Beyond the Images

Haiti’s troubled history means the country has often been blamed for its own fate. But Haitians themselves, with a strong sense of historical memory, often talk about the revolution that freed their ancestors from slavery as though it happened last year. They are a proud nation with a rich culture and strong sense of community.

As international media descend on the desperation in Haiti in the aftermath of devastating earthquakes, writer Edwidge Danticat fears that Haiti’s complicated history may be forgotten. Haiti was a poor country for a reason. But this poverty kept Haitians united in ways many do not comprehend. Danticat says media images may focus on a few looters and desperate people doing desperate things. But the real story, Haitians helping Haitains, is largely being overlooked. And that, she says, is the real soul of Haiti.

Listen to Edwidge Danticat’s extended conversation with Maria Hinojosa.

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Haiti Earthquake – Beyond the Images.

Finding Middle Ground

When President Obama was just a candidate, his campaign slogan was “Change You Can Believe In.” Now, one year after assuming office, President Obama has been criticized for not being the change agent that candidate Obama so vigorously sold to the American people. In recent years Washington politics has been exemplified by legislative bottlenecking where compromise is no longer eschewed, particularly as both major parties are being pulled away from the political center towards the extremes. In such an environment, being a change agent seems daunting. In fact, governing itself often becomes a challenge.

To examine this issue, Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa gets away from the Beltway and speaks with grass-roots activists from opposite sides of the political spectrum. Dan Maloney has long been a conservative activist and is currently a Tea Party advocate based in Long Island, New York. Ruben Castilla Herrera is a progressive community activist based in Columbus, Ohio.


StoryCorps: Historias

Each month Latino USA airs interviews from the StoryCorps Historias, a nation-wide radio project that’s recording Latino stories. The full-versions of these interviews are archived at the Library of Congress becoming part of the history of the United States.

This week three stories about school.

The Hoover/Garcia Family

Larry Hoover speaks with his granddaughter Anastacia Garcia in New Mexico. Larry remembered his teenage years and getting into trouble with neighborhood gangs. In fact, his constant fighting earned him a foreboding warning from his mother. She said if he didn’t stop all the fighting, he’d end up at the local school for delinquent boys. He did in fact end up there – 30 years later as a teacher.

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Sánchez Family

A couple of generations ago, it was common for students to have their names “Americanized” one they arrived in school. Ramón “Chunky” Sánchez gives us a student’s point of view. He grew up during the 1950s in a southern California farming town. And like many Mexican American children at that time, his name was changed. But he recalls one kid whose name was so unusual to the teachers that his was the only one not to be changed.

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Villanueva Family

Lourdes Villanueva’s parents were migrant workers, harvesting fruit throughout the south. In a conversation from Tampa, Florida, she recalls raising her son as the family worked the fields and moved constantly. Wanting a better life for her children, Lourdes encouraged the value of an education to her son, Roger. But she also practiced what she preached. Today, Roger is a financial aid advisor at the University of South Florida.

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StoryCorps stories were produced by Nadia Reiman and Vanara Taing. The Senior Producer for StoryCorps is Michael Garofalo.

Haiti, the Dominican Republic, and Latin America

In 1804, Haiti declared its independence after a series of battles between French troops and slave armies. By 1809, some 10,000 former Saint-Domingue residents – many of them freed Blacks – had resettled en masse in New Orleans as a consequence. The success of the Haitian Revolution impressed Simon Bolivar, the great Latin American liberator, who received arms and finances from Haiti during some of his campaigns. Haiti’s only condition for that support was for Bolivar to free any slaves he encountered as he liberated former Spanish colonies.

In 1825, France sent a massive armada and threatened to retake its former colony. In exchange for recognizing Haiti’s independence, France imposed a massive foreign debt on the nation. The debt was so punitive that Haiti was still paying it well into the 1940s. At one point, in order to service that debt, Haiti occupied its Spanish-speaking neighbor on the island of Hispaniola. To this day, the Dominican Republic celebrates two days of independence: One for its independence from Spain, and the other for its independence from Haiti.

In 1999 writer Michele Wucker authored a book titled Why the Cocks Fight: Dominicans, Haitians and the Fight for Hispaniola. Wucker, executive director of the World Policy Institute, says the relationship between these two former European colonies is as complicated as Haiti’s relationship with the rest of Latin America.

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In Memorium: Esther Chavez Cano [1933 – 2009]

When Esther Chavez Cano first organized protests in 1993 in Ciudad Juarez, hers was the initiating voice against “femicide,” a term given to the murder of hundreds of women in this border town. She accused local police and political leaders of covering up the murders and chided local media for not paying enough attention to the crimes. And her protests led to international attention on the murder of women and girls in Juarez.

But Chavez was more than simply an organizer. She was also a healer. She went on to found the city’s first rape crisis center known simply as Casa Amiga. She traveled the world raising awareness of the murders in Juarez, and raising money for the center. In 2008, Mexican President Felipe Calderón presented Chavez with the country’s highest human rights award. Her center also receives support by Mexican federal grants.

Chavez succumbed to cancer on Christmas Day, 2009. El Paso reporter Monica Ortiz Uribe has this remembrance.

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Paquito Hechevarría

Paquito Hechevarría was already an accomplished musician by the time he arrived in Miami as a teenager in the early 1960s. Encouraged by his father, a career military man in Cuba who loved music, Hechevarría took private piano lessons and later studied at the Municipal Conservatory of Music in Havana. Once in Miami, he became the house musician at the famed Fountainbleu, playing with such musical celebrities as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr. and others in the legendary Boom Boom Room. This later led to his work at Ceaser’s Palace in Las Vegas.

As a house musician and musical journeyman, Hechevarría has recorded with such artists as Mongo Santamaria, Nestor Torres, Barry Manilow, and Gloria Estefan. His influence on the Miami Sound Machine crossover hit “Conga” is well documented. In the mid-Eighties, he formed Grupo Wal-Pa-Ta-Ca with bassist Israel “Cachao” Lopez and percussionists Walfredo de los Reyes and Tany Gil.

Hechevarría’s latest CD, titled frankly, features songs covered by the immortal Frank Sinatra, but with an Afro-Latino twist.

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Just Associates

In the days before the coup in Honduras that forced President Manuel Zelaya out of the country in his pajamas on June 28, 2009, several women’s rights organizations had been organizing for constitutional reforms. Within hours of the coup, these same organizations quickly took to the streets, calling on the de facto government to respect the country’s constitution and democratic institutions. According to leaders within these groups, many protestors were met with repressive tactics by police and military and these human rights violations have not been addressed.

Lisa Veneklasen is the founder and executive director of Just Associates (JASS), an international organization supporting women’s rights advocacy and political organizing in 30 countries in Southeast Asia, Southern Africa, and Mesoamerica. Veneklasen says many of the human rights groups in Honduras continue to look to the Obama Administration to support their pro-democracy stance and to pressure the Honduran government to investigate and prosecute human rights abuses.


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America’s Secret ICE Castles

Jacqueline Stevens reports in the January 4, 2010 edition of The Nation that Immigration and Customs Enforcement, an agency of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, is using 186 unlisted and unmarked subfield office, many in suburban office parks and commercial spaces, as detention sites. She quotes ICE official James Pendergraph as saying, “If you don’t have enough evidence to charge someone criminally but you think he’s illegal, we can make him disappear.” Maria Hinojosa talks with Stevens about her report 1 minute into the program.

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Latinos in 2010 & Beyond

The 2010 Census has begun and Latino population growth is widely expected to continue despite immigration losses due to the bad economy from 2008 onward. That’s because Latino population growth in the U.S. is actually fueled more by birthrates than by immigration. But judging from the amount of media coverage given to immigration issues the first decade of the milenium, many people may not know this. And a case can be made that for as many gains the Latino community has made, almost as many setbacks could also be found. Does a “wise Latina” in 2009 erase the memory of a disgraced U.S. Attorney General in 2007 in the minds of most Americans?

But there are positive things to look at as well. One would assume that population growth would eventually lead to greater representation – or at least greater recognition. The digital divide has drastically decreased. But school dropouts have not. All these things have societal impact.

To help us make sense of who we are and where we are going as a community, Latino USA’s Maria Hinojosa speaks to a panel of social, political and cultural experts to get their thoughts on the future of Latinos in the U.S.

Angelo Falcón founded the Institute for Puerto Rico Policy in New York in the early 1980s. In 2005 the organization changed its name to the National Institute for Latino Policy in an effort to better reflect the changing dynamics of Latino politics in the U.S.

Marcos Najera has contributed to Latino USA as the Latino Affairs reporter for NPR member station KJZZ based in his native Phoenix, Arizona. He has produced radio and television programming for children and worked as a theatre actor and writer.

Xeni Jardín has traveled throughout Latin America and produced the “Xeni Tech” segments for NPR’s Day to Day program but is best known as a co-editor for the interactive weblog known as


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