When Latinx workers across the US came together for International Workers’ Day on May 1, 2006, their strike sent more than one message. As historian Paul Ortiz writes in An African American and Latinx History of the United States, they protested immigration restrictions that threatened their families, their livelihoods, and their dignity. The protested to pass national legislation for a living wage. Shutting down meat packing, garment manufacturing, port transportation, trucking and food services in many parts of the country was an act of resistance to neoliberalism, mass incarceration, militarism, and imperialism. Latinx workers from numerous cultures were all in. That’s the energy when we need again.
This year’s theme for Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month is United Communities—right on time to take on the culture wars over immigration, teaching US history as seen from marginalized communities, and more led by the Right. In this spirit, we recommend this handful of titles from our catalog, starting with Paul Ortiz’s.
“On May 1, 2006, International Workers’ Day, Latinx workers initiated the largest general strike in the history of the Americas. Known as el gran paro Estadounidense, the Great American Strike, this mass action breathed new life into a labor movement that had been in disarray for decades. The general strike impacted every aspect of American life. Approximately 70 to 90 percent of students in Chicago skipped school to show the country what “a day without immigrants” looked like. . . . The strike lent momentum to the immigration rights movement and helped to birth a new effort to pass national legislation for a living wage.”
We spin, then come down in a spiral,
a high flying twirl, a spiral, a straight line.
If done justly, the flow lifts both wings,
understanding, of course, that at least half the time
we’ll each find a higher velocity
and then a subtracting tip speed.
Giramos, luego descendemos en espiral,
une giro elevade, une hélice, línea recte.
Si se hace correctamente, le flujo levanta ambes alas,
entendiendo, por supuesto, que a le menos le mitad de le tiempo
cada une conseguirá une velocidad más alte
y luego une velocidad de punta reste.
—Achy Obejas, from “Boomerang”/de “Bumerán”
“Our national language is Spanish and there are many kinds. Mostly it is the firecracker Spanish of my Cuban father and his friends. It smacks the air and the back of my head and the inside of my ears. There is also the Spanish of the Puertorriqueño Tía Rosa has married. His words mimic popcorn when it first begins popping. Finally, there is Colombian Spanish. My mother’s language does not crack or bounce. It stays close to the earth, to thick hands and the smooth sides of stones. English has a place here. It is the language of minorities, and you hear it every now and then, mostly from Mighty Mouse on television or the older kids on the block.”
You named me big river, drew me—blue,
thick to divide, to say: spic and Yankee,
to say: wetback and gringo. You split me
in two—half of me us, the rest them. But
I wasn’t meant to drown children, hear
mothers’ cries, never meant to be your
geography: a line, a border, or murderer.
I was meant for all things to meet:
the mirrored clouds and sun’s tingle,
birdsongs and the quiet moon, the wind
and its dust, the rush of mountain rain—
and us. Blood that runs in you is water
flowing in me, both life, the truth we
know we know as one in one another.
—Richard Blanco, from “Complaint of El Río Grande”
“Veterans of the pro-immigrant movement, who are mostly of Mexican and Central American origin, would be wise to follow the example set by the Dreamers, who have learned how to forge alliances with other sectors of society, sharing information and creating joint strategies. As a result, over 70 percent of US citizens now support some form of legalization for these young people. Formulating strategies to educate and enlighten communities who have not traditionally fought for immigrants’ rights, but who have the ability to lobby and exert political influence, could be a good start.”
Nothing in my life was crooked or broken.
Or potholed. Not haggard or tired. Not poor
And unfortunate. Nor merely lucky. No one’s
Father returned from work with callused palms
Every evening. No one got to where they were
In life with the help of a new-to-the-area teacher,
Who stopped at nothing until our dreams came
To fruition. Please. Our parents paid for those
University tours. On weekends, we went out
Like families do. The zoo, science museums.
—Michael Torres, from “Stop Looking at My Last Name Like That”
“The racial bribe is not limited to instances in which Latinos consciously reject identifying with Blackness, but instead more broadly encompasses the overarching Latino exaltation of Whiteness. Yet, efforts to raise the concern in public discourse regarding the Latino proclivity for esteeming Whiteness to the detriment of Afro-descendants is frequently met with heated Latino outrage and denial. When articles were posted to the social media news outlets Huffington Post and Latino Rebels regarding the topic of White Latino privilege, Latino commentators vociferously disclaimed the existence of Latino Whiteness and Latino White privilege.”
—Tanya Katerí Hernández
I sense the shipwreck, my human body
sloughed off, cast away, sunbleached
& bonewhite driftwood on a beach
where my children will gather around
the wreckage as it singes & cracks,
into the wind, ashes, everything I returned to,
clung to, there & there & there,
painting their faces, their empty hands,
—Alexandra Lytton Regalado, from “Elegy with Wisdom Teeth”
“To write vulnerably is to open a Pandora’s box. Who can say what will come flying out? When I began, nine years ago, to make my emotions part of my ethnography, I had no idea where this work would take me or whether it would be accepted within anthropology and the academy. I began with a sense of urgency, a desire to embed a diary of my life within the accounts of the lives of others that I was being required to produce as an anthropologist. As a student I was taught to maintain the same strict boundary Malinowski had kept between his ethnography and his autobiography. But I’d reached a point where these forms of knowing were no longer so easily separated.”
“There are forty-seven of us. I am one of three Mexican nationals. I open my white envelope. Inside is a small US flag made of thin vinyl. There are a few other papers inside that I don’t retrieve. Looking around, others have also pulled out their tiny flags, not knowing what we’re supposed to do with them. The Harmony Hawks begin “God Bless America” in the hammy barbershop style, which I can usually walk away from if ever confronted with it, but here I’m stuck. The singers smile between phrases, and when they’re done they look happily upon the crowd. But any happiness directed toward me, toward us, feels contingent on the fact that we’ve jumped through the correct hoops.”
“There are too few Latinxs in tech. And even among our small subset, most of us who’ve made it into good high-paying jobs tend to be White Latinxs, like me. I’ve been lucky in many ways. Most Latinxs in this country, especially those with African or Indigenous roots, live in a state of economic oppression, which was violently cultivated over centuries for the development of American industry. One of my frustrations with tech was, and remains, the tendency to decouple underrepresentation from a legacy of intentional economic oppression that persists today.”
—David Delmar Sentíes
Tonal came to me last night
in fragments of a dream:
our life together once—
me in the garden planting chili peppers,
him cutting and nailing boards for the herbs,
Joaquin jumping on the trampoline—
illuminated red hot in my dream
like jagged asteroids
that flew through space
in my sleep,
that nourish my heart
for the journey.
—Jimmy Santiago Baca
About the Author
Christian Coleman is the digital marketing manager at Beacon Press and editor of Beacon Broadside. Before joining Beacon, he worked in writing, copy editing, and marketing positions at Sustainable Silicon Valley and Trikone. He graduated from Boston College and the Clarion Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers’ Workshop. Follow him on Twitter at @.