This week’s “Diversity in Geekdom” show led to one active online conversation about the topic. I wanted to share what many of our listeners in our community told us.
For those 6,000 who will soon be released, I want to share with you my story of being released from prison when I received executive clemency after serving 12 years. I hope it will give you some insight on what to expect.
Being released from prison was not what I expected. The freedom was swift and furious. I felt as though I had been slapped on my face with it. There was no preparation, and because of this, it brought on an array of emotional highs and lows. During that time I had struggled with the most mundane tasks, like using a cell phone or flushing an automatic toilet. Its cumulative effects were psychologically devastating. The way of life I once knew was now gone, along with my friends and support base. I then discovered I was alone in a new world that had drastically changed without me.
The days leading up to my release from Sing Sing prison were full of anticipation and my mind was riddled with doubt. To be honest, I was really scared. My main concern was the same as that of everyone who had done a long stretch in prison as they approached their release date. I questioned myself and asked if I would be able to survive life on the outside. The question haunted me.
I was re-entering the real world with only the clothing on my back and a few dollars in my pocket. But little did I know that I also brought along with me all the coping mechanisms I used to survive imprisonment. A simple walk in the neighborhood, or a train ride, was elevated to a state of panic because of the fear I might violate parole and return to prison.
This reality came to me one day when I was riding a crowded train and a passenger bumped me from behind. I automatically went into a defensive mode. I gripped the overhead handrail tightly, as my heart beat elevated and my adrenaline started to pump into my veins. I knew back in prison a simple bump could lead to a brutal confrontation. As I calmed myself down I then observed several other passengers being bumped twice as hard as I was. They did not react at all, making me realize that bumping passengers was a way of life in a New York City subway train.
I soon found out that reestablishing and developing relationships became awkward and painful. I searched for a solution to my problems and realized that I did not leave behind those 12 years of hard time. I had lived a decade of life in an environment where survival mechanisms and behaviors were hardwired into my daily existence. This changed me profoundly and I discovered how difficult it was to forget prison life. Being hardwired for survival inside was a good thing, but in the free world it was another matter, especially when these mechanisms would surface suddenly and without warning.
The tools that were once life-saving had now become a tremendous burden to me as I tried to get my life back together. Because of this it created roadblocks at every level of my existence. Carrying the stigma of being an ex-offender is debilitating. From being denied employment and housing, to not knowing how to establish healthy relationships, life becomes exceedingly difficult. And maintaining my freedom, I soon found, was no easy task while wrestling with the haunting memories of my past imprisonment.
Going back to prison was the last thing I wanted. But I realized that I could go back inside, at any time, at the whim of my parole officer. I witnessed this the first week I reported to my parole officer. The conditions of my parole dictated that I had to report to parole twice a week —with periodic drug testing— and find employment. My parole officer was friendly for the most part, but she had a case load she couldn’t handle. Because of this she took no bulls–t. She was a tough cop who made it clear she had the power to put me back in prison if I ever stepped out of line.
While waiting in her office I sat and watched her as she was questioned a young black parolee that had messed up. She asked him a routine question that she asked all parolees: “Have you had any police contact?” Police contact was any negative interaction with law enforcement. He replied, “Yes,” and the mild-mannered parole officer suddenly went ballistic. She knew already that the guy was a suspect in a robbery and ordered him to stand. She grabbed the parolee by the collar and forcefully pushed him until he reached the wall. “Nose on the f—ing wall and spread ‘em,” she said. The parolee did not resist. She handcuffed him and yelled, “You’re going back in.” I was scared s–tless at that point and wet my pants out of fear, just thinking about returning to prison. I had learned that freedom was not what I expected.
So for all those that will be coming home, you should remember that freedom is precious, and in order to maintain it, you have to work hard to keep it. It’s something I discovered during the 17 years I have been free.
I am a Boston Red Sox fan. The story of how a kid born in Puerto Rico and also lived in the Bronx —but now roots for the Red Sox— is complicated. I explain it all here:
I am also a huge baseball fan, and even though my Red Sox were awful (again) this year, I must admit—this year’s MLB playoff matchups have gotten me pumped. As pumped as this kid (although I refuse to take off my shirt):
The reason for my 2015 Béisbol Renaissance has to do with some of the teams playing (or now not playing). The New York Mets (my uncle’s favorite team). The Los Angeles Dodgers (Dodger Stadium is WAY BETTER than Fenway: there I said it). The Yankees already losing last night to the Astros (a team I used to catch in the early 80s at the Astrodome during our family stint in Sugarland, Texas).
Then there are the two teams playing in tonight’s National League Wild Card game: the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs.
And I don’t know who to root for.
You see, I was born the year that U.S. astronauts walked on the moon for the first time, at the peak of Roberto Clemente’s career for the Pirates. I recall a grainy photo someone took of me in my cousin’s backyard. I am wearing an old-school Pirates tee and smiling. In my mind, the tee looks something like this:
In my mind, EVERY Puerto Rican on the island in the early 1970s rooted for the Piratas. All because of Clemente. He was the greatest. The best. El orgullo de Puerto Rico. The Pride of Puerto Rico. When Clemente died on December 31, 1972, in my mind, I thought the entire island wept. I was three years old, and my hero was already gone.
As I grew older, I always felt an emotional connection to the Pirates. When I was 10, I thought this was the greatest moment of 1979:
I so want the Pirates to win another World Series, but I have this big problem: this year the Cubbies are also in the playoffs.
My love of the Cubs started in the early 80s, when I left the hot summers of Sugarland, Texas, and went back to the hot summers of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Chicago’s WGN was one of those cable “superstations” broadcasting baseball games, and the Cubs were the main event. My abuelo, Papito Juan, had this afternoon routine that I will forever cherish. After lunch, he would sit in his rocking chair and turn on the Cubs game. Nothing, nothing beat WGN and afternoon baseball from Wrigley Field. I would always join my abuelo and watch those games.
The ivy. Ryne Sandberg. Harry Caray. Holy Cow. Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Chicago.
I was hooked. The bonus to those Cubs games was my abuelo telling me baseball stories for hours. I vividly recall two Papito Juan tales to this day. The first one was all about Satchell Paige, who played in Puerto Rico before the start of World War II. My abuelo told me that when Paige was pitching for the Brujos de Guayama (the Guayama Warlocks, greatest name ever), Paige walked off the mound in the middle of a game because he thought he saw a ghost. The second story about Vic Power and a grand slam he hit in Caguas turned into a short story I wrote, which was soon published in an anthology.
So when the Cubs blew the 1984 NLCS against the Padres, I cried. When they lost to the Marlins in 2003, I had no words. The Cubs always take me back to those amazing summer days with Papito Juan. I also know my abuelo would forgive Bartman.
Add the fact that former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein has turned the Cubs into a very strong team and that former Sox pitcher Jon Lester is a Cubbie, and you can see my dilemma.
Do I turn my back on Clemente? Or do I root for the Pirates and disrespect Papito Juan, who I guarantee has found Clemente up in heaven and is setting up two rocking chairs tonight to catch the playoff game?
I will choose family over the hero tonight. But if the Cubs lose, ¡que vivan los Piratas! Go Pirates!
On the heels of Hispanic Heritage Month, HuffPost Latino Voices published a new “Latinos Break the Mold” photo project that tries to answer one question many have asked but few have really answered: Who are Latinos?
It’s a special moment for Latinos in this country. We’ve passed the tipping point. Politically and with our buying power, we have become a force. As our influence continues to grow, the question now is: Who are Latinos? This photo essay is a response to that question. As a community we sometimes struggle to define our identity because we are diverse, but we are also deeply connected. We find strength in numbers while trying to reconcile our differences.
The series features actors such as John Leguizamo, Dascha Polanco and Anthony Mendez, but also includes unknowns and up-and-coming voices.
This week’s Intersection podcast from New Republic focuses on Florida senator Marco Rubio and how his presidential campaign is being viewed through the “through the lens of identity politics.” As the podcast asks: “How do race, gender, class, and other identities play into the candidate’s campaign, and the image he or she wants voters to buy into?” Host Jamil Smith had a very lively conversation with our very own Julio Ricardo Varela, Andrea Pino of End Rape on Campus and Alfredo Estrada of Latino Magazine.
With the immigration debate continuing to be discussed during the 2016 presidential election cycle, I take a moment to provide you with a political history lesson. Here are two video clips from a 1980 Republican presidential primary debate. In the first shorter clip, candidate Ronald Reagan shares his thoughts:
Reagan’s comments came right after George H.W. Bush answered a question from the audience about whether “illegal aliens” should pay for their children’s public school education:
In 1984, Reagan reiterated his position during a national debate with Walter Mondale, his Democratic opponent:
Yes, President Reagan said this in 1984: “I believe in the idea of amnesty for those who have put down roots and lived here, even though sometime back they may have entered illegally.”
Those clips have been making the Internet rounds for a while now. In fact, the site I founded discussed this very same topic in a 2012 post (and revisited last month). Andrew Sullivan wrote a post in 2011, linking to the Reagan-Bush debate comments. In 2010, NPR produced a segment about Reagan’s immigration views and how pushed for 1986 immigration reform bill, which in today’s political climate, would more than likely never pass.
Ironically, Reagan’s “amnesty” talk was countered in the mid-90s by a Democrat: President Bill Clinton. Here is a clip of what Clinton during his 1996 the State of the Union speech:
A rare presidential ad from 1996 also featured President Clinton as being tough on immigration, while suggesting that his opponent, Bob Dole, was not:
Class is over. Time to discuss.
Tweet me your thoughts to @julito77.
Tonight on Telemundo, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton discussed immigration with María Celeste Arrarás. The interview, taped last Friday, was dubbed into Spanish (video below), but many outlets (CNN, The Daily Caller, Buzzfeed and Bloomberg) published several quotes in English about what Clinton told Arrarás:
When asked if she thinks Obama has done everything within his executive power to improve the current immigration system, Clinton cited the President’s increased enforcement of deportation laws as a mistake by the administration.
“I think he’s done a lot,” Clinton said, but added that Obama enforced the deportation laws “very aggressively during the last six and a half years” in part to get Republicans on board with comprehensive immigration reform.
“It was part of a strategy; I think that strategy is no longer workable,” she said. “So therefore I think we have to go back to being a much less harsh and aggressive enforcer.”
While Clinton said felons and violent people still need to be dealt with, she said she has met the wives and children of people who were deported over minor offenses. She reiterated her call for “comprehensive immigration reform” and a path to citizenship, but said, “In the meantime, I’m not gonna be breaking up families.”
“And I think that is one of the differences,” she continued. “But I totally understand why the Obama administration… did what they did under the circumstances. But I think we’ve learned that the Republicans, at least the current crop, are just not acting in good faith.”
Clinton’s remarks from the Telemundo interview are just the latest examples of a topic the Democratic candidate has struggled with over the years. As the Clinton campaign begins to proactively court the U.S. Latino vote, the questions surrounding her views on immigration still linger. In the mid 1990s, for example, when Clinton was First Lady, her views reflected a much more moderate view:
Around the same time of that interview, a 1996 commercial highlighted President Bill Clinton’s enforcement-heavy immigration stance, even pointing out “a record 160,000 deported.”
Are voters 20 years later now seeing a Clinton who will be committed to comprehensive immigration reform, or are her latest comments just another example of “Hispandering?” Furthermore, will Clinton ever specifically address another issue that has weighed heavily on the U.S. Latino community: the rise of immigration detention?
Send Them Back?
Last summer, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour asked Clinton about what the United States should do to the growing number of unaccompanied minors who were escaping a crisis in Central America and crossing the border. This was Clinton’s answer:
“They should be sent back as soon as it can be determined who responsible adults in their families are, because – there are concerns about whether all of them can be sent back, but I think all of them that can be should be reunited with their families.”
“We have to send a clear message: Just because your child gets across the border, that doesn’t mean the child gets to stay.”
Earlier this summer, Clinton revisited the topic and said this at press conference in Las Vegas:
“Specifically with respect to children on the border, if you remember, we had an emergency, and it was very important to send a message to families in Central America: Do not let your children take this very dangerous journey.”
“Now I think we have a different problem. Because the emergency is over, we need to be moving to try to get people out of these detention centers, particularly the women and children. I think we need more resources to process them, to listen to their stories, to find out if they have family in this country, if they have a legitimate reason for staying. So I would be putting a lot of resources into doing that, but my position has been and remains the same.”
Nonetheless, the candidate’s call to “get people of out of these detention centers” is still at odds with a July 2015 article from The Intercept, which reported that “lobbyists for two major prison companies [the GEO Group and the Corrections Corporation of America] are serving as top fundraisers for Hillary Clinton.” These private prison companies have had a long history with immigration detention. A new VICE article about the private prison industry stated that “Clinton’s Ready for Hillary PAC received $133,246 from lobbying firms linked to GEO and CCA.”
The VICE article also added:
The candidates aren’t talking about it either: The campaigns for Clinton, [Jeb] Bush, [Marco] Rubio, and [Donald] Trump ignored repeated VICE inquiries about private prisons. But activists say industry lobbying may have shaped the “detention-bed mandate,” a policy that requires Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to keep at least 34,000 people locked up — mainly in private prisons — while they wait to appear in immigration court. It costs taxpayers $2 billion a year for ICE to meet the quota.
So which Hillary Clinton will U.S. Latino voters see when it comes to the immigration issue? The one who nows says she will be “a much less harsh and aggressive enforcer” than President Obama (‘The Deporter-in -Chief“) or the candidate who still has many more questions to answer about her own immigration positions?
What do you think? Tweet me your thoughts to @julito77.
As Hillary Clinton’s campaign starts pushing “Latinos for Hillary” during Hispanic Heritage Month, the Bernie Sanders campaign has begun to address concerns that it has been out of touch with U.S. Latino voters. On Friday, Buzzfeed reported that the Vermont senator named activist Arturo Carmona of Presente.org the campaign’s national Latino outreach director and political director for the southwest. News of the Carmona hire came just days after Sanders appeared on Noticias Univision’s Facebook page for an inaugural Q&A session that generated over 450 comments. Sanders gave answers in English, and then had the answers translated into Spanish. Here is a Storify of what he told voters:
Later this month, Latino USA revisits the topic of prison life for an upcoming show, and we are asking for your help. Do you know someone who is incarcerated? Do you write to that person? If so, send us a voice memo of an audio letter than you would write to your loved one, and email it to us at email@example.com:
Just days before he had confirmed to participate at an October 8 forum with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC), the campaign for Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump announced today that Trump has canceled his appearance, NPR has reported.
In an email to NPR, the Trump campaign said the following:
Donald J. Trump today announced he will not be participating in the October 8th USHCC (United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce) Q&A, as requested by its President and CEO Javier Palomarez. Mr. Trump will be speaking to a capacity crowd at a campaign rally in Nevada on that date. Additionally, Mr. Palomarez continues to leverage the national media attention surrounding Mr. Trump to benefit his organization and exploit Mr. Trump to enlist additional support and increase interest and revenue in his coalition including asking Mr. Trump to join his chamber for a fee amounting to between $25,000 and $2 million dollars, which Mr. Trump refused to do. Mr. Trump remains committed to reaching out to the Hispanic Community in more genuine and productive ways as he continues to share his vision to Make America Great Again.
According to NPR, the USHCC said that the Trump campaign’s call for a fee was a “lie.”
Trump also told CNN that he had never really agreed to making an appearance: “This is the first time I’m hearing about this. I mean, I never agreed. He wanted me to do an event because he probably can’t sell tickets without me. Why would anybody do an event when he’s a negative person?” The New York Times also reported about the Trump cancellation, but made reference to a Fox News report where Trump had said that the October 8 forum “won’t be that easy of a meeting because you’ll have hundreds of people and they will have constituents of his and they may disagree with me, but ultimately we will all get along.”
The announcement came three days after Palomarez told Latino USA in an exclusive interview that the October 8 forum would challenge Trump for his June 16 comments about Mexican immigrants, as well as subsequent comments about Mexicans and other Latinos:
It will be my community that will be judge and jury, and what [Trump] does understand, and I made it clear to him, was: he will never see the White House without at least 47% of the Hispanic vote. It’s just ain’t going to happen. And so, I think he is in a quandary now. He’s in a quandary. He’s going to have to kind of pedal back a little bit and figure out what he’s going to do, but the bell’s been rung. Now he’s got to come and account for it.
The NPR story also shared a statement from the USHCC, which said that Trump has now changed his mind:
The USHCC refused to change the format of the forum, show any favoritism, exclude any issues or topics, or grant any immunity from objective scrutiny of his policies. As a result, despite having agreed on numerous occasions, Trump has now reversed his position and has elected to not participate in the Q&A Session — making him the only candidate from either party to do so.
The USHCC statement added: “Withdrawing from the Q&A can only suggest that Trump himself believes his views are indefensible before a Hispanic audience.”
Palomarez and the USHCC were criticized by several chamber members for taking a September 1 private September meeting with Trump, where Trump had confirmed to participate in the October 8 meeting, according to what Palomarez told Latino USA earlier this week. At that September 1 meeting, Palomarez told Latino USA that he did not ask Trump to apologize for his anti-Mexican comments, but that he would ask Trump for an apology at the October 8 forum. Palomarez also told Latino USA that no discussion of fees happened at that meeting, but when Trump offered the USHCC use of a Trump property for a future USHCC convention, Palomarez refused, according to Palomarez:
When we met, first of all we discussed the format of the program. He tried to make his point on the Hispanic vote. He talked to me about the wall. I disagreed with him on the wall. I disagreed with him on the deportation of 11-and-a-half million people. I pointed out that it would be disastrous for several of our clients and several of the industries we represent, like construction and agriculture and hospitality. He asked if I would consider using a Trump property in Miami during our convention in 2016. I said flat-out no. And we talked about the format of the program.
In his interview with Latino USA, Palomarez indicated that Trump would not get a free pass at the October 8 forum:
And we should not run from a candidate. We shouldn’t allow a candidate to get away with it. If we turn our backs on Donald Trump, we in essence are giving him a hall pass. And then the next guy can come and say whatever he wants, and there is nothing that community will do. That is not appropriate and it is also not the American way.
If you say something about my community, I’ll give you a chance to come explain yourself. And if you don’t, we’ll eat your lunch. It’s just that simple.
The reality of it is: for us to believe that by ignoring Donald Trump somehow he is damaged or that giving him the opportunity to explain himself, somehow he’s legitimized, I don’t see it. The reality of it is: he is a presidential candidate, and the commitment was to allow any presidential candidate an opportunity to talk to our community and explain him or herself. That’s the beginning and the end of it. We’re not trying to legitimize anyone. And I’d like to think that the Hispanic electorate is a little bit more sophisticated than that. I know they are.
Current polls show that 67% of U.S. Latinos have a “negative view” of Trump.