Política Pop

The pentatonic scale is a political weapon.

What I Miss from the Practice of Law

by José Simián

From “Extreme Makeover” by Dahlia Lithwick (The New Yorker, March 12, 2012):

[T]he Supreme Court is both supremely open to and supremely closed off from the world around it. That’s why we come to the Court, play by its rules, and tell the Justices stories they like to hear about people who remind them of themselves. The Justices don’t get out much.

We may well wonder, then, where they get their information about the world outside their chambers, and how they learn (…) how much they don’t know about that world.


Strange Ideas

by José Simián

A post on News Taco asks if US Latinos are “going to start passing as white.” The seemingly controversial question, hinging on whether “Latinos will go the way of the Irish and Italians” (the horror!), is deeply flawed.

First, the author defines “passing” as “self identifying as white, foregoing their culture or language, and remembering their heritage primarily via eagle and serpent tattoos on Cinco de Mayo.” But a growing number of people who identify as Latinos are not “passing” as anything when they “forego” of their culture or language. They are simply being honest to the fact that they are more American than, say, Mexican or “Latino” because they were born in the United States, like the majority of Latino children in the country. They don’t speak Spanish because they have attended English-speaking institutions all their lives.

That process has many names, but “passing” is not one of them.

Even more shocking is the fact that Sara Inés Calderón, the author of the post, assumes a critical attitude towards Latinos who marked themselves as “white” in the 2010 Census. This statement is not only ignorant of the controversy that surrounded questions 8 and 9 of the 2010 Census (i.e.: considering “Hispanic” as an ethnicity, not a race), but also of the fact that the most likely race options for Hispanics to choose from were only three: “white,” “black” and “some other [fill-in] race.”

Thus, Calderón seems to be unaware of the fact that Latinos form a racial spectrum —one that unites people of infinite colors and backgrounds— impossible to be captured by the Census boxes. To compare Latinos with the Irish or Italian in this regard is simply incorrect, because the very idea of a “Latino” implies a multiracial and multicultural group, shattering the notion of a race and national identity.

So asking if we could “pass” as white is not only wrong: it is offensive to the very idea that Calderón claims to defend.

Obama on Univisión: Lost in Translation

by José Simián

[Originally published on Mediaite]

So what did President Obama say to Univisión? It was hard to tell.

As I began to watch the interview he gave to Jorge Ramos, I found myself moving closer and closer to the TV, as if I were deciphering a strange language. The premier Spanish network had made the awful choice of dubbing instead of subtitling the interview.

It took me back to my childhood, watching Hollywood films on Chilean TV on endless school afternoons—suffering because cowboys, pirates, lawyers and superheroes shared the same toothpaste-commercial voices. Later on, my brother and I turned this nonsense into a game: who could name more films or series in which this same overdubbing artist had taken over a famous actor.

But the miseries of being born on the wrong side of English stop being funny when you are trying to understand what the President is saying on relevant matters, and another voice paired with a lousy sound mix make it impossible. (The internet version sounds much better.)

Yet, the problem is not only that sound mixing may be tricky and the dubbing artist may remind you of the Latin American translation of Homer Simpson (which it did). Univisión’s choice was regrettable because what makes dubbing movies simply wrong (beautifully explained by Dolores Prida in the Daily News) applies to politics, too: much of what is being said resides in accents, pauses and inflections.

So yesterday I didn’t really watch President Obama talk to the millions of Hispanics who regularly tune into Univisión—a historic occasion, indeed.

It was something else. And I hated it.

And this is not to say that the interview wasn’t good. Jorge Ramos is a solid interviewer and displayed his skills by asking Obama three times if he had the votes to approve health care reform, pressing him to clarify his stance on health benefits for illegal immigrants; reminding him of the economic cost of forcing immigrants to use emergency rooms; questioning his switch from talking about “undocumented immigrants” to “illegal immigrants;” and reminding him of his promise of immigration reform during his first year in government.

Particularly on the last two topics, Ramos dealt significant blows to Obama: his change of words to refer to illegal immigrants is a sensitive topic among many Hispanics, and his answer (that he was merely replying to the attacks from the right in their own terms) was not convincing; on the latter, it is by now obvious that his promise of immigration reform in 2009 will not be fulfilled.

In other words, Ramos made the President tumble in the eyes of Hispanics.

But it was all lost in translation, and by that point, most of Univisión’s audience (who can most likely read subtitles and understand English at the same time) may have switched to another outlet—one in which they could hear their President with their own ears.

Can I Speak in Spanish, Please?

by José Simián

Photo via Daily Mail

Photo via Daily Mail

After four hours of electrifying tennis, 20-year old Juan Martín Del Potro defeated Roger Federer in the US Open final. It was an unexpected feat by the 20-year old Argentinean, who was playing his first Grand Slam final.

Once the players finished the round of gentlemanly statements that define a tennis trophy ceremony, presenter Dick Enberg rushed to explain in morbid detail the prizes for the champion. But Del Potro seemed to have other things on his mind—who knows, perhaps glory may not be a Lexus convertible, after all.

“Can I speak in Spanish?” Del Potro said when the presenter finally paused for a second.

“Ah, sorry, we are running out of time here,” was Enberg’s cold response.

As Enberg kept talking about money, Del Potro looked as if he was being punished instead of crowned.

“And now, the presentation of the championship trophy…” Enberg went on.

But the man who had just beaten the greatest tennis player of all time still had some energy left. Politely, he requested to speak in Spanish for the second time.

“Very quickly, in Spanish, he wants to say ‘hello’ to his friends here and in Argentina,” presenter Enberg patronizingly said.

“I want to thank my team—this would have been impossible to achieve without them”, Del Potro said. “To all the Argentineans here, and especially to my mother, my father, Julieta, my grandparents and all my friends and the people who have supported me: This is for you.”

And then he cried, as we normally do when we are allowed to express great emotions in our native tongue.

A champion should not have to beg for that.


Watch the video: 

Will He?

by juanmanuelbenitez

He says it’s not true, but the New York Post has sources saying that disgraced former governor Eliot “Spitzer has held informal discussions in recent weeks about the possibility of making a bid for state comptroller or the US Senate seat currently held by Kirsten Gillibrand.”

It’s been a year and half since the self-proclaimed “steamroller” resigned. He thought he was above the law.

He spent a little over a year in office. He didn’t get much done. This is one example of what he tried to do and was never able to:

Nothing changed on day one, unlike he had promised. Will he get a second chance?

Oops, He Did It Again…

by juanmanuelbenitez

Just the other infamous Richard – Nixon, that is – might be comparable to him. Like Paul Krugman says, Tricky Dickwas surely the worst person other than Dick Cheney ever to control the executive branch.” Both apparently followed the same maxim of “when the President does it, that means it is not illegal.

The former vice president showed no remorse yesterday when admitting once again, to Fox News Chris Wallace, that he himself knew of the use of interrogation techniques that are widely classified as torture, such as waterboarding.

His rationale: we tortured, therefore we were safe.

However, to this day, Cheney hasn’t been able to give the public a single specific example of how torturing detainees provided his government with crucial intelligence to avoid another September 11.

“It’s clearly a political move,” Cheney says of Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate alleged abuses of terror detainees by CIA officers. Even those who might have gone beyond George W. Bush’s Justice Department legal guidelines should be spared of any scrutiny, according to Cheney.

“I’m very proud of what we did.”

Meet the Prensa #2: Gerson Borrero

by José Simián


The second installment of my Meet the Prensa columns on Mediaite is online.

In this interview, Nuyorican commentator Gerson Borrero reflects on his career, soap operas (“they make people stupid”), Fox News (“drive-by racists”), and Telemundo and Univisión (which he accuses of discriminating against Sonia Sotomayor).

It started as a quiet radio talk show—a dialogue between two journalists from competing Hispanic television networks. Both were praising the way their stations had been covering the ongoing hearings of Sonia Sotomayor before the Senate Judiciary Committee.It was the usual display of Hispanic pride, respect for the accomplished judge and her mother, and the reshaping of the American Dream.

Then NPR’s Tell Me More host Michel Martin asked what Gerson Borrero had to say.

[Read more]

On the Hispanic/Latino Question

by José Simián

Two interesting views on an evergreen topic for those of us who identify ourselves, or are referred to, as Latino/Hispanic.

First, the New York Times’ newsroom addresses to the usage of the Hispanic and Latino concepts. Bottom line: Never generalize (naming country of origin is better than the general concepts) and let people choose how to identify themselves.

Then, an opinion column from the Los Angeles Times by Jonathan Zimmerman (via the Hispanic New York Project) on the “mythical quality” of the concept of Hispanic. Striking affirmation: If you choose to identify yourself as “Hispanic,” you’re partly playing Nixon’s game.

Not Like This, Folks

by José Simián

The ugly spectacle currently taking place in Albany —Republicans allying with two of the most questioned Democrat Senators in order to regain some sort of control of the Senate— has produced an even sadder one: Latino figures somehow condoning the actions of Senators Monserrate and Espada Jr. because of a gain in political power for their particular ethnic group.

Yesterday it was Gerson Borrero, the preeminent commentator of El Diario, who seemed to approve of the overall effect of the Senators’ move for Puerto Ricans:

It is undenniable that [Espada’s] move to get to the Pro Tempore Presidency of the Senate was brilliant.


Notwithstanding the mutual recriminations about who betrayed whom, or the debate about who currently presides which committee, it is now evident that we Puerto Ricans are sitting at the big table. Over the last years, other Latin American brothers have started to say that we boricuas don’t count. It is fitting that the coup d’état of the Republicans needed two boricuas to take place, and that it happened just six days before we flood Fifth Avenue like one single family.

Indeed, Espada and Monserrate are no match for judge Sonia Sotomayor, but it is undeniable that what both have achieved puts us in the main stage, proving that we are the present.

Latino politicias have expressed similar views. In a New York Times article that links this political move to tensions between Latino and Black politicians, Bronx Assemblyman José Rivera expressed that Espada’s irregular ascendance to the Presidency of the Senate was “a proud moment — a Latino making waves.”

Is this what we call “Latino pride”? I certainly hope not.

That Nasty Latino Temperament

by José Simián


In her monthly column for the Daily News, Dolores Prida —perhaps the smartest voice in the analysis of Latino issues— addressed a few of the most frequently heard criticisms of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor: that she would be a “reverse racist” with a “temperament problem.”

Says Prida:

The temperament charge stems from the fact that Sotomayor is known as an assertive courtroom manager who keeps a tight rein on the proceedings and has little patience with dawdling lawyers — something that in a male judge is seen as a virtue.


And while this [reverse racism acussation] craziness went on, how have hot-tempered Latinos behaved? Like a model of coolness and restraint, shinning examples of dignity and respect.

That’s because, unlike those aggrieved white males, we have years and years of experience in being disrespected and really discriminated against and even murdered for just being who we are.

(Read Prida’s complete column here)