Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

First, a beautiful column at BlogHer about continuing Christmas traditions after mom and dad have passed away.

Also, I found this guide featured in Mombian to be helpful when discussing marriage equality with family members who are on the fence.

Remember Erika’s piece last year about the candidate for governor in Oklahoma who made an issue of her opponent not being a mother? Guess what she has done as Oklahoma’s governor? Issued an emergency decree eliminating birth as a “qualifying event” for individual health care coverage. That’s right. No coverage for births of any kind, including emergency c-sections. So much for family values!

Now that we have new mercury and air toxics standards rules, let’s see what can be done to help curb coal power plant emissions in China. This Daily Kos diary gives me hope.  

Hate to trot out the bad news after Christmas, but I have to say for the hundredth time here that Arizona Sheriff Joseph Arpaio is a thug. After being found by the U.S. Department of Justice guilty of racial profiling and other gross infractions against the Latino community — including U.S. citizens! — a Latino Army veteran died after being tasered by his police, according to the Mason County Daily News. Why on earth do Arizonians keep voting for this guy who is costing them millions of dollars in lawsuits? Blech!

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Alabama, U.S., Addicted to Cheap Labor

Editor’s Note: I have been particularly peeved about Alabama’s new anti-immigrant law, but have stalled in writing about it because there are so many angles to take. Ultimately, what bothers me most is that Alabamans and Americans, in general, want it both ways: cheap and convenient goods but no more immigrants in this country, at least not brown people who don’t speak English. I realize that certain parts of the Alabama law have been struck down, but the parts I am writing about today still stand. Enjoy! -Elisa

Alabama has a long and nasty history of using slave labor and then crying “no fair!” when the rules that benefit white residents are changed.

This has been the case when it became one of the last states of the confederacy to abolish slavery in 1865. It was also the last state, in 1927, to stop the practice of leasing out African American prison labor who, “were arbitrarily arrested and leased to coal mines, lumber camps, brickyards, railroads, quarries and farm plantations.” This history can be found at Wikipedia.

Once again, Alabama has become the laughingstock of the nation and the world for its attempt to re-institute slavery, this time with Latino labor.

After passing the most anti-immigrant law on the books, calling for local law enforcement “to detain any alien whose lawful immigration status cannot be verified,” the state has found itself with a shortage of labor on farms. From

For farmer Keith Smith, who has 200 acres of ripening sweet potatoes in his Cullman fields and no one to pick them, the new law boils down to a matter of finding anyone to do the work.

Smith normally hires about 20 pickers — mostly Hispanic immigrants — for the October harvest. On Thursday he could find only five workers.

According to that same article, an estimated 95,000 unauthorized immigrants worked in Alabama in 2009 and 2010, making up about 4.2 percent of the labor force. Even legal Hispanic workers are not showing up to the fields for fear of hostility created by the law. Good job, Alabama.

To remedy the situation, Alabama’s agriculture commissioner, John McMillan, is suggesting that farmers hire prison inmates. Who are these inmates? The same undocumented immigrants who were already working for next to nothing?

Alabama wants its cake and to eat it, too.

And the farm sector is not the only one hurting in the state. Housing contractors, who have spoken out against the law, can depend on less workers and less clients to buy homes. Poultry and other manufacturing processing plants are losing their labor as well. Families are losing their house cleaners, nannies, landscapers and other contractors. An observer summed it up beautifully here:

(Judge) Blackburn maintained the clause preventing courts from enforcing contracts with an illegal immigrant; this clause will continue to perpetuate stagnation in the state’s economy. In order to hire a contractor to fix your roof, you will need to ensure the contractor is a citizen or has the appropriate visa. If the contractor were an illegal immigrant, homeowners would have no recourse for breach of contract. On the brink of a potential double-dip recession, why is Alabama’s Legislature limiting small business contracting?

Therein lies the problem. Americans, not just Alabamans, have an addiction we are loath to admit: exploited, cheap labor. From the people who make our clothes in dingy basements here or overseas to the folks who harvest our food or provide us with cheap and timely services here at home, we depend on undocumented labor more than we’d like to admit. But rather than fess up, we have decided to scapegoat the immigrants themselves.

It’s a nasty part of our history we can’t seem to shake off.


Monday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

My latest columns at the Moms Clean Air Force is on what the movement for clean air could learn from the Cubans in Florida. I also wrote about the Catholic Franciscan view on environmental stewardship and economic justice for the poor. Please do check those out, tweet and/or leave a comment! :)

In other Hispanic news: President Obama just appointed Colombian pop star Shakira as part of an advisory commission on educational excellence for Hispanics. Now that more than one in five public school students in this country is Latino, it is time to tackle the abysmally high high school dropout rate among Hispanics.

I received a tip that the National Summit on Education Reform is happening in my backyard in San Francisco. After reading the agenda and who would grace us with their presence, I’ve come to the sad conclusion that education “reformers” really are anti-public school teacher. None of the panelists will include any life-long teachers or anyone in the classroom of our toughest schools. Instead, in attendance will be a lot of superintendents, conservative think tanks and Republican politicians to offer advice: former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, FOX News head honcho Rupert Murdoch, the Heritage Foundation and others. There is going to be so much money in that room, and not a dime will go to California schools, which due to budget constraints are cutting art classes and extracurricular activities left and right. Sad.  

Here is a news story about the power of advertising on children. That’s why I love PBS Kids…

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Latinos and Mercury Poisoning and Other Maddening News

As a proud Cuban and Puerto Rican and lover of the great outdoors, I am particularly passionate about advocacy that helps clean the air and water in our communities.

You could say I was distressed by a report by the non-profit Sierra Club that mercury poisoning is disproportionately affecting Latinos. The primary culprit of this poisoning? Mercury emissions by coal plants that enter the food supply and is then ingested by unsuspecting Latino families, including children and pregnant women.

Read on:

Representatives from the Sierra Club warn that “Hispanics in the United States should be especially concerned about the fish that they catch, since many local waterways have high levels of mercury pollution.” Additionally, according to poll results: one-third of Latinos fish in freshwater lakes, where mercury pollution levels are significantly higher, thus increasing the likelihood of mercury exposure.

According to the report, 76 percent of Latinos eat the fish that they catch and 64 percent share what they catch with their families, which often include children and women of childbearing age – two of the most vulnerable populations at risk of mercury poisoning.

As I have mentioned here before, I grew up fishing with my dad in Miami, and our family ate what we caught. It is one of my fondest childhood memories of family meals together. Now, I cannot fathom feeding fish to my children, much less taking them fishing and eating what we caught. How sad.

Besides advocate for clean air on behalf of Moms Clean Air Force, I have also testified in Sacramento, California, to (unsuccessfully) change a rule practically mandating toxic flame retardants in baby products. The flame retardants, which animal studies have linked to cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders, are sprayed in  practically every foam product from couches to nursing pillows. These flame retardants easily leach onto dust, pet hair, and the crumbling foam of old products — surely, I am not the only one who used second-hand baby products! — making them easy to ingest by children.

I was turned onto this issue as an advocate for, but have continued following and writing about it even after that particular project expired. As a mom, it is disturbing to me that not only are companies allowed to pollute in our neighborhoods, but they are even allowed to sell us products with toxins like flame retardants. You could imagine my dismay when I learned that two states have passed laws increasing the amount of flame retardants in the foam of…school buses.

According to a recent e-mail by the Green Science Policy Institute, which is headed by a scientist whose work contributed to the phasing out of a cancer-causing flame retardant in children’s pajamas in the 1970s, the Bromine industry has succeeded in passing legislation for “severe flammability standards” for school bus seats in Maryland and in Nevada.

The…fire test of upholstered furniture required is typically met with levels of 40% or more of halogenated flame retardant chemical in foam and additional chemicals padded on the fabric.  
Children would be exposed to the toxic chemicals all the time they ride on school buses, while the fire safety benefit appears to be low. Children don’t smoke and in a large fire the retardants eventually will burn to produce high levels of toxic gases.

Wow. If there is any silver lining in these news stories, it is that parents ARE paying attention. I know that I am paying attention and acting. If you haven’t done so already, please join me and sign up at Moms Clean Air Force to let companies as well as legislators know that we are ALL paying attention. Dads are welcome too!


Cultural Biases Around Caring for the Elderly

Here is a story that was mentioned at Latina Lista and for good reason. For Latino immigrants, there is a cultural bias against nursing homes, therefore it isn’t uncommon to see an elderly Latino being cared for by a child or grandchild.

Unfortunately, for 26-year-old Stephanie Hernandez of Madera, California, her good intentions became her worst nightmare as the state accused her of elderly neglect following her 91-year-old great aunt’s death. From the Los Angeles Times:

But when firefighters and paramedics opened the door to the little house on South A Street that December morning, they were immediately overwhelmed. By the stench — urine, feces, rotting flesh. By the mess — soiled diapers, used bandages, a stained mattress.

Most of all, though, by Lopez’s body. The bed-bound woman who’d suffered from dementia and shied away from doctors weighed just over 35 pounds and was covered in bedsores, some so deep they bared bone. A metal rod from hip surgery was visible.

Hernandez was arrested and then charged with murdering the woman she had bathed, fed and changed for three years. She would be put on trial, accused not of any overt violence against the woman who had raised her but of failure as a caregiver.

Hernandez’s great aunt, Maria “Concha” Lopez, did not want to be put in a facility like her sisters. She refused any outside care, including hospice.

Fortunately, the defense was able to show that Lopez actually lived longer at home than if she lived in a facility. Hernandez was acquitted of all charges by a jury. But she is now fighting for custody of her 4-year-old daughter, who she lost during the five-week case.  

The L.A. Times article was very sympathetic to Hernandez in that her situation is not at all uncommon in the Latino community. She was raised by her great aunt so she forewent school and other dreams to care for her and her daughter at the same time.

Latinos, in general, are likely to toil in low-wage jobs, not save for retirement, and either expect to be cared for by offspring and/or have to care for an elderly family member. Even if they are not against nursing homes and facilities for the elderly, chances are, they cannot afford them, and instead care for the elderly themselves.

Here is some analysis by an expert at Latina Lista. (Sorry, but the link is only available on Facebook!)

As noted earlier, however, living longer does not necessarily mean living well. Balancing quality-of-life issues — including cultural preferences — with harsh economic realities will become increasingly difficult, both for families and for those who fund and carry out public assistance programs.

Returning then, to the question of who will take care of our Latino elders when they are no longer able to take care of themselves, I suggest that each of us can assume some share of the responsibility.

One key to effective planning for the future is obtaining sound information, whether that be family members gathering facts about available assistance or policy researchers gathering data about demographic trends or public officials gathering forecasts on the economy.

It’s also going to take recognition of cultural differences. American doctors should be trained and prepared to have candid discussions with Latino patients about end-of-life care, and encourage more patients to put their preferences in writing. Also, it would be helpful to have a list of resources on hand, especially for those families who choose not to use a facility.

As for the Latinos, I do think we need to be more open-minded and flexible. Life in the United States is more expensive and faster than in Latin America. Having grown up in this country, I am convinced that the grand majority of Americans really are doing the best that they can with the resources that they have.


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

The Senate Environment and Public Works committee will be holding a hearing this morning on air quality and children’s health. Here is the live webcast. I will not be able to “attend,” but I did write a letter to my senator, who also happens to be the chairwoman of the committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer. Whether or not you are able to listen to the webcast, I highly encourage you to e-mail your senator. Clean air is not something we are entitled to. We must fight for it.

In related news, here is a Think Progress article on how cleaning up mercury and coal ash is good for our health AND not bad for the economy. Once again, here is that link to send a letter to the EPA in support of stricter mercury and air toxics standards.  

Katy Farber over at Non-Toxic Kids published a story on eco-friendly strollers.

This is awfully frustrating. Here is another hit piece on Planned Parenthood, this time in the Latino community. From the Daily Caller:

A Latino advocacy group is charging that abortion providers are targeting their communities, making their frustration known with a jumbo billboard campaign in Los Angeles, California.

“It’s clear that Latinos are being targeted by organizations that promote abortion like Planned Parenthood,“ said Alfonso Aguilar, executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, the group behind the billboard. “Many of their clinics are in Latino neighborhoods and communities.”

Considering that 97% of Planned Parenthood’s services are basic needs like wellness checkups, my guess is that PP clinics are in our neighborhoods because WE ARE MORE LIKELY THAN ANY OTHER GROUP IN THIS COUNTRY NOT TO HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE. Got that? Yes, I am one of the numerous Latinas who goes to Planned Parenthood for a checkup when I have no health insurance. These clinics are also the only way some men and children in this country receive health care, too. To “Unidos Por La Vida,” I say, ¡Propagen el seguro médico para todos y no las mentiras!

My apologies for being absent on the site starting today. My husband and I are sneaking in a quick trip to Hawaii (Kuai), while abuelita, who got in last night from El Salvador, watches the kids. We get back Sunday night to get back on a plane Monday morning for Minneapolis (Netroots Nation). I look forward to seeing some of you there!

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

In an attempt to bring more original and interactive content to you, I am hosting a live blog chat for our 9 a.m. post THIS FRIDAY. (We will have another one with Ellen Moran from the U.S. Department of Commerce next week.)

But THIS FRIDAY, we will be chatting with Arcelia Hurtado, executive director of Equal Rights Advocates, an advocacy organization for women and girls. For over a decade, Arcelia has worked as an attorney representing the disenfranchised like immigrants and inmates on death row. She has litigated cases before the California Supreme Court.

You’ll probably be hearing a lot more about her as she is prepared to pursue a class action lawsuit against Wal-Mart for pay discrimination against women. The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments on Tuesday as to whether it can be certified as a class action suit.

Arcelia, by the way, is also a wife and the mother of two sons. If you’d like to chat with her about the case, how to raise confident children or whatever else is on your mind, please join us! I’ve had the pleasure of meeting her in the past and she is sharp as a whip and quite passionate about social justice. I thought many in this community would be interested in “meeting” her, even online.

Also, if you can’t make the chat, but would like me to ask her a question, please drop it here or e-mail me at elisa at mothertalkers dot com. Many thanks all!

In other news: I noticed an item in the Speaking in Tongues blog about the courage it takes for Latino families who speak no English to place their children in Spanish immersion programs. Okay, that opened a can of worms for me.

The dual immersion programs in our area are having a hell of a time recruiting recently arrived Spanish speakers who fear that their children won’t learn English, or that they can teach their children Spanish at home. As the daughter of Latino immigrants who grew up in a city, in which there was a sign at the local McDonald’s that read, “We speak English,” I want to dispute both fears. These Spanish-first children will learn English, but at the expense of their native language. Because English is the dominant language in the country, chances are the children will assimilate and not want to speak Spanish to their parents — at least not in public. :)

Also, like English-speaking parents, chances are these parents are not going to spend a day at work to then sit down and teach their children how to read and write in Spanish. It’s hard enough to get the kids to do their English homework.

Seeing how much I use Spanish in my job — and have used it in previous jobs — there is a certain tragedy in this situation. In the era of dual-immersion programs, there is a sad irony of English-first speakers from these programs being better prepared for a job that requires Spanish than a Latino who has not been educated in his or her language.

So, yes, it is courageous of recently arrived immigrants to choose an immersion program for their children. But in an increasingly global economy, it pays to be brave.

That’s it on my end. What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Saturday Morning Open Thread

Good morning, MotherTalkers! What’s up?

Not to scare you, but the Guardian in the UK ran yet another study stating that getting less than six hours of sleep a night could lead to early death.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is investigating whether Pampers diapers with Dry Max cause rashes and chemical burns in children, according to Reuters.

In case you missed it, MomsRising is circulating its cool viral “Mother of the Decade Award” e-card. It allows you to type in the name of your mom, or your mom friends, and send them this cool faux news video of Michelle Obama and celebrities congratulating them on their good work. By the way, it is free and no one’s e-mail address will be added to MomsRising’s list unless they forward the e-card to their friends AND leave a box checked requesting more information from MomsRising.

In related moms news, the Daily Beast compiled a list of the best and worst cities for mothers, based on how many moms-per-capita, the quality of the schools and services like childcare. What do you think?

Speaking of Mother’s Day, have a fabulous one, my dear MotherTalkers! DH and the kids are taking me to an A’s game tomorrow. I haven’t been to a baseball game in like three or four years. Can’t wait!

What are you doing for Mother’s Day?


Why Latinos Won’t Join the Boy Scouts

I am surprised I have not read this story before in the traditional media and that this one in Newsweek did not mention Latino hang-ups with the Brownies and Girl Scouts, too.

In an effort to remain relevant in the changing face of demographics, the Boy Scouts of America are spending marketing dollars to recruit Latino boys. They are finding a lot of resistance as Latino parents do not know what the Boy Scouts do, are dubious of the uniforms they wear and other cultural disconnections.

The Scouts have staked their future on Latinos for a simple reason: demographics. Hispanics account for more than one fifth of kids under the age of 5 and are projected to make up one quarter of the nation’s population by 2050. The combination of their high fertility rates (2.9 kids per woman, compared with 1.8 for whites) and young ages (a median of 27, putting them near the prime of their childbearing years) gives rise to a striking statistic: the ratio of Hispanic births to deaths is eight to one, compared with one to one among whites. As a result, sometime around the start of the new millennium Latino population growth began to be fueled more by U.S.-born babies than by immigration. A vast second generation of Latinos is just now emerging from elementary school, offering the Scouts fertile ground for recruiting….

The Scouts’ first concerted foray into Latino youth marketing, in 2002, failed to grasp much of this. Mostly, the effort consisted of translating existing marketing materials into Spanish. A new Latino slogan—”Vale la pena” (“It’s worth it”)—was neither culturally resonant nor especially rousing. More important, it didn’t explain to immigrant parents what was worth it. A flier produced by a Midwestern BSA council typified the problem. Translated from English, it highlighted ideals, like reverence and obedience, embedded in the Scout Oath. “While those are nice values that are consistent with the Latino community, if a parent reads that, they still don’t know what the Boy Scouts of America is,” says Carlos Alcazar, president of Hispanic Communications Network, a market-strategy firm. Namely, a parent wouldn’t know that it’s a youth organization aimed at producing good citizens and leaders.

Hoping to invigorate Latino outreach, BSA chief scout executive Bob Mazzuca hired Alcazar in 2007 to develop a new strategic plan. Alcazar toured the country, visiting local councils from Lawrence, Mass., to Santa Ana, Calif. Part of what he found was encouraging—when Hispanic families joined the Scouts, they loved it. But he identified two main problems: Latino ignorance of the BSA, which gave way to rumors that it was some sort of government or military outfit, and a lack of bilingual staff and volunteers to accommodate new recruits and their parents. Later that year Alcazar presented a five-year plan that’s now underway. The BSA has created a national office for Hispanic initiatives, begun hiring local Latino staff and started crafting a national ad campaign. It has also launched six pilot projects in cities across the country to test new marketing proposals.

The work has been much tougher than he’d imagined. “You’ve got to be kind of thick-skinned” to deal with all the rejection, says (recruiter Eric) Santiago. The multitude of misconceptions (“Are you grooming child soldiers?” “Are you going to force my kid to kill a rabbit and eat it?”) can be tiring. When families do express interest, the next challenge is to accommodate their schedules, which are often strained by long hours in service-sector jobs. More dispiriting still, he has encountered xenophobia on a few occasions. When he visited a school once, an elderly white Eagle Scout wanted to hand off a number of Latino kids rather than integrate them into his troop. “I don’t want to deal with the parents,” he told Santiago. “If they come to us, they should learn English.” (Such sentiments have cropped up elsewhere, too, such as this online comment in response to an article about Hispanic recruitment in Delaware: “If they (hispanics) want to fit in—then THEY HAVE to make the changes, not the AMERICAN BOY Scouts of AMERIA [sic].”)

But something not addressed in the article that I think is worth a mention is this idea of taking Latino kids from their families to spend time with complete strangers. This was a big issue in my household growing up. I was not allowed to join Brownies or Girl Scouts because my parents — namely my father — did not understand why we had to spend the night with people we did not know. “But your bed and your family are here!” he’d say.

I would say the Boy Scouts have a monumental task on hand if they wish to remain relevant. Kudos to them for at least trying.


Why Latinos Don’t Like Dual Immersion Programs

I visited a couple dual immersion programs in the Berkeley public school system and, I admit, I am biased. I favor Ari’s private dual immersion school for its familiar community, its diversity — 55 percent of the children are biracial and 35 percent are native Spanish speakers — the smaller class sizes and the native Spanish speaking staff.

But something came up on my tours of the public schools: they are having a hard time recruiting native Spanish speakers to the program. At one point, I asked our tour guide why the school was not 100 percent dual immersion — versus a single track — since there is so much demand for the program. Her answer: “Latinos won’t enroll their children.“

This is something I have heard before and it is always attributed to Latinos want their children to learn English. But, I have my own theories.

First of all, almost all these programs are executed and taught by Americans who learned Spanish in high school. On my tours, typically the non-Hispanic parents were always impressed by the amount of Spanish spoken in the classroom. But I found myself cringing at how some of the teachers were mangling the language. I recall one teacher who kept referring to a decena and I was desperately trying to understand her when I realized she meant docena — “dozen.“ I saw another teacher consult the Spanish-English dictionary as she was translating from English to Spanish, rather than thinking in Spanish. My immediate thought was why would native Spanish speakers want their children to learn from people who speak less Spanish than them?

By the way, the public school system requires teachers to pass an English test, thus eliminating many otherwise competent native Spanish speakers from their staff.

The second reason Latino children suffer under a public dual immersion program is standardized testing. It is conceivable that Ari, born to college-educated and professional parents, could fail the standardized English test in second grade. We have spoken only Spanish to him and he is in a Spanish preschool. It takes a while for native Spanish speakers to catch up in a dual immersion program — usually around third or fourth grade.

But I cringed when I learned of a teacher at a certain dual immersion program tutoring her Latino kids to “catch up.“ Ugh. I do not want my child treated as a remedial student. I taught him Spanish first because that is how my husband and I learned. I did not learn English until I was 5 and my husband did not learn English until he was 9. No special tutoring was needed for us to “catch up,“ thank you very much.

While I think the public dual immersion program is good enough for someone who speaks no Spanish, I don’t think it offers a lot to native Spanish speakers, except the opportunity to teach the non-Spanish speakers, which is a great educational experience in itself. It sounds Draconian, but if I were running these programs, I would scrap all standardized testing, have native Spanish speakers teach Spanish, and let the English speakers teach in their native language. In that sense — if you would allow me to brag for a moment — I think Ari’s school has it right.