23 November 2013

Thoughts on Being a White Privileged Hispanic

When I was growing up in a primarily Mexican American area of Los Angeles, I was told I looked and acted "white" by fellow Mexican Americans. In Mexico, I was called a güerita, which technically means "blonde," although my hair is a medium-brown color. After moving to Austin, living in a primarily "white" area, I would occasionally get asked about my racial or ethnic background – it was not always obvious, it seemed.

I was born and raised in the United States, but both of my parents – and at least 2-3 generations before them – were born and raised in Mexico as Mexicans. My first language was Spanish, and I can still speak, read, and write Spanish. So I began identifying as an American girl with Mexican heritage. It made the most sense that way.

There have been recent events in Austin where the local food / urban farm movement has been seen as one made up mainly by "white privileged people." Does that mean I am a white privileged person because I am part of this movement? The U.S. Census gives me the choice of White, Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, and Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander – with the option to choose Hispanic/Latino* as my origin.

*Hispanic refers to people whose origin is Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Spanish-speaking Central or South American countries, or other Hispanic/Latino, regardless of race. 

According to the U.S. census, I am a "white Hispanic." What if I didn't consider myself white? My parents and three of my four grandparents are all darker skinned than I am...but if you wanted to get very specific, they are actually "olive" skinned. I have relatives who are very "brown." My skin is more accurately "creamy natural" or "buff beige," according to the make-up industry. At least they seem to recognize it's not a black and white world.

I also recently stumbled across the novel "Caucasia" by Danzy Senna. I haven't read it, but I looked it up on Wikipedia, and the description says: "Caucasia" brings up the conflict between race as a phenotype versus race a performance. Race is more than skin deep and requires a certain life practices to accompany your race. For example, being white is more about having a great deal of success in life than the color of your skin.

Ah! Ok, so really, it's not so much about the color of my skin. It's more about socio-economic class. So how does one define success? What is privilege? My parents moved here from Mexico in their early 20s, without having finished college. After running a little taqueria in the rural outskirts of Aguascalientes, they decided that they needed to move to the United States to provide a better future for their children.

My mother did eventually go back to finish her college degree, while working full-time and raising us kids. My father worked as a service technician with Sears. We shared houses with relatives until I was in the 4th grade, when we moved into our very own 1000-square-foot house that was in need of some serious repairs in a working class neighborhood in a very industrialized suburb of Los Angeles.

I went to college, thanks to giant school loans that I will have to repay for the rest of my life. I am also now paying a mortgage on a cheaply-built 1100-square-foot home from the late 1970s in a working class neighborhood in a non-trendy part of town. But it's comfortable, and I feel safe in it. I recently acquired a new-ish used car that I share with my "white" husband (before that, we shared a 1983 mechanically-failing Mercedes Benz that I had been driving since 1998).

I always have enough healthy food to eat (mostly from the local farmers markets), but I don't have health insurance. I wear my clothes until they literally start to fall apart, and then I sew or patch up the holes. Most of my clothes are hand-me-downs and thrift store finds. I do work that I enjoy, but I do have to work 50-60 hours a week to make it happen.

I am able to save a little bit of money – for emergencies and very occasional frugal vacations – only because I do not indulge in buying material things, and we do all the home cleaning and maintenance ourselves. I actually hate shopping. We do enjoy going out to eat, but we have to limit how much we spend and how often we do it.

Do these things define success and privilege? I don't know. Maybe they do, maybe they don't, depending on who you ask. It's all relative anyway, isn't it?

I work as a grassroots activist with a nonprofit and am a freelance writer, and my husband is a freelance musician creating hard-to-sell music. We could both have chosen a corporate career path and could arguable be in a position where we'd be far more privileged and successful than we are now. But we didn't. We chose not to. I suppose that is a sort of privilege. We choose to live the way we do. Nobody forced us.

Given what society all around me is telling me, it's pretty hard to argue against the idea that I am a white, privileged Hispanic. But what happens if I want to reject that label and all that it implies? Another idea out there is that those people who are either privileged white people – or privileged / disconnected people of color – who don't acknowledge these labels and that they are part of a racist system are...well, I'm not sure what they are. What do you think? What does that make me? Maybe it makes me racist, too. Naive? Blind? Wrong?

Perhaps, what if...I am just human.

18 October 2013

Debunking the Urban Farm Myths

Small, independent, and/or family-owned farms – both in urban and rural areas – are the solution to the problems that giant agribusinesses like Monsanto have created. The agribusiness operations, while creating cheap food (enabled by government subsidies), cause numerous problems, including: pollution of our air and water, abuse of workers (especially undocumented immigrants and migrant workers), inhumane treatment of animals, growing numbers of foodborne illness outbreaks, and the unlabeled sale of genetically engineered foods.

In contrast, small farms raise food in an ethical and healthy manner. But the cost to the small farms is significant, and they have been slowly driven out by our government policies. Since 1935, we have lost 2/3 of the farmers in this country. (See: http://www.taxpayer.net/library/article/corporate-consolidation-in-agriculture-fact-sheet). Small farms are and should be appropriately regulated – but they also need to be supported so that we have healthy, safe food raised with respect for workers, the environment, and animals.

Below are a few of the myths that have been circulating regarding urban farms in East Austin, along with facts stating the truth. All facts have been researched and confirmed. If you have any questions, please leave a comment or message me at alexandra AT rootspr DOT com.

Myth #1: East Austin urban farmers pay their staff below minimum wage.
FACT: Federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 an hour. The four urban farms in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood pay workers between $9.50 and $18.00 an hour. (Note: This is one of the reasons that their prices are higher than grocery store prices – along with the fact that their farming is not subsidized by the government, which only subsidizes corporate agriculture/agribusiness, and the fact that small farmers are already subject to many costly regulations.)

Myth #2: East Austin urban farmers are taking away land from neighborhood citizens.
FACT: Boggy Creek and Springdale have been in East Austin for 21 years, Rain Lily opened 10 years ago, and HausBar bought their property 4 years ago. The four farms make up a combined 15 acres out of the East Austin area over a span of 21 years. The farmers live in the residences on each property as part of the community.

Myth #3: If we allowed the proposed urban farm ordinance to pass, we're going to see a whole bunch more urban farms taking over East Austin.
FACT: Farming is far from lucrative – for some it means operating at a loss – and it certainly isn't easy. Most farmers work from sun up through sun down, seven days a week, 365 days of the year…rain, shine, heat, or freeze. Because it’s not a well-paying line of work (without benefits or health insurance), most farmers need a second source of income in order to stay in business.

Myth #4: The proposed urban farm ordinance allows for the "decaying of body parts."
FACT: Any processing of animals would have to be done in accordance with the state health regulations, which do not allow for carcasses to be left around decaying. What HausBar was doing was a controlled composting process. Moreover, in order to address neighbors’ concerns, HausBar has already committed to using a commercial composting service from now on so that they can avoid any possibility of creating an odor nuisance for their neighbors.

Myth #5: HausBar Farms was processing animals illegally.
FACT: HausBar has been licensed by the Texas Department of State Health Services to process poultry and rabbit since 2010.

Myth #6: There is a "stench" from HausBar 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
FACT: HausBar was processing and composting for 2 years before anyone complained. After the complaint from their neighbor, multiple different City of Austin Departments visited and inspected the farm. “Without exception, these inspectors stated that they detected no unpleasant odors coming from the farm,” said Dorsey Barger, co-owner and resident of HausBar Farms.

Myth #7: The urban farm ordinance will allow urban farms to proceed without regulations.
FACT: Urban farms are already highly regulated – and they will continue to be regulated – by the following departments: City or Austin Code Compliance, Health and Human Services, Austin Water Utility, Watershed Protection, Planning and Development Land Use Review, and more. The new ordinance deals with zoning only, and it does not get rid of any other regulations.

Myth #8: Organic food grown/raised by urban farms is for trendy and elite people.
FACT: As long as we don't support our local food movement – which includes urban farms – organic and sustainably grown food will continue to be expensive. The government subsidizes industrially produced food – grown with chemicals – which pollutes our environment and hurts the people working on those farms and facilities. The more we can do to challenge the corporate food system, the more local food will become more available everywhere, and therefore less expensive. This change will not happen overnight, but if we don't do something to change it, it will stay that way.

About the blogger, Alexandra M. Landeros:
Alexandra grew up in the United States and Mexico and has lived in South Austin since 1998. Becoming unemployed in 2012, due to layoffs, she started freelancing, mainly working in the local food movement to help protect small, independent farmers. This aligned with the changes she had made in the way she ate and viewed food. After not having had health insurance since 2006 (and still not insured), and going through various health problems, she began eating primarily locally, seasonally, and sustainably grown food. Her health improved, and her journey continues. She has also worked with various Latino nonprofit organizations in Austin (Latino HealthCare Forum, Manantial de Salud, Serie Project, and Las Comadres para las Americas).

11 December 2012

Luis Alberto Urrea's Compadres: Excerpt from Las Comadres' book Count On Me

Luis Alberto Urrea, 2005 Pulitzer Prize finalist for nonfiction and member of the Latino Literature Hall of Fame, is a prolific and acclaimed writer who uses his dual-culture life experiences to explore greater themes of love, loss and triumph.
Luis Alberto Urrea
I first discovered Luis Alberto Urrea in 2006. Although I'd grown up as a Mexican American in a college-educated, average income family, in a very Mexican American working class neighborhood in the Los Angeles area, and I had friends in high school who identified as Chicanos and Chicanas and with La Raza, I had never considered myself a political person or interested in immigration rights until about my late 20s.

In March of 2006, I attended my first ever immigrant rights march in Austin, Texas. We started at the Capitol and walked all over downtown. I felt a sort of solidarity, and yet detachment, all at once, from everyone else marching in the group. We were of the same race, but from different circumstances. Although my parents had their own financial hardships trying to move here in the late 1970s, they were able to move here legally with green cards and became U.S. citizens when I was in elementary school.

Later that year, I attended a panel on U.S.-Mexico border and immigration issues at the Texas Book Festival - two of the authors on the panel were Diana Washington Valdez and Luis Alberto Urrea. I purchased Valdez' book, Cosecha de Mujeres, and two of Urrea's books, Across the Wire and The Devil's Highway.

Several years later, he gave a talk in Austin, which I also attended. The more I heard him speak, the more I was fascinated by the fact that he was another sort of fellow "undercover" Mexican. As he describes himself in the excerpt below, as a "big Irish-looking Spanish-speaking dude," I've often been curiously queried about my ethnic background.

Although I've never been classified as looking Irish, people have asked if I was Italian, Greek, Armenian, Jewish, Filipino, or Hawaiian. I am fairly light-skinned as far as Mexicans go, although I do have brown hair and brown eyes. I don't speak Spanish on a regular basis, I partake regularly in sustainable gardening and composting, and I listen to American country music of the 1930s. Even though both my parents are of Mexican descent, whereas Urrea was born to a Mexican father and American mother, I can relate to his "dual-culture" life.

Below is an excerpt from Luis Alberto Urrea's "Compadres" featured in the Las Comadres anthology Count On Me: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships:

I left again. I had a life to lead, I had books to write, I had my own mistakes and bad mojo to confront. But this time I left her with her first bank account. The bankers didn’t want her to enter when we went downtown—she wore her best shiny gold lame slippers. They stopped us at the door, this odd couple: the tiny Indian woman (Tarascan) and the big Irish-looking Spanish-speaking dude holding a baby. What must they have thought?

The bank manager, a nasty little bastard in a tight suit and bleached hair stopped us and said Negra could not enter. I could. But, really, what were we thinking bringing her type to the bank? I fanned out $1,200 in American twenties and said, “This is hers. Can she come in now?”

Oh, the bowing; oh, the manners.

I also had Western Union, that mainstay of the remittance money tide that floodedMexico. “La Western,” they called it. Negra would call me collect from a payphone near the little bodega in Juan Rulfo and tell me how much she needed.

When I returned, I returned because National Public Radio wanted me to find her. A producer followed me around with a mic and a recorder. It was, again, surreal. And this was the era when Negra made her impossible six hundred dollars for talking.

We were put up in the ritzy Camino Real. By any measure, a fancy hotel. Negra was too scared of the rich people to go alone, so she took her eldest daughter, Nayeli. They put on their best clothes, and we arrived at the hotel, and they balked at the escalator. They had not ridden escalators.

As we rose, and the great marble walls and the overhead lights revealed themselves, Negra turned to me and said, “I don’t belong here, compadre.”

“Why not?”

“We are poor.”

I said, “The only difference between you and these cabrones is that they have money.”

We entered the vast lobby, and there, to Negra and Nayeli’s shock, sat several Mexican telenovela actors. One guy with silver hair was reading a magazine, and they gasped, “Es Don ____!”

“Go say hello,” I suggested.

“We can’t!”

“Go on. He’ll love it.”

“Ay, Luis!”

...We entered their room and two things happened immediately: Negra went to the beds and felt the mattresses while Nayeli went right to the bathroom and turned on the water in the bathtub to see it spill out. The next thing that happened was Nayeli, falling on the bed, and asking, “Luis, how do we get MTV?”

They were hungry. I showed them the room service menu. It had pictures of the food.

“But we have no money.”

“Your hosts will pay.”

Nayeli found pizzas. She called them “piksas.” I showed her the number to call and went next door to my room. A few minutes later, my phone rang—it was Nayeli.

“What number do I dial to order ice cream?” she asked.

01 November 2012

Adelante Movement Inspires Women to Make Their Own Way

Last week, I had the great opportunity to attend the 2nd Annual National Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) Conference in Houston, Texas. I went to the conference last year in Chicago, and one of the things that really struck me about the conference was that it wasn't all business. I laughed a lot, acted silly, and made new friends.

On the second day of the conference, the lunch keynote speaker was Nely Galán, first generation immigrant and self-made media mogul, and the first Latina president of a U.S. television network (Telemundo). She is also the founder of The Adelante Movement (presented by the Coca Cola Company)

"[We should] work because we want to and not because we have to," said Galán. "That is my dream of for you, my Hermanas Latinas: that you gain the economic freedom to make choices for yourselves and for your children."

The lunch was followed by an afternoon presentation by Galán, along with author Sandra Cisneros and founder of the "Count Me In" nonprofit, Nell Merlino. I wasn't able to attend the forum, but following the #latism12 and #adelante Twitter feeds, it was clear that the experience moved, inspired, and motivated many of my fellow Latinos -- and Latinos. (Thank you on behalf of all of them who were there!)

I had to make a choice that afternoon, whether to attend the forum, or to dive deeper into my own mission of promoting healthy lifestyles to the Latino community. About three years ago, I started eating organic meat and vegetables. I started eating more vegetables than meat, and cutting out processed and packaged food. I started to buy locally. I started re-integrating physical activity into my daily routine.  I started becoming an activist in local food and agricultural policy.

Although I had always been very thin in my childhood and in my 20s, eating large quantities of whatever I felt like eating, and only exercising once in a while, it caught up with me in my early 30s. I gained weight and generally felt sluggish all the time. I had to make those changes in my life - not to prove anything to anyone - but for myself.

When I decided to change my eating and exercise habits, my life improved. I'm not talking about going on a diet or counting calories. I'm talking about truly looking at what I ate, where my food came from, and how I cooked it and ate it. I've discovered the absolute joy of eating seasonally and locally, and of fitting this into my ever developing sustainable lifestyle. (Eating food that doesn't come in a package is good for my body, and it's also good for the environment!)

I have not met many other Latinos who feel the way I do, since I started on this journey a few years ago. But I did meet one - Catarina Rivera - at the LATISM conference. I had seen her speak on panel called "Healthy Latinos" earlier that day. Catarina talked about the importance of focusing on both the individual and the environment in creating healthier lifestyles. She talked about food deserts! We were definitely on the same wavelength.

After lunch, we decided to go to the Nintendo room and play some Just Dance 4 on the Wii - we broke out a sweat, not minding we were wearing our business casual outfits and not gym clothes. We also brainstormed. We exchanged ideas. We schemed ways that we could create an online community where other Latinos could learn the things we've learned - to inspire them to make the changes and choices we've made in our own lives.

Although we weren't at the The Adelante Movement with the rest of the LATISM attendees, Nely, Sandra, and Nell -- please know that we were right next door, taking our own dreams forward. Thank you for sharing your dreams with us.
Alexandra Landeros and Catarina Rivera - Promoting Healthy Lifestyles!

11 July 2012

Reflections from LATISM 2011 in Chicago

Downtown Chicago
Aside from a turbulent landing on my return flight to Austin (during one of the very rare rainstorms we've had in Central Texas over the past year) the Latinos in Social Media (LATISM) conference in Chicago, from November 9-11, 2011, went beyond my expectations. Not only did I learn new things about social media, blogging, and marketing, and not only did I make great professional contacts, but I also made amazing new friends for life - por vida. I can't think of many conferences in the U.S. where you say goodbye with un abrazo fuerte.

Two Tejanas in the Snow
My flight into Chicago O'Hare on Wednesday was slightly delayed - in 1962, it was dubbed the “World’s Busiest Airport”. Currently, it is the nation's only dual-hub airport, and in 2011, it only lagged slightly behind as the world's 4th busiest airport (behind Atlanta, Beijing, and London). I hadn't pre-arranged transportation plans to get to the InterContinental Hotel downtown, on Michigan Avenue (also known as the Magnificent Mile). Fortunately, the airport thought of people like me, and within 10 minutes of grabbing my luggage from the baggage claim, I was on a $30 shuttle ride to downtown Chicago.

When I arrived, I checked in to get my key and went up to meet my roommate, Melanie Mendez-Gonzales, from San Antonio. We had not met beforehand, but we'd connected via the #LATISM network on Twitter. She was hoping to find a roommate, and I was looking for one. Coincidentally, we were one of the very few attendees from Texas - let alone Central Texas. Shortly after meeting, we bundled up and headed to the Navy Pier for registration and the opening ceremony.

Smith Museum of Stained Glass
The LATISM website had stated that the hotel was "located at walking distance from the Chicago Navy Pier [approximately 5 minutes]." They didn't mention that it was 5 minutes JUST to the land-side entrance of the pier. It was about another 20 minutes to walk down to the very end of the pier, at the water's edge. But it gave us a chance to chat more, check out the fun souvenir stands, and even walk through the magical Smith Museum of Stained Glass!


The next day, at breakfast, we heard from Ana Roca Castro (LATISM Founder and Chair), who led one of the cyber-sustainable projects in Montecristi, a small city on the border of Haiti on the Dominican Republic island. Through donations and volunteers, they set up social media programs for local artisans, hospitality and businesses. One of the artisans from Montecristi was present at the conference with a table displaying their handmade bracelets, and I was delighted that our LATISM goodie bag contained one! My bracelet turned out to be red coral (my favorite color!) with little seashell shards.


That evening's keynote speaker was Dolores Huerta, who co-launched the National Farm Workers Association in 1962 with the legendary César Chávez. Dolores was not only instrumental in gaining farm workers' rights, but also in advocating for women's liberation and youth education and well-being. She strongly believed that everyone - particularly the working poor - should have access to basic good health, a clean environment, education, and information on how their government and financial institutions operate. At the end of her speech, she had the entire LATISM conference vivaciously chanting "Si se puede! Si se puede!"

A glass of wine with the legendary Dolores Huerta
After the banquet, Melanie and I, along with our LATISM friends Juan Alanis (aka Juan of Words) and Alicia from Los Angeles, headed back to the hotel, absolutely exhausted from a full day of panels, workshops, networking, and meeting new people. As we were headed toward the elevators, Melanie suggested we stop into the hotel bar for a drink. "Sure, why not," I said. "I'm in Chicago - I should take advantage of every moment! I'll sleep when I'm dead."

As we walked into the bar, we ran into Elianne Ramos (Vice-Chair of Communications and PR for LATISM) who was with none other than Dolores Huerta! They were also accompanied by Sylvia Aguilera (LATISM Board Member) and Hernán Guaracao (Founder & CEO of Al Día News). They suggested a wine bar that was hidden behind the regular bar, which sounded much more lovely. Before we knew it, we were seated at a rustic wood table with Dolores Huerta. This was truly unexpected - an evening I will never forget.

Dolores told us about many of her adventures, but there are a few that stood out. Before she partnered to work with César Chávez, she literally had to chase him around, until he was finally able to see her incredible talent for leadership - as well as persistence. Originally, César had come up with the idea of boycotting potatoes. Dolores rightfully pointed out that would have been appropriate in Idaho, but not so much in California. She suggested boycotting grapes, which is what César Chávez is most known for (¡UVAS NO!).

She and César, along with those working closely with them, took a vow of poverty. They were constantly fighting society's propensity for materialism. This resonated highly with me, as I'm currently doing everything in my life to simplify and be more resourceful, as well as supporting local agriculture and economy. She suggested that we read "Confessions of an Economic Hit Man" by John Perkins, a controversial book describing the evils of globalization. When Dolores mentioned that she attended the Burning Man festival in the Nevada desert last year, I was half surprised, half not. At 81 years old, she has more energy and youth than most adults in their 20s. Needless to say, she is now one of my heroes. (Black and white photo of César Chávez & Dolores Huerta by Jon Lewis.)

Read Melanie's take on the evening, and for a different spin, read Juan's!


There really was so much more - I'd have to write a short novel about it all. We heard a motivational talk by Ramon De Leon, who started out as a pizza delivery driver and eventually became the Marketing Mind of a six-store Domino's Pizza franchise in Chicago. He urged us to "Show up early and show up often." We also heard Mary Anne Müller, founder of Fundación Chile, a school offering high qual­ity and cost-free edu­ca­tion for socially vulnerable young­sters and adults. Their edu­ca­tional model is based on the search for a cul­ture of peace and sus­tain­able coex­is­tence, including an Agro-Ecological vision, which con­sid­ers agri­cul­tural activ­ity in a holis­tic way.

One thing I have not been hearing or seeing enough in the general Latino/Hispanic community is talk about living sustainably and adopting environmentally friendly practices. Seeing how much Dolores Huerta and Mary Anne Müller inspired others at LATISM, I am hoping that some of us can band together to create a "green" tribe, to join the various other tribes (couponing, education, PR & marketing, etc.). I was inspired to finally launch my new blog, Ecoloxica: A Mexican American Ecological Chica.

I do want to give a special shout-out to the couponing tribe: Mirna Arce of Ahorros Con Cupones, Yoly Mason of Cuponeando, Myrah Duque of Coupon Mamacita, Denisse Icaza of Ahorros Para Mama, and Sisy McDowell of Mama Latina en Philly - thanks to all of you for sharing your insight and experience on the world of savings in the Latino community.

Tony Melendez - Singer and Guitarist
And last but not least, a bow of admiration to musician Tony Melendez, born without arms, but nevertheless has made tremendous achievement as a world-performing singer and guitarist. If you ever feel you can't do something because you're missing something, or because it's too difficult, picture Tony plucking at the guitar with his nimble toes.

And to any of you whom I have not mentioned by name - please know that if we chatted, even if only for a few minutes, you've touched me in some way, and I hope we meet up again.

Saludos to all...and ¡WEPA! Long live #LATISM. See you all this October in Houston!