Women's History Month can trace its beginnings back to the first International Working Women's Day in 1909. Before it's revival by feminist activists in the 1970's — and the UN's subsequent ratification in 1977 — International Women's Day's first appeared in 1908, when 15,000 women working in the garment industry went on strike in New York City to demand better working conditions. The following year, the Socialist Party of America declared the first International Working Women's Day.
To celebrate these radical roots, we're delighted to share the following works of literary fiction, memoir, political non-fiction, and other writings that we recommend for Women's History Month, and for the rest of the year, too.
This week marks Ralph Nader's 90th birthday. To celebrate, we're proud to publish some excerpts from his book Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2000-2015. Covering 15 years of Ralph's one-sided correspondences with Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Return to Sender not only demonstrates the steadfast moral resolution that guides Ralph Nader's political endeavors, but also offers a damning portrait of a United States government that, almost 10 years after Nader sent his final letter to Barack Obama, repeatedly makes the same mistakes, and repeatedly commits the same egregious crimes against its citizens and against foreign nations alike.
The letters excerpted below primarily focus on America's foreign policy — specifically, the diasterous "War on Terror" (2003), the continued operation of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp (2013), the United States’ bombing campaign in Syria (2013), and the United States' military and financial support for the Israeli army's invasion of Lebanon (2006) and continued assault on Palestine (2008).
We have also included a letter from Ralph Nader to President Obama written from the perspective of an E.coli bacteria in German Laboratory in Bavaria. While it can act as a sort of palate cleanser, ultimately Nader's repeated references to the United States' foreign policy failures and domestic torture programs offer another window into his consistent advocacy for human rights and against imperialism. He's a remarkably consistent man.
Happy Birthday, Ralph, and thank you for everything.
LETTERS TO PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH
December 21, 2008
Dear President Bush,
Congressman Barney Frank said recently that Barack Obama’s declaration that “there is only one president at a time” overestimated the number. He was referring to the economic crisis. But where are you on the Gaza crisis where the civilian population of Gaza, its civil servants and public facilities are being massacred and destroyed respectively by U.S.-built F-16s and U.S.-built helicopter gunships?
The deliberate suspension of your power to stop this terrorizing of 1.5 million people, mostly refugees, blockaded for months by air, sea and land in their tiny slice of land, is in cowardly contrast to the position taken by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1956. That year he single-handedly stopped the British, French, and Israeli aircraft attack against Egypt during the Suez Canal dispute.
Fatalities in Gaza are already over 400 and injuries close to 2,000 so far as is known. Total Palestinian civilian casualties are 400 times greater than the casualties incurred by Israelis.
But why should anyone be surprised at your blanket support for Israel’s attacks given what you have done to a far greater number of civilians in Iraq and now in Afghanistan?
Confirmed visual reports show that Israeli warplanes and warships have destroyed or severely damaged police stations, homes, hospitals, pharmacies, mosques, fishing boats, and a range of public facilities providing electricity and other necessities.
Why should this trouble you at all? It violates international law, including the Geneva Conventions and the U.N. Charter. You too have repeatedly violated international law and committed serious constitutional transgressions.
Then there is the matter of the Israeli government blocking imports of critical medicines, equipment such as dialysis machines, fuel, food, water, spare parts, and electricity at varying intensities for almost two years. The depleted U.N. aid mission there has called this illegal blockade a humanitarian crisis especially devastating to children, the aged and the infirm. Chronic malnutrition among children is rising rapidly. U.N. rations support 80 percent of this impoverished population.
How do these incontrovertible facts affect you? Do you have any empathy or what you have called Christian charity?
What would a vastly shrunken Texas turned in an encircled Gulag do up against the 4th most powerful military in the world? Would these embattled Texans be spending their time chopping wood?
Gideon Levy, the veteran Israeli columnist for Haaretz, called the Israeli attack a “brutal and violent operation” far beyond what was needed for protecting the people in its south. He added:
“The diplomatic efforts were just in the beginning, and I believe we could have got to a new truce without this bloodshed—to send dozens of jets to bomb a total helpless civilian society with hundreds of bombs—just today, they were burying five sisters. I mean, this is unheard of. This cannot go on like this. And this has nothing to do with self-defense or with retaliation even. It went out of proportion, exactly like two-and-a-half years ago in Lebanon.”
Apparently, thousands of Israelis, including some army reservists, who have demonstrated against this destruction of Gaza agree with Mr. Levy. However, their courageous stands have not reached the mass media in the U.S., whose own reporters cannot even get into Gaza due to Israeli prohibitions on the international press.
Your spokespeople are making much ado about the breaking of the six-month truce. Who is the occupier? Who is the most powerful military force? Who controls and blocks the necessities of life? Who has sent raiding missions across the border most often? Who has sent artillery shells and missiles at close range into populated areas? Who has refused the repeated comprehensive peace offerings of the Arab countries issued in 2002 if Israel would agree to return to the 1967 borders and agree to the creation of a small independent Palestinian state possessing just 22 percent of the original Palestine?
The “wildly inaccurate rockets,” as reporters describe them, coming from Hamas and other groups cannot compare with the modern precision armaments and human damage generated from the Israeli side.
There are no rockets coming from the West Bank into Israel. Yet, the Israeli government is still sending raiders into that essentially occupied territory, further entrenching its colonial outposts that are still taking water and land and increasing the checkpoints. This is going on despite a most amenable West Bank leader, Mahmoud Abbas, whom you have met with at the White House and praised repeatedly. Is it all vague words and no real initiatives with you and your emissary Condoleezza Rice?
Peace was possible, but you provided no leadership, preferring instead to comply with all wishes and demands by the Israeli government—even resupplying it with the still-active cluster bombs in south Lebanon during the invasion of that country in 2006.
The arguments about who started the latest hostilities go on and on with Israel always blaming the Palestinians to justify all kinds of violence and harsh treatment against innocent civilians.
From the Palestinian standpoint, you would do well to remember the origins of this conflict, which was the dispossession of their lands. To afford you some empathy, recall the oft-quoted comment by the founder of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, who told the Zionist leader, Nahum Goldmann: “There has been anti-Semitism—the Nazis, Hitler, Auschwitz—but was that their [the Palestinians] fault? They only see one thing: We have come here and stolen their country. Why should they accept that?”
Alfred North Whitehead once said: “Duty arises out of the power to alter the course of events.” By that standard, you have shirked mightily your duty over the past eight years to bring peace to both Palestinians and Israelis and more security to a good part of the world.
The least you can do in your remaining days at the White House is adopt a modest profile in courage, and vigorously demand and secure a ceasefire and a solidly based truce. Then your successor, President-elect Obama, can inherit something more than the usual self-censoring Washington puppet show that eschews a proper focus on the national interests of the United States.
Dear President Bush,
You have been a weak president, despite your strutting and barking, when it comes to doing the right things for the American people within the Constitution and its rule of law. This trait is now in bold relief over the Israeli government’s escalating war crimes pulverizing the defenseless people and country of Lebanon.
With systematic efficiency, the Israeli government has already destroyed innocent homes and basic public facilities— ports, airports, highways, bridges, power stations—which are critical to delivery of food, medicines, health care, ambulances, water, and other essentials for a civilian population. This bombardment, by U.S.-made bombers, military vehicles, ships, and missiles with American taxpayer subsidies, places an inescapable responsibility upon your shoulders, which does not mix with your usual vacuous messianic rigidity.
As the leading player in official Washington’s puppet show, it is time for you to assert the interests of the American people and those of the broad Israeli and Palestinian peace movements by standing up to the puppeteers. For without this conflict, Hezbollah would not be in today’s news.
The time has come for you to return to Texas for a private meeting with your father, his former national security advisor, Brent Scowcroft, and his former secretary of state, James Baker. You need to say to them “I can’t trust my advisors anymore; there have been so many tragic blunders. What do you advise me to do about the destruction of a friendly nation by the world’s fifth most powerful military?”
Here is what I think they should say to you:
1. Take personal command of an immediate rescue effort for the tens of thousands of Americans trapped in Lebanon by Israel’s calculated blocking of air, land, and sea escape routes. You’ve said the safety of Americans is your top priority. Prove it by using the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy facilities to immediately evacuate all our people desperate to escape the terrorization of Lebanon.
2. You have been so docile and permissive to Israeli demands that any modest deviation from this posture will make your next move credible. Announce that you are sending two prominent negotiators—perhaps James Baker (Republican) and former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell (Democrat) to Israel and Lebanon to arrange for a cease fire between the combatants.
Announced at a televised White House news conference with your two envoys, you can punctuate your seriousness by raising the questions of violations of the Arms Export Control Act and the Foreign Assistance Act. Using U.S.-supplied weapons systems to commit civilian atrocities on homes and fleeing vehicles with children and to inflict collective punishment on mass civilian populations is not using these weapons for legitimate self-defense and internal policing, as our federal law requires. Israeli planes have even fire bombed wheat silos and gasoline stations in Lebanon. More mayhem is on the way.
3. Stop acting like an impulsive, out-of-control West Texas sheriff and start reading, thinking, and listening for a change. When Israel, Britain, and France violated international treaties against aggression in 1956 by invading the Suez Canal, President Dwight Eisenhower used his influence to make them withdraw from Egypt. In 1982, following a year without any PLO skirmishes over the Lebanese-Israeli border, Israeli armed forces invaded Lebanon anyway. They created a path of destruction all the way to Beirut and militarily occupied south Lebanon for 18 years before they withdrew, except for retaining Shebaa Farms. In 1982 the NewYorkTimesreported “indiscriminate bombing” of Beirut by Israeli planes. At least 20,000 Lebanese civilians lost their lives in that invasion and many more were injured. From that conflict Hezbollah was born, composed of many people whose relatives were casualties in that illegal invasion.
History, George, does not start two weeks or two months ago. You must read about past U.S. presidents who, at least, sent high-level emissaries to quell similar border fighting. It worked and prisoners were often exchanged.
You are doing and saying nothing about what the rest of the world believes is a hugely disproportionate attack against innocent adults and children in violation of the Geneva Conventions, the U.N. Charter and other treaties and federal statutes. You’ve sworn to uphold these laws. Do so. Because of the Israeli government’s overwhelming military power, the imbalance of terror against civilians and their property has always been to its advantage. As has its occupation of Palestine and confiscation of land and water sources.
4. You can’t take sides and be an honest broker. Just about all our knowledgeable retired military, diplomatic, and intelligence officials believe resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the key to deflating other agitations in the region.
Freedom and justice for the Palestinian state and security and stability for the Israeli state must both be achieved.
You have turned your back on the courageous and prominent Israeli peace movement which normally reflects the positions of half of the Israeli population. You’ve never met with any of its leaders—even those in the Knesset or former officials in the military, intelligence, and justice ministries.
Hundreds of reserve combat officers and soldiers of the IDF have refused, in their words, “to fight beyond the 1967 borders to dominate, expel, starve, and humiliate an entire people.” They pledged only to fight for Israel’s legitimate defense.*
5. Once in a while, ask your aides for a sample of Israeli opinion that rejects the notion that there can be a military solution to this conflict, despite the military imbalance. For example, reports and editorials in Haaretz, arguably the most respected newspaper in Israel, would educate your judgment. In a recent editorial, Haaretz argued that the present Israeli government has “lost its reason” through the brutal incarceration, devastation, and deprivation of innocent people in Gaza.
In another Haaretz commentary dated July 16th, Gideon Levy writes:
“In Gaza, a soldier is abducted from the army of a state that frequently abducts civilians from their homes and lock them up for years without a trial—but only we’re allowed to do that. And only we’re allowed to bomb civilian population centers.”
6. One final bit of advice could come from Papa Bush’s circle. If the Israeli army decides to invade Lebanon with troops, your support of the aggression can possibly unleash a domino of warring actions and reactions over there. As it is, Americans are increasingly fed up with the Iraq quagmire.
Moreover, we know they don’t like many of your domestic policies favoring the wealthy, the post-Katrina debacle, exporting jobs, and among our conservative base, your enormous deficits.
So, your Republican Party’s control of government is at stake in November. Don’t you have your hands full with Iraq, whose invasion we all urged you to avoid in 2003?
March 10, 2003
A Man Who Has Stopped Listening
Dear President Bush,
After the completion of your long overdue full-scale news conference on March 7th, Senator Robert Byrd remarked: “He talked last night like a man who is not willing to listen any further. He has stopped listening.” There are many engaged citizens who wonder whether you ever started listening or at least directly hearing views contrary to your determination to start a war, invasion, and lengthy occupation of Iraq. Indeed, it appears you have not met with a single domestic antiwar delegation, despite numerous requests from varied constituencies for a meeting.
Many commentators and reporters—having spoken with people inside your administration—have noted the isolation, the solitude, and the exclusionary characteristic of your office on this subject. Others such as Bob Woodward, who interviewed you, tell readers of your self-description as being a “black and white” type of person, of a man who makes decisions “from the gut” or from instinct. Combined with isolation from many informed contrary views, this attitude is made more disquieting by your continual invoking of God when it comes to Iraq. Viewed from abroad, this appears to millions of people as if you are embarking on a religious war. From stateside, you will forgive those Americans who instead view such allusions as indicative of a refusal to entertain empirical inputs and broader policy arguments from Americans, many of whom have been following, experiencing or studying the Iraqi situation longer than some in your very tight ideological circle of advisors.
In the past several weeks alone, a distinguished array of groups has written you about issues and has requested a personal meeting with you in the White House. Now is the time to spend a few hours listening to cogent presentations by these Americans of widely different backgrounds and insights, but mostly similar in their opposition to war/invasion/occupation. According to press reports, your travel schedule over the next two weeks has been sharply reduced to concentrate on the United Nations and other related situations which should include a decent respect for the opinions of those organizations who have asked for an audience with you.
The country is deeply and almost evenly divided according to numerous polls that ask more comprehensive questions.
Meeting with representatives of these groups, which oppose your proposed policies, would afford you an opportunity for a two- way exchange. There have been too many monologues, which serve their purpose of course, but a dialogue tends to probe and clarify the issues and test the strength of opposing views.
The benefits of these meetings, were you to allow them to occur, are more than what may be described as good public relations on your part. For example, leaders of veterans’ groups and former military leaders, whose letter is on its way, can convey the horrific toxic aftermath of the war/invasion to both Iraqis and U.S. troops. They know about the first Gulf War firsthand and have been closely associated with the treatment of over 200,000 soldiers who were disabled and have been receiving disability payments.
Even were you to take this country to war, you would benefit from their knowledge of how under-trained and inadequately equipped U.S. soldiers are to defend themselves against what you have said is the likely prospect of chemical warfare by Iraq’s brutal dictator.
From women’s groups, including those back from numerous trips to Afghanistan, you’ll learn about the terrible effect on the civilian population long after hostilities ended, due in part to the lack of promised follow-through assistance by the United States to the Kabul government. They can also convey the likely consequences on Iraqi families whose elderly, mothers, and children will especially suffer from lack of food, spreading disease, fires, score-settling, and fleeing refugee conditions of an awful nature.
From the perspective of working families, you will hear why this is the first time that major labor unions, with the encouragement of the AFL-CIO, have ever opposed a war by the United States, in part because it is an unprovoked war.
From the business executives, you will hear concerns about the further instability and decline of our economy with its effects on standards of living, employment and neglected domestic budgets.
From representatives of the clergy, including your own Bishop, as well as from many other Christian denominations and other major religions, you will learn the depth of their disagreement with you regarding the moral justification for this war and what they have learned from their visits to Iraq.
From leading physicians having serious experience with health conditions and capacity in Iraq, you will be informed of the scale of civilian mortality and morbidity from the looming devastation. Notwithstanding assurances to the contrary in 1991, there was severe destruction of the drinking water infrastructure leading to epidemics that most cruelly took the lives of many tens of thousands of Iraqi children.
In recent weeks, you took the time to travel to Pennsylvania and to a Washington hotel to meet with doctors complaining about their insurance premiums and malpractice lawsuits.
Surely you can meet in the White House with physicians whose compassion, insight and knowledge about the fate of millions reflect the highest obligation of the medical profession, which is prevention.
Consider how much more enriched your perspective will become after exchanging views and information with the other groups who have also asked to see you. These include: elected representatives of city councils representing tens of millions of Americans; environmental organizations knowledgeable about the environmental devastation to the region and the planet on a level even greater than 1991 that is likely from this proposed war; international intelligence specialists with past governmental experience who will tell you what many dissenters inside the Pentagon and the State Department cannot say to you about consequences and alternatives; prominent academics, historians, and civic leaders; and the next generation, from groups representing millions of college students.
More than a dozen of these letters were sent to you. Most of them have not received the courtesy of a response. None have been accorded an affirmative invitation.
The organizations requesting to meet with you represent a broad cross section of the American people. They seek a dialogue with you not out of political partisanship but because they have not been convinced that war with Iraq is necessary.
These attached requests ask for meetings of short duration but, in the retrospect of history, long significance for historians who will judge your decision-making process on the road to war-invasion-occupation.
LETTERS TO PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA
September 22, 2013
Barry O’Bomber and the Rush to War
Dear President Obama,
Little did your school boy chums in Hawaii know, watching you race up and down the basketball court, how prescient they were when they nicknamed you “Barry O’Bomber.”
Little did your fellow Harvard Law Review editors, who elected you to lead that venerable journal, ever imagine that you could be a president who chronically violates the Constitution, federal statutes, international treaties and the separation of power at depths equal to or beyond the George W. Bush regime.
Nor would many of the voters who elected you in 2008 have conceived that your foreign policy would rely so much on brute military force at the expense of systemically waging peace. Certainly, voters who knew your background as a child of Third World countries, a community organizer, a scholar of constitutional law and a critic of the Bush/Cheney years, never would have expected you to favor the giant warfare state so pleasing to the military-industrial complex.
Now, as if having learned nothing from the devastating and costly aftermaths of the military invasions of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, you’re beating the combustible drums to attack Syria—a country that is no threat to the U.S. and is embroiled in complex civil wars under a brutal regime.
This time, however, you may have pushed for too many acts of war. Public opinion and sizable numbers of members of both parties in Congress are opposed. These lawmakers oppose bombing Syria in spite of your corralling the cowardly leaders of both parties in the Congress.
Thus far, your chief achievement on the Syrian front has been support for your position from al-Qaeda affiliates fighting in Syria, the pro-Israeli government lobby, AIPAC, your chief nemesis in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, and Dick Cheney. This is quite a gathering and a telling commentary on your ecumenical talents. Assuming the veracity of your declarations regarding the regime’s resort to chemical warfare (first introduced into the Middle East by Winston Churchill’s Royal Air Force’s plastering of Iraqi tribesmen in the nineteen-twenties), your motley support group is oblivious to the uncontrollable consequences that might stem from bombing Syria. One domestic consequence may be that Speaker Boehner expects to exact concessions from you on domestic issues before Congress in return for giving you such high visibility bipartisan cover.
Your argument for shelling Syria is to maintain “international credibility” in drawing that “red line” regardless, it seems, of the loss of innocent Syrian civilian life, casualties to our foreign service and armed forces in that wider region, and retaliation against the fearful Christian population in Syria (one in seven Syrians are Christian). But the more fundamental credibilities are to our Constitution, to the neglected necessities of the American people, and to the red line of observing international law and the U.N. Charter (which prohibit unilateral bombing in this situation).
There is another burgeoning cost—that of the militarization of the State Department whose original charter invests it with the responsibility of diplomacy. Instead, Mr. Obama, you have shaped the State Department into a belligerent “force projector” first under Generalissima Clinton and now under Generalissimo Kerry. The sidelined foreign service officers, who have knowledge and conflict avoidance experience, are left with reinforced fortress-like embassies as befits our empire reputation abroad.
Secretary John Kerry descended to gibberish when, under questioning this week by a House Committee member, he asserted that your proposed attack was “not war” because there would be “no boots on the ground.” In Kerry’s view, bombing a country with missiles and air force bombers is not an act of war.
It is instructive to note how government autocracy feeds on itself. Start with unjustified government secrecy garnished by the words “national security.” That leads to secret laws, secret evidence, secret courts, secret prisons, secret prisoners, secret relationships with selected members of Congress, denial of standing for any citizen to file suit, secret drone strikes, secret incursions into other nations and all this directed by a president who alone decides when to be secret prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner. What a republic, what a democracy, what a passive people we have become!
Voices of reason and experience have urged the proper path away from the metastasizing war that is plaguing Syria. As General Ban Ki-moon, and other seasoned diplomats and retired military, vigorous leadership by you is needed for an international peace conference with all parties at the table, including the countries supplying weapons to the various adversaries in Syria.
Mr. Obama, you may benefit from reading the writings of Colman McCarthy, a leading advocate of peace studies in our schools and universities. He gives numerous examples of how waging peace avoided war and civil strife over the past 100 years.
Crowding out attention to America’s serious domestic problems by yet another military adventure (opposed by many military officials), yet another attack on another small, non- threatening Muslim country by a powerful Christian nation (as many Muslims see it) is aggression camouflaging sheer madness.
Please, before you recklessly flout Congress, absorb the wisdom of the World Peace Foundation’s Alex de Waal and Bridget Conley-Zilkic. Writing in the NewYorkTimes, they strongly condemn the use of nerve gas in Syria, brand the perpetrators as war criminals to be tried by an international war crimes tribunal and then declare:
“But it is folly to think that airstrikes can be limited: they are ill-conceived as punishment, fail to protect civilians and, most important, hinder peacemaking . . . . Punishment, protectionand peace must be joined . . . An American assault on Syria would be an act of desperation with incalculable consequences. To borrow once more from Sir William Harcourt [the British parliamentarian who argued against British intervention in our Civil War (which cost 750,000 American lives)]: ‘We are asked to go we know not whither, in order to do we know not what.’”
If and when the people and Congress turn you down this month, there will be one silver lining. Only a Left-Right coalition can stop this warring. Such convergence is strengthening monthly in the House of Representatives to stop future war crimes and the injurious blowback against America of the wreckages from empire.
History teaches that empires always devour themselves.
May 3, 2013
End the Guantanamo Blot on Our National Character
Dear President Obama,
Notwithstanding Section 1028 (a)(1) of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2013, you are empowered to end Guantanamo Bay’s affront to due process by releasing from imprisonment the 86 inmates whom your administration or its predecessor have found to be neither enemy combatants nor war criminals; and permitting them to arrange for travel to any foreign nation of their choosing. Section 1028 (a)(1) only limits your authority to transferthem into the “custody or control of the individual’s country of origin, any other foreign country, or any other foreign entity . . .” But simple release, without more, is not prohibited. Of the remaining 80 prisoners, you should either charge and prosecute them for alleged war crimes or release them from Guantanamo Bay prison like the aforementioned 86.
No statute or other legal limitation blocks you from this enlightened course of action, which you have commended as who we are as a people. We are supposed to be willing to take risks that other countries shun because we find imprisoning, killing, or otherwise punishing the innocent to be morally reprehensible.
You cannot escape responsibility for the dubious legal limbo of Guantanamo Bay. You cannot simply blame Congress. President Harry S. Truman’s famous Oval Office desk sign acknowledged that “The Buck Stops Here.” Your oath of office compels you to honor the Constitution, not to evade it.
You must terminate forthwith Guantanamo Bay’s blot on the character of this nation that gratuitously provokes retaliation and enmity.
June 3, 2011
Letter from E.coli O104:H4
Dear President Obama,
My name is E.coli O104:H4. I am being detained in a German Laboratory in Bavaria, charged with being “a highly virulent strain of bacteria.” Together with many others like me, the police have accused us of causing about 20 deaths and nearly five hundred cases of kidney failure—so far. Massive publicity and panic all around. You can’t see me, but your scientists can. They are examining me and I know my days are numbered. I hear them calling me a “biological terrorist,” an unusual combination of two different E.coli bacteria cells. One even referred to me as a “conspiracy of mutants.”
It is not my fault, I want you to know. I cannot help but harm innocent humans, and I am very sad about this. I want to redeem myself, so I am sending this life-saving message straight from my petri dish to you.
This outbreak in Germany has been traced to food—location unknown. What is known to you is that invisible terrorism from bacterium and viruses takes massively greater lives than the terrorism you are spending billions of dollars and armaments to stop in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
Malaria, caused by infection with one of four species of Plasmodium, is a parasite transmitted by Anopheles mosquitoes that destroys a million lives a year. Many of the victims are children and pregnant women. Mycobacterium tuberculosis takes over one million lives each year. The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes over a million deaths each year. Many other microorganisms in the water, soil, air, and food are daily weapons of mass destruction. Very little in your defense budget goes for operational armed forces against this kind of violence. Your agencies, such as the Centers for Disease Control, conduct some research but again nothing compared to the research for your missiles, drones, aircraft, and satellites.
Your associates are obsessed with possible bacteriological warfare by your human enemies. Yet you are hardly doing anything on the ongoing silent violence of my indiscriminate brethren.
You and your predecessor George W. Bush made many speeches about fighting terrorism by humans. Have you made a major speech about us?
You speak regularly about crushing the resistance of your enemies. But you splash around so many antibiotics (obviously I don’t like this word and consider it genocidal) in cows, bulls, chickens, pigs, and fish that your species is creating massive antibioticresistance, provoking our mutations, so that we can breed even stronger progeny. You are regarded as the smartest beings on Earth, yet you seem to have too many neurons backfiring.
In the past two days of detention, scientists have subjected me to “enhanced interrogation,” as if I have any will to give up my secrets. It doesn’t work. What they will find out will be from their insights about me under their microscopes. I am lethal, I guess, but I’m not very complicated.
The United States, together with other countries, needs more laboratories where scientists can detain samples of us and subject us to extraordinary rendition to infectious disease research centers. Many infectious disease scientists need to be trained, especially in the southern hemispheres to staff these labs.
You are hung up on certain kinds of preventable violence without any risk/benefit analysis. This, you should agree, is utterly irrational. You should not care where the preventable violence comes from except to focus on its range of devastation and its susceptibility to prevention or cure!
Well, here they come to my petri dish for some more waterboarding. One last item: You may wonder howtiny bacterial me, probably not even harboring a virus, can send you such a letter. My oozing sense is that I’m just a carrier, being used by oodles of scientists taking advantage of a high-profile infectious outbreak in Europe to catch your attention.
Whatever the how does it really matter to the need to act now?
Racism, anti-immigrant sentiments, and threats to democracy remained pressing human rights problems in the United States in 2023. The national poverty rate rose dramatically following the choice to cease a pandemic-period child tax credit. Economic inequality also rose, and the racial wealth gap remained high. The incarceration rate also increased, despite the US already having one of the highest rates in the world, with Black people vastly overrepresented in prisons and jails.
In its foreign policy, the US held human rights abusers accountable through targeted sanctions and provided new support to international justice mechanisms such as the investigation of the International Criminal Court (ICC) into the conflict in Ukraine. The US also undermined its stated commitment to human rights by providing military assistance to human rights-abusing states.
The administration of US President Joe Biden banned the government’s use of abusive commercial spyware and issued some policies aimed at improving racial equity in efforts to tackle climate change at home and abroad. The US Supreme Court issued decisions reinforcing laws aimed at protecting the right to vote.
However, states enacted an increasing number of laws that restrict access to reproductive care, including abortion, and the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people. The federal government has not taken sufficient steps necessary to limit global warming, even though the US is among the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters. State and federal authorities continued to pursue policies aimed at deterring people from seeking asylum in the US, in flagrant violation of international human rights law, pushing them to take more dangerous routes.
A federal task force documented harassment and threats against election officials, revealing the need to better protect election administrators from intimidation and to address the spread of misinformation and disinformation.
The racial wealth gap remained stark, with Black families having 24 cents and Hispanic families having 23 cents for every US$1 of white family wealth, and has changed very little over the last 50 years. Numerous studies have shown that drastic economic intervention, including reparations in a variety of forms, is needed to address this gap as well as continuing racial disparities in access to adequate health, nutrition, education, employment, and housing, among other things.
In May, US Representative Cori Bush introduced a resolution urging the federal government to provide reparations for enslavement and its legacies and to support existing proposals such as H.R. 40. H.R. 40 is a House of Representatives bill that proposes establishing a federal commission to study and make recommendations on reparations, which has been introduced every congressional session since 1989 but has yet to pass. Congressional leadership did not bring either the new resolution or the House bill to the floor for a vote.
While federal efforts stalled, states made progress on reparations. In May, a California reparations task force, created by 2020 legislation, submitted reparatory proposals to the state governor for consideration. Also in May, Washington state enacted a law to create a downpayment assistance program for people directly affected by past racist housing covenants. In June, the New York state legislature passed a bill to study the economic impacts of enslavement and the government’s role in supporting that institution, which the governor had not signed at time of writing.
In July, a lawsuit seeking reparations for the last three known survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre was dismissed by an Oklahoma judge. The survivors appealed, and in August, the Oklahoma Supreme Court agreed to hear the case. In October, Hughes Van Ellis, who at 102 was the youngest of the three living survivors, died.
After two years of historic declines in poverty due to expanded social protection in response to Covid-19, the US Supplemental Poverty Measure, which incorporates the influence of government assistance and geographical cost of living differences, rose dramatically, jumping to 12.4 percent in 2022 from 7.8 percent in 2021. Income inequality in the US is very high compared to other wealthy countries, with the top 10 percent of earners capturing nearly half of all income and the bottom 50 percent getting just 13 percent.
After taxes and government transfers are considered, the Gini index, a statistical measure of income inequality, for the US has increased by 3.2 percent since 2021. Wealth inequality is similarly stark, with the poorest 50 percent of the US population owning only just 1.5 percent of the country’s private wealth.
The US has one of the highest incarceration rates in the world, with roughly 2 million people held in state and federal jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities on any given day, and millions more on parole and probation. Despite some reductions in incarceration rates for Black people, they remain vastly overrepresented in jails and prisons.
In 2021, the most recent year for which such data is available, the rate at which people were incarcerated in jails and prisons nationwide increased for the first time since 2005, although it remained below pre-pandemic levels.
Widespread calls to reduce overreliance on policing and address societal problems instead with investments in housing, health care, and education were largely drowned out by calls for more police funding and the rollback of police reforms. The latter calls were driven by persistent misinformation and misleading narratives about rising crime rates and decreased public safety, often generated and manipulated by law enforcement, despite substantial evidence of the success of reforms and community investments.
Local governments criminalized unhoused communities across the country and expanded forced or coerced treatment to address people living on the streets.
Most US police departments refuse to report data on their use of force, necessitating nongovernmental data collection and analysis. As of September 28, police had killed over 800 people in 2023, similar to numbers in prior years. On a per capita basis, police kill Black people at almost three times the rate they kill white people.
Children continue to be tried as adults in all 50 states, despite international standards repudiating the practice. Those transferred to the adult system are disproportionately youth of color, with racial and ethnic disparities persisting at almost every point of contact with the justice system, including arrests, pre-disposition detention, and post-adjudication incarceration.
In 2023, three states took steps toward eliminating the sentence of life without parole (LWOP) for children. In total, 33 states and Washington, DC, have now banned it or have no one serving such a sentence. Despite this progress, the US remains the only country in the world to sentence children convicted of crimes to die in prison.
In February, the US Department of Labor reported a sharp increase in child labor violations, and investigations carried out by media outlets showed children, often unaccompanied migrants, working in dangerous and exploitative conditions, sacrificing their health, safety, and education. Some states moved to roll back child labor protections. Longstanding exemptions in US labor laws allow children as young as 12 to work legally in agriculture, the deadliest sector for child workers.
Overdose deaths continued to rise, reaching another record level. They first surpassed 100,000 in the 12-month period ending April 2021 and increased to 111,355 in the 12-month period ending April 2023. Racial disparities in overdose deaths also continued to widen, with the rate of Black deaths exceeding those of white ones, due in part to racial bias in policies and access to treatment.
Federal and state authorities continue to rely significantly on criminalization to address harmful drug use, even though harm reduction strategies that offer health-centered care and access to voluntary treatment have proven more effective.
In 2022, the Biden administration became the first US administration to invest in harm reduction, but stronger and more robust investments in health-centered approaches are needed. In March, the US Food and Drug Administration approved naloxone, the first over-the-counter drug used to reverse opioid overdose.
Immigrants’ Rights and Border Communities
The 2020 Title 42 summary expulsions policy expired in May but was replaced by a new labyrinthine asylum rule. Under Title 42, justified as an emergency measure to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, the Biden administration summarily expelled people 2.3 million times without screening them for asylum.
Under the new asylum rule, many asylum seekers face expedited removals, arbitrary detention, prosecution, and a five-year ban on returning to the US unless they make an appointment at select US land border ports of entry using “CBP One” prior to crossing the border. CBP One is a difficult-to-access phone app that often fails to recognize faces with darker skin tones. This process can take several months and exposes asylum seekers to systematic targeting by cartels and Mexican government officials for kidnapping, extortion, sexual assault, and other harms.
As a candidate, Biden pledged to end private immigration detention, but as of July, 90 percent of the 30,000 non-citizens who are in detention on average each day in the US were held in private facilities.
In June, Texas Governor Greg Abbott ramped up his already ruthless border approach by installing razor wire and buoys with circular saws in or near the Rio Grande. Under Operation Lone Star, high-speed vehicle pursuits and the accidents they cause in communities throughout south Texas are a threat to public safety, with harmful consequences for migrant passengers and Texas residents alike. Human Rights Watch found that at least 74 people have been killed and 189 injured since the policy began in March 2021.
The battle to defend multiracial democracy in the US continued. In June, the US Supreme Court, in Allen v. Milligan, struck down Alabama’s gerrymandered congressional maps, reaffirming that racial discrimination in voting laws, maps, and practices is illegal. Also in June, the US Supreme Court, in Moore v. Harper, upheld the right of people in the US to seek a remedy for voting rights violations in state courts. However, at least 14 states passed laws in 2023 that make it more difficult to vote.
State-level lawmakers continued to undermine democracy by banning books and passing laws that restrict truthful classroom discussions of race, history, sexual orientation, and gender. This censorship has the potential to undermine civic participation by erasing the galvanizing stories of ordinary citizens who organized to promote human rights.
The movement for universal suffrage earned victories. New Mexico and Minnesota passed laws that allow individuals to vote upon release from prison. A federal court overturned Mississippi’s lifetime voting ban for individuals convicted of some felony offenses, calling the practice cruel and unusual.
For the first time in US history, a former president faced significant sanctions, including criminal and civil charges, in part for his efforts to overturn the 2020 elections, a serious infringement of the right to vote. New studies by the federal government and civil society groups, revealed vulnerabilities in US democracy, including the need to better protect elections administrators from threats and intimidation, which continued to increase. Since 2020, when the US Department of Justice opened a task force into the matter, 14 investigations into attempts to threaten election workers have been initiated, 9 of which had resulted in findings of wrongdoing at time of writing. The year also revealed the need to better address the spread of misinformation and disinformation through social media platforms.
Climate Change Policy and Impacts
The US remains the world’s largest oil and gas producer and historically is the country that has most contributed to the climate crisis. It also remains among the world’s top greenhouse gas emitters.
The Biden administration issued an executive order that directs all federal agencies to incorporate the pursuit of environmental justice into their missions and announced the creation of a new policy committee to coordinate efforts to prioritize public health, economic development, and equity in tackling the global plastics pollution crisis. Virtually all plastics are derived from fossil fuels.
However, the US is also on track to be responsible for the world’s largest expansion in oil and gas extraction from 2023 to 2050. Fossil fuels are the single largest contributor to global warming and can be linked to human rights harms. These impacts are disproportionately borne by already marginalized communities—including Black, Indigenous, and other people of color and low-income communities—and perpetuate systemic racism.
Women’s and Girls’ Rights
The June 2022 US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, overturning the constitutionally protected right to abortion, continued to have reverberating negative impacts on women, girls, and other people in the US who can become pregnant.
As of September 15, 22 states had banned abortion or restricted access to abortion at earlier stages and 14 states had enacted laws that criminalize healthcare providers who perform abortions. Some states also made it a crime for anyone, including healthcare providers, to assist pregnant people in obtaining an abortion. As a result, approximately 22 million women and girls of reproductive age, as well as other people who can become pregnant, now live in US states where abortion access is heavily restricted or inaccessible.
In August 2023, a federal appeals court, attempting to reconcile two conflicting lower court opinions issued within minutes of each other—one revoking the approval of mifepristone, a safe and effective drug used for medical abortions, and the other keeping it available—ruled that access to the drug should be limited in certain contexts: when mailed and prescribed via telemedicine. The US Department of Justice and the manufacturer appealed the decision.
Racial disparities in access to health care continue to leave millions of women of color at risk. Cervical cancer is a highly preventable and treatable disease, yet over 4,200 women die from it each year in the US, disproportionately Black women in the South.
People with disabilities are three times less likely to be employed, and those who are employed often earn less than their peers for doing the same work. Public spaces, including transit systems and voting locations, often remain inaccessible.
Wellness checks for mental health crises by police are still prone to have fatal and harmful consequences for people with mental health conditions. Authorities have been slow to adopt alternative approaches featuring nonpolice emergency response teams.
Older People’s Rights
In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), fulfilling a 2022 Biden commitment, announced it would audit the appropriateness of nursing homes’ schizophrenia diagnoses to reduce the misuse of antipsychotic drugs to control behavior, known as “chemical restraints.” In August, CMS proposed minimum nursing home staffing levels of only 3 hours of direct care per resident per day, lower than the minimum 4.1 hours per day recommended by a CSM-funded study and the Institute of Medicine.
Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
At the state level, lawmakers introduced hundreds of bills aiming to restrict the rights of LGBT people—more than in any prior year—and dozens of them were enacted into law.
The majority of these efforts have targeted transgender people, particularly transgender children in schools. As of September 2023, 22 states ban at least some best-practice medical care for transgender children, and 5 of these states criminalize such care as a felony offense; 23 states prohibit transgender children from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity; 11 states ban various discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools; and 9 states prohibit transgender people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity in K-12 schools, with some of these bans encompassing other public facilities as well.
Positive developments have failed to keep pace. Michigan is the only state where lawmakers adopted a comprehensive LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination law in 2023, making it the 22nd state to do so. The US has failed to enact comprehensive federal legislation that would expressly protect LGBT people from discrimination in areas such as education, housing, public accommodations, and federally funded programs.
Technology and Human Rights
The US continues to lack a human rights-centered federal data protection law, leaving personal data open to abuse by both government and private actors, particularly commercial tech sector actors with advanced data collection, profiling, and targeting abilities.
Numerous federal agencies are considering how to regulate powerful new technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI). Regulations should contain rights protections and enforcement mechanisms and be informed by civil society inputs on human rights harms.
Workers recruited by digital labor platforms to provide ride-hailing and delivery services continue to experience low, unpredictable wages and unsafe working conditions.
The Biden administration in March issued an executive order banning government agencies from using commercial spyware that has been misused to target political dissent or perpetuate discrimination and marginalization. Commercial spyware continues to be a pervasive threat to human rights and human rights workers globally, including Human Rights Watch staff.
At time of writing, 30 foreign Muslim men remained detained at the US military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, including 5 charged with involvement in the attacks on September 11, 2001. Talks stalled on a deal for the five 9/11 accused to plead guilty in exchange for life sentences, after President Biden rejected the men’s requests for care to help them recover from Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) torture and to not serve their sentences in solitary confinement. A judge found one 9/11 defendant not mentally competent to stand trial.
Two detainees from Malaysia agreed to plead guilty before Guantanamo’s fundamentally flawed military commissions in connection with the deadly 2002 bombings in Bali and a 2003 bombing of a Marriott Hotel in Jakarta, Indonesia. They were expected to be transferred to Malaysia after sentencing in January 2024.
Two other men awaited trial and a third awaited sentencing at Guantanamo. Nineteen have never been charged. Only one man still held at Guantanamo has been convicted by a military commission.
President Biden strongly criticized the Hamas-led attack on southern Israel on October 7 that resulted in the killing of hundreds of Israeli and other civilians. He committed increased support for Israel’s defense beyond already approved annual military aid. Such security assistance and arms transfers violated US domestic laws and policies that condition US military aid on ensuring partners are not in violation of international law. US officials publicly and privately urged Israel to minimize civilian harm in its military response and allow humanitarian assistance into Gaza.
The US continued to provide significant military and economic support to Ukraine in 2023 in opposition to Russia’s full-scale invasion in February 2022. In July, President Biden authorized the sharing evidence of international crimes being committed in Ukraine with the ICC. Also in July, Biden approved the transfer of US cluster munitions to Ukraine. These weapons are banned by an international treaty due to the dangers they pose to civilians, but neither the US nor Ukraine are parties to that treaty.
After conflict broke out in Sudan in April, the US Treasury imposed sanctions on a leader of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) armed group and visa restrictions on an RSF commander in West Darfur state. Three private Sudanese companies and a private Emirati company were sanctioned under a May executive order. The State Department set up a “Sudan Observatory” with civil society to document atrocities in the conflict.
At the United Nations Human Rights Council in October, the US supported a successful resolution to establish an international fact-finding mission for Sudan. At the UN Security Council that same month, the US co-sponsored with Ecuador a resolution, which was then adopted, to authorize a Kenya-led multinational security force to Haiti; it also vetoed a resolution that both condemned Hamas and called for all sides involved in the hostilities in Israel and Palestine to comply with international humanitarian law. In November, the US abstained from voting on a UN Security Council resolution calling for extended humanitarian pauses in Gaza and the release of Israelis held hostage. The US abstention allowed the resolution to be adopted.
In March, Secretary of State Antony Blinken formally determined that all parties to the conflict in northern Ethiopia had committed war crimes. He noted that the Ethiopian government forces and its allies, including Eritrea, were responsible for crimes against humanity. In late June, the administration notified Congress that the government was no longer engaging in a “pattern of gross violations of human rights,” allowing it to qualify for US and international financial assistance, despite the ongoing commission of abuses.
In June, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi received a state dinner at the White House and delivered a speech to a joint session of Congress, despite increasing human rights abuses by his party and its supporters.
A new Conventional Arms Transfer Policy announced in February allows the State Department to deny a sale if a country would “more likely than not” harm civilians with US weapons. In September, the State Department created a Civilian Harm Incident Response Group (CHIRG) to analyze allegations of US military aid being used to harm civilians in recipient countries.
The Egyptian government receives $1.3 billion in US military aid annually. Although Congress has conditioned a portion of these funds on actions that include strengthening human rights, in September, the Biden administration used a national security waiver to allow $235 million to go to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s government. Another $85 million was withheld because of Egypt’s poor record on political prisoners. In September, members of Congress changed course and placed a hold on the previously approved $235 million following the indictment of Senator Robert Menendez for allegations of corruption that benefited the Egyptian government.
Iran released five Americans imprisoned on unproven charges in exchange for five Iranians imprisoned in the US. In parallel, the US Treasury issued a waiver allowing Iran access to $6 billion in frozen Iranian oil revenue via banks in Doha for humanitarian use. However, in October, the US reportedly blocked access to these funds following the Hamas attacks in Israel.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, the Biden administration prioritized efforts to restrict the flow of migrants and refugees traveling north. While the Biden administration took steps to defend the right to vote in Brazil and Guatemala and to limit deforestation in the Amazon, its responses to other pressing human rights situations, including in Mexico and Cuba, often prioritized domestic implications and politics, undermining its credibility on human rights.
Today is the 80th birthday of Dr. Angela Y. Davis.
To celebrate her life and work, we're excited to share this excerpt from Abolition Democracy: Beyond Empire, Prisons, and Torture, an extended set of interviews with Dr. Davis. We're also offering 30% off both AbolitionDemocracy and her other incredible short work, Are Prisons Obsolete?.
Angela Davis, you are probably one of the top five most important black women in American history. In 1974, your book Angela Davis: An Autobiography was published by Random House. Since then it has become a classic of African-American letters that is central to the traditions of black women writers and black political thinkers. In many ways your autobiography also harkens back to the tradition of black slave narratives. How do you see this work now with thirty years hindsight?
Well, thanks for reminding me that this is the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of my autobiography. At the time I wrote the book I did not see myself as a conventional autobiographical subject and thus did not locate my writing within any of the traditions you evoke. As a matter of fact, I was initially reluctant to write an autobiography. First of all, I was too young. Second, I did not think that my own individual accomplishments merited autobiographical treatment. Third, I was certainly aware that the celebrity—or notoriety—I had achieved had very little to do with me as an individual. It was based on the mobilization of the State and its efforts to capture me, including the fact that I was placed on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. But also, and perhaps most importantly, I knew that my potential as an autobiographical subject was created by the massive global movement that successfully achieved my freedom. So the question was how to write an autobiography that would be attentive to this community of collective struggle. I decided then that I did not want to write a conventional autobiography in which the heroic subject offers lessons to readers. I decided that I would write a political autobiography exploring the way in which I had been shaped by movements and campaigns in communities of struggle. In this sense, you can certainly say that I wrote myself into the tradition of black slave narratives.
In what way do you think that the black political biography plays a role within this tradition of American letters?
Well of course the canon of American letters has been contested previously, and if one considers the autobiography of Malcolm X as an example, which, along with literature by such writers as Zora Neale Hurston, Alice Walker, and Toni Morrison, that has clearly made its way into the canon, one can ask whether the inclusion of oppositional writing has really made a difference. Has the canon itself has been substantively transformed? It seems to me that struggles to contest bodies of literature are similar to the struggles for social change and social transformation. What we manage to do each time we win a victory is not so much to secure change once and for all, but rather to create new terrains for struggle.
Since we are talking about canons, it seems to me that your work fits within another tradition—the philosophical canon. If we think of the work of Boethius, of Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Luther King, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Antonio Gramsci, Primo Levi . . . these are philosophical figures who have reflected upon their prison experiences. Do you see your work contributing to this philosophical tradition of prison writing, and if so, how?
Well, often times prison writing is described as that which is produced in prison or by prisoners, and certainly Gramsci’s prison notebooks provide the most interesting example. It is significant that Gramsci’s prison letters have not received the consideration they deserve. It would be interesting to read Gramsci’s letters alongside those of George Jackson. These are two examples of prison intellectuals who devoted some of their energies to the process of engaging critically with the implications of imprisonment—at a more concrete philosophical level. Personally, I found it rather difficult to think critically about the prison while I was a prisoner. So I suppose I follow in the tradition of some of the thinkers you mention. However, I did publish a piece while I was in jail that could be considered a more indirect examination of issues related to imprisonment. I wrote an article entitled “Reflections on the Black Woman’s Role in the Community of Slaves,”10 which helped me formulate some of the questions that I would later take up in my efforts to theorize the relationship between the institution of the prison and that of slavery. I produced another piece—a paper I wrote for the conference for the Society for the Study of Dialectical Materialism, associated with the American Philosophical Association—entitled “Women and Capitalism: Dialectics of Oppression and Liberation.” Both pieces were published in TheAngelaY.DavisReader in 1998. IfTheyComeintheMorning, the book on political prisoners I wrote and edited with Bettina Aptheker, is another example of my prison writing. Finally, I also wrote an extended study of fascism which was never published. But it was only after I was released that I felt I had sufficient critical distance to think more deeply about the institution of the prison, drawing from and extending the work of the prison intellectual George Jackson.
You were trained as a philosopher, yet you teach in a program called the History of Consciousness at the University of California. Do you think that philosophy can play a role in political culture in the United States? And, has philosophy influenced your work on aesthetics, jazz, and in particular, the way in which you analyze the situation of black women?
Absolutely, and I think that I draw from my background in philosophy in that I try to ask questions about contemporary and historical realities that tend to be otherwise foreclosed. Philosophy provides a vantage point from which to ask questions that cannot be posed within social scientific discourse that presumes to furnish overarching frameworks for understanding of our social world. I have earned a great deal from Herbert Marcuse about the relationship between philosophy and ideology critique. I draw particular inspiration from his work CounterrevolutionandRevoltthat attempts to directly theorize political developments of the late 1960s. But at the same time the framework is philosophical. How do we imagine a better world and raise the questions that permit us to see beyond the given?
There are beautiful pages in your autobiography about your relationship with Herbert Marcuse, who was your teacher and mentor, and part of the Frankfurt School. You spent some years in Frankfurt in the late 1960s. You also studied with Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas, and Max Horkheimer. Do you see yourself as a critical theorist in this Frankfurt School sense?
Well, I’ve certainly been inspired by critical theory, which privileges the role of philosophical reflection while simultaneously recognizing that philosophy cannot always by itself generate the answers to the questions it poses. When philosophical inquiry enters into conversation with other disciplines and methods, we are able to produce much more fruitful results. Marcuse crossed the disciplinary borders that separate philosophy, sociology, and literature. Adorno brought music and philosophy into the conversation. These were some of the first serious efforts to legitimate interdisciplinary inquiry.
You ran twice as the vice-presidential candidate of the Communist Party in the United States before leaving the party in the 1990s. After the fall of the Berlin wall and the demise of the Soviet Union, what role, if any, can communism play today?
Although I am no longer a member of the Communist Party, I still consider myself a communist. If I did not believe in the possibility of eventually defeating capitalism and in a socialist future, I would have no inspiration to continue with my political work. As triumphant as capitalism is assumed to be in the aftermath of the collapse of the socialist community of nations, it also continually reveals its inability to grow and develop without expanding and deepening human exploitation. There must be an alternative to capitalism. Today, the tendency to assume that the only version of democracy available to us is capitalist democracy poses a challenge. We must be able to disentangle our notions of capitalism and democracy so to pursue truly egalitarian models of democracy. Communism—or socialism—can still help us to generate new versions of democracy.
Do you think that the anti-globalization movement—the anti-WTO movement—can take up the role that Karl Marx assigned to the proletariat? In other words, can we say, “anti-globalists of the world unite”?
Well, this transition is a little too easy. But this is not to dismiss the importance of creating global solidarities, cross-racial solidarities attentive to struggles against economic exploitation, racism, patriarchy, and homophobia. And there is a link, it seems to me, between the internationalism of Karl Marx’s era and the new globalisms we are seeking to build today. Of course, the global economy is far more complicated than Marx could ever imagine. But at the same time his analyses have important contemporary resonances. The entire trajectory of Capital is initiated by an examination of the commodity, that seemingly simple unit of the capitalist political economy. As it turns out, of course, the commodity is a mysterious thing. And perhaps even more mysterious today than during Marx’s times. The commodity has penetrated every aspect of people’s lives all over the world in ways that have no historical precedent. The commodity—and capitalism in general—has insinuated itself into structures of feeling, into the most intimate spaces of people’s lives. At the same time human beings are more connected than ever before and in ways we rarely acknowledge. I am thinking of a song performed by Sweet Honey and the Rock about the global assembly line, which links us in ways contingent on exploitative practices of production and consumption. In the Global North, we purchase the pain and exploitation of girls in the Global South, which we wear everyday on our bodies.
The sweatshops of the world.
The global sweatshops. And the challenge is, as Marx argued long ago, to uncover the social relations that are both embodied and concealed by these commodities.
There is a great tradition of African-American political thought that has been deeply influenced by Marxism and communism. But one way that we sometimes talk about black political thought is in terms of two figures in tension. For example, there are the comparisons made by John Brown versus Frederick Douglass; Booker T. Washington versus W. E. B. Du Bois; Malcom X versus Martin Luther King. And in this we are able to discuss the tensions between black nationalism and assimilation or integration. How do you see yourself in relationship to the tension between nationalism and integration?
Well, of course it is possible to think about black history as it has been shaped by these debates in various eras. And we shouldn’t forget the debate between W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey. But I actually am interested in that which is foreclosed by the conceptualization of the major issues of black history in terms of these debates between black men. And I say men because the women always tend to be excluded. Where, for example, do Anna Julia Cooper and Ida B. Wells stand in these debates? But I am interested precisely in what gets foreclosed by this tension between nationalism and integration. And perhaps not primarily because the actors are male, but because questions regarding gender and sexuality are foreclosed.
So you see your work as contesting this way of viewing the black tradition of political thought . . .
. . . that way of making sense of integration.
So you wanted to displace the focus and say there’s another way in which black political thought can proceed.
Absolutely, and I think that the assumption today that black political thought must either advocate nationalism or must disavow black formations and black culture is very misleading.
Yes, but one of the things that is attributed to globalization is the end of nationalisms. Do you think that there is a role for black nationalism in the United States? Has it become entirely obsolete, an anachronism?
Well, in one sense it has become obsolete, but in another sense one can argue that the nationalisms that have helped to shape black consciousness will endure. First of all, I should say that I don’t think that nationalism is a homogeneous concept. There are many versions of nationalism. I’ve always preferred to identify with the pan-Africanism of W. E. B. Du Bois who argued that black people in the West do have a special responsibility to Africa, Latina America, and Asia—not by virtue of a biological connection or a racial link, but by virtue of a political identification that is forged in struggle. We should be attentive to Africa not simply because this continent is populated by black people, not only because we trace our origins to Africa, but primarily because Africa has been a major target of colonialism and imperialism. What I also like about Du Bois’s pan-Africanism is that it insists on Afro-Asian solidarities. This is an important feature that has been concealed in conventional narratives of pan-Africanism. Such an approach is not racially defined, but rather discovers its political identity in its struggles against racism.
In addition to the recent thirtieth anniversary of your autobiography, we are also celebrating fifty-plus years of Brown v. Board of Education. Do you think that the forces of black integration, the forces of civil rights, have been betrayed and somehow rolled-back by the past two decades of Rehnquist serving as the Reagan-appointed chief justice?
The promise of those struggles has been betrayed. But I don’t think it is helpful to assume that an agenda that gets established at one point in history will forever claim success on the basis of its initial victories. It is misleading to assume that this success will be enduring, that it will survive all of the changes and mutations of the future. The civil rights movement managed to bring about enormous political shifts, which opened doors to people previously excluded from government, corporations, education, housing, etc. However, an exclusively civil rights approach—as even Dr. King recognized before he died—cannot by itself eliminate structural racism. What the civil rights movement did, it seems to me, was to create a new terrain for asking new questions and moving in new directions. The assumption that the placement of black people like Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice in the heart of government would mean progress for the entire community was clearly fallacious. In this, there were no guarantees, to borrow from Stuart Hall. The civil rights movement demanded access, and access has been granted to some. The challenge of the twenty-first century is not to demand equal opportunity to participate in the machinery of oppression. Rather, it is to identify and dismantle those structures in which racism continues to be embedded. This is the only way the promise of freedom can be extended to masses of people.
But don’t you worry about the conservative court? I mean if we think about the role of the Warren Court in advancing the racial justice agenda . . .
The justices in today’s Supreme Court are very outspoken about their conservatism. What does this mean for racial justice in the future?
Of course I’m worried about that. The only point I’m attempting to make is that past struggles cannot correct current injustices and that people who tend to sit back and bemoan the betrayal of the civil rights movement are not prepared to imagine what might be necessary at thismoment to challenge the conservatism of the Supreme Court. It’s very difficult to recognize contemporary racisms, especially when they are not linked to racist laws and attitudes and when they differently affect individuals who claim membership in racialized communities. I’m suggesting that we need a new age—with a new agenda— that directly addresses the structural racism that determines who goes to prison and who does not, who attends university and who does not, who has health insurance and who does not. The old agenda facilitates assaults on affirmative action, as Ward Connerly pointed out in his campaign for Proposition 209 in California. From his vantage point, what is most important today is the protection of the civil rights of white men.
Right. But very smart strategies are being used, ones that displace attention from issues of racial justice by speaking in terms of multiculturalism. An example is last year’s court decision in Michigan—Grutter v. Bollinger—that says that affirmative action must be administered for the sake of preserving multicul-turalism. What is the difference between multiculturalism and racial justice?
There’s a huge difference. Diversity is one of those words in the contemporary lexicon that presumes to be synonymous with antiracism. Multiculturalism is a category that can admit both progressive and deeply conservative interpretations. There’s corporate multiculturalism because corporations have discovered that it is more profitable to create a diverse work place.
Yes. They have discovered that blacks and Latinos and Asians are willing to work as hard, or even harder, than their white counterparts. But this means that we should embrace a strong politically inflected multiculturalism, which emphasizes cross-racial community and continued struggles for equality and justice. That is to say cross-racial community not for the purpose of creating a beautiful “bouquet of flowers” or an enticing “bowl of salad”—which are some of the metaphorical representations of multiculturalism—but as a way of challenging structural inequalities and fighting for justice. This version of multiculturalism has radical potential.
And along with the question of multiculturalism and racial justice, there’s another question that tremendously worries me personally, existentially. That is, we keep talking about the “browning” of the United States; that by the year 2050 a quarter of the American population will be of Latino descent. Do you think that this browning of America will entail an eclipse of the quest for racial justice?
Why should it?
Conservatives claim that questions of racial justice are essentially black questions . . . and that multiculturalism and racial integration of Latinos are separate from racial justice work, affirmative action or reparations.
Well, you see, that’s the problem, and it seems to me that contemporary ideologies encourage this assumption that racial competition and conflict are the only possible relationships across communities of people of color. It is as if these communities are always separate and never intersect. But, if one looks at the labor movement, for example, there are numerous historical examples of Black-Latino solidarity and alliances. Regardless of which community might be numerically larger, without such solidarities and alliances, there can be no hope for an anti-racist future. At the same time, it is important to acknowledge that this is a new era. Conditions of postcoloniality here in the United States and throughout the world convey the message that the “West” has been forever changed. Europe is not what it used to be. It is no longer defined by its whiteness. The same thing, of course, is true in the U.S. among black people who are used to being the “superior minority.” We must let go of this claim. There is this prevalent idea that because black people established the historical anti-racist agenda for the United States of Amer- ica, they will always remain its most passionate advocates. But black people as a collective cannot live on the laurels of its historical past. We have recently received harsh lessons about conservative possibilities in black communities. “Black” can not simply be considered an uncontestable synonym of progressive politics. The work of progressive activists is to build opposition to conservatism—regardless of the racial background of its proponents. That black and Latino communities cannot find common cause is one example of this conservatism. Our job today is to promote cross-racial communities of struggle that arise out of common—and hopefully radical—political aspirations.
Take 30% off Are Prisons Obsolete? and Abolition Democracy by Dr. Angela Y. Davis
Revelations about U.S. policies and practices of torture and abuse have captured headlines ever since the breaking of the Abu Ghraib prison story in April 2004. Since then, a debate has raged regarding what is and what is not acceptable behavior for the world's leading democracy. It is within this context that Angela Davis, one of America's most remarkable political figures, gave a series of interviews to discuss resistance and law, institutional sexual coercion, politics and prison. Davis talks about her own incarceration, as well as her experiences as "enemy of the state," and about having been put on the FBI's "most wanted list." She talks about the crucial role that international activism played in her case and the case of many other political prisoners.
Throughout these interviews, Davis returns to her critique of a democracy that has been compromised by its racist origins and institutions. Discussing the most recent disclosures about the disavowed "chain of command," and the formal reports by the Red Cross and Human Rights Watch denouncing U.S. violation of human rights and the laws of war in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq, Davis focuses on the underpinnings of prison regimes in the United States.
With her characteristic brilliance, grace and radical audacity, Angela Y. Davis has put the case for the latest abolition movement in American life: the abolition of the prison. As she quite correctly notes, American life is replete with abolition movements, and when they were engaged in these struggles, their chances of success seemed almost unthinkable. For generations of Americans, the abolition of slavery was sheerest illusion. Similarly, the entrenched system of racial segregation seemed to last forever, and generations lived in the midst of the practice, with few predicting its passage from custom. The brutal, exploitative (dare one say lucrative?) convict-lease system that succeeded formal slavery reaped millions to southern jurisdictions (and untold miseries for tens of thousands of men, and women). Few predicted its passing from the American penal landscape. Davis expertly argues how social movements transformed these social, political and cultural institutions, and made such practices untenable.
In Are Prisons Obsolete?, Professor Davis seeks to illustrate that the time for the prison is approaching an end. She argues forthrightly for "decarceration," and argues for the transformation of the society as a whole.
A Free E-book Against Police Repression
"The ideas that can and will sustain our movement for total freedom and dignity of the people cannot be imprisoned, for they are to be found in the people, all the people, wherever they are. As long as the people live by the ideas of freedom and dignity, there will be no prison that can hold our movement down.” ―Huey P. Newton
Defund the Police. Abolish Prisons. Refuse State Repression.
In the following review, originally published in the New York Times Book Review, NYTBR Poetry editor Gregory Cowles explores our picture book adaptations of José Saramago's childhood memoir, Small Memories, translated by Margaret Jull Costa — The Silence of Water, illustrated by Yolanda Mosquera, and An Unexpected Light, illustrated by Armando Fonseca.
The Nobel laureate’s “Small Memories” is a mix of peasant life, boyhood adventure and wide-eyed wonder.
By Gregory Cowles
Early in José Saramago’s 2006 memoir, “Small Memories,” he tells readers that he briefly considered calling it “The Book of Temptations” instead. His reasons were characteristically elliptical and charming: something about Bosch, and sainthood, and the fat prostitute who “in a weary, indifferent voice” invited a 12-year-old Saramago up to her room. (He doesn’t report his answer, but given how candid the book is elsewhere, it’s safe to assume he declined.) In the end, though, he decided that the title “Small Memories” better suited the book’s contents: “nothing of great note,” in Saramago’s estimation; simply “the small memories of when I was small.”
But for a great writer, of course, there are no small moments, and Saramago (1922-2010) was one of the best. Celebrated for spare, allegorical novels including “Blindness,” “All the Names” and “Death With Interruptions,” he won the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1998, and remains the only Portuguese author ever to have done so.
Saramago’s memoir, which appeared in English translation the year before he died, is a winsome look back at his coming-of-age in the small village of Azinhaga and later in Lisbon.
With its mix of peasant life, boyhood adventure and wide-eyed wonder, it makes perfect fodder for a couple of new picture books: “The Silence of Water,” illustrated by Yolanda Mosquera and translated (like “Small Memories”) by Margaret Jull Costa, and the forthcoming “An Unexpected Light,” illustrated by Armando Fonseca and again translated by Costa.
THE SILENCE OF WATER (Triangle Square/Seven Stories Press, 24 pp., $17.95, ages 5 and up) tells the story of a young boy fishing in a local river without success until a monster barbel takes the bait and snaps the line, leaving the boy with a “ridiculous, useless rod” and a stubborn desire for revenge: “I decided to run home, get another line, float and sinker for my rod and return to settle accounts once and for all.” The plan is futile — even the boy calls it “the most absurd idea of my entire life” — but it offers him a lesson in the virtues and limits of pluck and determination.
It also, happily, offers a canvas for Mosquera’s textured landscape illustrations, which portray the river and sky in undulating white and the other components (the boy, his dog, the teeming plant life and assorted villagers) in layered earth tones. There’s a suitably old-fashioned feeling to the art, which rewards close attention and includes parallel story lines and characters evocative of Saramago’s memoir: a girl in braids catching a frog, a young mother in a polka-dot dress holding her wading toddler’s hand.
If “The Silence of Water” is about the one that got away, AN UNEXPECTED LIGHT (Triangle Square/Seven Stories Press, 32 pp., $18.95, ages 5 and up), which will be published this spring, is about a surprise encounter that lingers.
The book recounts a story that Saramago tells twice in “Small Memories,” about walking to the city with his uncle to sell suckling pigs. It’s a journey of a dozen miles — “four country leagues at piglet pace,” Saramago writes — and so the pair has to spend the night at a farm along the way, sleeping in a manger like the holy family. When his uncle wakes him in the small hours of the morning, the young Saramago is startled to find “a milky light over the night and the surrounding landscape,” the result of a huge white moon the likes of which he knows he will never see again. The nearness and the brightness of that moon strike him with all the force of a visitation.
This story is accompanied by Fonseca’s illustrations in ink and watercolor, their dark palette of grays and blacks a fitting accessory to Saramago’s dreamy moodiness — though in their whimsy and sense of motion, they’re more Matisse than Bosch.
In one drawing, the pigs seem to be dancing on the hills. In another, the boy or his uncle clings to the stem of a fantastical plant to avoid being carried off by the wind.
Besides the muted colors and the dream landscape, Fonseca also leans into the story’s nighttime feel with shooting stars and whirling constellations that look like geometric doodles. The moon, when it appears, is so large that its top is cut off by the edge of the page; by comparison, the boy and his uncle are insignificant enough to become nearly lost amid the plants that surround them.
“An Unexpected Light” ends with a scene I didn’t remember from the memoir, and couldn’t find when I searched for it: The boy and his uncle, returning home, run into a rainstorm that wholly encircles them yet somehow leaves them dry.
“No one could see me, and yet I could see the whole world,” Saramago writes. “It was then that I swore to myself that I would never die.”
I can’t guess why Costa and her editors chose to replace the original scene with the new one (which presumably hails from elsewhere in Saramago’s extensive catalog), unless it was to play into the story’s religious overtones and end on an upbeat note.
I’m not sure they needed to. People do die, after all, Saramago notably among them.
One takeaway from his memoir is that children are aware of more than they get credit for, and readier to accept it.
In its way, this is also the implicit message of “The Silence of Water,” with its young fisherman coming face to face with the weight of disappointment. More than most, Saramago knew there was consolation even in an empty line. None of the hours he spent at the river were in vain, he writes in “Small Memories,” because, “without my realizing it, I was ‘fishing’ for things that would be just as important for me in the future: images, smells, sounds, soft breezes, sensations.”
Saramago may be gone, but it’s lovely to see his work resurrected for a new generation.
MSNBC's legal expert Barbara McQuade breaks down the ways disinformation has become a tool to drive voters to extremes, disempower our legal structures, and consolidate power in the hands of the few.
A graphic biography of the local activist group Detroit Eviction Defense, whose work combatting — and beating — evictions in Detroit demonstrates the importance — and efficacy — of people organizing locally with their communities. The stories included in this book feature families struggling against evictions, organizing, taking to the streets, and winning their homes back.
An urgent, groundbreaking, and visually stunning new collection of graphic story-telling, edited by Persepolisauthor Marjane Satrapi, Woman, Life, Freedom is a collaboration of activists, artists, journalists, and academics working together to depict the historic uprising — with comics that show what would be censored in photos and film in Iran — in solidarity with the Iranian people, in defense of feminism.
For a new generation of activists, these are classic revolutionary writings by four famous radicals, including The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels; Reform or Revolution by Rosa Luxemburg; and Che Guevara’s Socialismand Man in Cuba. Includes an introduction by Cuban Marxist intellectual Armando Hart and a preface by US radical poet Adrienne Rich.
Italian economist and journalist Loretta Napoleoni explains how the heads of Big Tech companies like Uber, Amazon, Tesla, have effectively hijacked technological innovation on a grand scale, and how that unprecedented control is ruining our minds and the planet.
With great immediacy and poignancy, Aleida recounts the story of her epic romance with Che Guevara—their fitful courtship against the backdrop of the Cuban revolutionary war, their marriage at the war’s end and the birth of their four children, up through Che’s tragic assassination in Bolivia less than ten years later. Featuring excerpts from their letters, nearly one hundred never-before-seen photographs from their private collection, and a moving short story Che wrote for Aleida, here is an intimate look at the man behind the legend and the tenacious, courageous woman who knew him best—a story of passionate love, wrenching sacrifice, and unwavering heroism.
A collection of columns and essays that reveal Ralph Nader at his outspoken and prescient best, fighting the good fight against corporate corruption, unbalanced political power, consumer dangers, big pharma, and climate denialism. Featuring an introduction by Lewis Lapham.
This classic manual on repression by revolutionary activist Victor Serge offers fascinating anecdotes about the tactics of police provocateurs and an analysis of the documents of the Tsarist secret police in the aftermath of the Russian revolution. With a new introduction by Anthony Arnove.
From renowned writer Paco Ignacio Taibo II, Pancho Villa is wild ride and revealing portrait of the controversial figure, one of Mexico’s most beloved (or loathed) heroes, that finally establishes the importance of his role in the triumph of the Mexican revolution. Published on the 100th anniversary of Pancho Villa's death.
In these three speeches on corporate globalism and imperialism, Ernesto Che Guevara offers a revolutionary view of a world in which human solidarity and understanding replace imperialist agression and exploitation. This collection of writings merges Che's philosophy, politics, and economics in his all encompassing, coherent revolutionary vision.
This week marks the release of Cubanthropy: Two Futures That Happened While You Were Busy Thinking by Cuban art critic and curator Iván de la Nuez, translated from Spanish by Ellen Jones. To celebrate, we're excited to share with you an excerpt from the book, taken from its first chapter. In this sparkling collection of cultural criticism, Iván de la Nuez explores the effects of the policies that have tried to constrain or liberate Cuba in recent decades. These essays cover not only Cuban politics and culture, and that of the Cuban diaspora, but also racism and Big Data, Guantánamo and Reggaeton, soccer and baseball, Obama and the Rolling Stones, Europe and Donald Trump, and more. In doing so, de la Nuez approaches his criticism with singularity of purpose. He does not set out to explain Cuba to the world, but rather to put the world into a Cuban context.
EXCERPT FROM CUBANTHROPY: TWO FUTURES THAT HAPPENED WHILE YOU WERE BUSY THINKING
BY IVÁN DE LA NUEZ, TRANSLATED BY ELLEN JONES
BETWEEN THE DEVIL AND THE DEEP BLUE SEA: 1990-1991
It starts with the suspension of the Cold War, and Cubans at the center of the conflict.
It starts with the ageing New Left invoking the sixties in order to demonstrate the rightness of Cuba choosing to go it alone outside the Soviet Bloc, and with the sprightly New Right rejecting the sixties in order to emphasize their victory over communism.
Between the devil and the deep blue sea . . .
In 1989, the old revolutionary guard looks back to the sixties to recover Cuba’s glory days.
In 1989, the new conservative guard looks back to the sixties to bad-mouth North American decadence.
It starts with Reagan and Bush Senior proclaiming their victory over communism and with the United States shaken up by a sense of catharsis that had to be contained as quickly as possible.
Daniel Bell believed that modern excesses had inverted the famous eighteenth-century motto: private vices, public virtues. This “most brilliant of conservatives,” according to Habermas, was persuaded that in the United States, thanks to the sixties, vices had become public and virtues—hampered by the prevailing way of life—had become private.
On the basis of this conviction, not just Bell but also Kramer, Podhoretz, Kirkpatrick, Novak, and Showell, along with other neoconservative think tanks, managed to pull together the cultural strategy of neoliberalism. For them, if social modesty had led capitalism to hide behind the skirts of the Welfare State, now the time had come for it to show its face: to insist, with no beating about the bush, that the problem wasn’t that the system had failed but rather that it had been an “overwhelming success.” And if the sixties had brought the national agenda into question, it was now time to banish all doubt once and for all. To which end, the New Right were kind enough to reconstruct the genealogy of the conservative tradition, rescuing the lost aura of the elite, dusting off Adam Smith, and harking back to the golden years of Philadelphia.
In case that wasn’t enough ammunition, there was always Reagan to confirm that leadership was indispensable; Milton Friedman to give credence to the idea that the market was invincible, and Bell himself to argue that a return of the protestant ethic was inevitable.
All agreed on the harmful impact of hedonism on capitalist competition. And between them they tilled the authoritarian soil of the “neoconservative revolution” that commended Jesse Helms and his Moral Majority against internal threats as much as Chuck Norris and his lethal minority against external enemies.
The neoconservatives longed for an imperial culture gone astray, and the communist hecatomb served them their lost grandeur on a silver platter once again. It was a return that would allow them, meanwhile, to adapt the old Monroe Doctrine of 1823—which prohibited the intervention of European powers in the internal affairs of countries in the American hemisphere—to the brand-new global era.
This time, not only the American continent but the whole world would be “for Americans."
Cubans have danced to this music since 1959. They have been in the very nucleus—rather than on the periphery—of a Cold War constant that has condemned them to live in an anti-project. In such a way that, once the Berlin Wall came down, the island elite also felt obliged to replenish their symbolic arsenal in order to survive the Friendly Empire and stand alone against the Enemy Empire. And to achieve this, the best thing was to reinforce the connection between National Identity and Anti-Imperialism. Or to resuscitate, in the post-Soviet world, the initial halo of a revolution that was once young, original, and also—it’s worth reminding the colonial souls among us—Western.
This resolve was anchored in an irrefutable truth: Cuba’s short march through history has almost always been out of step. Although the island achieved its independence at the end of the nineteenth century, several decades after most other Spanish colonies, by the middle of the twentieth century it mounted the hemisphere’s first socialist revolution. And although in 1989 the Soviet Empire collapsed along with its galaxy of “sibling countries,” nine thousand kilometers away Cuba was managing to survive as a communist country outside the defeated Bloc.
What was the explanation for the persistence of Cuba’s regime, alongside those of China, North Korea, and Vietnam? It was precisely that exceptional story, which contained enough signs that the country had never been just another star in the Soviet galaxy. In the nineteenth century, Cuban thinkers were busy insisting that Cuba wasn’t Cipango or Albion or Sicily. Now, heading into the twenty-first century, it was time to make clear it wasn’t Bulgaria or Romania or Albania either.
Just in case, Fidel Castro had already erected his tent on the outskirts of the perestroika. He called it the Process of Rectifying Errors and Negative Tendencies, and it was via this process that he redoubled the nationalization of the economy, revived a Che Guevara half-buried in the pro-Soviet era, and, now involved in processes of indoctrination, replaced the Russian language with English and replaced scientific communism with subjects that reinforced the authenticity of the Cuban model. Speaking of which, even certain magazines previously considered sympathetic to socialism (Sputnik or Novedades de Moscú, for instance) were declared subversive.
In Cuba—going it alone, disconnected from a world that had survived the fall of communism—the ecstasy of exceptionality reached its peak. For this reason, nationalist intellectuals came to the fore once more; whether they were Catholics—Cintio Vitier—or followers of Che Guevara—Fernando Martínez Heredia and other Pensamiento Crítico magazine editors and contributors—they had been suspicious during the Stalinist era. A few now dedicated themselves to the task of authenticating a Cuban tradition based on an amalgamation of the concepts of Identity, Homeland, and Revolution. It was all an exercise in cultural fortification against the global post-communist, multipolar world rising up threateningly across the sea.
With Soviet help diminishing, China not yet having reached its apogee, the conflict with the United States still ongoing (including Exile, Embargo, and the Guantánamo naval base), and the Bolivarian States yet to be born, in Cuba the nineties highlighted an exclusive—and exclusionary—pathos that rejected any knowledge opposed to the official line.
There was also, in theory, support for those in power to retain it under different circumstances. Because at the end of the day, we’re talking about power, not philosophy. To the extent that, during those years, I explained the national discourse of the Cuban Revolution by resorting to the figure of a piston: any space Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea that expands outward ends up getting compressed inward again. And the demands Cuba was making around the world for the right to diversity weren’t often met at a national level.
According to the official logic at the time, compared to the rest of the world, what made Cuba different was that it was revolutionary. That said, any kind of difference arising internally was considered counterrevolutionary. Depending on the case and the particular charges brought, difference might also be considered globalist, pro-imperialist, postmodern, neoconservative, or diversionary (I know of one that ticked all those boxes at the same time).
Exacerbating everything was the ongoing confrontation with the United States. Without that tension it’s impossible to understand Cuba’s symbolic dimensions: the image of the small state against the Great Empire. This conflict, more than its internal political model, is the fire that has fed the Cuban singularity, even in the most critical and extraordinary moments of its discourse. It is the principal attraction ensuring the continuity of the Revolution’s seminal imaginary, even long after it was institutionalized as a communist state.
If internal history had told us we were exceptional by tradition, the United States made us exceptional by obligation. If in Cuba there was only ever one election candidate, or the Beatles were banned, or men couldn’t have long hair, or post-structuralism was censored, or the government never changed, or we had strange allies, it was for one very clear reason: the powerful enemy opposite us.
Can anything be achieved between the hard, irreconcilable lines drawn on either side of the Gulf Stream? Every essay in this book examines that territory. That area that will never appear in the annals of Great Causes, but rather in the almost domestic sphere of small consequences. In the spaces where culture modestly achieves its goal of bringing official powers—whichever form they might take—under suspicion.
In that vein, there was the challenge posed by the new culture led by the sons of the Revolution, by that New Man outlined by El Che, who, as the Cold War intensified, decided to try out his very own private glasnost.
There were a number of different projects operating in Cuba in 1990 that revealed this surprising irruption. And to be sure, the macro-political disagreement between the governments of Cuba and the United States didn’t help much. Just as would happen years later with artists from the Axis of Evil countries delimited by George W. Bush, in the era of Bush Senior one was always at risk of being crushed between two dogmatisms.
Even so, it fell to those new intellectuals to reinscribe the country into Western culture after years of the Soviet model, apparent or covert, a process facilitated by the fact that communism in Eastern Europe was to pass away.
The problem is that the Cuban government was not prepared for this ideological, aesthetic, and political avalanche that strained the foundations of its cultural policy: “Within the Revolution, everything; against the Revolution, nothing.”
Despite it all, the arrival on the scene of the baby boomer generation triggered by that same Revolution was inevitable. Osvaldo Sánchez called them “the children of Utopia”—the only ones who had never known anything but the socialist experiment. They wouldn’t be, as Alejo Carpentier predicted of his generation in the thirties, “the classics of a new world,” but they were the perfect symbol of the Cuban model’s advancing years.
And the thing is, despite the US embargo and the collapse of the Communist Bloc—the usual explanations for the island’s catastrophes—it’s the rupture caused by this movement that Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea allows us to decipher the irrevocable meaning of the subsequent Cuban crisis. In the fact that the children of socialism were to find, one day, that the Revolution had turned into the State, that the capital-E Enemy was also allowing (as in “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”) an authoritarian hierarchy to crush even the slightest attempt to change from within, that the ideology had acquired the status of a fundamental (and fundamentalist) commodity of the system, and that every Cuban family was uprooted: with a doctor in Moscow (not Zhivago, mind you), a martyr in Africa, a lost relative in Miami, and—the most perfect metaphor for their existence—a refugee adrift in the Gulf Stream.
The most notable change, and the most feared, was in the visual arts, which were used to impose trends and establish leadership, all with a shrewd eye for communicating cultural messages. So, for instance, when the street art group Arte Calle flooded the city with graffiti, announcing “the concert’s happening,” they weren’t betting on the spectacle actually happening, but rather on the spectacle of it not happening. Their message relied not on their followers’ complacency, but rather on their insatiability.
In contrast to the catharsis stopped short by the neoconservatives with which this chapter began, when the Berlin Wall came down, we found no dissolving of culture into politics in Cuba (a common complaint from the new censors in the United States). On the contrary, it was the practical and rhetorical uses of politics that colonized the cultural movement, and indeed other areas of society. Whether down the transcendental road of the sixties, or via the laudatory reproduction of the Soviet model applied in the seventies, what is clear is that the following years saw culture harassed by the same trans-political universe.
Would we ever be able to effectively dismantle either world?
This was, in good part, the question that emerging intellectuals and artists were asking at the end of the twentieth century in Cuba: whether Cuban culture was to arrive, by means of its institutions, at a democratic synthesis that assumed plurality, or whether each of us was to set out on our own expedition toward definitive dissolution.
Perhaps it was too soon to abandon socialism, but too late to return to the Revolution.
IVÁN DE LA NUEZ is an essayist, a critic, and an art curator. In 1995, he received the Rockefeller Fellowship for the Humanities. He has written art and literary criticism in numerous media, such as El País and the cultural magazine, La Maleta de Portbou. He has been director of the Center for the Image of Barcelona, La Virreina, as well as curator of several highly relevant exhibitions. Author of different anthologies, such as Cuba: The PossibleIsland (1995), Landscapes After the Wall (1999) or Cuba and the Day After (2001), his essays "The Perpetual Raft" (1998) and "Red Fantasy" (2006) have achieved a great reception amongst the critics and the public, and they have been translated into several languages.
Seven Stories’ mission includes our dedication to the radical imagination. We stand with the Palestinian people in their struggle for respect of the most basic human rights, and stand against the ongoing Israeli occupation of their homeland.
To celebrate the release of Kinderland, the second novel we’ve published by author-translator duo Liliana Corobca and Monica Cure,** we are proud to share a short excerpt from the book, taken from its first few pages. The novel follows three siblings, twelve-year-old Cristina and her two younger brothers, whose parents have departed for employment in foreign lands. Through Cristina's eyes, we experience the feeling of wonderment and loneliness as the three children roam the streets of a contemporary Moldovan village, imitating the gestures of the absent adults, and chasing their fading memories of normal family life.
In this opening passage, the three siblings discover that a tick has attached itself to one of their bellies, and they have to find someone to help them remove it — quite difficult to do in a town where very few adults remain.
**The first book we published by Liliana Corobca, Monica Cure's translation of The Censor's Notebook (2022), won the 2023 Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize — an amazing feat considering this was Monica Cure's first full-length work of translation!
BY LILIANA COROBCA
TRANSLATED BY MONICA CURE
The tick was stuck to his stomach, next to his belly button, sucking the child’s blood. The girl, more terrified by her brother’s shrieks than by that black dot, had gone for help. Normally, the howls would have brought out, if not half the village, at least the entire neighborhood on the outskirts of the village, but now, no one came. She could’ve taken out the tick, but what if the head got stuck there and it grew another body that was even bigger . . . or, God forbid, it went completely inside his skin and lodged there, where no one could get it out anymore and her brother would die, sucked dry by the tick.
At first, the third child, the youngest brother, who was often hit or mistreated by the other one, looked on with a certain sense of satisfaction. He kept circling his older brother in search of what was making him cry and yell so insistently. He looked around, up, down, to see whether he didn’t also have cause to let out a wail, but he didn’t see anything. The fact that Dan’s shirt was lifted, his belly naked and exposed to the sun, didn’t impress the younger brother at all, it didn’t scare him either. The black dot his brother was hunched over so tragically didn’t interest him since he couldn’t understand how a brother so big and strong could be scared by a little black dot clinging to his belly. Then the younger little boy disappeared.
The girl went out on the street. She could’ve called the neighbors, but they weren’t home at this hour. The grandmother of a classmate lived farther down, but she probably wasn’t home either and, in any case, her eyesight wasn’t good enough to get the tick out, head and all. The girl started walking down the street, in search of the right person. She also called out to Uncle Vasile, but all the dogs in the neighborhood answered her instead. At the barking of the dogs in unison, nothing happened inside the houses, no one slammed the doors or gates, no one opened them to see who was calling and why. In general, when someone called out on their street, they all heard and at least someone would answer: The person you’re looking for isn’t home, they’ve just left for the vineyard, to visit their godfather, or somewhere else. At the end of the street, she spotted a mother washing clothes in a courtyard. She didn’t know her name. She made noise as she opened the gate and the woman looked at her questioningly.
— Hello. Would you mind taking out a tick for us?
The woman wrinkled her nose in disgust and answered:
— I don’t take out ticks.
And the woman quickly went inside the house.
The girl stopped next to the well. Maybe someone would get thirsty and come by for some water. She would stay there and wait.
Meanwhile, the youngest brother brought the other brother his favorite toy. The brother with the tick ignored him. He couldn’t care less about toys right now.
It seemed like Dan would never stop crying. In the past, he had killed insects like that, which his dad had taken out of the sheep’s wool. His father had said that if you don’t take them out, ticks suck all the blood out of an animal until there’s nothing left of it. Dan imagined how the hungry tick would suck up all his blood until it became a kind of big balloon and he, small and withered, a bag of bones, would helplessly flutter his arms and legs, while the tick would start floating until it was high up in the sky. Hundreds of ticks, inflated with the blood of children, floated in the clear, smiling sky, while the scrawny, dried-out kids stuck to the ruthless bugs cried. Dan looked at his tick which, to be honest, was no bigger than half a pinky fingernail, in fact, it wasn’t even as big as a bean, but all the same he felt as if he didn’t have a drop of blood left in him.
Marcel had remembered about the beautiful apple, which he had found the day before yesterday and hidden so that he could eat it by himself, without sharing with his brother and sister. The neighbor’s apple tree had produced fruit this year and sometimes an apple would fall into their garden. Summer apples, sweet and with pink flesh. Dan, when he saw the apple, made a gesture as if to say: What’s your apple to me when I’m in pain! Then Marcel, out of brotherly solidarity, started to whimper as well.
A horse-drawn cart stopped next to the well. A man drew out a bucket of water, drank some, and then wet his horse’s nose. He looked back at the girl staring at him. Tall, skinny, ugly, almost toothless, thin and graying hair, big floppy ears, he could’ve played the part of the grim reaper if he had kept a scythe in his cart. The horse was also skinny, it had once been gray but now, dirty, it was an earthy greenish color, with long yellow teeth, as if to make up for its master.
— Would you mind taking out a tick?
— Not at all. Where is it?
— There, said Cristina as she pointed toward the gate.
— Whose daughter are you?
— My dad’s Victor Dumitrache.
— Well, well, you’re Vichiuşa’s daughter? I used to give you cart rides when you were little. Back then I had a strong, sleek stallion . . . And your pa’s gone off to make long money. The girl nodded. And he left you at the mercy of the ticks. The girl nodded again.
When they saw the man come in, the two brothers went silent, forgetting to cry.
— Where are you, tick?
Then he looked at the apple.
— What, you don’t want your apple? Let’s give it to the pony, he’ll gobble it right up!
The smaller boy again handed the apple to the bigger one, who, given the choice between him or the horse eating it, decided to take the apple without saying a word. When it came down to it, the man was scarier to him than the tick.
— What, you call that a tick, boy, it’s as small as an ant! Lemme at it!
Then he said to the girl:
— Do you have brandy or odikolon?
She did, and she went to get the alcohol. She thought to herself: He wants to drink it, get drunk, and toss my brothers over the fence.
The man approached the afflicted child. He fiercely gritted his few teeth at the tick, a gesture which made the littlest one run behind the house. He poked his head out from behind a corner after a moment because he didn’t hear anything and he was curious.
In the blink of an eye, the man squeezed the swollen tick between his blackened fingernails and threw it onto the ground, looking carefully at the boy’s belly.
— I got it out, head and all, he said with satisfaction. Now step on it.
Because the boy didn’t move, he called over the little one:
— Hey, come here, little snot-nose, come look at your brother’s tick. But the little one didn’t accept the invitation either. The girl approached with a small bottle, out of which the man poured some brandy into his palm and then rubbed it onto the boy’s belly.
— Okay, you step on it, he said to the girl.
The girl conscientiously put her foot down on the bug and jumped on it a few times.
— And you say your pa’s not home.
The children nodded their heads.
— So he’s off working. Three kids are no laughing matter. And your ma—she’s working too. They had you and then scattered every which way, said the man as he headed to the gate. My woman’s gone too, so are my kids. I’m all by my lonesome, lucky I got my horse. Come on, filly, let’s go home.
The noise of the wheels could be heard for a little while, and then silence.
The girl, too, poured a little bit of alcohol from the bottle into her palm and rubbed the belly of the child, who was sitting gravely, without moving a muscle, looking somewhere off into the distance. Of course, if Dad had been home, no tick would’ve stuck to him, it wouldn’t have gone under his skin. He felt a kind of dissatisfaction that everything had ended so simply and quickly, when he had had an excuse to be unhappy, coddled, and important.
LILIANA COROBCA is a writer and researcher of communist censorship in Romania. She was born in the Republic of Moldova and is the author of the novel Negrissimo (2003), winner of the ‘Prometheus’ Prize for debut fiction. She is also the author of the novels The Censor's Notebook (Seven Stories Press, 2022), which won the 2023 Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize, A Year in Paradise (2005), Kinderland (2013), and The Old Maids’ Empire (2015). She has received grants and artists’ residencies in Germany, Austria, France, and Poland.
MONICA CURE is a Romanian-American writer, translator, and dialogue specialist, as well as a two-time Fulbright grant award winner. Her poetry and translations have been published in journals internationally, and she’s the author of the book Picturing the Postcard: A New Media Crisis at the Turn of the Century (University of Minnesota Press). Her translation of The Censor's Notebook by Liliana Corobca, Cure's first book-length work of translation, won the 2023 Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize. She is currently based in Bucharest.
Sixteen years after its initial publication, we are proud to share a much expanded new edition of Howard Zinn and Rebecca Stefoff’s A Young People's History of the United States. This new edition, which features significant contributions by writer and scholar Ed Morales, offers updated language throughout, as well as new sections serving to expand our understanding of Latinx history in the US through the political movements and cultural contributions of Latino Americans, as well as expanded coverage of Native history and Asian American activism.
To celebrate the release of this new edition, also available for the first time in Spanish, we are pleased to share Ed Morales's introductory note, presented in both languages thanks to the deft translation into Spanish by Hugo García Manríquez.
A NEW NARRATIVE
BY ED MORALES
When I was in grade school, I was fascinated by maps. In my earliest notebooks, I drew maps representing where I grew up: New York City, then New York State, and finally all of the United States. One day I was looking at a map in a textbook that showed the Americas, North and South. In the Caribbean Sea I saw the island where my parents were from. The map read “Puerto Rico,” with “(U.S.)” in parentheses underneath the words.
I asked my dad why it said that Puerto Rico belongs to the United States. Did that mean it wasn’t its own country? “No,” he said. “Puerto Rico is a country. Puerto Rico is my country.”
That was the moment that I realized that the status the United States had given to my father’s homeland was that of a “possession.” It was a land that, as a famous 1901 U.S. Supreme Court decision called Downes v. Bidwell decided, belonged to America but was not part of it. In a way, the island had a double identity, and I felt something like that within myself. Even as I was growing up as an English-speaking New Yorker, playing American sports, watching American television, immersed in American culture, those influences were mixed with something else—my parents’ Puerto Rican culture—that wasn’t going away any time soon.
I was born into what could be called the Nuyorican generation. Nuyorican is a label that came from mixing together “New York” and “Puerto Rican.” The Nuyorican generation were the children of Puerto Ricans who had migrated to places like New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. They created a bilingual, bicultural mix that pointed to the future of America, to the era of multicultural and multiracial diversity that is rapidly becoming the reality in twenty-first-century America.
The Nuyorican generation arose in parallel with other hybrid cultures created by the children of immigrants from much of Latin America. The Chicanos of the West Coast and the Southwest mixed Mexican culture, Native culture, and the cultures of American cities like Los Angeles, Tucson, and El Paso. In South Florida, the 1.5 Generation of Cuban Americans blended memories of Havana, the capital of their former island home, into their new home in Miami. To the north, Dominicans found a little bit of Santo Domingo, the capital of the Dominican Republic, in their new home, the part of Manhattan known as Washington Heights.
The narrative of these mixed cultural identities is a little-told part of American history. Yet they were never isolated from or outside the mainstream. Instead, they developed alongside the central trends in American culture. The perspective of Latin American descendants in the United States is a crucial part of understanding our history and seeing where the country is going. For that reason I am pleased to contribute three new elements to this edition of Howard Zinn’s A Young People’s History of the United States. In addition to this introduction, there are two new chapters. “The Latino Emergence” focuses on the major movements of the 1960s and 1970s. “Our Voices Need to Be Heard” brings the story into the twenty-first century, when, like members of many other communities and groups, Latino Americans continue to make their voices heard in politics, activism, and culture.
As Cuban orator, writer, and anti-colonial warrior José Martí argued, the idea of “America” being limited to the continental states of North America—Canada, the United States, and Mexico—erases the fact that the Americas are both Anglo and Latin. They were colonized by European powers, but they are also places where common folk came together in a mix of racial backgrounds and social classes that made the Americas truly a “New World.” Along with, and often intertwined with, the narratives of Native Americans, Black people, and Asian Americans, the narratives of Latino Americans are an essential part of the people’s history of the United States.
Latinos are also a political and cultural force in the present moment. Immigrants and their descendants from twenty-one different countries in Latin America make up about 17 percent of the total U.S. population. They are the second largest group in the country, and for a time they were the fastest-growing subgroup of the total population. In the early years of the twenty-first century, though, the growth of the Latino population slowed due to a lag in the American economy. People of Asian descent then became the fastest-growing population subgroup.
Latino communities are concentrated in different proportions in various regions of the country. The Northeast Corridor has one of the most diverse Latino populations. The nation’s most populous Puerto Rican and Dominican communities have long existed there, and the numbers of Mexicans, Ecuadoreans, and other South American groups are increasing. South Florida has had the biggest Cuban communities, as well as some Puerto Ricans and South Americans. The largest communities of Mexicans and Central Americans are centered in California and the Southwest.
Sometimes stigmatized as foreigners, at other times targeted as consumers and voters, Latinos are often misunderstood. Most are fully proficient in English by the third generation. They eagerly take part in the social and cultural rites of the mainstream culture of the United States. In general they are also very involved in civic responsibilities. The Latino contribution to U.S. culture is more influential than is often recognized. Is there any popular icon more all-American than the cowboy? That character has Mexican origins. Roots rock and roll has strong Cuban influences. And urban Latinos contributed to the origins of the spoken word style of poetry and hip-hop.
Latinos have often created American history through interaction with the many other immigrant and Native groups that are also integral parts of the national story, along with the African people brought to the Americas as slaves. In the Southwest, Mexicans share an intertwined history with Native American tribes and Anglo migrants to California and Texas. During the mid-nineteenth century, Mexicans living along what is now the U.S.–Mexico border were part of the “southern underground railroad” that helped enslaved Black people escape to freedom in Mexico, which ended slavery before the United States did. In the Northeast, Puerto Ricans and Cubans shared space in mambo dancehalls with European immigrants, and they shared rapping and breakdancing with Black and Afro-Caribbean people. In Chicago, Puerto Ricans and Mexicans have joined with Black and white voters to elect some of the country’s first mayors and other officials of color.
As we move forward into the twenty-first century, barriers remain to be overcome if we are to fully understand not just the role of Latinos in U.S. history and culture but also the relationship between the United States and its Latin neighbors in the Americas. The southern border of the United States projects American strength, but it is also a site of controversy. Within the borders of the United States, many people distrust those who hold on to their native language, which has led to people being attacked simply for speaking Spanish to one another in public. Citizenship, not merely as a legal status but as a narrow vision of who can be considered “American,” is still used as a weapon against Latinos. This new edition of A Young People’s History of the United States attempts to weave the narrative thread of Latinos into the larger context of American history, uniting our contributions with those of all the people who together make up the history of these United States.
UNA NUEVA NARRATIVA
POR ED MORALES
Cuando cursaba la escuela primaria me fascinaban los mapas. Mis primeros cuadernos estaban llenos de dibujos de mapas que representaban los lugares donde había crecido: la Ciudad de Nueva York, luego el estado de Nueva York, y finalmente todo Estados Unidos. Un día estaba viendo un mapa incluido en un libro de texto que mostraba el continente americano, Norte y Sur. En el Mar Caribe reconocí la isla donde mis padres habían nacido. El mapa decía “Puerto Rico”, y debajo de estas palabras, entre paréntesis, “(US)”.
Le pregunté a mi padre por qué decía que Puerto Rico pertenecía a Estados Unidos. ¿Eso significaba que no era un país propiamente? “No”, me respondió. “Puerto Rico es un país. Puerto Rico es mi país”.
En ese momento entendí que el estatus que Estados Unidos había otorgado a la patria de mi padre era el de una “posesión”. Era un territorio que, tal como lo había establecido la famosa decisión llamada Downes v. Bidwell, de los tribunales de la Suprema Corte estadounidense, pertenecía a Estados Unidos pero no era parte de éste. De cierta manera, la isla tenía una doble identidad, y yo sentía algo parecido en mi interior. Aunque crecí como un neoyorquino cuya lengua era el inglés, jugando deportes estadounidenses, viendo programas de televisión estadounidense, inmerso en la cultura estadounidense, esas influencias estaban mezcladas con algo más: la cultura puertorriqueña de mis dos padres. Eso no iba a desaparecer pronto.
Nací como parte de lo que puede llamarse la generación “Nuyorican”. Nuyorican es una categoría que viene de la mezcla de “Nueva York” y “Puerto Rican”. La generación nuyorican estaba formada por los hijos de puertorriqueños que habían emigrado a lugares como Nueva York, Filadelfia y Chicago. Crearon una mezcla bicultural y bilingüe que apuntaba hacia el futuro de Estados Unidos, a una era de diversidad multicultural y multirracial que rápidamente se ha convertido en la realidad del siglo veintiuno en Estados Unidos.
La generación nuyorican se erigió de forma paralela a otras culturas híbridas creadas por hijos de inmigrantes de casi todos los rincones de Latinoamérica. Los chicanos en la costa oeste y el suroeste mezclaron la cultura mexicana e indígena, además de la cultura de ciudades estadounidenses como Los Ángeles, Tucson, y El Paso. En el sur de Florida, la Generación 1.5 de cubanoamericanos combinó los recuerdos de La Habana, la capital de su antigua patria, con sus nuevos hogares en Miami. Al norte, los dominicanos encontraron un poco de Santo Domingo, la capital de República Dominicana, en su nuevo hogar, la sección de Manhattan conocida como Washington Heights.
La narrativa de estas identidades culturales múltiples es una parte de la historia estadounidense de la que poco se habla. Sin embargo, nunca estuvieron aisladas o fuera del mainstream. En lugar de eso, se desarrollaron a la par de las tendencias más populares de la cultura estadounidense. La perspectiva de los descendientes latinoamericanos en los Estados Unidos es parte crucial para entender nuestra historia y saber hacia dónde se dirige nuestro país. Por esa razón, me llena de gusto contribuir con tres nuevas secciones a esta edición de La historia del pueblo de Estados Unidos para jóvenes, de Howard Zinn. Además de esta introducción, hay dos nuevos capítulos. “La emergencia latina” se enfoca en los principales movimientos en 1960 y 1970. “Nuestras voces deben ser escuchadas” trae la historia hasta el siglo veintiuno, momento en el cual, como los miembros de otras muchas comunidades y grupos, los estadounidenses latinos continúan haciendo que sus voces sean oídas en la política, el activismo y la cultura.
Tal como lo declaró el orador cubano José Martí, escritor y guerrero anti-colonial, una idea de “América” limitada a las naciones continentales de Norteamérica —Canadá, Estados Unidos y México— borra el hecho de que el continente americano es anglo y latino. Fue colonizado por poderes europeos, pero también es un lugar donde personas comunes y corrientes confluyeron en una mezcla racial y de clases sociales que hicieron del continente americano un verdadero “Nuevo Mundo”. Entretejidas con las de indígenas estadounidenses, afroamericanos y asiaticoestadounidenses, las narrativas de los latinos estadounidenses son parte esencial de la historia del pueblo de los Estados Unidos.
Los latinos son también una fuerza política y cultural del presente. Los inmigrantes y sus descendientes, provenientes de veintiún países latinoamericanos, representan el 17 por ciento de la población de los Estados Unidos. Son, además, el grupo más numeroso del país, y durante una época fueron el subgrupo de mayor crecimiento del total de la población. A inicios del siglo vein-tiuno, sin embargo, el crecimiento de la población latina disminuyó debido a una desaceleración en la economía estadounidense. Las personas de descendencia asiática se volvieron el subgrupo de mayor crecimiento en el total de la población.
Las comunidades latinas se encuentran concentradas en diferentes proporciones por distintas regiones del país. El Corredor Noreste posee una de las poblaciones latinas más diversas. Las comunidades puertorriqueñas y dominicanas más numerosas han vivido ahí por mucho tiempo, y la cantidad de mexicanos, ecuatorianos y otros grupos sudamericanos va en aumento. El sur de Florida cuenta con los grupos cubanos más grandes, así como algunos puertorriqueños y sudamericanos. Las comunidades más numerosas de mexicanos y centroamericanos se encuentran en California y el suroeste.
Estigmatizados a veces como extranjeros, otras veces buscados como consumidores y votantes, los latinos con frecuencia son malentendidos. En el caso de la tercera generación, la mayoría es ya totalmente competente en el uso del inglés y participa con entusiasmo en los rituales sociales y culturales de la cultura dominante de los Estados Unidos. En general, también está muy involucrada en las responsabilidades cívicas. La contribución latina a la cultura estadounidense ejerce una influencia mucho mayor de lo que suele reconocerse. ¿Hay un ícono popular más estadounidense que el vaquero? Ese personaje tiene orígenes mexicanos. El rock and roll tiene fuertes raíces cubanas. Y los latinos de las zonas urbanas contribuyeron a los orígenes del estilo de poesía spoken word y el hip-hop.
Los latinos a menudo han trazado su historia estadounidense por medio de la interacción con otros grupos de inmigrantes e indígenas, que también son parte integral de la historia nacional, junto con los africanos traídos al continente americano como personas esclavizadas. En el suroeste, la historia de los mexicanos está entretejida con la de las tribus indígenas estadounidenses e inmigrantes anglosajones, en California y Texas. A mediados del siglo XIX, los mexicanos que vivían a lo largo de lo que ahora es la frontera entre EE. UU. y México formaban parte del “ferrocarril subterráneo del sur”, el cual ayudó a afroamericanos esclavizados a escapar hacia la libertad en México, donde se puso fin a la esclavitud antes que en los Estados Unidos. En el noreste, puertorriqueños y cubanos convivieron en salones de mambo con inmigrantes europeos, y disfrutaban del rap y breakdance con afroamericanos y negros de origen caribeño. En Chicago, puertorriqueños y mexicanos se unieron a votantes afroamericanos y blancos para elegir a quienes serían algunos de los primeros alcaldes y otros funcionarios del país.
A medida que avanza el siglo XXI, quedan aún barreras por superar, si queremos comprender plenamente no solo el papel de los latinos en la historia y la cultura de los Estados Unidos, sino también la relación entre los Estados Unidos y sus vecinos latinos a lo largo del continente americano. La frontera sur de los Estados Unidos proyecta el dominio estadounidense, pero también es un espacio en disputa. Dentro del territorio estadounidense, quienes desconfían de aquellos que se aferran a su idioma originario han provocado ataques contra personas simplemente por el hecho de hablar español entre sí en público. La ciudadanía, no solo como un estatus legal sino como una visión limitada de quién puede ser considerado “estadounidense”, todavía es usada como arma contra los latinos. Esta nueva edición de La historia del pueblo de Estados Unidos para jóvenes busca entretejer el hilo narrativo de los latinos con el contexto mayor de la historia estadounidense, uniendo nuestras contribuciones con las de todas aquellas personas que, juntas, componen la historia de estos Estados Unidos.
ED MORALES is a journalist, professor, poet and author of several books including Latinx: The New Force in Politics and Culture and Fantasy Island: Colonialism, Exploitation, and the Betrayal of Puerto Rico.