Remembering Central America’s Wars

Photojournalist Donna DeCesare has covered those affected by war and gang violence in the United States and Central America for decades. Her new book, Unsettled/Desasosiego, documents her journeys to El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1980s and 2000s as well as her work on gang members in 1990s Los Angeles. She is now a professor of journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. She talks to host Maria Hinojosa about meeting and living with her subjects, which she reflects on in her new book, Unsettled/Desasosiego.

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Interview Highlights: 


On her work in Central America

Cesare: “There was just something that was both different enough to intrigue me, with the difference, but familiar enough for me to really feel a sense of connection almost like a family connection to the people, and I really just fell in love with the place.”

 On witnessing the Contra war

Cesare: “Nicaragua was at war, the contra war was on. But the atmosphere in the country was much more hopeful and idealistic. People loved the camera, and they would come to you, and I would say they would kiss the camera, they were excited about meeting someone.”

 On the United States of America’s military involvement in Central America 

“We supported a military regime that was repressing people. And we sent a lot of weapons to Central America. And there was extreme cruelty in the violence death squads that operated there. And we did nothing really much to stop that.”






Growing Up Jesús

In Latin America, it’s a name like any other. But here in the U.S., Jesús is a name that could still raise an eyebrow. So Latino USA producer Michael Simon Johnson spoke with a handful of Jesúses to find out what it’s like to grow up with the holiest name in the book.



michael-johnson-headshot-150x150Michael Johnson was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  He spent most of his childhood making music and groaning when his parents put on NPR in the car. So naturally he graduated from Emerson College with a degree in Sound Design, moved to New York and made his way into public radio. As an engineer, he has worked for Afropop Worldwide, WNYC’s Radio Rookies, and Jazz at Lincoln Center. He commits much of his time to working on radio and multimedia projects but can often be found playing the bass, rock climbing, and traveling.

The Chicano Elvis

For almost 25 years, Robert Lopez has been putting on an Elvis suit and becoming El Vez, the Mexican Elvis. Performing as an Elvis “interpreter” started out as a dare when Lopez was an art gallery owner in Los Angeles, but the act has become a loopy tribute to The King and other rock icons, as well as tongue-in-cheek vehicle to reference Chicano culture and politics. It’s equal parts homage and satire.

Lopez describes his alter ego this way: “It’s like if Liberace taught Chicano Studies, if Viva Las Vegas became Viva la Raza.”

El Vez has done many themed shows, including “El Vez for Prez” in 2008. But his “Mex-Mas” show is one of the most popular, and he tours with it every year. “I put a mustache on white Christmas,” said Lopez, who tweaks the Irving Berlin classic song and sings, “I’m dreaming of a Brown Christmas.”

El Vez official site here. For 2013 Mex-Mas tour dates, go here.



Nadia Reiman has been a radio producer since 2005. Before joining the Latino USA team, Nadia produced for StoryCorps for almost five years. Her work there on 9/11 stories earned her a Peabody Award. She has also mixed audio for animations, one which won a DuPont award, hosted podcasts, and has guest hosted and produced for Afropop Worldwide on PRI. Nadia has also produced for None on Record editing and mixing stories of queer Africans, and worked on a Spanish language radio show called Epicentro based out of Washington DC. She graduated from Kenyon College with a double major in International Studies and Spanish Literature.




Photo courtesy of Randall-Michelson

Xmas Jollies Playlist

No holiday is complete with a good holiday playlist, so Maria Hinojosa talks with prominent music journalist Bill Adler about this year’s iteration of his annual Xmas Jollies Mix CD, a collection of rare, obscure, dug up Christmas tunes that he’s gathered over the years. Adler discusses his favorite Latin picks from the Jollies CD and shares his secret behind how he finds his music.



bill adlerBill Adler is a music journalist and a former Def Jam publicist. At Def Jam he worked with artists like Kurtis Blow, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, LL Cool J and De La Soul. As a journalist he has written for the Rolling Stone, People Magazine, High Times, The Boston Herald and The Village Voice.




The Return Of The Queen

One of the toughest things about Christmas? Putting up with your family.

Writer Michele Carlo, author of the memoir Fish Out of Agua: My Life on Neither Side of the Subway Tracks tells us about watching, or trying to watch, a movie with her mother in a story she calls “The Return of the Queen.”

Carlo is a writer and performer who you may remember from out first hour long episode where she shared a school story with us. Listen for her on future episodes of Latino USA.

DISCLAIMER: In her story, Michele Carlo refers to a conversation in the mid-1980s where she told her mom that Rock Hudson was not only gay, but that he had married Jim Nabors. This is an urban myth. Jim Nabors did marry his long time partner Stan Cadwallader in January 2013.

imgres Michele Carlo is a writer/performer and comedic storyteller who has lived in four of the five boroughs of New York City and remembers when a slice of pizza cost fifty cents. Her stories have been published in Mr. Beller’s Neighborhood’s Lost & Found: Stories From New YorkChicken Soup For The Latino Soul and SMITH Magazine.






Photo courtesy of Flickr user Jarrod Carruthers 

News or Noise: The Kids Are Alright

In our latest “News or Noise” feature on news literacy, Latino USA producer Daisy Rosario tells us why she’s optimistic after speaking to dozens of young people about their interest in news.


Daisy_faceDaisy Rosario is a comedian, writer and producer of things from radio stories to live events. Recently graduated from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, she also works with The Moth and the Upright CitizensBrigade Theatre. Daisy has interned at Radiolab, taken a play she directed to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and is an obsessive baseball fan. Her story “Child of Trouble,” was featured on the Peabody award-winning Moth Radio Hour. She holds a BFA from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts.





Photo: Lionel Bonaventure/AFP

Dearly Deported: Mexico City Edition

Our occasional series on the Dearly Deported continues with the story of Eduardo Arenas’ from Mexico City. Arenas tells of the meager food and harsh conditions of detention and what it’s like to have his family still in the United States.


profilecropped Jennifer Collins is a freelance reporter based in Mexico City. Before moving to Mexico, she was with Marketplace from American Public Media for about five years. Collins has also reported for newspapers in Oregon, Alaska and Cambodia.

Your Holiday Party Playlist

Latino USA listener Clarisa Poeliniz sent us the following urgent request:


Dear Latino USA,

It’s December 11th and I am in the middle of planning a New year’s/birthday party for my sister who turns 40. This should be fun but I am stressing out about the music. We are inviting friends and family. My dilemma is: we are Mexican and the majority of our family will want traditional Mexican music-ranchera, nortena, etc… While the “kids” my sister, the primo/ primas and myself do very much appreciate our Mexcian heritage. We all speak Spanish and we can definitely sing along to many songs from our beloved “Chente” osea Vicente Fernandez. 

For this party we have many friends who do not speak Spanish. I want everyone to have fun and enjoy the music. How do I incorporate Frank Sinatra with Los Panchos, top 40 hits in Engish and Spanish. I am desperate can you recommend a play list for my New Year’s Fiesta?




We’ve got your back, Clarisa!


Latino USA music consultant Nadia Reiman created this playlist for you and for all of the other Latino USA listeners looking to strike the right mood this holiday season.


1)  Como te Extraño by Cafe Tacvba

It’s a cover, so it will please your abuelos but it has that touch that won’t make your primos pass out.



2) Cumbio by Campo

Everyone loves to get tangoed up!



3) Político by MIS

Fun and dancey without being offensive, and also in Spanish so your tías will know you can still throw down in the mother tongue.



4) Bailar Bien Bailar Mal by Gepe featuring Carla Morrison

Soft and nice, good background music, a little dreamy, good for chowing down tamales.



5) Amor, Amor de Mis Amores, the Natalia Lafourcade Agustín Lara cover

A good mix of old and new, a good old romantic hit that your abuelos will recognize and it has Devendra Banhart, so your anglo friends won’t feel excluded.



6) El Extraño by Los Master Plus

Mexy cover of Radiohead’s Creep. Who doesn’t love!



7) Palmar by Caloncho

This seems to be a crossover, intergenerational hit.



8) Pide Piso by Bajofondo

Really, really great tequilazo cocktail music



9) Aquella Ciudad by Ulises Hadjis

Pretty, thoughtful, charming tunes en Español to maybe get your familia to talk about Venezuela in a not-political context.



10) El Tren (Mr. Cumbia Man) by Celso Piña y su Ronda Bogotá

Fun dancey and spiked with that well-known cumbia sound that makes you want to shake your booty.



11) Monedita by La Santa Cecilia

Super fun appropriate for all ages party music with LA sprinkled in. What’s not to love?



12) Flores by Las Acevedo

Adorable, lovable, luau music that will make you want to go to the beach and will not offend the older generations.




Nadia Reiman has been a radio producer since 2005. Before joining the Latino USA team, Nadia produced for StoryCorps for almost five years. Her work there on 9/11 stories earned her a Peabody Award. She has also mixed audio for animations, assisted on podcasts for magazines, and program managed translations for Canon Latin America. Nadia has also produced for None on Record editing and mixing stories of queer Africans, and worked on a Spanish language radio show called Epicentro based out of Washington DC. She graduated from Kenyon College with a double major in International Studies and Spanish Literature



Photo courtesy of Flickr user Bill Rogers. 

#1350 – Money, Money, Money

From Puerto Rico to the Bay Area, Latino USA examines questions of money. Marlon Bishop tells us Puerto Rico could soon default on its public debt. We examine the potential economic impact of immigration reform, a democratic system to spend public money in New York, and helping the unbanked in Oakland. We’ll hear about the debt-incurring cost of quinceañeras. We hear from two Latino tech leaders. And our series on the Dearly Deported continues.


Photo: Karen Bleiber/AFP/Getty Images



Under Water: Puerto Rico’s Debt Crisis

Recent reports having been calling Puerto Rico the “Greece of the Caribbean” – and not for its mild weather. It’s because Puerto Rico is at risk of growing broke. Unemployment is almost 15 percent; the poverty rate is at almost 45 percent.

The government’s credit rating was downgraded in late 2012.

Everyone seems worried about the economy.

Eduardo Cintrón is a security guard at a shopping mall called Plaza Las Americas. He says the prosperity on display here is a mirage, “All the people that are here, they only spend with the card, the credit card, more debt and more debt.”

Cintrón might as well be talking about the island itself. Puerto Rico’s public debt is $70 billion, almost four times that of the bankrupt city of Detroit. It’s a similar debt load to the state of New York, which has more than twice times the population.

And now, there’s worry among bondholders that Puerto Rico could default

Unemployment in Puerto Rico remains higher than in the rest of the U.S.
Unemployment in Puerto Rico remains higher than in the rest of the U.S.


How Exactly Did This Happen?

Economist Vicente Feliciano says the Puerto Rican economy grew at a healthy clip for decades, thanks to huge federal tax breaks that lured corporations to set up factories there.

“It was growing at Asian levels,” he says.

Puerto Rico achieved one of the highest living standards in all of Latin America. But then in the 1990s, the federal government eliminated those tax incentives. It was like a death sentence for the Puerto Rican economy, “there was an economic model that came to an end,” says Feliciano.

By the time the tax breaks were fully phased out in 2005, much of the island’s industry had evaporated.

The government began to borrow a lot of money to make up for the lost corporate tax revenue.

“Your salary is cut so you start taking on money from your credit cards and there comes a point that you max out,” says Feliciano, “You have to cut back on your living standards, and we have been going through that process



The Paseo de Diego is a working-class shopping district in Rio Piedras, San Juan. More than a dozen stores have closed here this year alone. Photo by Marlon Bishop.
The Paseo de Diego is a working-class shopping district in Rio Piedras, San Juan. More than a dozen stores have closed here this year alone. Photo by Marlon Bishop.


Puerto Rico Has Maxed Out

Essentially, Puerto Rico has maxed out. Rating agencies downgraded the island’s bond to near-junk status in late 2012, making it difficult to borrow. So far, there’s no federal bailout on the table. The government has promised it will not default.

Instead, it’s taking tough measures in order to raise cash.

In other words, Puerto Ricans are really hurting.

Kelvis Polo is a shop owner in the working-class shopping district in San Juan. His life began 17 years ago as a street vendor, and slowly worked his way up to become the proud owner of several apparel stores.

He’s had to close two out of his three stores. He has had to lay off 15 employees.

He says lots of factors are conspiring to bury him. For example, electricity is extremely expensive in Puerto Rico – higher than in any U.S. state except Hawaii.

On top of that, the government has imposed a flurry of new taxes: sales taxes, gas taxes, corporate taxes. Water rates went up 60% this year.

The cost of living is high, and the wages are staying flat. Polo’s former customers have no money to spend.

“We small businessmen are the backbone of any country’s economy,” he says, “but we don’t have the strength to keep going.”

Polo plans to close his last store in January and go back to selling in the street, where he’ll have no rent or electric bill to pay.



Wilfredo Martinez Cuevas says after 65 years in the retail business, 2013 is the worst year he's ever seen. He plans to close his store on the Paseo de Diego, San Juan in January. Photo by Marlon Bishop
Wilfredo Martinez Cuevas says after 65 years in the retail business, 2013 is the worst year he’s ever seen. He plans to close his store on the Paseo de Diego, San Juan in January. Photo by Marlon Bishop


The Price Of Austerity

The government’s new taxes will raise an estimated 1.4 billion dollars. That’s a step towards meeting the goal of balancing the budget by 2016.

But citizens feel angry. There is a sense that the government is just digging in the knife.

David Chafey, a top government financial officer, says the administration didn’t have much choice. It was either raise taxes or cut

spending drastically.

“The governor felt that cutting expenses to that amount would have been quite painful to a lot of people, and maybe for the past 8 or 10 years, different administrations have been able to postpone on some of those decisions,”  says Chafey, “but at this stage, given everything we were facing, these were things that we had to do.”

But those things have come with a price.


It Will Get Worse Before It Gets Better

Mario Alberghini is a 30 year-old entrepreneur who wants to stay in Puerto Rico. Given the current outlook, he says, it’s not easy getting a business off the ground.

“When you see young people leaving the island, they do it very calmly, and that is completely understandable,” says Alberghini, “Because on a certain level, you sort of don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Economists speculate that a recovery will come…eventually.

Salaries will probably be lower than on the mainland. And that could make Puerto Rico attractive to businesses again.

But for now, things will likely get worse before they get better.




Marlon Bishop_new headshot Marlon Bishop is a radio producer, writer, and reporter based in New York. His work is focused on music, Latin America, New York City and the arts, and has appeared in several public radio outlets such as WNYC News,Studio 360, The World and NPR News. He is an Associate Producer at Afropop Worldwide and a staff writer forMTV Iggy.