The Story of the First Rarámuri Pianist in Latin America

The Rarámuri people usually give their lives to harvesting corn to survive in the deepest parts of Mexico’s Sierra Madre Occidental. On their days off, they run and place bet against each other, and during these celebrations, a rustic violin is the main instrument. But in the last 20 years, the Rarámuri people and specifically, one Rarámuri man named Romeyno Gutiérrez, have been using a new instrument: the pianchi, or as we know it, the piano.

How did the pianchi reach the Rarámuri? Romayne Wheeler, a California-born professional pianist who after studying in Vienna for 10 years, decided to move to Gutiérrez’s community some years before he was born. Wheeler brought a small sun-powered keyboard to keep practicing his compositions, and later he managed to move his 1917 Steinway and Sons grand piano into the cave he still lives in.

“I knew Romeyno was not like the other kids, since he started showing up on my cave to listen to me play for hours. He would stay there, on his tips, listening and peeking through a window, instead of playing with other kids or just hanging around the community,” said Wheeler, Gutiérrez’s teacher and godfather.

Wheeler introduced Gutiérrez to his piano—first, as a hobby and later, as a future.

“When he realized I was seriously interested in the piano, he [Wheeler] started teaching me from the beginning, like how to sit, how to place my fingers and all that,” Gutiérrez told Latino USA.

At the age of 10, Gutiérrez, an indigenous Mexican child born in one of the poorest areas in the world, was starting his career as a professional pianist.

Today, Gutiérrez is 30 years old. He is studying music at the Chihuahua Conservatory. With only two years to go, he has become one of the greatest musicians in Mexico, but he’s not after a title, fame or money. Gutiérrez is following his heart, and his heart belongs to his people.

“I’m doing this because I want to give something to my community. The government never help us. Many people in Mexico don’t even know we exist, so this is the only way I found to take food or goods to my people,” he said.

The Rarámuri believe in kórima, the act of sharing. All they have, they share. Gutiérrez is able to play, thanks to a sponsorship from Wheeler, and now that he is giving concerts around the world, Gutiérrez gives back most of his earnings to his community.

Retosachic

Rarámuri means “the one with light feet.” They are usually known for running long and fast. In the last few years, the Rarámuri have been winning marathons around the world.

There are between 50,000 to 70,000 Rarámuri today. Most still practice a traditional lifestyle, inhabiting natural shelters such as caves or cliff overhangs, as well as small cabins of wood or stone. The Human Development Index for the Rarámuri in Chihuahua is 0.310, a number even lower than some of the world’s most underdeveloped countries. Last year, more than 104,000 Rarámuri in the Sierra Madre Occidental were living without adequate access to food.

Gutiérrez’s community is called Retosachic, a plain area in the middle of the woods, with only around 50 people scattered here and there. The women make their own dresses with flower patterns in powerful colors as red, yellow, green and purple. Men dress with a white waistcloth, rubber sandals and colorful shirts with no patterns on it.

For the Rarámuri, music is an essential part of their social lives. Wheeler said that “music sanctifies the moment in the life of all the Rarámuri.” Considering himself a Rarámuri after living in Retosachic for more than 30 years, Wheeler added: “All of our actions have musical meaning.”

Gutiérrez found a meaning of his own in Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin.

“I found how to sing to the things that matter. We don’t have a different word for singing or for music. It’s the same—music is singing and vice versa. And the piano is a way for me to sign to nature, to my people, to my ancestors,” Gutiérrez said.

A Concert in Texas

Gutiérrez met with Latino USA in El Paso, Texas, at a concert he was giving at the Mexican Consulate. He was dressed with a blue Rarámuri shirt, white waistcloth and rubber sandals, and admitted that the performing rarely makes his nervous.

“I remember my first concerts. I would be shy, never nervous. But once I started playing the shyness goes away, I focus on transmitting what I’m feeling, not only pushing the keys or following the letter,” he said.

Even though he’s been all over the world, for Gutiérrez, Retosachic will always be home.

“It’s been a big shock for me to get out of Retosachic,” Gutiérrez said. “To begin with the fact that we don’t use money, we are not used to trade money to get something, so that’s been the hardest part, to remember to have money on me, that everything has different costs.”

And although he was more than 450 miles from where he was sitting in El Paso, Gutiérrez still brought his audience to Retosachic.

“This is a danza Rarámuri we play on our traditional parties,” he said.

The playful chords jumped from Gutiérrez’s fingers, as the walls surrounding this solemn place began were crumbling and suddenly Gutiérrez was back home—the mountain wind moving his dark hair and flying around along the pianchi.

Census: US Latino Population Now at 57.5 Million

New data released Thursday by the Census Bureau said that the nation’s Latino population is at 57.5 million people.

According to the Census, this latest number is a two percent increase in the U.S. Latino population between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016. The state of California accounts for close to 27 percent (15.3 million) of all U.S. Latinos. In addition, Los Angeles County accounts for about nine percent (4.9 million) of all U.S. Latinos. The New Mexico has the highest Latino share of its total population (48.5 percent).

The Census also listed population statistics for other groups, confirming that the country’s population continues to get more and more diverse:

GroupPopulation (Million)Percent Growth
Asian21.43%
Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander1.52.1%
American Indian and Alaska Native 6.71.4%
Black (or African-American)46.81.2%
White 2560.5%
Two or More Races8.53%
Non-Hispanic White1980%

To read the full report, visit the Census’ site.

New Report Examines Consequences to Central American Asylum Seekers Who Return to Their Countries

A new report released Tuesday about Central American migrants who unsuccessfully gained asylum or other protection in the United States or Mexico presented a rare look into life after these migrants returned to their home countries. Published by the Center for Migration Studies and Cristosal, the report was the result of interviews conducted with “individuals who fled from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras under threats of violence and persecution and had been deported back to their country of origin to determine why they fled their homelands, why they could not secure asylum, and on their situations post-return.”

The report shared several findings, including the following:

  • Specific acts of violence, rather than the generalized violence endemic in the Northern Triangle states, precipitated flight in search of protection. Most participants expressed feelings of fleeing as a “last resort,” as they left behind jobs, family, friends, homes, and culture in order to seek protection.
  • The majority of interviewees had themselves been victims of violence or had family members who had been victims. Some had a family member who had been killed by gangs in their stead or “in place” of them.
  • Half of the interviewees had been displaced internally before deciding to leave the country. Upon their return to the circumstances they fled, they relied on their families for shelter, support, and a modicum of protection, not the government.
  • No one interviewed indicated that they expected protection from the US government, although all needed it. Their lack of understanding of the law and the inability of their families to protect them in transit and upon arrival in the United States prompted some to make decisions to “voluntarily” return, without full knowledge of their rights.

In addition, the report highlighted policy recommendations, including these:

  • Central Americans who arrive at the US border should be provided with a know-your-rights briefing by nonprofit legal experts and access to legal representation prior to their credible fear interview.
  • Alternatives to detention should be offered to persons found to have a credible fear of return.
  • Deterrence policies should be replaced with protection programs in countries of origin, transit and asylum.
  • A comprehensive return program should be created which helps deportees and other returnees find employment and receive protection.
  • The United States and other nations should assist nations of the Northern Triangle to address the root causes of flight.

This is the full report:

 

Statehood for Puerto Rico? Lessons From the Last Time the US Added a Star to Its Flag

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.

By David Stebenne, The Ohio State University

Puerto Ricans who turned out to vote in a referendum June 11 overwhelmingly expressed support for becoming the 51st state.

But that can’t happen until Congress passes a law to change the island’s legal status.

Congress, however, seems likely to drag its feet. That’s what happened when Hawaii became a state in the 1950s—an experience that offers some interesting and relevant parallels to the Puerto Rican case.

The Popularity of Populous Places

Like Puerto Rico today, Hawaii was a developed place when its residents applied for statehood. This is in contrast with some earlier states like Ohio and Wyoming that were carved out of sparsely populated territories. Hawaii’s population in the 1950s —just under half a million— was greater than that of several other states, something that is true for Puerto Rico today.

As novelist James Michener observed, “Hawaii is by far the most advanced state culturally that has ever been admitted to the Union.” Michener was referring to the high number of firmly established schools, churches, libraries and museums there—something Puerto Rico can also boast about.

Other parallels between the two include a location outside the continental U.S. and a diverse population in terms of race and ethnicity.

Of those two points, the second was the one that drummed up resistance to admitting Hawaii as state among the strongly conservative white southern Democrats who ran Congress for most of the 1950s. These so-called Dixiecrats feared that to admit multiracial Hawaii would likely lead to two more votes in the Senate for civil rights laws and for cutting off southern filibusters against such legislation.

As a result, the first major effort to pass a law admitting Hawaii came only after the 1952 elections. In that election cycle, the Republicans rode Dwight Eisenhower’s coattails and succeeded in winning narrow majorities in both the House and the Senate. But the statehood bill failed to pass during the period of GOP control in 1953-54, due to intense southern Democratic resistance to admitting Hawaii alone, and the Eisenhower administration’s rejection of a compromise that would have admitted mostly white Alaska first.

Eisenhower had two objections to the compromise. The first was that Alaska’s population was still too small —128,643, according to the 1950 census— to warrant giving its residents a voting member of the House and two senators. Second, Eisenhower thought that making Alaska a state might have led its newly empowered government to interfere with his administration’s plans to build major military installations there. And so Eisenhower opted to wait.

President Dwight Eisenhower at the unfurling of the 49-star flag on Jan. 3, 1959, the day Alaska became a state. Ike would have to repeat the ritual eight months later when Hawaii joined the Union. (Eisenhower Presidential Library & Museum)

When the Democrats gained control of Congress in January 1955, southern Democratic leverage over the legislative process grew, something that blocked a second Eisenhower administration attempt to admit Hawaii in 1956.

It wasn’t until after the 1958 midterm elections —when so many northern, liberal Democrats were elected to the Senate that southerners became a minority of the Democrats’ delegation— that admission become possible. Clearing the way, too, was the growth in Alaska’s population to 226,167, plus a provision in the legislation for Alaska reserving large tracts of its land area for military purposes. This opened a path to statehood for Hawaii in 1959, but only after Alaska became a state eight months earlier.

No Easy Compromises

History suggests that efforts to pass a law admitting Puerto Rico will likely face tough sledding in Congress. There’s no Alaska-type compromise available this time. And even though the Dixiecrats have faded into history, strongly conservative white southerners once again mostly run Congress, albeit this time as Republicans. Opposition among them to admitting Puerto Rico seems likely, because its residents would almost surely elect liberals to the U.S. House and Senate.

Even so, Puerto Rico’s quest for statehood may not be hopeless.

Latinos have become a highly sought-after group of voters, especially as their numbers grow. Strong opposition to Puerto Rican statehood among Republicans could conceivably hurt GOP chances to win more support from Latinos living in such electorally important states as Arizona, Florida and Texas. The island would be the first state in which Latinos made up a large majority, and so its admission would have symbolic significance.

Trump’s plans to raise trade barriers with Mexico and other developing nations could, in my opinion, strengthen support in the American business community for admitting Puerto Rico as a state, because its labor market is similar but could not be walled off.

Growing national security concerns might also help Puerto Rico’s case for statehood, given its strategic location in the eastern Caribbean. Last but not least, it helps that Trump, during his presidential campaign, stated that he would favor admission of Puerto Rico as a state if that’s what the island’s residents wanted.

The lessons of the past suggest that Puerto Rico may have to wait a while, but could conceivably prevail in a bid for statehood, especially if the Democrats regain control of Congress. That would make Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York —a state that’s home to the largest number of Americans of Puerto Rican ancestry outside the island— the Senate majority leader, which would greatly aid that cause.

***

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Oscar López Rivera Gets Hero’s Welcome at Chicago’s Puerto Rican Parade

CHICAGO — Oscar López Rivera’s footprint can be felt on just about every intersection of Paseo Boricua, the section of Division Street on Chicago’s west side bookmarked by two 59-foot-tall Puerto Rican flags.

Just two days before the city’s annual Puerto Rican People’s Parade, the former self-proclaimed political prisoner —who only a month earlier had been released from prison after serving 35 years before his sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama in January— was led on a walking tour to show him just how his legacy has influenced the city’s Puerto Rican diaspora.

His presence was palpable.

Socialist newsletters and Spanish-language weeklies had his photo plastered on the covers, motorists with giant Puerto Rican flags affixed to their cars stopped to gaze at the larger-than-life figure, while students posed next to him and the large mural prominently featured next to Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School, the alternative school co-founded by Lopez Rivera in 1972 as La Escuelita Puertorriqueña in the basement of a church.

Motorists with giant Puerto Rican flags affixed to their cars days during Chicago’s Puerto Rican People’s  Parade on June 17, 2017. (Serena Maria Daniels)

As the entourage made its way down the paseo, residents young and old were eager to shake the hand of the man who many credit as responsible for the longevity of Chicago’s Puerto Rican community.

“That’s the man right there. He’s a man that I learned about from a very young age. He’s had a huge impact here,” said Marcelo Tanon, 22, whose father owns La Burquena restaurant and whose mother is a Spanish teacher at La Escuelita.

Following the media tour, López Rivera served as the grand marshal of the neighborhood’s Puerto Rican People’s Parade on a sweltering Saturday afternoon, where thousands of Chicagoans braved the stifling humidity to give the 74-year-old a hero’s welcome.

Oscar López Rivera as grand marshal at Puerto Rican People’s Parade on June 17, 2017. (Serena Maria Daniels)

The warm reception, though met with a handful of protesters, came a week after New York City’s much larger National Puerto Rican Day Parade, which he also attended but as a regular citizen.

López Rivera was slated to receive the New York parade’s first National Freedom Hero award, but controversy arose when several corporate sponsors pulled support as a form of protest against López Rivera’s involvement. Eventually, he declined the award and bestowed it to others involved in causes for Puerto Rico.

In an op-ed published in the New York Daily News, he wrote: “I will be on Fifth Ave. not as your honoree, but as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather who at 74 continues to be committed to helping raise awareness about the fiscal, health care and human rights crisis Puerto Rico is facing at this historic juncture.”

Of the flak in New York, a defiant López Rivera told Latino USA in Chicago: “I could count the number of people who had their thumbs down [at me]. The Puerto Rican contingent in New York was wonderful.”

During the Chicago parade, the controversy was at a minimum—given López Rivera’s roots in the Windy City run much deeper.

López Rivera was born in 1943 in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, and moved to the United States during the period known as “Operation Bootstrap,” an effort by the U.S. federal government to industrialize the island’s traditionally agricultural economy that resulted in the migration of more than half a million Puerto Ricans to the mainland. The majority made their way to New York, but slowly many of those families continued on to Chicago, including López Rivera’s family when he was 14. The community first settled just north of downtown, then in the Old Town, Wicker Park, Lincoln Park and Lakeview areas, but as those neighborhoods gentrified, Puerto Ricans eventually were forced to the west side community of Humboldt Park.

At 18, López Rivera was drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam. When he returned home in 1967 —a year after a series of riots and civil unrest shook Division Street after Chicago police shot and killed a 20-year-old Aracelis Cruz on the corner of Damen and Division— he saw his community in turmoil.

“I came back to a community that was marginalized, we had no voice,” López Rivera told reporters ahead of the walking tour inside the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts & Culture, where several of López Rivera’s paintings were on display in a gallery space.

“Chicago was the most segregated city in United States and Puerto Ricans were one of the most marginalized communities in Chicago,” said José López, 67, López Rivera’s younger brother. “There was an incredible amount of poverty, low education achievement, a high rate of dropouts. This was a community that was extremely, extremely, well, the best way to describe it is a slum and a ghetto.”

That’s when López Rivera and others began organizing the community.

Oscar López Rivera, joined by Chicago youths, addresses reporters before a walking tour of Paseo Boricua in Chicago, June 15, 2017. (Serena Maria Daniels)

The alternative school opened its doors in 1972, offering bilingual instruction and bringing in the talents of University of Illinois at Chicago professors as instructors. Its first graduated class contained just eight students.

Other institutions followed.

The Puerto Rican People’s Parade launched in 1978, a year after another set of uprisings in Humboldt Park. The Chicago parade dwarfed the New York City celebration, known as the national parade for the Puerto Rican diaspora, but the emphasis was on community from the very start.

“We needed to celebrate Puerto Rican culture, not to commercialize Puerto Rican culture,” José López told Latino USA. “When you go through the parade and scrutinize it, it is a true celebration of Puerto Rican culture in all of its manifestations.”

Around the same period, López Rivera also became involved in Fuerzas Armadas de Liberación Nacional Puertorriqueña (FALN), described as a paramilitary group that fought for a free Puerto Rico, and which was responsible for more than 70 bombings from 1974 to 1983 in Chicago, New York and Washington D.C. that killed six people.

López Rivera was arrested in 1981 and during the trial declared himself a prisoner of war, defined himself as fighter in anti-colonial struggle and refused to recognize the U.S. courts as having authority to prosecute him under international law.

He was convicted on “seditious conspiracy” charges and sentenced to 55 years in prison. In 1987, he had another 15 years added to his time for conspiracy to escape.

Meanwhile, his efforts in Chicago weren’t forgotten.

For instance, the Puerto Rican Cultural Center —one of the organizations formed in the 1960s— has expanded to offer several initiatives geared to address the many disparities that exist within the Latino community, including the Humboldt Park Diabetes Empowerment Center, Vida/SIDA (a clinic that specializes in HIV prevention and the treatment of patients living with HIV) and El Rescate Transitional Living Program, which offers housing for homeless LGBTQ and HIV young adults.

On Friday, 50 years after López Rivera’s return from Vietnam, La Escuelita graduated 84 students.

In 1995, those two steel gateway flags were constructed to mark Paseo Boricua’s boundaries.

And on Saturday’s parade, that focus on representation on all facets of Puerto Rican life was present—leading with López Rivera, his brother José, Congressman and longtime supporter Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL), 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado, along with revelers dancing about wearing traditional masks made of papier-mâché, a trans beauty queen sitting atop a float and followed by an entourage of dozens of motorcycles and tricked out jeeps.

Parade goers at Chicago’s Puerto Rican People’s Parade on June 17, 2017. (Serena Maria Daniels)

Larry Ligas of the Logan Square Concerned Citizens group told WGN that López Rivera and the FALN used violence to achieve political objectives and should not be celebrated. “They have blood on their hands and they are not heroes,” Ligas said.

Asked his reaction to those who view him as a terrorist, López Rivera told reporters, “The truth is, there is no evidence that shows that I did any of the things they said I did.”

As for the next chapter in his life, López Rivera has already picked up where he left off in his denouncing of the colonization of Puerto Rico, which is now seeking to renegotiate $72 billion of debt.

On Monday, he spoke to 24 members of the United Nations, asking that the Special Committee on Decolonization analyze the territory’s status to end its colonization by the United States. In the coming months, he plans to travel throughout Latin America to raise awareness about Puerto Rico. After that, he intends on resettling in Puerto Rico, starting with visiting 78 cities and towns on the island promoting his foundation.

As for his legacy in Chicago, López Rivera said that while he’s encouraged by the community’s resiliency, “we are under threat of gentrification,” pointing to the neighborhood’s increasing housing costs, reminiscent of when Chicago Boricuas were displaced generations ago.

“I don’t know how long we will last here.”

The Latino USA Playlist for ‘Making a Man’

If you love the music as much as your love our show, then you’re in luck. At the start of each week, we’ll be sharing the songs featured in our latest episode.

This week we feature the music highlighted in Making a Man.

Warning: you might become obsessed with an artist or two.

The Playlist

“Pa’ Sembrar” by Systema Solar

“Toma Tu Pilon” by Los Hacheros

“El Coyote” by Bostich+Fussible

“Mexican Princess” by Señor Flavio

“Pavane” by Chicha Libre

“Green Twins” by Nick Hakim

“Soul Sista” by Bilal

“One Mo’Gin” by D’Angelo

“Cuffed” by Nick Hakim

“Roller Skates” by Nick Hakim

“Cold” by Nick Hakim

To view the full playlist on Spotify, click here.

Trump Nods to Cuban Exiles, Rolls Back Ties: Experts React

EDITOR’S NOTE: The opinions expressed in this piece are solely those of the authors and do not reflect the views of Latino USA.

By Brian Gendreau, University of Florida and William M. LeoGrande, American University

From The Conversation: President Donald Trump announced on Friday a partial reversal of former President Barack Obama’s policy of engagement with Cuba. Trump restored travel restrictions and prohibited financial transactions with the Cuban military. Under the new policy, Americans visiting Cuba for specific, approved purposes will be forbidden from spending money in hotels or restaurants with ties to the military. Airlines and cruise ships, however, may continue to expand travel to the island, while the U.S. embargo will remain in place. We asked two experts on U.S.-Cuba relations to explain what these changes mean.

Politics Over Policy

William M. LeoGrande, American University

Cuba “is a domestic issue for the United States and not a foreign policy issue,” Brent Scowcroft, President George H. W. Bush’s national security adviser, observed in 1998. “It focuses more on votes in Florida.” From the end of the Cold War in 1991 until 2014, when Obama decided normalizing relations would better serve U.S. interests abroad, U.S. presidential candidates feared that any opening to Cuba would cost them Cuban-American votes in the battleground state of Florida.

Now, Trump has turned back the clock and announced a new Cuba policy at the Manuel Artime Theater in Miami’s Little Havana—named after the leader of the Cuban exile brigade that stormed ashore at the Bay of Pigs. According to senior administration officials, Trump decided to tighten the U.S. embargo because he owed a political debt to the brigade’s veterans’ association, which endorsed him for president at a time when the race in Florida looked close. In return, he promised to reverse Obama’s policy. Promise made, promise kept.

In May, an interagency policy review of Obama’s Cuba policy found that it was working. Trump’s White House rejected the result and wrote its own hard-line policy with the help of Cuban-American legislators Rep. Mario Díaz-Balart and Sen. Marco Rubio. “They worked with us hand in glove,” explained a senior administration official.

But they didn’t get everything they wanted. Díaz-Balart’s original recommendation was to roll back everything Obama had done to foster trade and travel. Faced with a flood of appeals from U.S. businesses not to cut them out of the Cuban market, Trump relented, prohibiting only people-to-people travel by individuals and financial transactions with enterprises managed by the Cuban military. As the administration official explained, “You can’t put the genie back in the bottle 100 percent.”

As foreign policy, Trump’s new tough stance makes little sense, in my opinion. Many Latin American countries expressed support for Obama’s policy of engagement. By reversing it, Trump imperils their cooperation on issues like migration and narcotics trafficking. Disengaging also leaves the door open for China and Russia to continue expanding their influence on the island.

Finally, the United States needs Cuba’s cooperation on issues of mutual interest such as environmental protection, counter-narcotics cooperation, and migration—cooperation that will be harder to sustain now that Trump has restarted the Cold War in the Caribbean.

Bad for Business?

Essentially, the Trump administration’s goal is to loosen the grip of the Cuban government and military on the economy and, in doing so, encourage growth in the private sector and lead to political change.

It is far from clear, however, that the new policy will achieve these aims. Rather, its immediate effect will be to hurt Cuba’s nascent private sector, especially in the tourism industry, in which the business arm of the Cuban military (known as GAESA) is heavily involved. U.S. businesses won’t be happy either.

Thanks to the thaw, tourism had been a bright spot in Cuba’s economy, which suffered its first decline in 23 years in 2016 because of a drop in export income. In contrast, tourism has been booming as a record 4 million tourists visited Cuba last year, an increase of 13 percent, with a growing share from the United States.

Trump’s tighter travel restrictions will likely reverse that trend and discourage Americans from visiting the island, adversely affecting private Cuban businesses – and the jobs and incomes that depend on them – as well as American companies that were hoping to benefit from the opening of relations initiated under Obama.

And the prohibition on direct dealings with the military will make it harder for hotels expanding to Cuba to operate. In mid-2016, Starwood became the first U.S. hotel company to operate a location in Cuba in almost 60 years, and many other chains have been expressing interest in expanding to the island.

These U.S. hotel chains may have to withdraw or scrap expansion plans unless the Cuban government pushes the military out of the industry—which is possible.

Even Cuban businesses with absolutely no ties to the military —such as private restaurants and small bed-and-breakfasts— will be hurt by the policy changes because of the likely drop in American visitors.

As it happens, the new policy seems out of step with a large part of the business community and most Americans. For example, the Trump administration will continue to face pressure from U.S. business and agricultural companies, many with close ties to the Republican Party, to expand commercial relations with Cuba. These include efforts to end the prohibition on the use of credit in sales of farm products to Cuba (currently transactions must take place in cash).

And polls show, a growing share of Americans favor normal relations with Cuba. Nearly six in 10 support lifting the embargo.

The ConversationFor the time being, however, a dwindling number of advocates of a hard line on Cuba have prevailed, and there are no new negotiations with Cuba on the horizon. Eventually, however, pressures from business and popular will may force the president to try to broker a broader deal with Cuba including, perhaps, an end to the embargo.

***

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
The Conversation

Nick Hakim on How His Father Taught Him to Fight His Bullies

Nick Hakim, whose debut album Green Twins has been referred to as “psychedelic soul,” grew up in a Chilean and Peruvian household in Washington D.C.. After falling in love with musicians like Bilal and D’Angelo, Hakim decided to pursue music full time. But before that, Hakim had a tumultuous schooling experience. He was put in Special Education classes and was often teased. He tells us how his father taught him to physically fight back against his bullies and about other pressures he faced to grow up quickly.

Featured image: Shervin Lainez

Taking on Fatherhood at 19

When “A” was 19, he met his girlfriend. She had a nine-month old son, and that didn’t stop him from wanting to be with her. In fact, it drew him closer.

Teen pregnancy is often talked about as crisis—the quickest way to “ruin” a young person’s life. But for “A,” meeting his girlfriend and her son was one of the best things that ever happened to him.

It motivated him away to step away from the gang life he’d been a part of, by providing a very different kind of family then the one he was used to. He got a full-time job and helped take care of his girlfriend’s son while she finished high school.

Thank you to the Felton Institute in San Francisco for connecting us to this story. Latino USA is withholding his full name (“A”) out of safety from gang violence.

Featured image: “A” and his girlfriend’s son, Luis. (Marissa Ortega-Welch)

Matt De La Peña: From Reluctant Reader to Best-Selling Author

Growing up, author Matt de la Peña wasn’t into books. He loved The House on Mango Street but didn’t want to read anything else—that is, until he got to college. There, he started reading more books and realized it was his passion. But more than that, he realized that all through his youth he’d been masking emotions in order to appear tough and manly. Through books, all those emotions suddenly came out.

“Books became my secret place to feel,” says de la Peña.

He became an avid reader and soon decided to go to grad school to study creative writing. His dad, who’d never been a book lover either, started showing an interest in his studies. Soon, both father and son were sharing a whole curriculum’s worth of books, and de la Peña’s dad eventually enrolled in college himself to get a B.A. in literature.

“In my community, we don’t respect males who are sensitive,” says de la Peña, “but what these guys and boys don’t realize is we need it more than anybody. We need to learn empathy through watching characters in a novel.”

Featured image: Courtesy of Matt de la Peña