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Archive for the month “March, 2012”

The “Browning of America”: Will Latinos Truly Influence the 2012 Elections?

Civil Rights Activist Dr. Stephan Balkaran

Dr. Stephan Balkaran, Professor of African-American Studies and Coordinator of the Civil Rights Project at Central Connecticut State University

The Browning of America: Will Latinos Truly Influence the 2012 Elections?
By Sylvia Mendoza

It is election year and even though the focus may be on presidential candidates, there is another major force to be reckoned with—the Latino presence in the United States. With more than 51 million Hispanics living in the country, the potential voting power can easily tilt the scales for any candidate.

Yet, instead of seeing the positive influence a huge Latino turnout at the polls can be, candidates are cautious when addressing the Hispanic community. Emphasis has shifted to the controversial issues of immigration reform, variations of the Dream Act and the swell of racial tension that affects American-born Latinos as well as undocumented immigrants.  Stereotypes of the Latino community have been perpetuated, inciting racism, racial profiling, hate crimes, discrimination and civil and human rights violations.

At the American Association of Hispanics In Higher Education (AAHHE) Conference held in Costa Mesa, California, in March, Dr. Stephan Balkaran, a professor of African-American Studies and coordinator of the Civil Rights Project at Central Connecticut University, presented the workshop: “Can the Hispanic Vote Change the Outcome of the 2012 Election? “No other immigrant group in the history of the United States has the opportunity to redefine America—politically, economically, and socially—like the Hispanic community today.” 

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are more than 51 million Hispanics living in the United States. Approximately 11 million are undocumented. In Georgia, Illinois, Idaho and New Jersey, the Hispanic population has grown by more than 180% since the 2000 census. Under the Hispanic “umbrella,” there are many ethnicities. Immigrants from Mexico are the highest population in the U.S. at 39%, followed by Puerto Rican, Cuban and Guatemalan.

U. S. Hispanic Population

U.S.Hispanic Population (by millions)
2010 U.S. Decennial Census

Balkaran has termed this presence as the “browning of America.” In mainstream white America, he said, the image of Latinos is mostly negative and that image has to change. “Whether you’re fourth generation or a recent immigrant, you are always marginalized by the color of your skin,” he said. “It isn’t about the economic strain of Latinos in this country or the language barrier. It’s that this country isn’t ready for brown.”

Latino Population Swings the Vote

PINK: California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York each have more than 1 million immigrants.
BLUE: In Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio and Virginia, the Latino population has doubled--or increased up to 180%--since the 2000 U.S. Census.

An immigrant from Trinidad, Balkaran arrived in the U.S. at age 18 and started working at the United Nations and World Bank internships. As he studied, however, he witnessed disturbing trends at the university level. “When I became a professor, I started to see how the institutions treated black and brown professors. They were passed over for promotions, research was undermined.”

The author of “The Photobiography of the Civil Rights Movement” and “Broken Dreams, Broken Promises, Disparities and Disappointments: Civil Rights in the 21st Century,” Balkaran was determined to teach about the effects of race and culture. “We have to overcome fears based on race and embrace social change and diversity.”  

That positive social change can occur if Latinos vote, said Balkaran. Voto Latino, a grassroots organization, has been building a movement to get Hispanics registered to vote and estimate that 12 million will do so this year. “The Hispanic vote cannot be taken for granted,” said Balkaran. “We’ll be the major vote in the next 20 years.”

Politicians have honed in on that vote, but seem reluctant to address hot topic buttons like immigration reform and the Dream Act.  “Immigration reform has become the Civil Rights movement of the 21st century,” said Balkaran.

Even so, only presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has put a plan on the table. “He says that if immigrants been here 20 years, have gone to church, have learned English and have no criminal acts, let them be citizens,” explained Balkaran. 

Obama, on the other hand, has lost the confidence of the Latino community because of his failure to address the issue, said Balkaran. “He’s fixed Wall Street and Main Street but not Brown or Black Streets. He broke up more families in his first term of presidency than two terms combined with President Bush. He has reneged on the greatest asset of this country. America’s greatest betrayal is on Hispanics.”

During President Obama’s term in office, the number of deportations has hit record highs, yet no immigration reform policy has been instituted. Since 2007 nearly 1 million immigrants have been deported. In 2011 alone, there were nearly 400,000 deportations to Mexico. The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is focusing on deporting those with a criminal record, but only 35% of those deported had committed serious crimes.

Deportations From 2001-2010. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). From

Immigration reform has been addressed in prior years, but currently affects mostly the Mexican population because the Wet-foot, Dry-Foot policy protects Cuban immigrants and other policies are in place for immigrants from Nicaragua, Guatemala, Columbia and Haiti. The Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 held employers accountable and they faced fines for employing undocumented workers. It also gave amnesty to those who had been in the country since before 1982. In 2001, President George W. Bush and Mexico’s President Vicente Fox had agreed on an immigration reform policy that both countries could live with, which included border security, drug trafficking control and legalization solutions for those already living in the U.S. Before it could be implemented, however, the terrorist attacks on September 11, brought discussions to a halt.

Despite President Obama’s failure to establish an immigration reform policy, which was a high priority in his last campaign, and current deportation statistics, a Fox News Latino poll showed that Hispanics are still more likely to vote for Obama again unless a Republican brings in a Latino on his/her ticket.

Another issue that can affect the way Latinos vote is the Dream Act. Variations of the Dream Act have been passed—or not—on a state by state basis. Tom Curry, national affairs writer for explained that the Dream Act offers a form of amnesty for “those entered the United States illegally before their 16th birthday to remain as legal U.S. residents, as long as they’d committed no serious crimes, earned a high school diploma, or served in the military.” According to, led by California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, AB 131 allows illegal immigrant students to apply for and be eligible to receive California grants, scholarships and financial aid to attend state colleges and universities. Even though citizens would be first to receive this aid, state tuitions are increasing by almost 12% and financial aid is being cut. However, the CalWatchdog site states that approximately $15-40 million has been earmarked for Dream Act recipients.

The answer is not in prosecuting innocent kids who want a college education, said Balkaran. “Those who say they are taking away opportunity from white kids is ridiculous. How many white Americans live off the government collecting welfare? Why are those numbers never brought to light? Every immigrant that went before us has gotten a piece of the pie, but when it comes to brown America, the rules change. The dream is for all of us.”

Latinos can definitely influence the elections this year, said Balkaran, and that American dream can become a reality if Latinos get involved in grassroots efforts not only to vote and voice their opinion, but to run for office at a local level, like school boards. Community engagement is crucial.  “We need to start breaking down barriers, elevate ourselves with education, and practice diversity,” said Balkaran. “Latinos have the power in numbers alone to effect social change.”


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Jury Finds Gunman Legally Sane at Time of School Shooting

O'Rourke Shot at Elementary School Children, Wounding Two

San Diego Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan reacts to March 16 verdict on insanity plea petition from convicted gunman, Brendan O'Rourke.

By Sylvia Mendoza

Vista, Calif—After two days of deliberation, a jury determined that Brendan O’Rourke, who opened fire on a San Diego county elementary school, wounding two girls, was legally sane at the time of the attack. After the verdict was returned Friday at San Diego Superior Court, North County Division, presiding Judge Aaron H. Katz directed O’Rourke to return on April 20 for sentencing, which could be up to 103 years.

Dozens of parents and school officials had crowded into the gallery at Department 24. Many broke into tears when the verdict was read. “They [jurors] did the right thing,” said Deputy District Attorney Summer Stephan. “They said, ‘you don’t get to do that to our kids.’”

O’Rourke, 41, was convicted on March 6 of seven counts of attempted murder with premeditation and deliberation, and seven counts of assault with a firearm. When he opened fire on children in the playground at Kelly Elementary School in Carlsbad during their lunch hour with a loaded .357 Magnum handgun in October 2010, he seriously wounded two girls, ages 6 and 7. In addition to his weapon, also in his possession were extra ammunition, a gas can and matches, according to Carlsbad police reports.

Once convicted, O’Rourke immediately petitioned for an insanity plea.

“The evidence pointed to a cold, calculated a well-planned crime,” said Stephan. “The defendant intended to take many lives.”

A licensed security guard, the gun was registered to O’Rourke even though he was working in a telecommunications company at the time of his attack on the school. Stephan explained that if O’Rourke had been found insane, he would have been turned over to a mental facility, but could petition to be restored to sanity within one year of incarceration. “It’s not common, but it does happen,” Stephan said. “That’s the potential consequence of an insanity plea.”

Stephan praised the community that had jumped into action to protect the children that October day—from staff members who covered children with their own bodies, to the construction workers who tackled, captured and held O’Rourke until police arrived.  “There was only one villain in the story,” Stephan said, “but there were many heroes.”

Yet, repercussions may be felt for a long time to come. “Some kids still don’t want to go out on the playground to play,” Stephan said. “The jury rendered a just verdict.”  


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Latino Scholars: Stepping Out of the Ivory Tower

Loui Olivas Interview

Dr. Loui Olivas of Arizona State University& AAHHE Founder

Dr. Loui Olivas, Arizona State Assistant VP for Academic Affairs, says AAHHE helps develop Latino/a faculty and administrators for leadership positions in higher education and serves as an advocacy group to help Hispanics complete graduate & doctoral programs.


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Latino Scholars: Stepping Out of the Ivory Tower to Lead
By Sylvia Mendoza  

Even with a master’s degree or twenty years experience in a dream career, it would be easy to feel like a slacker when sitting among the nearly 400 attendees at the annual American Association of Hispanics in Higher Education (AAHHE) Convention. Even though the gathering of scholars could be intimidating, it is mostly inspiring. At the opening reception, Rubén Martinez, author of Crossing Over, jokingly stated, “There are so many PhDs in here, we could make the Hilton Costa Mesa levitate without assistance of any substance.”

The 7th annual AAHHE convention was held in Costa Mesa, California, March 7-10. The 2012 theme, “Celebrating Our Similarities, Embracing Our Differences,” reflects AAHHE’s mission: to bring together Hispanic professors, deans, chancellors, presidents, and administrators of higher education institutions with students to celebrate research, dissertations and other accomplishments.

Embracing “differences” includes acknowledging the many ethnicities that fall under the “Hispanic” umbrella—Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Salvadoran, Ecuadorian, and many more. “Similarities include our desire for equal access to higher education, and how Latino scholars produce amazingly fine material once they get there,” explained Dr. Loui Olivas, a business professor at Arizona State University and one of the AAHHE founders.

Often times, however, it is a long journey. A Latino pursuing a PhD can be the only person of color in his or her university and can feel isolated. At the convention, however, students are not alone.

The convention showcases doctoral research in the annual dissertation competition. Topics run the gamut: microbiology, transborder studies,  food science, health, political science, social justice, business, medicine, communication and education—not just Chicano studies.

Dozens of workshops featured the latest findings in those areas. Keynote speakers Luis Ubiña, president of the Ford Foundation, and artist-activist Dr. Judith Baca of UCLA, revealed their personal struggles to rise to the top of their games. “My mother who was from Ecuador, bent her back over a sewing machine to get me to a better place,” said Ubiña. He ended up at Harvard. The Foundation, which offers approximately $500 million a year to various worldwide charities that effect social change, will also support AAHHE efforts, he said. Baca explained how her art is a reflection and celebration of the journeys of Latino families and their place in California history. Raised by women in East L.A., her grandmother was a powerful influence. “Women survive in a hostile environment and lead movements,” she said.   

For attendees whose roots gave them the gumption to seek the proverbial “American Dream,” the speakers’ messages struck a chord.  “Judith was the first AAHHE speaker to ever get a standing ovation,” said Olivas.

Indeed, the convention seemed like a celebration of all things Latino. Connections were made over café con leche. Attendees slipped from Spanish to English, or Spanglish. In between workshops, there was laughter and heated discussion, art displays and salsa music, kisses and hugs instead of handshakes—all from a robust culture-based energy. “It’s like my family, mi familia,” said Dr. Leticia Oseguera, assistant professor of Education Policy Studies at Penn State.

For many, family helped get the Latino scholars to the likes of Harvard and Stanford, Cornell and Georgetown, USC and UCLA. At the AAHHE convention their education continued. They witnessed generations of successful Latino administrators who have been there, done that. They survived and thrived and now make a difference in decision-making positions that reach far beyond the ivory tower of a higher education institution.

As the young Latino scholars step into those leadership positions over the next twenty years, engaging their communities will better impact social change, said Olivas. “When Latino scholars give back to the community, everyone benefits.”  


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The New News–at What Price?

I’m enrolled in a Digital Journalism Master’s program at National University and our first real class started this week. “The New News” is already amazing, intimidating and enlightening–especially to an old school journalist like myself.

As a freelancer I write mainly profiles and feature stories; in this class we are covering hard news stories this week. We are also examining how powerful blogging can be and how dangerous in the hands of extremists who practice freedom of speech without worry of ethical journalistic standards, guidelines or at the very least, the practice of responsible journalism. Professor Amster’s piece in the Huffington Post about conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart ( was enlightening, disheartening, shake-your-head unbelievable.

Breitbart’s untimely death will bring his followers and advocates out of the woodwork, and place him in more of the media spotlight he seemed to crave. His voice was heard loud and strong. Obviously sensationalism and controversy still sells the news, and “yellow journalism” now taints blogs written by those who think they are journalists with colorful commentary, no matter who they plow down in the process.  

Sometimes the news isn’t always pretty, even for someone who writes features and profiles. For this USC “print” journalism major (1982!), freelancer and a newbie to blogging, social media and digital journalism–I still hope to always embrace the code of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) that Dr. Amster mentioned in part in her piece:  

Seek the truth and report it.

Minimize harm.

Act Independently.

And last, be accountable.


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