Nontraditional Traditions with Leonardo Benzant

Leonardo Benzant knew that his calling in life was to create.

“I always felt that I was different and didn’t fit in… I knew that my path was to become an artist,” said Benzant, who lives in Richmond Hill, Queens with his family.

Born in Brooklyn to Dominican parents, Benzant’s mixed media work centers around ritual and transformation. Over the past few years, he has been exhibiting all over the country. His work includes painting, performance, sculpture, beading, sound, and installation.

As a visual artist, Leonardo digs deep to produce work that has been described as “otherworldly” and “transformative.”

What most people don’t know is that it’s been a long road for him to gain the respect from his family, his Mother in particular, when spirituality is involved. She is a devout Christian and Benzant is an initiate within the Yoruba religion, one of the largest African traditions south of the Sahara Desert.

Benzant has always been attracted to practices connected to his African heritage. Many members of his family have dabbled but he is the most devoted within his immediate family. He was called to the Yoruba religion years ago and chose to trust the direction presented to him.

The traditions and beliefs of the early Yoruba was influenced in part by the prominent objects of nature around them. While in a forest near his home in Queens, Benzant shares the painful memory of being shunned by his family after he announced his decision to practice traditions related to the ancient African religion.

As Benzant success in the art world has grown, his mother has become more accepting of his religious practices.

Towards the end of our meeting, she said while stringing beads for her son’s latest body of work, “it must be working, so we just leave him alone.”

Featured image by Kalalea

Gaby Moreno on Blues and Guatemalan Folk Music

From Guatemalan folk songs to the blues, Gaby Moreno creates music that sounds fresh and new while drawing from the past.

On a vacation trip to New York City as a teenager, Moreno discovered the blues and once back in her home country she sought that sound everywhere she went.

Since then she has been mixing sounds that draw from her Guatemalan roots.

“It comes through mainly I think through my lyrics I have a few songs that I’ve written about my experience as an immigrant coming to the states and leaving everything I knew behind, missing my home country, missing my family and I just feel it in my music and in my lyrics, how I was brought up,” Moreno said.

One song in particular, “El Sombrerón,” talks about a Guatemalan folk story that goes back many generations.

Gaby Moreno stopped by our studio in Harlem to tell us a little more about the somewhat creepy folktale.

Her new album Ilusión comes out September 9.

Featured image by JC Olivera/Getty Images for Latinos de Hoy Awards.

The Age-Old Tradition of Ditch Digging

In northern New Mexico, Hispano subsistence farmers rely on irrigation ditches to water their crops. So once a year, the farmers come together to clean out the ditches so that their crops can get watered. The act of cleaning out the ditches, or acequias, and using them to water crops, is a tradition that is hundreds of years old. It’s a technique used by Native Americans, and was also implemented in Europe and the Middle East.

Cleaning out the acequias is more than just a once-a-year spring cleaning. The tradition reinforces communal bonds and their commitment to treating water as a precious shared resource, rather than as a commodity to be bought and sold.

Featured image by Deborah Martinez

The Soundtrack to Jeurys Familia’s Life

Dominican relief pitcher Jeurys Familia threw Mets fans a bit of a curveball this year when he ditched his former (intimidating) walkout song for a hopeful, fun and uplifting track created specifically for him. Written and performed by his childhood hero, Dominican bachata Zacarías Ferreíra, Familia opted for walking out to a song that would remind him of his childhood love of the game rather than one designed to instill fear or bolster ego. And so far, it’s working.

A special thanks to the team at ESPN for this collaboration.

Featured image by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Pew: 61% of Americans Oppose Building Wall Across Entire Border with Mexico

A new report from Pew Research Center about immigration and immigration policy said that 61% of Americans oppose the construction of a border wall along the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

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Pew also concluded the following:

Differences across demographic and political groups remain stark. While more whites say they are opposed (54%) than say they are in favor (43%) of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, they are far less likely than blacks and Hispanics to oppose the proposed wall. Roughly three-quarters of both blacks (76%) and Hispanics (76%) say they oppose the proposal, while just about one-in-five favor the wall.

When categorized by political ideologies, 63% of Republicans or Republican-leaning individuals favor a new wall, while 14% of Democrats or Democrat-leaning respondents say they support it. The issue of a border wall has still remained a central tenet of Donald Trump’s immigration  platform, even with reports that he is pivoting on other immigration policy points.

The Pew poll also looked at other immigration-related topics, including how the government should address the nation’s undocumented population. Here is what Pew said: “29% of the public prioritizes ‘creating a way for immigrants already here illegally to become citizens if they meet certain requirements,’ while (24%) say the focus should be on ‘better border security and stronger enforcement of immigration laws.’ However, when given the option, a 45% plurality does say that both should be given equal priority.” In addition, when asked to decided which option should have the bigger priority, 55% of respondents said it was for undocumented individuals to become citizens if they met certain requirements.

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The Pew poll also added that “71% say undocumented immigrants living in the United States mostly fill jobs citizens do not want, while just 24% say they mostly take jobs citizens want. About three-quarters of Americans (76%) say undocumented immigrants are ‘as honest and hard-working’ as U.S. citizens, while 67% say they are no more likely than U.S. citizens to commit serious crimes.”

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To read all the findings from the Pew report, click here.

Will Trump’s Sudden Immigration Pivot Earn Him More Support From Latino Voters?

Just 24 hours after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump told a Fox News town hall in Texas that he would consider “softening” his initial position on immigration (a position that clearly went more extreme than any of those from the Republican primary candidates he defeated), he was polling Sean Hannity’s audience to see what it thought about whether to deport every undocumented person in this country. The impromptu focus group had some detractors, but the vast majority of participants pretty much agreed with Trump’s new proposal, which if you really think about it, is exactly what candidates like Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush were promoting during the height of the primary season.

The same Trump who was once mocking Bush for being “weak” on immigration and slamming Rubio for betraying Republicans when he supported a Gang of Eight immigration reform bill, is now literally lifting from the Bush-Rubio playbook and presenting it as some amazing market research revelation. Never mind that Trump also made sure to tell the Hannity crowd that he will still build a bigger wall and share the same unfounded generalizations that most Latinos in this country are criminals: why has the Trump campaign made such a highly-publicized effort to shift his position from that of a “humane” deportation force to one that is more moderate in Republican circles?

The answer is simple: Trump is not winning over Latino voters. Not even close. With less than 80 days until the election, he needs to pivot and pivot quickly, even if it upsets his most fervent “send them all home” supporters.

Latest polling numbers indicate that if the election were held today, Trump would have the lowest Latino support of any presidential candidate since 1980. Right now, Mitt Romney’s 27% Latino vote support from 2012 would be a miracle for Trump. Trump is polling at Bob Dole numbers, and we all know how 1996 turned out for Republicans in their quest for the White House.

How has Trump been doing recently in polls that have sampled Latinos? Here are the latest numbers from the past three weeks:

NBC News/SurveyMonkey: Hillary Clinton 73%, Trump 22% (in May, this same poll had it at Clinton 61%, Trump 31%)

FIU/Adsmovil: Clinton 75%, Trump 13%

Fox News Latino: Clinton 66%, Trump 20%

Is it just coincidence that with Trump’s Latino numbers dropping dramatically after the conventions, not only did his campaign create a Hispanic advisory board, but his immigration views are starting to move away from the extreme alt-right and more to the right? These are not the moves of a campaign that is downplaying the importance of the Latino vote and relying solely of winning a lot white male voters, as some analysts would want to tell you. In addition, people who are following the race should examine whether Trump’s official immigration platform will indeed shift or whether calls for an end of birthright citizenship, for instance, will not change.

Yet the questions still remain: can a Trump candidacy balance a full year of enforcement-heavy rhetoric with a new tone that is more in line with conventional Republican thinking? Will Latino voters buy this change in swing states like Florida and Colorado? Will there be a “self-deportation” moment at a future debate that would end it for Trump, just like it did for Romney?

And more importantly, will Latino voters gloss over Trump’s initial words about Mexican and Latin American immigrants that earned scorn from people across all political stripes, even from members of his current Hispanic advisory board?

As this 2015 open letter from prominent Latino Republicans (including Mario Rodriguez, who is now a Hispanic advisor to Trump’s campaign) stated:

As such, not only have you lost our respect and our buying power, but you have lost our vote. We will never support you, your candidacy or your enterprises. Without the Hispanic vote you will not be the Republican nominee, much less the president of our great nation.

If not Trump then, will more Latino conservatives cozy up to Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, who is making “inroads” with Latino voters? It is not crazy to think that Johnson could poll better with Latino voters than Trump, as more and more Latino conservatives begin to explore Johnson’s platform.

Will Trump’s Latino numbers creep up to a Romney level (remember, Romney didn’t win in 2012) or will they hover in the Bob Dole range?

Are we seeing a Trump Latino comeback due to his two nights on Hannity or will he eventually earn the label of the politician who garnered the least amount of national Latino support in 36 years?

So far, current numbers would indicate that Trump will never regain trust with Latinos, but this election has been so unpredictable, the notion of a more “compassionate” Trump on immigration might still appeal to those Latinos who would never vote for Clinton.

Will it be enough or is it too late? If you ask Javier Palomarez of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Trump’s latest overtures won’t have any impact.

What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts to @julito77.

Trump: ‘There’s Certainly Can Be a Softening’ on Immigration Position

At a town hall hosted by Fox News Tuesday night in Texas, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said that “there’s certainly can be a softening” on how to address the country’s undocumented population. His comments came during this exchange with Fox’s Sean Hannity:

HANNITY: I know this question has come up a lot. What about people that work hard, that been here a long time. They own homes. They have their property. This is a question everyone’s going to want answered. What about them? Do they have to go back or would you reconsider that?

TRUMP: We are going to follow the laws of the country, Sean…

HANNITY: So that means they go back…

TRUMP: We’re going to follow the law, and we’re going to see who people are, we’re going to see how they’ve done. Do you believe in a marriage system, Sean? When people come in, as an example. Do you believe in a marriage system? One of the things that’s very unfair with leaving people is that you have years and years of waiting on line. They’ve gone through a process, they file…

HANNITY: Legally.

TRUMP: Legally. They filed. And they’re great people. In some cases, maybe not. But you have really great people wanting and so proudly wanting to come into our country. And now what you’d be doing is you’d take people away from that line. It’s really sort of unfair.

HANNITY: Is there any part of the law you might be able to change that would accommodate those people that contribute to society, have been law-abiding, have kids here? Would there be any room in your mind… because I know you had a meeting with Hispanic leaders…

TRUMP: I did. I did. I did. I had a meeting with great people, great Hispanic leaders, and there’s certainly can be a softening because we’re not looking to hurt people. We want people, we have some great people in this country. We have some great, great people in this country. But we’re going to follow the laws of this country.

HANNITY: Any specific changes you want to make?

TRUMP: What people don’t realize, what people don’t realize… we have very very strong laws.

HANNITY: But Obama doesn’t follow them. He doesn’t care.

TRUMP: No, they don’t follow them. But we’re going to follow the laws.

Trump’s comments appear to be a departure from last year, when he went on 60 Minutes and said that he would “round up” immigrants in a “very humane way, in a very nice way.”

Recently, Trump’s poll numbers with Latino voters have been the lowest of any Republican candidate since 1980 and they continue to trend downward. In the past week, there have been reports that his campaign is trying to soften its stance on immigration, although a Trump campaign spokesperson also said that plans to set up a “deportation force” are “to be determined.”

On Tuesday afternoon, Lorella Praeli, National Director of the Latino Vote for the Hillary Clinton campaign, issued the following statement about Trump’s immigration comments:

“Yesterday in Texas, Trump doubled down on his dangerous immigration policies and once again falsely painted Latinos as criminals. Here’s a message for Trump: Latinos can see through your cynical ploys–no play of words can hide the fact that you’ve built your entire campaign on a dangerous agenda that seeks to demonize immigrants, deport 16 million people, build a giant concrete wall and send a deportation force into our communities. You can’t fool us.”

Immigration laws in the U.S. are complex and unauthorized individuals in the country do have a right to defend removal or deportation.

From 2008 to 2015, the United States has removed close to 3 million undocumented individuals from the country. (Source) There has also been a trend to prioritize convicted criminals over non-criminal immigration violators, as the chart below shows:

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Clinton Has 51-Point Lead Over Trump With Latino Voters in NBC News/SurveyMonkey Poll

A new NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll released Tuesday has Hillary Clinton earning 73 percent support from Latino voters, 51 points more than the 22 percent Latino support for Donald Trump.

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In May, Trump’s Latino support in a similar poll was at 31 percent, while Clinton’s May numbers were at 61 percent. The newest NBC News/SurveyMonkey numbers are consistent with other recent polls that have sampled Latinos, including the FIU/Adsmovil (Clinton 75%, Trump 13%) and Fox News Latino (Clinton 66%, Trump 20%).

The latest NBC News/SurveyMonkey poll also showed that black and Asian American voters overwhelmingly preferred Clinton over Trump. Clinton has a 79-point lead over Trump with black voters and a 43-point lead with Asian American voters. Trump’s only lead over Clinton is with white voters, where the Republican candidate holds a 9-point lead.

Recently, the Trump campaign has been courting black and Latino voters through speeches and advisory panels, hoping to improve on Trump’s low numbers with these voting groups. In 2012, Mitt Romney won 6% of the black vote, 27% of the Latino vote, 26% of the Asian American vote and 59% of the white vote.  In that same election, Barack Obama took 93% of the black vote, 71% of the Latino vote, 73% of the Asian American vote and 39% of the white vote.

For the full results from NBC News/SurveyMonkey, click here.

Former Miss Universe Becomes U.S. Citizen in Time to Cast Vote Against Trump

Former Miss Universe Alicia Machado became a U.S. citizen on Friday, just in time to cast her vote against the man who she says taunted her about her weight and accent when she was 19 years old: former pageant owner and current GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump.

The Venezuelan-born pageant winner, who took the oath of allegiance in Miami, shared the big news on Instagram. “[I’m] so proud and inspiration to be a U.S. Citizen! I’ll be voting!” she wrote in the caption, adding that she will be investing all of her power and support in Hillary Clinton.

“Miss Housekeeping and miss Piggy Can Vote,” she added, referencing the cruel names she’s said Trump used to taunt her.

Read more at HuffPost Latino Voices.

New Latino Voice Tracking Poll: Clinton 75%, Trump 15%, Other 10%

The latest New Latino Voice (NLV) online tracking poll from Florida International University and Hispanic mobile advertising company Adsmovil has Democrat Hillary Clinton leading Republican Donald Trump by 60 points with Latino voters.

This week’s poll, which ran from August 1–August 7, has Clinton at 75%, Trump at 15% and Other at 10%. (Click here for previous polls.)

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Clinton has peaked at 81% during the course of the NLV poll, while Trump’s best numbers have been at 17%. Since April, NLV has polled more than 200,000 online Latinos. Its results have been in line with more traditional polls, such as the ones from Univision/Washington Post and Telemundo/NBC News/WSJ.

For the second week in a row, the poll focused on Florida, with Clinton’s numbers remaining at around 76% and Trump moving closer to 14%.

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Each week, the poll also asks respondents about this election season’s most important topic. Immigration continues to consistently top the list:

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When asked about this week’s results, FIU professor Eduardo Gamarra told Latino USA the following:

As you can see the poll continues to show enormous consistency. Secretary Clinton’s numbers dropped a bit and Mr. Trump’s rose some. Both continue to move within their normal range so there are no surprises. Immigration continues to be the principal issue for Latinos; this week it rose considerably, although it is difficult to explain why there was an increase in this issue. Security dropped a bit but note that it has not dropped under 15 since Orlando. Clearly, if we were to combine economy and employment into a single variable, it would be evident that economic issues are the most important to Latinos.

Our second Florida poll shows that Republicans continue to face a large Latino problem. It will be interesting to observe how this moves in the next few weeks.

You can read this week’s full findings below: