Updated: 2 hours 20 min ago
Tue, 09/02/2014 - 09:24
When Newark public school students return to class this Thursday, some children will be missing their first day. A local parents' group announced last week that some 600 parents have pledged to keep their children out of classes to protest the district's sweeping new reform plan, One Newark. Campaign leaders have described the boycott as move of desperation for a community that has felt steamrolled by the high-powered reform agenda and the state control that has governed their schools for two decades.
One Newark has been billed as a massive overhaul of the struggling school system. Under the plan, which was approved last December, the district will close, phase out or reformulate roughly one-third of its schools. Students will no longer be assigned to their neighborhood schools. Instead, a complex algorithm will match families with schools of their choice across the district.
The plan, which focuses elementary and middle schools,has had a rough rollout over the past couple of weeks. Parents who were invited to register their children for school have waited in line for hours, CBS reported. New Jersey's News 12 found a family with five children who were assigned to five different schools.
"The superintendent announced this plan as an opportunity of choice, but what it's turning out to be is an opportunity of chance," says Sharon Smith, a co-founder of Parents United for Local School Education (PULSE). "At some point parents don't have a chance to get into their schools of choice, or even into a school at all."
The boycott is only the latest battle in a long-running feud that pits teachers' unions and progressive education advocates aga
Tue, 09/02/2014 - 09:24
1994 was a big year for hip-hop. Nas dropped "Illmatic," Biggie released "Ready to Die" and Outkast burst onto the scene with "Southernplayalistic." But, two decades later, how do you judge that year's best albums? Grantland's Shea Serrano put together this handy matrix:
Tue, 09/02/2014 - 09:00
Tue, 09/02/2014 - 08:31
Donation pages raising more than $400,000 for Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson were suddenly shut down without explanation this weekend, the LA Times reports. Wilson is the officer who shot and killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown on the afternoon of August 9th. Neither owners of the two fundraising efforts with similar names have explained why both GoFundMe pages appear to have shut down around similar times on Saturday. They had inspired controversy some weeks ago for defending Wilson, drawing racist remarks and lack of accountability. The page "Support Officer Darren Wilson," which has so far raised more than $230,000 is run by an anonymous organizer.
"Support Officer Wilson," run by a St. Louis police charity, Shield of Hope, has so far brought in slightly less than $200,000. One of the organization's three named officers is a Democrat and member of the Missouri House of Representatives Jeffrey Roorda. This January, Roorda sponsored a bill that would keep officers' names secret if involved in a police shooting unless they were criminally charged. The bill "went nowhere," according to the LA Times.
A GoFundMe set up by lawyer Benjamin Crump for Michael Brown's family has so far raised more than $300,000.
Tue, 09/02/2014 - 07:03
Here's what I'm reading up on this morning:
- The U.S. launches a drone-guided airstrike in Somalia targeting al-Shabaab.
- Former House majority leader Eric Cantor takes a job at a Wall Street investment firm.
- Thirty two teens escape a juvenile detention center in Nashville.
- Are you an iOS developer wondering why your app was rejected? Apple lists the reasons for about half the time apps are turned down.
- Michael Sam doesn't even make the Rams's practice squad.
- Testing for an experimental Ebola vaccine starts this week.
Sat, 08/30/2014 - 07:22
Labor Day weekend marks a somber anniversary in the United States. Nine year ago, in 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. The storm itself, as well as the subsequent flooding, claimed nearly 2,000 lives and displaced some one million people.
Hurricane Katrina also illustrated systemic racism in the U.S. and in the New Orleans area specifically--from the collapse of the levees to the belated rescue efforts to police shootings to media coverage. Katrina first made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 3 hurricane on Monday, August 29, 2005. By the time celebrities gathered to raise funds on television for the survivors four days later on September 2, Kanye famously blurted out "George Bush doesn't care about black people" before his feed was cut off.
Here are some of the striking images from a devastating storm, nine years ago:
A man who refused to give his name covers his face as 50-mph winds blow in advance of Hurricane Katrina August 25, 2005 in Deerfield Beach, Florida. (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Getty)
Trinidad Ribero stands at the gate of her flooded home after Hurricane Katrina dumped as much as 15 inches of rain as it passed over this community south of Miami August 26, 2005 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo: Carlo Allegri/Getty)
People wait in line while attempting to rent a car at New Orleans International Airport in preparation for Hurricane Katrina August 27, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty)
Jeff Johnson holds his daughter Kayla, 1, in the nearly deserted French Quarter before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina August 28, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty)
Residents wait in line to enter the Superdome which is being used as an emergency shelter before the arrival of Hurricane Katrina August 28, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty)
Winn Dixie grocery store meat manager Amanda Keierleber stocks the last expected supply of meat before Hurricane Katrina moves through the morning of August 29, 2005 in Meridian, Mississippi. (Photo: Barry Williams/Getty)
A man peers out of a window broken by Hurricane Katrina at the Hyatt Hotel on August 29, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Chris Graythen/Getty)
People walk down a flooded street after Hurricane Katrina hit the area August 29, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty)
Mark Benton, of Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, helps to rescue three month old Ishmael Sullivan from a school rooftop after he and his mother were trapped with dozens of others in high water after Hurricane Katrina August 30, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Mario Tama)
A McDonalds lies in ruins across from the beach and Highway 90 August 30, 2005 in Biloxi, Mississippi. (Photo: Barry Williams)
Patricia Barela (L) and Jose Samaniewo make a donation for victims of Hurricane Katrina at a daylong disaster relief collection event at Dodger Stadium August 31, 2005 in Los Angeles. (Photo: Ann Johansson/Getty)
Daryl Thompson holds his daughter Dejanae, 3-months, as they wait with other displaced residents on a highway in the hopes of catching a ride out of town after Hurricane Katrina August 31, 2005 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Photo: Mario Tama/Getty)
In this handout photo provided by the White House, U.S. President George W. Bush looks out over devastation from Hurricane Katrina as he heads back to Washington D.C. August 31, 2005 aboard Air Force One. (Photo: Paul Morse/White House via Getty)
Evacuees from the New Orleans area take shelter in the Reliant Astrodome September 1, 2005 in Houston, Texas. (Photo: Dave Einsel/Getty)
Evacuees from New Orleans who survived Hurricane Katrina arrive on September 2, 2005 at Kelly USA in San Antonio, Texas. (Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty)
Sat, 08/30/2014 - 07:21
For the educators and learners among us: Make time for this meandering introspection from The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates on learning a new culture, navigating its border police and finding out this summer that, "I was more ignorant than I knew." Baltimore born and raised Coates spent the summer learning French at Middlebury College in Vermont. He uses this French immersion to understand and explain how segregation prepared him well to become a writer, less so a high-achiever in the classroom.
There's much to dig in Coates' essay. But I'm drawn to the notion that for members of marginalized communities, acquiring education does not necessarily mean an end to persecution. It has often meant the opposite:
In the early 19th century, the Cherokee Nation was told by the new Americans that if its members adopted their "civilized" ways, they would soon be respected as equals....
The Cherokee Nation...embraced mission schools. Some of them converted to Christianity. Other intermarried. Others still enslaved blacks....Thus the Native Americans of that time showed themselves to be as able to to integrate elements of the West with their own culture as any group of Asian or Jewish American. But the wolf has never much cared whether the sheep were cultured or not.
"The problem, from a white point of view," writes historian Daniel Walker Howe, "was that the success of these efforts to 'civilize the Indians' had not yielded the expected dividend in land sales. On the contrary, the more literate, prosperous, and politically organized the Cherokees made themselves, the more resolved they became to keep what remained of their land and improve it for their own benefit."
Cosmopolitanism, openness to other cultures, openness to education did not make the Cherokee pliant to American power; it gave them tools to resist. Realizing this, the United States dropped the veneer of "culture" and "civilization" and resorted to "Indian Removal," or The Trail of Tears.
Read the whole essay, "Acting French" on The Atlantic.
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 14:12
Gun violence cost U.S. tax payers nearly $700 million in 2010, according to a new study from the Urban Institute. Add "societal costs" and the number jumps to an estimated $174 billion. To help put these figures into context, note that the injuries associated with firearm assault, including homicide, aren't evenly distributed across the country. Rather, they concentrate among uninsured black boys and men and in a relatively small number of communities. As an example, in Boston, one study found that more than half of all gun violence clustered around less than 3 percent of streets and intersections. And while firearm injuries typically affect black and Latino men and boys ages 15 to 34, in a study of six states, black females were found to have higher rates of hospitalization than white males in all but one. Such concentrations of violence, particularly among youth of color, study authors say, "should serve as a clear call to action to find new solutions to gun violence."
The six states studied: California, Maryland, Wisconsin, Arizona, New Jersey and North Carolina.
Read the full report here.
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 13:19
Deportation relief for the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. may not come before November's midterm election.
President Obama made clear in June that, because Congress hadn't moved forward on legislation, he'd take major action himself on immigration by the end of the summer:
If Congress will not do their job, at least we can do ours. I expect their recommendations before the end of summer and I intend to adopt those recommendations without further delay.
When Obama made his remarks on immigration reform in the Rose Garden in late June, he also provided more resources to secure the border--but many have been waiting patiently for some kind of deal that would allow undocumented immigrants some kind of administrative status change, even temporarily. The president's comments claiming he'd take action on immigration by the end of the summer have also been backed by insiders and senior advisors. Some groups were already preparing undocumented immigrants for what Obama was expected to do in the next couple of weeks.
But now, it seems, he's changed his mind. Obama told reporters on Thursday that his timeline on immigration action may change. According to the New York Times, Obama's calculation has everything to do with key Senate races:
Under pressure from nervous Democratic Senate candidates in tight races, President Obama is rethinking the timing of his pledge to act on his own to reshape the nation's immigration system by summer's end, and could instead delay some or all of his most controversial proposals until after the midterm elections in November, according to people familiar with White House deliberations.
And, according to the Los Angeles Times, immigration enforcement could, in fact, increase before the election:
Under that plan, the president would first announce measures aimed at tightening enforcement of current law, then put off until the end of the year a decision on a more sweeping program that could temporarily shield millions of immigrants from deportation.
Obama's administration has already deported more than two million people--more than have been deported under any other president.
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 13:04
There are things to know about Oakland in the 1990s: the Ebonics debates, the crack-era violence, 2pac's emergence, the Raiders' homecoming. Souls of Mischief, one of the city's stalwart hip-hop groups, made the classic "'93 Till Infinity," a song whose rhythm and cadence perfectly encapsulates the era. Now they're back with a concept album called "There Is Only Now," that looks back at the decade to make sense of the present.
It's the group's fifth studio album and boasts some of the decade's most influential artists, including A Tribe Called Quest's Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Busta Rhymes, Snoop Dogg and 70's legend William Hart of The Delfonics.
Tajai Massey, one of the group's four members, told San Francisco Weekly that the new record is meant to celebrate the city's head-scratching contradictions, which include high crime rates and some of the country's most distinctive multicultural communities. "We're not walking around saying we are from big bad Oakland," he told Gary Moskowitz. "People condemn the violence, they make it too much of a topic, but it's part of living here. It's not a constant daily thing for us in the band, thankfully, but for some people here, it is. And dealing with violence is traumatic."
The record was recorded over the course of three months in Los Angeles with producer Adrian Younge. You can stream it below.
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 11:31
Chris Walker at L.A. Weekly takes a look at Daddy Kev, a co-founder of Los Angeles' popular Low End Theory. The party is a weekly that served a proving ground for acts like Flying Lotus, who's signed to Kev's Alpha Pup Records:
In a way, Low End is as much talent incubator as performance space. It has paid big dividends for Alpha Pup, whose roster includes noisemakers (literal and figurative) Nosaj Thing, Free the Robots, Dibiase, and Jonwayne.
...Kev himself is 40, and his "Daddy" nickname is fitting considering his reputation as a mentor, drawing upon his decades of experience navigating the industry. That has included a corporate stint at Sony, as well as running late 1990's indie label Celestial. He admits he made some rookie mistakes. "On our first record advance, we blew through a cool ten grand at Guitar Center in a day, and then spent the rest on rent, weed, Pizza Hut, and a lot of beer. We had a keg going for about six months straight...which was awesome, but I learned from that."
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 11:17
Yuri Kochiyama, who recently passed away, inspired generations of activists, including a young Tupac Shakur. Hyphen Magazine has the story:
One of my favorite stories about Yuri is also about Tupac. In an event curated by the late Fred Ho in celebration of Diane Fujino's 2005 book release of the biography Heartbeat of Struggle: The Revolutionary Life of Yuri Kochiyama, Laura Whitehorn spoke of the activist harbor that was the Kochiyama house. Dubbed "Grand Central Station" or the "Revolutionary Salon," this Harlem apartment and Kochiyama family residence was a hub for activists, artists, students and other community members for much of the last four decades of the 20th century. Whitehorn recalled a then 11-year-old Tupac Shakur speaking eloquently and passionately about the need to free political prisoners at a meeting in the Harlem State office building. This 11-year-old Tupac was, of course, not just talking about abstract historical figures, but members of his own family -- his stepfather Mutulu Shakur, his godfather Geronimo Pratt, Sundiata Acoli, Sekou Odinga, and others.
Read more at Hyphen.
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:56
Although Carolina covers a myriad of topics -from Islamic Art exhibitions to video game documentaries- she is also playing a major role in helping put a spotlight on Latino and Latin American art. For example, in one of her first articles for [Los Angeles Times blog] 'Culture: High & Low' she discusses the work of photographer Ricardo Valverde, arguing that he should be considered "a critical part of the L.A. artistic canon." In another article for the blog, Carolina writes about what the 9/11 museum can learn from two memorials in South America.
Read more and listen to the interview here.
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:48
For years, Benjamin Booker thought of himself as someone who did interviews, not someone who gave them. The 25-year-old Virginia native spent his college years in Florida training to become a journalist, performing occasionally and recording songs in his spare time. When an AmeriCorps job brought him out to New Orleans to work at a local non-profit, he knew his heart wasn’t in journalism, so he took it to the stage. “I was doing both,” he told Consequence of Sound about his first year in the Bayou. “Playing shows around town and working for the non-profit. I stayed there for a little bit, and then I went back to Florida and got Max [Norton] who plays drums and then brought him back to New Orleans.”
The storied home of black American jazz and blues became fertile ground for Booker to build a base. Now, on the heels of the release of his self-titled debut LP and after heightened buzz following a performance at Brooklyn’s AfroPunk festival, he’s got more fans than ever interested in the raspy voice and guitar riffs that have become his signature sound in detailing life in contemporary black America.
Like most good art, Booker’s album was influenced by pain. He’s got a history of addiction and mental illness in his family, he told VICE’s Kyle Kramer, which has undoubtedly left its mark on his songwriting:
Well, I first started writing the album when I was living with that girl that I was talking about who was like addicted—this was at the point where I had been like high for basically four years of my life like 24 hours a day and drinking and not taking care of myself. And she was worse than that. I have a history of schizophrenia in my family, and I was afraid that—I don’t know, that’s like the age that that stuff happens. II was afraid that I was like losing my mind because there was a couple of nights that I had some crazy visual hallucinations, and I wasn’t even—I thought I was insane. It was just like a getting my shit together time. Just like ‘I can’t be a kid anymore and getting fucked up all the time.’ And I guess also [I was] just ready to accept certain things about myself. My parents were super religious and conservative and not the type of people that you could go to and talk about things. So I think it’s just communicating the things that I hadn’t been able to say for my whole life. All the pent up things that you want talk about to people but you don’t know how to say it.
That girl, there’s a song called “I Thought I Heard You Screaming” on the record. This was around the time that I thought I was losing my mind, and I was like constantly worried about her all the time. And one night I was in my room, and I heard this blood-curdling scream, and I thought it was her. And I walked in, and she was fine. Like all the worrying manifested into this crazy hallucinating thing. That kind of stuff. Just, like, the people around me, there was so much happening. I was seeing this girl whose father had been murdered in a home invasion, and that was going on at the same time. It was just like a lot of shit happening. And I guess it was me just trying to make sense of that all happening.
You can also listen to a full album stream on NPR.
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:48
A group of black Oakland Public Works employees noticed a noose was placed on one of their trucks Tuesday--in a department in Northern California where many say racial tensions have been brewing.
According to San Francisco's local CBS News, KPIX, the workers' union says the hangman's noose is representative of racism in the department. Mayor Jean Quan reluctantly told KPIX that she thought there weren't racial tensions there, only concerns over promotions.
The case is being investigated by Oakland Police Department.
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:47
A standing room only crowd gathered at church last night for a frank town hall with Ferguson’s mayor and invited guests that included nationally respected moderator and mediator, NPR’s Michel Martin. Mayor James Knowles III, who is white, weathered heavy criticism from the multi-racial crowd and in particular, sharp disagreement from Daniel Isom about police procedure and allowing Michael Brown’s uncovered body to lay on the asphalt that Saturday afternoon. Isom, a former St Louis police chief and current professor, was recently nominated by Gov Jay Nixon to become Missouri’s top law enforcement official and the first African-American in Nixon’s cabinet. Listen at 6:45 in the NPR audio above for more.
More young people arrived as the evening wore on, Martin says, and some complained that none of yesterday’s panelists represented their generation, which has disproportionate contact with area police. Listen at 2:30 above as a 20-year-old college student tells the mayor, “The people who’re directly under you are taking our rights away,” and more. (The absence of young people, specifically, in policing discussions has been noted elsewhere.)
Listen at 4:15, too, to hear some of the views of Ferguson’s white residents, many of whom expressed surprise at learning of their black neighbors’ frustrations with police.
A Twitter chat #BeyondFerguson accompanied last night’s town hall and it’s still active today. Video of the forum, sponsored by St Louis Public Radio, is supposed to be up at noon today.
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:47
Boots Riley is the outspoken frontman for The Coup, a hip-hop funk band from Oakland that's been around for the better part of two decades. The band's known for, among other things, songs with titles like "5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO," "Fat Cats and Bigga Fish" and "Ghetto Manifesto." It's decidedly political work, because being black in Oakland is a decidedly political thing.
All of this was apparently lost on the host and producers of a local Cleveland FOX affiliate who interviewed Riley ahead of the Lakewood Music Fest. They were shocked when Riley described his band as "a punk-funk Communist revolution band" that wants to "make everyone dance while we're telling them about how we need to get rid of the system" and that "exploitation is the primary contradiction in capitalism."
Riley appeared alongside festival organizer Kelly Flamos, who wound up getting a strongly worded email from the station about his "political rant."
Here's the email:
Meanwhile, Riley was pleased:
The Fox News anchor had no idea whow we were, so I explained that "The Coup is a Funk/punk/hip-hop/CommunistRevolution band". "...oh."-- Boots Riley (@BootsRiley) August 23, 2014
Somebody has to find a clip of that. I wanna see the look on the anchorwoman's face one more time.-- Boots Riley (@BootsRiley) August 23, 2014
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 10:47
Governor Jay Nixon has nominated an African-American ex-police chief to direct the Department of Public Safety (DPS), the top law enforcement post in the state. Daniel Isom's nomination comes amidst heavy criticism of Nixon's response to Ferguson protests, and it's been interpreted by some as the governor's attempt to appease blacks in his state. If confirmed, Isom would be the only African-American in Nixon's cabinet and the second high profile African-American law enforcement officer tapped by Nixon in the aftermath of Michael Brown's killing by a white police officer.
Isom spent 24 years with the St. Louis police, four as chief. He retired two years ago to become a professor at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. The head of DPS oversees the Highway Patrol, the National Guard, the Office of Homeland Security and other statewide law enforcement agencies.
(h/t The New York Times)
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 08:40
It looks like Roy Choi is using his star power to bring healthy food to communities that need it the most. The celebrity chef recently announced plans to open Loco'l, a chain of healthy fast food restauraunts, in Los Angeles and San Francisco.
"We want to go toe to toe with fast food chains and offer the community a choice," Choi told the Inside Scoop SF. "I'm in the streets with communities and the youth everyday. The food options are ridiculously bad."
Choi and his business partner San Francisco chef Daniel Patterson are known for opening restauraunts in trendy parts of town, but they've stressed that this new chain will be in areas where communities don't have access to affordable, healthy food options:
"Don't tell me we don't want great delicious cheap fast food," Choi told the Inside Scoop SF. "It's only because we haven't been given the choice to choose, and we destroy our youth and our neighborhoods with corporations that serve addictive poison that we convince ourselves otherwise."
It's a move that's long overdue. In South Central L.A., which is a predominately working class community of color, healthy food is scarce. Take a look at this infographic from the Community Coalition in Los Angeles:
(h/t Los Angeles Times)
Fri, 08/29/2014 - 08:12
For Daisy Hernández, growing up was a continual process of leaving her Spanish-speaking Cuban-Colombian immigrant family. "I left them at the age of five to learn English, and I started leaving them through the process of acquiring an education," Hernández says of her childhood in New Jersey. As she pursued her professional and personal pursuits, she had to work at reconciling the growing distance, and the sense that she was not just leaving her family, but also leaving them behind. "How did these two worlds match up? They looked so different to me that they were almost in contrast to one another."
In "A Cup of Water Under My Bed" out September 9 from Beacon Press, Hernández, a visiting writer at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and the former editor of the print version of Colorlines, narrates her journey making sense of it all while navigating language, race, her queer identity, and religion. She dedicated her book para todos las hijas, "for all daughters," women she's met through the years who, like her, have questioned "their relationships with their families, with their communities, and who have really mixed feelings about leaving home, literally and metaphorically, through their creative or activist work," Hernández says.
Colorlines asked Hernández to share the books that inspired her own writing life and literary sensibilities. While many of them were being published as she was growing up, none reached her in "Daisyland." She came to many of her treasured works as an adult when she joined a community of other Latina artists who saw, Hernández says, "that art was very much part of how we create social justice."
Here in her own words are the books that shaped Hernández:
"Sister Outsider" by Audre Lorde
The important part of this book to me was her voice, this incredible, powerful voice on page after page after page. It was really the first time I read that the lives of women of color matter and poetry was not something extra for our lives--that it was actually necessary. And I took poetry to include all of the arts, so that book deeply inspired me. She taught me that writing could both be an investigation of the self and the community and a call to action at the same time.
"Hunger of Memory" by Richard Rodriguez
I'm going to include my politically incorect book on this list as well, even though I admit that I hesitate! This book was absolutely seminal. People are always shocked to learn this about me. He was the first Latino author I read that was working in the form of memoir and essay, and I really identified with the experience that he had of having a private world that was about language and family, and a public world that was about English and education.
It was also important to me that he was writing about his parents who were not these Mexican intellectuals. They were not connected to his graduate degree work. I really identified with that because my parents are not these Cuban-Colombian intellectuals who introduced me to my literary history from those countries. It was that sense of alienation and the contrast of belonging to multiple worlds.
"Borderlands" by Gloria Anzaldua
"Borderlands," of course. This was such a turning point for me as a writer for two reasons. In terms of content, she described living in that in-between place. Those of us who belong to multiple worlds, we have our own worlds between these others. That was a first time I was hearing someone articulate that on the page. And in terms of the craft, this book was the first time I saw someone writing in multiple languages, not translating, not including footnes, not apologizing for it. It was the first time I saw someone moving so fluidly among her different languages in the way I experienced them in my own world off the page, that it gave me curiosity and hope about what I could do on the page as well.
"Notes of a Native Son" by James Baldwin
First of all, he's James Baldwin. So it's like James Baldwin, period. He was able to write from that intersection of the personal and the political in a way that is breathtaking. I'm always reading his work and wondering: how does he balance the narrative with the searing social criticism where one doesn't take precedence over the other? And at the same time he's so willing to investigate himself. I'm always drawn to the title essay in part because of the ending of that essay where he's like: how do we accept that injustice exists and yet we fight like crazy against it? How do we hold those two truths? For anyone who's committed to making this world a better place, that's a fundamental question. And at the level of the line, his prose is stunning.
"Nobody's Son" by Luis Alberto Urrea
I see this book as being so directly related to James Baldwin, of course. This book helped me think about my book actually, about what I was trying to do in the different chapters and how to structure it as well. He describes his beautiful, crazy white mom, and a beautiful, crazy Mexican dad, and growing up in his home with so much love and also with abuse, in a community that loved him and hated him at the same time. He gives so much attention to detail, to details of the landscape and the inner landsape of his family home. He touches so well in one particular chapter on an experience I had, where our parents or immediate family are going through whatever they're going through, and other people are able to step in and raise us.
"The House on Mango Street" by Sandra Cisneros
This book about a young Chicana in Chicago defies genre. Is it a novel, is it vignettes? Is it a young adult, "YA" book, or an older adult book? Is it a collection of prose-poetry or a novel? It can be read in all these ways but [Cisneros] is able to bring into prose a veneration for sound and for image via the voice of this young girl who's expressing the world and questioning it without an analysis. She may have been the first Latina author I read, and so to see on the page how she was working with both Spanish and English--because I grew up reading books all in English--was quite powerful.
"In the Land of Green Plums" by Herta Müller
This novel is set in Romania during the dictatorship. It is so imagistic and engages really directly with the political situation that was happening in that country. At the same time, it's a story of four friends who meet in college, all of whom are artists trying to do their art in the context of this dictatorship that's happening. There's chilling parallels between what they are doing and the kind of creative work people were doing in social justice movements in the 1960s and 1970s in the U.S. and all over Latin America during dictatorships and civil wars sponsored by the U.S. Not many American readers know her even though she won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
"The Way to Rainy Mountain" by N. Scott Momaday
This is a must-read book for every person of color. He's Native American, of the Kiowa tribe, and his book is structured on three points of view. He tells the story of his community through these three points of view: myth, the academic voice and the personal story.
You open the page, and it's like three vignettes across two pages. I feel like he managed to do on the page what I feel every person of color's experience is, especially in this country specifically, which is: we grow up with the deeply mythical understanding of where we come from, of who we are as a people. Whether it's Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native people. And inevitably we interact with an academic world and there's this whole different language that's used to tell the same story about us. We're analyzed, we're digested, we're reproduced in all these academic books--"Oh, let's look at the exotic Cuban!" And of course there's the personal story. The book has really touching vignettes about his relationship with his grandmother, who was the carrier of both the myth and the personal story. Seeing these three languages on the page, I still have a dream of writing a book with the structure he employed in that book.
For more on "A Cup of Water Under My Bed" and Hernández's upcoming book tour, visit daisyhernandez.com
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