How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Immigrant soldiers: Record number naturalized in past year, most since 1955

Photo by U.S. Army Korea-IMCOM/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A military naturalization ceremony held at a U.S. Army base in South Korea, December 2008

In time for Veterans Day, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced yesterday that a record number of U.S. military personnel became citizens in fiscal year 2010, which ended Sept. 30. It is the largest number of foreign-born soldiers naturalized in 55 years. From the press release:

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) today announced that in fiscal year 2010 it granted citizenship to 11,146 members of the U.S. armed forces at ceremonies in the United States and 22 countries abroad. This figure represents the highest number of service members naturalized in any year since 1955.

This number is a 6 percent increase from the 10,505 naturalizations in fiscal year 2009 and a significant increase from the 7,865 naturalizations in fiscal year 2008. Since September 2001, USCIS has naturalized nearly 65,000 service men and women, including those serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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In the news this morning: A TN legislator's 'rats' comment, honoring immigrant veterans, DREAM Act revisited, more

Tennessee GOP Lawmaker Warns Undocumented Immigrants Will ‘Multiply’ Like ‘Rats' - Think Progress Video shows legislator comparing immigrants to rodents while discussing prenatal care.

Let's honor immigrant veterans - Other Views - Miami Herald One veteran's take: "We owe them our thanks, just as we owe all vets our thanks."

Angst growing over immigration policies - Miami Herald While the DREAM Act remains a possibility, some fear a coming enforcement-only crackdown.

Human smuggling ring busted in Arizona - UPI Authorities say they have broken up a smuggling ring responsible for illegally transporting thousands of people into the country.

Bush blames both parties for immigration inaction - Houston Chronicle In an autobiography, the former president points to a combination of isolationism, protectionism and nativism as part of the problem.

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Two Cuban bakeries = more papas rellenas for Downey. What's not to love?

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

The grand-opening line at at the new Porto's in Downey, November 9, 2010

In most of L.A. county's Latino suburbs, the news of a bakery opening isn’t usually anything to get excited about, let alone anything that makes the gossip circuit. Not the case in Downey, though, home to a cafecito-drinking, pastelito-loving community of Cuban immigrants and their descendants, my family included.

And, until now, a one-Cuban-bakery town.

For those not familiar with Cuban eating habits, here is why bakeries matter: We love the starch. Doughy bread embedded with chicharrones, flaky ground-meat pastelitos and guava-and-cream cheese pastries (the latter once nicknamed “Marielitos” after participants of the 1980 Mariel boatlift, for reasons I can't explain), deep-fried starchy things like papas rellenas (mashed potato balls stuffed with meat, which taste far better than they sound). Bakeries also sell coffee, which we drink lots of. Bakeries are sacred.

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A haunting tribute to 'Los 72'

A screen shot from the website, 72migrantes.com. Photo by Lenin Nolly Araujo

Via a post on Facebook the other day, I came across this moving tribute and "virtual altar" dedicated to the 72 U.S.-bound migrants who were massacred last August in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, just a stone's throw from the Texas border.

The Central and South American victims had endured a long, arduous and dangerous trek to come so close to their destination. They were kidnapped, and ultimately killed, by drug cartel soldiers.

The website is in Spanish, with essays contributed by numerous writers in honor of each victim, including the unidentified. The photos and music are haunting enough to transcend language.

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Michele Norris's 'The Grace of Silence:' the conundrum of racism and what isn't said

Tomorrow I'll be interviewing Michele Norris, co-host of NPR's All Things Considered, about her recently published memoir, The Grace of Silence. It's a powerful book that began as an exploration of race and the unspoken conversations surrounding it in the United States. It turned, instead, into a deeply intimate account of all that was left unsaid about race, including painful secrets, within her own family.

The book raises some uncomfortable questions, one of which arises in a passage, below, in which Norris describes leading her ill father through an airport en route home from an out-of-town hospital, and the reaction of two white women (in satin jackets, hence "satin dolls") to her black father's slurred speech:

When my dad tried to lean toward me to ask a question, his words sputtered forth like bricks tumbling from a shelf. The satin dolls found it hard to mind their own business. They stared and pointed every time Dad attempted to speak. They didn't try to hide their disparagement, one of them harrumphing loud enough for anyone to hear, "Goodness sakes, it's not even noon yet!"

After spending a lifetime trying to be a model minority - one of the few black men in his neighborhood, at his workplace, or on his daughters' school committees - my father now sat facing the condemnation of two blond scolds. They had apparently concluded that he was an early morning lush instead of a gray-haired man fighting a losing battle with a devastating disease.

Here is the conundrum of racism. You know it's there, but you can't prove it, beyond a reasonable doubt, how it colors a particular situation. Those pink satin ladies were strangers to me, so I have no idea if they would have been as quick to judge a gray-haired white man with impaired speech. However, I do know this: the fact that they were white women added mightily to my father's humiliation.

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