Unfounded Loyalty President Obama and the Hispanic Community

The tenure of the nation’s first African-American president has been met with a wide variety of critiques and praises from the diverse ethnic groups that call America home. Presidential success is often gauged by the ability to compromise and enhance the status quo of the ethnic groups that make up our great nation in troubling and difficult times.

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US-Cuba Relations Why it matters to all of us, by Stephen Balkaran

The recent death of Fidel Castro, Cuba’s long-serving dictator, has been met with great optimism and skepticism as diplomatic relations continue to unfold. His legacy that spanned some 6o years and 11 American presidents now remains in the history books. Arguably one of the most important political figure to emerge in Latin America, his ideas of socialism and one-party Communist rule became the core of his regime and the obstacle of many American presidents and their policies. How we approach the new Cuba minus the leadership of Fidel remains to be seen, but like many of our foreign policies, it must be done in a humane and philosophical way that represents the true America. 

Havana Cuba, the hispanic outlook in higher education magazine

The evolving diplomatic relationship between the United States and Cuba not only has the potential to redefine America’s socio-economic, cultural and political landscape, but it also greatly affects our Latin American patriots.  As America addresses issues including the erasure of trade embargoes, the lifting of travel restrictions and the improvement of relations with the Caribbean island and the rest of Latin America, we must be conscious of the effects on society.  Despite positive diplomatic protocol, the implications of how these relationships will affect ever-evolving Cuba, Latin America, its impact on American political process and our society as a whole—remain pertinent and indicative of our foreign policy.

Prior to President John F. Kennedy’s administration, the United States’ shared a volatile relationship with Latin America.  Before Fidel Castro’s rise in Cuba, presidential administrations supported military dictators that promoted outright human rights abuses in many Latin American countries.  In fact, Vice President Richard Nixon once praised Cuba’s dictator Batista—a leader that denied much of Cuba’s population democracy, human rights and economic prosperity—as “Cuba’s Abraham Lincoln.” Our policies before, during and after Fidel Castro’s time leading Cuba helped define our Cold War foreign policy with Latin America and the rest of the world and also played an important role of defining who we are as Americans. As a result of America’s Cold War isolation policies, much of Latin America, especially those nations that sided with the Cuba’s socialist philosophy, remained alienated from the United States and its economic opportunities. 

President John F. Kennedy’s foreign policy with Latin America, often termed the “Alliance for Progress,” aimed at promoting economic needs, human rights and democracy in Latin America.  President Kennedy himself referred to this policy as “Latin America’s Marshall Plan.” Kennedy’s plan resulted in economic backlash, though.  Cuba, along with many Latin American countries that sided with Castro’s anti-American imperialism policies, found themselves politically, economically and culturally isolated from the famed fallout that took place in 1961. Relations further deteriorated with Cuba and Latin America after Kennedy’s failed policies in the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. These political events not only undermined the trust of Kennedy’s administration in Cuba and Latin America, but they also catalyzed the new anti-American imperialism philosophy that many Latin American countries embraced.  The United States’ political and military involvement in Cuba and several Latin American countries has been met with hatred, distrust and vengeance.  These feelings were further exacerbated during the 1980’s when America’s foreign policy in Cuba and Latin American involved overthrowing democratically elected governments. Not only did the United States install military dictatorship puppets in countries like Guatemala, Brazil and Chile, but we also supported civil wars in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Dominican Republic, Grenada and other Latin American nations.  Such policies strained U.S.-Latin American relations, and animosity continued to escalate as multiple United States presidents could not deal with Fidel Castro’s Cuba in a rational and sensitive way.  

Fast forward 60 years to 2017, and new U.S.-Cuba relations not only mean ease of trade and travel, but also that the United States can improve its much needed relationships with Latin American compatriots.  Cuba is now the gateway for America’s foreign policy in Latin America, and this new relationship dictates how we promote democracy, human rights and freedom to our compatriots south of the border. 

Our foreign policy with Cuba and Latin America must be enacted in a cautions, sensitive way as we seek to embrace a philosophical ideology as a world super power. This new relationship will allow us to reinforce the famed Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and secure an ally that for decades did not support or endorse our philosophy of democracy.

What do the new U.S.-Cuba relations mean for many of us who live in this great country? Well, this new relationship is beyond removing much of the failed trade embargo policies that formerly defined our relationship with the Caribbean nation and much of Latin America. The 21st century has brought immense changes in America, none more important than the “Browning of America” and the continuous reshaping of America through Latin American immigration. In fact, according to the Census Bureau almost one out of every five people in the United States in 2015 straddled the ethnicity of Latin/Hispanic.  The Bureau also concluded that the majority of Hispanics in the United States are native born and that of the 55 million people in 2014 who identified themselves as of Hispanic or Latino origin 35 percent are immigrants from Latin America. Thus, what does that entail for a nation that will slowly but surely be Hispanicized in the next 30 years?

Many of us fail to understand that America has always been Latin.  Mainstream America fails to realize that Latin Americans play a crucial role in America’s political development—in every avenue of American life since the inception of our great country.  Often lost in textbooks is the importance of Spain’s, Cuba’s, Mexico’s and Puerto Rico’s military troops, all who fought valiantly against British troops in the American Revolutionary War of 1776.  Latin Americans not only helped define our early political history, but they also played key roles in our country’s socio-economic, political and cultural development. Hence, debates now surround the question: what would America be like without the Latin American presence and influence? Would our country’s history be different?

Our foreign relations are dilapidated with the rest of the world.  The new U.S.-Cuba relations, though, allow us to solidify ourselves as a world supreme power, something that has been lost in recent decades.  Our current status as a geo-political power will only increase as improved trade relations help ease much of our tainted history and distrust with Cuba and Latin America.  As China and Russia scramble for world dominance and our presence in Latin America remains in an infantile stage, securing our world hegemony becomes imperative.  Our foreign policy with Cuba and Latin America must be enacted in a cautions, sensitive way as we seek to embrace a philosophical ideology as a world super power. This new relationship will allow us to reinforce the famed Monroe Doctrine of 1823 and secure an ally that for decades did not support or endorse our philosophy of democracy. 

Beyond the importance of American foreign policy, U.S.-Cuba relations will enhance domestic relationships with Latinos that have been neglected throughout much of our nations’ history.  President Obama’s shifting foreign policy with Cuba has more implications on America’s future than the mere importation of famed Cuban cigars and rum as our country becomes a new cosmopolitan-ethnic society—a society where Latin Americans are the new political, social-economic and cultural power house.  These new relations enable us to have a more comprehensive understanding of the new Americans, their culture, heritage, political clout and the continued importance they will play in redefining the new 21st century America. Yet this policy must ultimately define and embrace much of the Latin American culture that has already left their imprints on America and its culture. This new relationship between the U.S. and Cuba and Latin America enables us to understand the rich, vibrant culture that will ultimately define America.  Currently, our political debacle focuses on debates on immigration and the reshaping of the new America.  The current influx of Latin American immigrants has left us to grapple with the notion of being an immigrant nation.  This debate has left the country divided about the best of what we are: a nation of immigrants.  As our current flow of immigrants is overwhelmingly Latin American, not only will the new U.S.-Cuba relations allow us to secure our borders, it will, at the same time, allows us to address the current immigration debate in a more humane and sensitive way.  Immigration reform has more implications for America’s future than any of us can foresee—not only socially, culturally and economically, for the Latin political presence is already re-shaping and defining a new America. The new relationship will allow us to have a more comprehensive knowledge of our immigration policies and the importance they present.  Enhancing our rich, diverse culture with what Latin Americans bring to our country is the true American ideology of a melting pot.

The idea of democracy, which has been negated in many Latin Americans countries due to our Cold War policies, will receive a much needed jolt in many nations as they express their desire to control their own destiny without American influence. The new U.S.-Cuba relations will also enhance new economic opportunities, allowing us to cultivate a sleeping giant that has awoken.  This relationship will redefine the American economic landscape in ways that no other immigrant group may have to power to do.  The U.S.-Cuba gateway means a much improved relationship with Latin America’s economic powerhouse, Brazil. Not only does Brazil represent the new Latin America, its economic opportunities were often alienated from America. Capturing this economic pie now rests solely upon correcting past estranged relationships and ensuring Brazil’s biggest economic ally, Cuba, is bestowed the dignity and respect they deserve. 

In spite of the unquestioned greatness of new U.S.-Cuba relations, America has more to gain than meets the average eye.  It would be impossible to conceive what America, Cuba and Latin America would be without our mutual friendship.  What would our nation be without their cultural, historical and economic contributions?  This new relationship is beyond the importation of the famed Cuban cigars and rum; the relations will ultimately build more bridges than walls, define our domestic and foreign policies with our compatriots, and enable us to understand the new ethnic America. 

 

Stephen Balkaran is currently an Instructor of Philosophy at Central Connecticut State University. 

 

THE HISPANIC STRUGGLE and the Foundation of America’s Civil Rights Movement

Written by
Stephen Balkaran

Civil rights remain the pinnacle of debates, protecting rights for all Americans, regardless of color, ethnicity, race, gender, age or sexual orientation. Defending these rights against discrimination have long been an important issue for all Americans.

Civil rights have been the beacon of our constitutional history, how we treat and respect others has been the cornerstone of American democracy, yet despite this constitutional and moral obligation, modern day anti-Hispanic rhetoric continue to define who we are and what we stand for as a nation that preaches democracy. The current political fiasco has left us as a country scrambling to address new civil rights issues and, at the same time, re-discover the Hispanic presence in America and its shaping of our history. Very few Americans understand, acknowledge and respect the contributions of one of America’s greatest ethnic groups – Hispanics. Never in our history has an ethnic group redefined America as Hispanics have done and continue to do. Yet despite this astonishing contribution to American culture, Americans are often confused as to who Hispanics really are and what they represent in America. 
The Hispanic presence in America dates back prior to the founding of this great nation. Hispanic culture can be traced in the United States for over 500 years when California, Mexican states, Florida and the great Southwestern states were discovered by Spanish explorers. Many of us are unaware that Hispanic culture had firm roots in St. Augustine, Florida, and in what is now New Mexico before the English arrived at Jamestown in 1607 or before the Pilgrims dropped anchor in Massachusetts Bay in 1621. Hispanic culture and its political ideas flourished well before the Founding Fathers envisioned the idea of securing their independence from Great Britain in 1776. The present day “Browning of America” and the continuous reshaping of America’s social, cultural and economic influence have defined, and will continue to shape, our country’s new civil, socio-economic, political and cultural history. 
Civil rights remain the pinnacle of debates, protecting rights for all Americans, regardless of color, ethnicity, race, gender, age or sexual orientation. Defending these rights against discrimination have long been an important issue for all Americans. These rights have been tested throughout our history; without the Hispanic presence, American democracy would remain very volatile and challenging. Very few understand the profound impact of the Mexican-American War and civil rights. From its earliest beginnings, the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which ended the Mexican-American War in 1848, created a new American empire that became the foundation of a civil rights movement that demanded that the new Americans be treated with respect. The promise of that accord was to treat former colonial Mexican settlers who chose to remain in the territory as U.S. citizens with full civil rights at a time when the majority of African-Americans were in the shackles of slavery. That test of citizenship for Mexican-Americans in 1848 became the hallmark for many of America’s promises and the challenge for democracy for all.
 The Civil Rights Act of 1964, arguably one of the most important legislation in our country’s history, ensured that legal barriers be torn down. Theoretically, it would eliminate barriers of discrimination against all Americans in our society. Despite the importance of this legislation, very few understand the historical foundations of the modern-day civil rights movement and the Hispanic influence that later defined it. The struggle for modern-day civil rights, equality and guaranteed rights under the constitution of the United States would not have been possible without the dedication of Dr. Hector P. Garcia. His leadership on the civil rights movement in many Hispanic communities remains silent but of great importance. Garcia fought peacefully for the dismantling of segregation signs, racism and discrimination in many Mexican-American communities in the great southwestern states in the 1940s and 50s. His non-violence philosophy was an important tool in dismantling racism and segregation years before Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin L. King Jr. took up their cause for human rights, justice and dignity. Garcia’s ideology and commitment towards justice for all later became the cornerstone for the modern day African-American struggle for civil rights in the 1960s.
The landmark Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 brought an end to any laws that established racial school segregation by deeming those laws unconstitutional thus ending racial segregation in public schools. The court established that the state laws that had created separate public schools for African-Americans, Hispanics and white students were unconstitutional and would no longer be part of American society. Despite this historic ruling, very few understand the backbone of this landmark decision; history has failed to remind us of the importance of Mendez v. Westminster in 1947. In that case, the U.S. Courts of Appeals ruled that segregation of Mexican-American children from the public schools’ system in California was unconstitutional and violated the 14th Amendment; it paved the way for Justice Thurgood Marshall, Brown v. Board of Education, and the birth of the modern day civil rights movement in 1954. Without Mendez v. Westminster 1947, the U.S. Supreme Court would not have any precedent case to trump Plessy v. Ferguson, 1896, and the decision in Brown v. Board of Education may have been different. 
Long before assuming the title of president of the United States of America, Lyndon B. Johnson’s first experience with civil rights and segregation occurred in Cotulla, Texas. He knew first-hand as a teacher what Mexican-Americans experienced as second-class citizens, being poor and living in a society without justice. Without this experience, influence and background, President Johnson’s work to promote equality and first class citizenship for all Americans; the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the War on Poverty would have no moral meaning. Without his exposure to the Hispanic conditions, his compassion for civil rights may have never been ignited. Instead, his compassion was set on fire, and the destiny of a nation changed its directions, which would eventually lead to a new country, one full of hope and promises. 
History reminds us that Harriet Becher Stowe and Susan B. Anthony paved the way for women’s voting rights and civil rights in the 18th and 19th century. Yet, history has failed to remind us that Mexican-born Mrs. Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz in the 17th century defended and advocated women’s rights in a time when most women were still regulated to homemakers. She challenged the basic norm of women’s education and their rights both in her native Mexico and former southwest Mexican territories i.e. modern day California. Her vision still remains an important icon but often lost in women’s history. Without her vision, the women’s civil rights movement may have not started. 
Founded in 1909, the NAACP is often referred to as the nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization and has a reputation of unquestioned greatness and continuous work for equality and justice for all. Despite the NAACP’s legacy in our civil rights history, The Japanese-Mexican Labor Association founded in Oxnard, California, in 1903 became the foundation for labor and civil rights in the early 20th century. Years ahead of the formation of the Niagara Movement in 1905, the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association began paving the way for economic and social justice for many farm workers while at the same time demanding the right to be treated with respect and dignity that later became the cornerstone of the NAACP’s mission. Segregation of both Mexican and Japanese workers in the 1900s led the way to the first successful major strike against capitalists and white-ruled society.   
The emergence of the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association and the civil rights movement in 1903 included non-violent strikes, protests and demonstrations that became the cornerstone of a modern day movement of the 1960s. This movement was years ahead of the NAACP’s and A. Philip Randolph’s March on Washington movement in 1941. Additionally, this movement preceded the famous March on Washington in 1963, where, again, Randolph was a principal organizer for jobs and freedom. Without the Japanese-Mexican Labor Association stance in 1903, the modern day labor and civil rights movement may have not started. 
 The Voting Rights Act of 1965, arguably one of the most cherished and prized symbols of American democracy, guarantees the right of U.S. citizens to vote despite their color, nationality or ethnicity. Yet, lost in our history books is the Mexican-American voting rights movement, which can be traced back to the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The treaty declared that Mexicans who chose to remain in the newly acquired American territories were U.S. citizens, guaranteeing them life, liberty and property. Despite this constitutional right, newly acquired territories began adopting legislation that denied the early Mexicans-Americans the right to vote by employing the English proficiency literacy test and property requirements. In addition, these newly acquired territories used terrorism tactics including lynching and violence against Mexican-American who tried to exercise their newly acquired rights. The terrorists’ acts occurred years before Southern states began embracing Jim Crow’s laws against the newly freed slaves or African-Americans. The treaty fueled the debates about civil rights and equality for the new Americans, specifically addressing the right to vote, which later led to the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1868. The Fourteenth Amendment, which granted citizenship to all people born or naturalized in the United States, regardless of color or race, can be traced back to the early struggle of U.S. citizenship by Mexican-Americans, years before the great Civil War defined who we are as a nation that championed rights. 
The rise of social protest and the right to petition government peacefully has been the cornerstone of American democracy not only in times of crisis but throughout our constitutional history. Social protests during the 1960s civil rights movement, Vietnam War and modern day Black Lives Matter again have challenged this fundamental constitutional right. Yet many of us are unaware that the famed social “Chicano Moratorium” movement gave rise to many of the social protests we encounter today. Though different at times, the ideology of petitioning government remains intact. Centered in east Los Angeles, the moratorium was the largest anti-war movement by any ethnic group in America. The protests and demonstrations that took place in the late 1960s and 1970s became a revolutionary movement that demanded the right to be heard. It was one of the most significant civil rights movements by Mexican-Americans who continue to define who we are and what we stand for as a country with democratic ideal. Not only did the “Chicano Moratorium” raise the level of government accountability, the movement resonated certain abiding, tragic themes and raised the awareness of war as a civil rights issue. The themes of this movement are still causing great dialogue and debates in the current social atmosphere. Without this moratorium, government accountability and awareness of war as a civil rights issue may have not started. 
American history has often been told from another ethnic group perspective. In other words, had there been no Hispanics in our history; it would be impossible to conceive what America would have become without their cultural, historical and racial contributions – that make our nation and civil rights what it is today. • 

Stephen Balkaran, is an Instructor in the Department of Philosophy at Central Connecticut State University