and learn more about the issue by going to the Reform Immigration for America website.

A group of filmmakers who are concerned about the backward turn that lawmakers are taking when it comes to making informed decisions that respect the values of freedom and equality that this country stands for, created this PSA ridiculing Arizona’s SB1070. The video shows a police officer in Arizona chasing down a car in which the driver is obviously drinking. The officer asks him for his “papers” (including license, registration, social security card, birth certificate and work permit), but when the camera zooms out, we see that instead of questioning the drunk driver, he is questioning his sober Latino friend. Check it out for yourself-

Ridiculous as the scenario in the video is, it is not as far from the truth as it should be. Jokes apart, Arizona’s law, that makes it a crime to be undocumented and mandates that police officers stop and question someone based on how they look, seems to have unleashed a spate of state laws that aggressively threaten the equality, dignity and healthy co-existence of this country’s diverse population. Following the passage of SB1070, Gov. Jan Brewer has signed off on a bill that bans schools from teaching “ethnic studies,” classes that teach students of color about their heritage and history. The bill bans these classes based on the logic that they promote “resentment,” and encourage students to want to “overthrow” the U.S. government.

State schools chief, Tom Horne, who has been advocating for this bill (HB2281) for many years, believes that the Chicano and Mexican studies classes taught in the Tuscon school district (the first district where this bill will be implemented) teach Latino students that they are “oppressed by White people.” The Tuscon School district program offers its students, who are 56% Hispanic, courses on African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that include the history and literature of specific ethnic group. According to Horne, these programs promote ethnic solidarity, “ethnic chauvinism” and racial resentment towards whites, rather than treating the students as “individuals.”

According to school district officials, the programs simply teach students the background to historical events, rather than promote resentment and hate towards other ethnic groups. This is what the Racism Review had to say about it-

An honest discussion of the history of whites’ racial oppression targeting Mexican Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, and other Americans of color in the southwest and elsewhere will be out of the question when and if this legislation goes into effect. Truth-telling about our white-racist history, and resistance to it by Americans of color, that gives people honest understandings (and/or group pride) will actually be illegal, as seen in this legislation of the folks in the Arizona legislature.

Sean Arce, director of Tuscon’s Mexican-American studies program, is disappointed that the state has decided to censor an academic program that has proved extremely successful. Judy Burns, who is on the Tuscon district’s governing board says she will refuse to comply with the law, and will not end the program that focuses on Chicano literature, history and sociology, and currently has a significant percentage of students enrolled in it. Once the law comes into effect (on December 31st, districts that do not comply with it could lose 10% of their State funding every month.

It is frightening that these legislators in Arizona believe that teaching young people about their history and cultural heritage is akin to promoting resentment between ethnic groups. Instead of encouraging a society built on freedom of thought, accessibility to knowledge and honest discussion, laws such as this one simply serve to deny the rich and diverse culture that is integral to the fabric of this country. To show your support for bringing back human rights in Arizona and protesting the spate of hateful laws, join AltoArizona for a Mass Mobilization on May 29th!

Photo courtesy of deprofiler.com

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Tension mounts as Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill awaits its fate

Tension builds about the fate of SB 1070, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant legislation, that awaits being signed into law or being vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer today.

Advocacy groups in Arizona have mobilized to put pressure on Governor Brewer to veto the dangerous and unconstitutional bill. Last night, a group of people held an overnight vigil outside the Governor’s office. Today, a press conference will be held outside the Governor’s office where 50,000 petitions protesting the bill will be delivered. More actions drawing attention to the inhumane nature of legislation will continue through the week including rallies, prayer vigils and press conferences. Faith-based groups around the country have joined civil rights groups in condemning the bill, like Cardinal Mahony, head of L.A.’s Catholic Archdiocese, who likened the bill to techniques used by Nazis that compelled people to turn each other in.

The Arizona legislature just passed the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law. The tragedy of the law is its totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.

Meanwhile, Governor Brewer succumbed to phone calls ringing off the hook and released a non-committal statement about SB 1070, stating that she would review the legislation over the next couple of days and make an informed decision about the constitutionality of the bill based on the advice of her staff and experts. Speaking at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Black and White Ball on Saturday, she said-

In regards to Senate Bill 1070, I will tell you that I never make comment, like most governor’s throughout our country, before a bill reaches my desk. But I hear you, and I will assure you that I will do what I believe is the right thing so that everyone is treated fairly.

Amongst those who support the bill is Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070, who has defended it against accusations of racial profiling saying, “That’s the biggest myth in the world…Illegal is a crime. It’s not a race.” A New York Times article that explores how he came to be the author of one of the most racist and regressive pieces of legislation in recent years talks about his own history with immigration – In 2004, his son, a Sheriff’s Deputy in Maricopa County, was shot and wounded by an undocumented immigrant, and 20 years ago, Pearce himself, also a Sheriff’s Deputy, was also shot and wounded while arresting gang members.

While it might come as a surprise to most of us that all but one Republican in the Arizona Senate supported the bill (all the Democrats opposed it), it is clear that many opinions around the bill are being shaped by upcoming election mania. Most shocking is Senator John McCain’s about turn, for someone one who supported comprehensive immigration reform with Senator Ted Kennedy four years ago, he  has  given overt support to SB 1070, which he thinks will be a “good tool” and “a very important step forward. His office later said his comments did not represent an endorsement, but did not deny his support to the bill either.

When the fate of the country rests in the hands of politicians who can only see as far as the next election, we can only hope that the courageous voices that are constantly fighting for equality, justice and human rights, are not ignored. Take action and tell Governor Brewer that vetoing SB 1070 is the only option.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com