How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

'The Fence,' a documentary, airs tonight

What promises to be an interesting documentary on the most recent construction forming part of the U.S.-Mexico border fence screens tonight on HBO at 8 p.m. Pacific. From the synopsis for "The Fence" provided by HBO:

In Oct. 2006, the U.S. government decided to build a 700-mile fence along its troubled 2000-mile-plus border with Mexico. Three years, 19 construction companies, 350 engineers, thousands of construction workers, tens of thousands of tons of metal and $3 billion later, was it all worth it?

The expense involved in building border fencing has been mind-boggling: One particular stretch of fence completed last year between San Diego and Tijuana, which required the filling in of a steep canyon with 1.5 million cubic yards of dirt, cost $48.6?million.

It was part of a $59?million contract to complete about 3½ miles of fence in the area altogether, authorized prior the Secure Fence Act (which covered the 700 miles).


Hispanic Heritage Month: A time to be marketed to, or something more?

Photo by Danbury Public Library/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A Hispanic Heritage Month poster outside a public library, September 2009

Now that it's officially Hispanic Heritage Month as of yesterday, it's time to explain just what HHM is and where it comes from, along with all the very mixed feelings that come with it.

It started in 1968 as Hispanic Heritage Week, a product of the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, and was later expanded in 1988 under the Reagan administration to a 30-day period starting Sept. 15 and Oct. 15. The starting date was chosen to correspond with the Sept. 15 date on which several Latin American countries celebrate their independence from Spanish colonization: El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras and Costa Rica. Other countries also celebrate their independence in September, including Mexico (Sept. 16) and Chile (Sept. 18).

The intention isn't a bad one: As the official government website puts it, "Each year, Americans observe National Hispanic Heritage celebrating the histories, cultures and contributions of American citizens whose ancestors came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America."


El Universal's top 10 'most Mexican' songs

On the occasion of Mexico's bicentennial, the national daily El Universal daily has posted a list of the top 10 "most Mexican" songs as selected by its readers, along with classic videos of these gems as performed by Jorge Negrete, Pedro Infante, Lola Beltrán, Lucha Villa and others. There are the standards ("Mexico Lindo y Querido") as well as at least one great drinking song ("El Rey" by the legendary José Alfredo Jiménez, one of my favorites).

How and why is a Cuban-American writer from L.A. into old Mexican music? As I mentioned in an earlier post today, Mexico is one of the great cultural hubs of Latin America, which means that as children in Cuba (another great cultural hub), my parents were growing up as much on Mexican cowboy films and rancheras as they were on mambo and son. I fell in love with the Mexican classics as a kid when I first heart a scratchy recording of "El Jinete," a quintessentially Mexican song by Jiménez, one of the nation's great all-time bards, about love and death as experienced by a grieving, wandering horseman.


The DREAM Act, through the back door

Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

A sign parodying the famous immigrant highway-crossing sign, outside a DREAM Act rally in Los Angeles last month

The less-known military component of the DREAM Act is proving to be its saving grace this week: Yesterday, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid announced that next week he will offer the legislation as an amendment to a Defense Department authorization bill, pushing the long-proposed immigration legislation toward a Senate vote.

Why add the DREAM Act to a defense bill? The Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, while it is primarily seen as providing a path to legalization to undocumented youths who attend college, also allows youths who join the military to qualify for legal status.

The proposed legislation is mentioned as the "DREAM initiative" in a U.S. Department of Defense strategic plan for 2010 through 2012. From the plan, in a section that addresses recruiting goals: