Politics

The Depiction of Disability in Almodóvar’s Live Flesh (Part One)

Part One: Franco Y Almodóvar

“According to Amnesty International, Spain has the highest numbers of mass graves in the world after Cambodia.” Guy Hedgecoe (Seguin 2019)

One cannot explore the films of Pedro Almodóvar without considering how his art was molded by Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. It is also necessary to explore Franco to understand contemporary views of disability as well as Almodóvar’s portrayals.

Coup and Dictatorship

During the 1920s there was significant labor unrest, which was exacerbated by the Great Depression in the 1930s, and these things polarized Spanish citizens. The February 1936 election brought the leftist Popular Front government to power. Extreme-right wing fascists responded in July of 1936 with a coup attempt that eventually fostered a civil war. One side had the conservative Nationalists, led by Franco, who were largely made up of devout Roman Catholics, military leaders, landowners, and businessmen; the other side, were the leftist Republicans, who were largely made up of urban workers, agricultural laborers, and the educated middle class. With the help of Hitler and Mussolini, Franco marched across Spain leaving a colossal trail of death, encouraging his army to brutally kill anyone who was leftist. Picasso’s famous painting, Guernica, notably captures the death and destruction on the Basque town of the painting’s namesake. After the civil war ended in 1939, Franco remained in power until he died in 1975. (Seguin 2019)

Franco’s reign was marked by sheer terror. The first two decades of Franco’s rule following the civil war saw continued repression and the killing of an unspecified number of political opponents that is estimated to be between 15,000 and 50,000 individuals. (Antonio 2010) Documents were discovered in 2010 showing that he ordered his provincial governors to compile a list of Jews while he negotiated an alliance with the Axis powers to later facilitate efforts to deport and destroy them. Other atrocities committed by his government included kidnapping the babies of leftist women (known as the lost children of Francoism) and having them raised by Catholic families and monasteries. (Reverte 2010)

Economic Policy and Disability

Franco’s economic policy of autarky, envisioned self-sufficiency through the state control of prices and industrial development within an insulated national economy severed from the international market. Labor, considered a fundamental factor for economic development, was given an important position Franco’s political agenda. Projecting a putative Catholic work ethic provided the means by which the regime could exercise its power. The Fuero del Trabajo (Jurisdiction of Labor), taking cues from FDR’s New Deal, operated in Spain as the fundamental legislation that the Franco regime was going use to address the “problem” of disability. (Del Cura 2021)

Industrialization in Spain was a noticeable phase in the historic development of addressing disability. Franco considered disability to be an obstacle to performance of work and had to be included in the general measures directed at regulating and controlling the performance of productivity. Evidence of this can be seen in the steps adopted regarding health and safety in the factories and the recovery of victims of accidents that had occurred at work. Regulations were largely aimed at preventing and addressing disability via workplace accidents. The regulations fostered occupational medicine which reinforced the idea of disability as being congruent with the medical model (The medical model of disability says people are disabled by their impairments or differences, while the social model says that disability is caused by the way society is ordered). It also fostered the idea that the human factor had an important responsibility in the making of accidents and encouraged an image of the victims as being guilty of their invalidity. (Martínez-Pérez 2017)

Interestingly, the most powerful contemporary disability organization in Spain dedicated to a physical disability was formed during the Franco dictatorship. The Organización Nacional de Ciegos Españoles (Spanish National Organization of the Blind), or ONCE, was formed after the Spanish Civil War as a way of supporting the wounded and those who became disabled because of the war. Over the years it has become an umbrella-organization for the needs and rights of the physically disabled. (Newtral 2019)

“Jefe del Estado” Franciso Franco

Post Franco Spain and Almodóvar

Spain transitioned to a democracy after Franco’s death in 1975 and the change from dictatorship to parliamentary democracy saw the adoption of a new constitution, reforms, and an influx of younger people into politics and trade unions. Not surprisingly, democracy proved to be a more tolerant for those who had had suffered marginalization and exclusion under the Catholic and machoistic Spanish society of Franco. Censorship was gone and there was a significant increase in the production of literary, musical, and cinematic works. During the 1980s, identities of gender and sexuality that were excluded by Franco, notably women and the LGBTQ community, were celebrated, in the films of Pedro Almodóvar. (Sotinel 2010)

When Almodóvar arrived in Madrid in 1967, Franco was still in power, and, of course, the repression was also cultural. Franco’s rancorous regime had been inimical to the avant-garde movie aesthetics of the 1960’s. However, by the time Almodóvar showed up in Madrid, Franco was in his mid-seventies, and the stranglehold on artistic expression was loosening in the major cities and universities. (Sotinel 2010)

Almodóvar began directing feature films in the late 1970s. He was part of La Movida, a post-Franco counterculture movement, and we can see this time reflected in early films such as Pepi, Luci, Bom y otras chicas del montón (Pepi, Luci, Bom and Other Average Girls); Laberinto de pasiones (Labyrinth of Passion); and ¿Qué he hecho yo para merecer esto! (What Have I Done to Deserve this?) His early films were transgressive, not unlike John Waters’ early work, and featured transgender people, bondage, rape, and a lot of drug use and sex. They often blurred the lines between funny and repulsive as well as high and low art. As Almodóvar’s career continued to progress, his films continued to blur the lines between comedy and drama as well as LGBTQ and straight. In 1985, Almodóvar and his younger brother set up their production company, El Deseo (The Desire). Almodóvar’s films are produced on very humble budgets and creating his own production company allowed him the freedom to shoot scripts chronologically, which is not a common practice. Almodóvar feels that a chronological approach produces more convincing performances. (Duncan 2017) The first film he produced via El Deseo was Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown) which was nominated for the 1988 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Almodóvar would win an Oscar and a Golden Globe a decade later for 1999’s Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother). (Sotinel 2010)

Pedro Almodóvar’s films reflect Spanish culture in passionate amatory and quixotic terms through a filter of studied cinematic philosophy: Hitchcock, Fassbinder, and Sirk are the benchmarks for Almodóvar to convey Spanish identity. This is embodied in Carne trémula (Live Flesh), which was loosely adapted from a Ruth Rendell novel (Almodóvar’s first time adapting material) and released in October of 1997. 

Next month, in part two, we will delve into the film.

www.edwinroman.com

Works Cited

Antonio, Sánchez Cazorla. 2010. “The Politics of Fear.” In Fear and Progress Ordinary Lives in Franco’s Spain, 1939-1975, by Sánchez Cazorla Antonio, 18-49. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.

Bogdan, Robert, and Taylor, Steven. 1987. “Toward a Sociology of Acceptance: The Other Side of the Study of Deviance.” Social Policy 34-39.

Del Cura, Mercedes, and José Martínez-Pérez. 2021. ““Childhood, Disability and Vocational Training in Franco’s Spain during the 1950s and Early 1960s.”.” History of Education Review 50 (2): 241–57.

Duncan, Paul. 2017. The Pedro Almodóvar Archives. Köln: Taschen.

I Wanna Grow Blog. 2018. Cuantas plantas de maría puedo tener legalmente en España. July 5. https://www.iwannagrowshop.com/blog/cuantas-plantas-de-maria-puedo-tener-legalmente-en-espana/.

Juridicas, Noticias. 2013. Real Decreto Legislativo 1/2013, de 29 de noviembre, por el que se aprueba el Texto Refundido de la Ley General de derechos de las personas con discapacidad y de su inclusión social. November 29. https://noticias.juridicas.com/base_datos/Privado/517635-rdleg-1-2013-de-29-nov-se-aprueba-el-texto-refundido-de-la-ley-general-de.html#t3c1s1.

Malaga, Sociedad Federada Personas de. n.d. Nuestra Historia. https://sfsm.es/nuestra-historia/.

Martínez-Pérez, José. 2017. “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” “Work, Disability and Social Control: Occupational Medicine and Political Intervention in Franco’s Spain (1938-1965).” 28 (4): 805-24.

McMahon, Christopher. 2006. “Fecundity and Almodóvar? Sexual Ethics and the Specter of Catholicism Catholicism.” Journal of Religion & Film 10 (2).

Newtral. 2019. Esto con Franco no pasaba: bulos sobre la dictadura. November 20. https://www.newtral.es/esto-con-franco-no-pasaba-bulos-sobre-la-dictadura/20191120/.

Orgánica, Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y. 2019. Confederación Española de Personas con Discapacidad Física y Orgánica. June 12. https://www.cocemfe.es/informate/noticias/18-millones-de-personas-con-movilidad-reducida-dependen-de-la-ayuda-de-terceros-para-salir-de-su-casa-y-100-000-no-salen-nunca/.

Reverte, Jorge M. 2010. “La Lista De Franco Para El Holocausto.” El País, June 20.

Seguin, Christopher Blow & Denis. 2019. The Dictator’s Playbook: Francisco Franco. Directed by Mark Stevenson. Produced by David, Kate Harrison, Michael Rosenfeld, and Matt Boo Brady.

Sotinel, Thomas. 2010. Masters of Cinema: Pedro Almodóvar. Paris: Phaidon Press.

UNESCO, Fundación Mutua de Propietarios. 2018. La accesibilidad de las viviendas en España. Madrid: Fundación Mutua de Propietarios / UNESCO.

United Nations. 2019. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New York: United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Birth of a Museum

BOOK REVIEW: A FOOL’S ERRAND: CREATING THE NATIONAL MUSEUM OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND CULTURE IN THE AGE OF BUSH, OBAMA, AND TRUMP

“One can tell a great deal about a country by what it remembers. By what graces the wall if its museums.” – Lonnie G. Bunch III

The day I finished reading A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump by Lonnie G. Bunch III, founding director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC), I learned that a school board in Tennessee banned the teaching of the holocaust graphic novel Maus and a House committee in Florida passed a bill aiming to ban discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Throughout A Fool’s Errand Bunch notes the friendship he formed with Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, and I couldn’t help but to think of the marker outside of Glendora, Mississippi, where Emmett Till’s body was found in 1955. Until 2008, the spot remained unmarked, but when a memorial was erected, it was vandalized four times. The most recent iteration of the memorial, erected in 2019, had to literally be bulletproofed. The parallels to the Till Memorial and the obstacles Bunch faced and the overall history of the museum’s founding are palpable. Bunch notes that efforts to launch this museum started a century prior, and were still being stifled as recent as the 1990s by the likes of Jesse Helms. Silencing the voices of history is bigotry’s fundamental move toward enacting racism.  

A Fool’s Errand is framed by three presidents. First, there was George W. Bush, who wholeheartedly endorsed the project and signed the legislation to get it started. Bunch formed a friendship with George and Laura Bush and portrays them rather positively. While he acknowledges Hurricane Katrina, he does so, in my opinion, with a rather light touch. Second was Barack Obama, who had the honor of officially opening the museum. Bunch compares his philosophy of the museum to the way Obama approached his presidency: the museum is an American museum for all Americans and not just African Americans. The story of African Americans is the story of America. And finally, Trump. Bunch describes giving him a private tour, which he rightfully did not bowdlerize as he had been asked to (because Trump had been in a bad mood that day) and noted that Trump did not acknowledge the Dutch role in the African slave trade but conveyed that the people of the Netherlands “love him.” Right on brand. Bunch describes how during the first months of Trump’s administration a noose had been found in front of an exhibition case that contained artifacts of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. As I read the last two chapters, I couldn’t help but wonder if the museum would have opened when it did had Bunch not been so determined in his vision and execution. He worked hard to make this museum “for the next century and not the last one” happen. The politics surrounding this museum is nearly breathtaking but not unexpected.

The book is indeed a template for creating a museum from nothing, but what makes it so incredibly relatable is its humanity. Bunch is an excellent listener and observer and can easily connect with the elite as well as everyday people. For me, it was his interactions with everyday people that stood out. There was Princy Jenkins who had once lived in a slave cabin with his enslaved grandmother; the people he met during Save Our African American Treasures; and Dr. Charles Blockson who donated previously unknown artifacts that belonged to Harriet Tubman. Blockson lovingly donated those items and like many after him, wanted to contribute to the museum without any monetary gain (“This belongs in a place where the public can enjoy the collections. It is yours.”) Perhaps the most moving story was when Bunch met an elderly woman who had an unknown artifact from his own family.

I recommend you read this touching book with an open mind and a very open heart. If you enjoy storytelling and history, you will find a great deal to enjoy in this book. For me, the book inspired a self-reflection of the last two decades. Could I have done better? Can I still do better? I hope so.

www.edwinroman.com

Museums by The Marginalized for the Marginalized

Note: This was originally submitted as a paper (originally titled By the people, For the People) for my Master’s degree in Museum Studies at the CUNY School of Professional Studies. The accompanying video was part of the coursework.

From the Muses to the Aristocrats

The memory of humankind can be found in museums. Humanity has a long history of preserving artifacts. Ancient Greeks filled temples dedicated to the muses with scholarship and sculpture. The ancient Greeks coined the term “mouseion” when they first built a temple to the goddesses who kept watch over the arts and sciences known as muses[1]. This tradition would be followed by conquering kings who exhibited spoils of war [2]. Later we had cabinets of curiosity that would become rooms filled with artistic treasures that were the domains of the wealthy elite, open only to the collector and the occasional visitor [3]. The Enlightenment, which concurrently fostered empirical thinking and imperialism, gave rise to the first museums in Europe. Museums in the United States were founded by wealthy patrons who emulated European models and collecting habits.[4]

From the Bottom Up

Five months before the Metropolitan Museum opened its exhibition, Harlem on my Mind, in January of 1969, Thomas P. F. Hoving, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art New York City, noted:

“To me Harlem on My Mind is a discussion. It is a confrontation. It is education. It is a dialogue. And today we better have these things. Today there is a growing gap between people, and particularly between black people and white people. And this despite the efforts to do otherwise. There is little communication. Harlem on My Mind will change that.” [5]

There was no meaningful dialogue. Instead, Harlem residents were excluded from the planning process and artwork by Harlem artist was curiously excluded. The museum instead decided to use oversized photomurals to display images of African American people. The exhibition set off protests that fostered activism from the African American art community that looked to address the patently patronizing discrimination.

Two years before Harlem on my Mind opened, in a stark contrast to The Met, The Smithsonian founded the Anacostia Community Museum in 1967 which focused on local African American history and culture unique to the Anacostia neighborhood. The Smithsonian Institution was founded in 1846 and is the largest museum complex and research center in the world[6]. The Anacostia Community Museum is one of the 19 museums, in addition to a zoological park, nine research centers, and 20 libraries that encompass the Smithsonian. The Anacostia Community Museum is the only Smithsonian museum that has a very local focus. The founding director of the Anacostia Community Museum, John Kinard, was a local minister, civil rights educator, and community activist whose engagement shaped the trajectory of the Museum [7]. The community’s values were embedded in the core ideals of the Anacostia Community Museum. With a focus on local African American experiences and community issues, the Museum evolved its exhibition programs to reflect broad national themes in African American culture in the 1980s. The Anacostia Community Museum is the only Smithsonian museum that has a very local focus. It was the first federally funded community museum in the United States but is under the umbrella of the Smithsonian Institution. The late 1960’s and early 1970’s would see a change stemming from the activism of the day and give rise to museums for the people by people.

The same year the Harlem on My Mind exhibition opened, two museums took root that stemmed from this era of vibrant activism. El Museo del Barrio was founded in Spanish Harlem and was first located in a public school storage room. It focused on the Puerto Rican art from the diaspora that settled in the neighborhood (“El Barrio” is Spanish for the neighborhood). One of the first shows, “The Art of Needlework” was dedicated to the crocheting techniques of Puerto Rican women[8]. Meanwhile, downtown, The Leslie-Lohman Museum, the only art museum in the world to exhibit artwork that conveys the LGBTQ experience, started to take root when Charles Leslie and Fritz Lohman, who had been collecting art for several years, mounted their first exhibit of gay art in their SoHo loft on Prince Street in New York City [9].

El Museo del Barrio’s founder, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, was part of a coalition of artists pursuing representation in New York museums. Unlike most museums in New York City at the time, El Museo was founded without assistance from wealthy patrons. It filed as nonprofit organization in 1971 [10]. Similarly, after that first loft show in 1969, Leslie and Lohman opened a commercial art gallery devoted to gay art, but it closed in the early 1980s with the arrival of the AIDS epidemic [11]. The pair then rescued the work of artists dying from AIDS from their families who wanted to destroy it. In 1987, the Leslie and Lohman applied for nonprofit status to establish a foundation to preserve their collection of gay artworks and continue exhibitions. The IRS actually objected to the word “gay” in the foundation’s title and hindered the nonprofit application until 1990 [12].

El Museo moved to its current location in 1977, on the ground floor of the city-owned Heckscher Building, on 5th Avenue and East 104th Street. Meanwhile, the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation’s first location was in a basement at 127B Prince Street in New York City. In 2006, the Foundation moved into a ground floor gallery at 26 Wooster Street in SoHo. In New York City, two museums took root around the same time that were truly by the people for the people: El Museo del Barrio and The Leslie-Lohman Museum. But are they still for the people? Have they stayed true to their original mission?

The Mirror Manifesto

The annual Museum Mile Festival, which went virtual in 2020, offers free admission to a 30-block stretch of Fifth Avenue for the following institutions: The Africa Center, El Museo del Barrio, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum, the Jewish Museum, Neue Galerie and the Museum of the City of New York. In addition to all the art inside, there are outdoor festivities including live music. In August 2019, The New Yorker wrote an article titled “The Battle Over the Soul of El Museo del Barrio [13]” noting that during the annual Museum Mile festival (of which El Museo was one of the founding members) a group of protesters distributed flyers that read “El Museo Fue del Barrio” (The Museum was from the neighborhood). The protesters read from a printed statement, called the Mirror Manifesto [14], that accused El Museo of abandoning its core values as a museum for the community of East Harlem. The Mirror Manifesto notes:

“It requires us to first contend with “El Barrio’s” identity. While Puerto Ricans were instrumental in the foundation of the museum, it is not strictly a Puerto Rican museum. It is a museo “del Barrio.” Further, demographic changes in East Harlem and the overall growth of the Latinx diaspora in the last 50 years render the nationalist led push to make El Barrio mean “Puerto Rican” null. If El Museo is to be resuscitated, we must lay these claims to rest and set about addressing who we mean when we say El Barrio.

If El Barrio means neighborhood, or enclave, and we are defining the institution as encompassing a diasporic latinidad, then what we are contending with is what is now being called “Latinx.”

This is distinct from Latin America and should not be confused. For too long, this ambiguity has rendered Latinx artists invisible. Latinx artists continue to be marginalized, underrepresented, and erased. El Museo has shamelessly latched on to this ambiguity and forfeited its original mission. It has done very little as an institution to foster and cultivate Latinx Art.

The museum has failed to launch a studio residency program, it has failed to create an environment where intellectual work for us, by us, can be incubated. It has failed to cultivate diverse board members that represent the Latinx community. It has failed to expand board members beyond funding/development needs, or made sure to its boards’ institutional actions, partnerships, and programs correspond with its mission.

Given the continued failure of El Museo del Barrio to fully embrace its responsibility to the many diasporas that make up the Latinx communities in NYC and across North America, generations of Latinx artists pouring out of BFA, MFA, & PhD programs have come to see the El Museo as irrelevant.

Recent calls to steer the institution back towards its intended mission therefore have remained unanswered. In order to reinvigorate working and emerging Latinx artists to invest their energy in an institution that has gone out of its way to communicate that it cares nothing for their cultural production, the institution must take radical steps to more clearly define what it is. EL MUSEO DEL BARRIO MUST BE EL MUSEO DE LOS BARRIOS. It must fulfill its original mission or relinquish control to the community of Latinx scholars and artists to steer it back on course. It must DECOLONIZE.

Latinx artists, cultural workers, scholars and concerned residents reject the elitism, white washing, LGTBQIA exclusion and anti-blackness perpetrated in the museum against its own museum goers and community of artists.”

How did El Museo get here?

During its first two decades in existence, El Museo’s mission was clearly defined as an institution that researched and displayed the cultural heritage of the Puerto Rican diaspora that lived in Spanish Harlem. By the late 1980s, Spanish Harlem was longer a Puerto Rican enclave; immigrants from Mexico, Central America, and the Dominican Republic had moved into the neighborhood. El Museo, with some struggle, reflected this [15]. However, in 2002, El Museo appointed its first non Latinx director, Julián Zugazagoitia, a Mexican who was previously at the Guggenheim. That same year, an exhibit devoted to Mexico’s most famous artists, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera was mounted [16]. For many in El Barrio, elite Latin-American art was overshadowing the El Museo’s grassroots mission. These concerns were fully realized this year when The New York Times reported that El Museo announced that its annual gala would honor Princess Gloria von Thurn und Taxis, a wealthy German art collector known for her connections to the European far-right and Steve Bannon who once complained that Pope Francis is too liberal. After considerable backlash, she was uninvited [17]. Two weeks after that faux pas, El Museo was inundated with complaints over a planned exhibit devoted to Chilean filmmaker and artist, Alejandro Jodorowsky. In the early 1970s, Jodorowsky said that a rape scene he performed for one of his films was real and not staged (something he later recanted). The exhibit was cancelled[18].

Why hasn’t the Leslie-Lohman Museum encountered similar issues? Both institutions started with the same idea: a museum by the people for people (OR for the marginalized by the marginalized). While both institutions engage the public in comparable ways, the Leslie-Lohman Museum still has not experienced the full growing pains: El Museo was granted nonprofit status nearly twenty years before Leslie-Lohman and it was only in 2011 that the State Board of Regents finally granted a Certificate of Museum Status[19]. However, the Leslie-Lohman museum does publish a quarterly journal, The Archive, while El Museo does not. El Museo’s early research should have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Perhaps the one significant thing that distinguishes El Museo from Leslie-Lohman has to do with its very specific geographical connection. The Mexican, Central American, and Dominican immigrants who moved into the neighborhood thirty years ago, as well as most of the Puerto Ricans, are now being forced out via gentrification[20]. The New Yorker article noted that the board includes only one member who lives in the neighborhood. The article also noted that El Museo’s founder, Raphael Montañez Ortiz, now resides in Highland Park, New Jersey. Interestingly, the Brooklyn Museum has recently explored the impacts of gentrification[21]. In November of 2016, anti-gentrification artists and activists protested the Brooklyn Museum when it hosted the 6th Annual Brooklyn Real Estate Summit, which was incongruent with the overwhelming gentrification hitting the communities the museum claims to serve. In April of 2018, an open letter[22] called for the Brooklyn Museum to use the public anger surrounding a curatorial hiring decision (Kristen Windmuller-Luna, a White woman, as an African art consulting curator) as an opportunity to address deeply rooted injustices pertaining to the museum that included the colonial history of the museum’s non-western holdings, the lack of diversity among its curatorial staff and executive leadership, the fact that the museum’s buildings sit on stolen land, and the museum’s role as an agent of gentrification in Brooklyn, a long-standing grievance of community groups.

We are thus calling for the Brooklyn Museum to participate in the creation of a Decolonization Commission of the kind that has recently been demanded of institutions — like the city’s own American Museum of Natural History — that are being publicly asked to account for their own role in the histories of colonialism and white supremacy. This would send a strong message to the people of Brooklyn, and to other art institutions around the country, about the museum’s will to redress ongoing legacies of oppression, especially when it comes to the status of African art and culture. It could be a first step in rebuilding trust with the communities to whom the museum should be accountable.

This decolonization process would have a time-frame, starting with the acknowledgment that the buildings sit on stolen indigenous land, that they contain thousands of objects expropriated from people of color around the world, and that the institution is governed by a group of majority-white members of the 1% actively involved in the dynamics of racialized dispossession and displacement in Brooklyn. Further steps would entail decisions about the framing of the display of its collection; who is appointed to make these decisions, and in consultation with which communities of conscience in the borough and beyond. Decolonization is never a finished process, but, once undertaken, its logic can and should unfold in ways that are transparent and just.”

El Museo needs to do the same starting inside its own doors. Interestingly, in response to the letter, Anne Pasternak, the director of the Brooklyn Museum, said that the museum “unequivocally” stood by its selection of Kristen Windmuller-Luna for the position.

Regardless of who lives in the neighborhood, El Museo’s leadership should not lose site of the museum’s mission. I would be the first to object if the Leslie-Lohman Museum decided to one day display the work of LGBTQ allies—regardless of their good intentions, they will never understand and properly convey the experience of being LGBTQ, the museum’s mission. The Mirror Manifesto protestors are right, the museum leadership has been gentrified and operating under a disguised blanketed term, “Latin American,” that solely considers the virtue of surname without considering the Latinx communities, and their art, fostered by diaspora (regardless of whether it is from Puerto Rico, Mexico, the Dominican Republic or Central America). And while I certainly think that everyone should experience the work of artists like Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, their work comes from a different PLACE (and time) that has little to do with Spanish Harlem, or the Latinx communities now living and creating in New York City and the United States.

The COVID Denouement

Like every other New York City Museum, El Museo shut down in mid-March of 2020. The annual gala, which normally brings in about $1 million dollars, was canceled, event rentals for the newly restored theater space were also cancelled and its store and cafe were closed. A Paycheck Protection Program loan of about $500,000 helped, as well as a $600,000 grant from the Mellon Foundation but they were still losing money. In September, El Museo’s Executive Director was approached by a representative from the Ford Foundation, which had just announced a $156 million initiative called America’s Cultural Treasures, whose contributors include 16 foundations and private donors. El Museo received 68% of its annual budget in one swoop from the Ford Foundation[23].

Meanwhile, at the Leslie-Lohman Museum, the director, Gonzalo Casals, announced, just before the lockdown in March of 2020, that he was leaving to become the Cultural Affairs Commissioner of New York City[24]. A new director, Alyssa Nitchun, was hired in December of 2020. Nitchun is the first queer woman to lead the museum. The New York Times reported that her first mission will be to expand the institution’s reputation abroad and help secure its financial future: “My dream is that we can scale up, welcoming a whole new group of artists and audiences.” [25]

Interestingly, the Leslie-Lohman Museum held an exhibition that would have been perfect for El Museo: “Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell,” is a retrospective that was part of “Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA,” a Getty Foundation-sponsored 2017 exhibition of more than 70 concurrent exhibitions in and around Los Angeles that together demonstrated the influence of Latin America and Latino art on the city [26]. In the 1980s, Aguilar came out as gay and in 1986, she began a portrait series titled, “Latina Lesbians.” Meanwhile, at El Museo, it looks like the words and actions of the Mirror Manifesto did not fall on deaf ears.

“Estamos Bien” is El Museo’s first national survey of what it calls Latinx art, using the oft-debated gender-neutral alternative to Latino or Latina, to describe artists of Latin American descents working primarily in the United States. The museum’s original plan was to have the show coincide with, and reflect, two defining 2020 political events: the United States census and the presidential election. The pandemic derailed that. The title, “Estamos Bien” (“We’re fine”) was inspired by a work in the exhibition, a 2017 painting by the Chicago-based artist Cándida Álvarez, completed in the wake of the devastation by Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico.

The title, “Estamos Bien”, truly embodies El Museo’s history: equal parts of acrimony and hope. However, it is a step in the right direction that promises more and better representation. 

https://edwinroman.com/

Todo Sobre El Museo | Accompanying Video for this Blog Entry That Focuses on El Museo Del Barrio

[1] Muses. (n.d.). Retrieved February 6, 2021, from https://public.wsu.edu/~delahoyd/mythology/muses.html

[2] Margaret M. Miles, War and Passion: Who Keeps the Art?, 49Case W. Res. J. Int’l L.5 (2017) Available at: https://scholarlycommons.law.case.edu/jil/vol49/iss1/4

[3] Starn, Randolph. “A Historian’s Brief Guide to New Museum Studies.” The American Historical Review, vol. 110, no. 1, 2005, pp. 68–98. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/531122. Accessed 1 May 2021.

[4] Alexander, Edward P. Museums in Motion. Chapter 1, “What is a Museum?”

[5] “Black Artists and Activism: Harlem on My Mind (1969)” Author(s): Bridget R. Cooks American Studies, Vol. 48, No. 1 (Spring 2007), pp. 5-39

[6] About the Smithsonian. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://www.si.edu/about

[7] History. (n.d.). Retrieved March 01, 2021, from https://anacostia.si.edu/About/History

[8] El Museo Timeline, scanned published by El Museo del Barrio in 2004. https://www.dropbox.com/s/itcd0gwvbvt2mg2/el%20museo%20Timeline.pdf?dl=0

[9] https://www.leslielohman.org/about-us

[10] El Museo Timeline, scanned published by El Museo del Barrio in 2004.  https://www.dropbox.com/s/itcd0gwvbvt2mg2/el%20museo%20Timeline.pdf?dl=0

[11] https://rainbowsudan.wordpress.com/tag/leslie-lohman-gallery-the-ultimate-gay-portfolio/

[12] https://rainbowsudan.wordpress.com/tag/artistic-outlaws-leslie-and-lohman-have-fought-to-preserve-gay-art-for-three-decades/

[13] Osorio, Camila “The Battle Over the Soul of El Museo del Barrio” The New Yorker August 13, 2019

https://www.newyorker.com/culture/culture-desk/the-battle-over-the-soul-of-el-museo-del-barrio

[14] https://elmuseodelosbarrios.home.blog/mirror-manifesto/

[15] Palacios, Nicholle Lamartina “Latino Art in NYC: A Short History of El Museo del Barrio” Huffington Post https://www.huffpost.com/entry/latino-art-in-nyc-a-histo_b_6305488

[16] El Museo Timeline, scanned published by El Museo del Barrio in 2004. https://www.dropbox.com/s/itcd0gwvbvt2mg2/el%20museo%20Timeline.pdf?dl=0

[17] Moynihan, Colin “El Museo del Barrio Drops Plan to Honor German Socialite” The New York Times January 10, 2019.

[18] Moynihan, Colin “El Museo del Barrio Cancels Jodorowsky Show” The New York Times January 28, 2019.

[18] http://columbiajournal.org/get-real-the-leslie-lohman-museum-protects-an-artistic-legacy/

[19] http://columbiajournal.org/get-real-the-leslie-lohman-museum-protects-an-artistic-legacy/

[20] Chiusano, Mark “Is rezoning in East Harlem a Trojan horse for gentrification?” AM New York August 28, 2017

[21] Davis, Ben “Activism Pays Off, as Brooklyn Museum Embraces Anti-Gentrification Forum”

[22] Decolonizemuseums, ~. (2018, May 08). Decolonize Brooklyn Museum. Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://decolonizebrooklynmuseum.wordpress.com/

[23] https://www.elmuseo.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/EMDB-FORD-ANNT-FIN.pdf

[24] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/11/arts/design/nyc-cultural-affairs-commissioner-gonzalo-casals.html

[25] https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/14/arts/design/alyssa-nitchun-leslie-lohman-museum-director.html

[26] https://www.leslielohman.org/exhibitions/laura-aguilar-show-and-tell

In Defense of In The Heights

A skit in the second episode of the brilliant second season of A Black Lady Sketch Show depicts a market research focus group with Black women for a fictious real housewives type series called Black Women Doing Stuff that hilariously doesn’t go very well. Even before the market researcher starts playing the pilot episode, one of the participants invokes Twitter and notes that she would have, “sent my 67 Tweet thread.” The market researcher starts to play Black Women Doing Stuff and the first thing we see is a leg getting out of car wearing a red high heel. Within two to three seconds, the video is paused on the leg: “I have notes!” And WOW, do they have notes:

“A show about Black women and the first thing you show us is a disembodied leg?”  

“Why not have her drive a black Jaguar?”

“Don’t link Black women with cats! We are not catty!”

“And where is Miss Leg even from? Are classy people from the diaspora excluded from this experience?”

“If she is not a descendent of enslaved people, I don’t why I am here.”

“A little light to be dark skin and a little dark to be light skin.”

You get the picture. The researcher never gets beyond the leg getting out of the car. I could not help but remember this skit when I saw some of the unreasonable backlash to In The Heights.

Perhaps the most preposterous assertion came from The Washington Post which declared in a headline that “‘In the Heights’ is just more of the same whitewashed Hollywood.” The article asserts, “With its White and light-skinned leading roles, the film became part of a long tradition in the Americas of Black erasure.” Really? We must not have seen the same film. I did not see one white actor playing the part of a Latino/a/x individual. Corey Hawkins certainly isn’t light skinned and no one in the United States would ever confuse Jimmy Smits, Gregory Diaz, Anthony Ramos, or Daphne Rubin-Vega for white. Most Latino/a/x people are of mixed races. My own DNA shows that I come from people who were Portuguese, Spaniard, Native American, African and several other peoples. In my own extended Puerto Rican family, there is a range of skin tones and hair colors and textures. Better examples of whitewashing would be Natalie Wood playing Maria in West Side Story; Marisa Tomei playing Dorita Evita Pérez in The Perez Family; Kyra Sedgwick playing Suzie Morales in Man on a Ledge. Whitewashing is a film like Birth of the Dragon, which was supposed to be about Bruce Lee but is largely told from the point of view a fictitious white character. Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon Lee, noted, “The only way to get audiences to understand the depth and uniqueness of my father is to generate our own material.”

Proper representation is best achieved when the people being portrayed have a voice. Isn’t that exactly what In The Heights is doing? Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Nuyorican (New Yorker + Puerto Rican) from the neighborhood (I grew up a few blocks away from him) who, through this musical, is exploring issues that affect all Latino/a/x Americans, of all colors, in various ways including gentrification, immigration, identity, discrimination, and profiling. The character of Nina, for example, was accused of stealing pearls from her dorm mate at Stanford and her belongings searched: the way the story is told leads one to realize this may not have happened if she looked more like Cameron Diaz. The film even features a brief, but effective, exploration of Latina/x women’s history. Miranda and Chu also manage to prominently highlight authentic Latino/a/x cuisine without one Goya product in sight! Including Goya would have been whitewashing.

During the 2019 Museum Mile Festival, a group of protesters distributed flyers at El Museo Del Barrio called the Mirror Manifesto that accused El Museo of abandoning its core values as a museum for the community of East Harlem. The Mirror Manifesto explored the meaning of Latinx:

If El Barrio means neighborhood, or enclave, and we are defining the institution as encompassing a diasporic latinidad, then what we are contending with is what is now being called “Latinx.” Loosely defined, this is the Nuyorican, the Dominiyorker, the first, second, and third generations of Mexicans, Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Hondurans that make up a barrio in the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and New Jersey. It is the El Salvadorian and Guatemalteco kids in Silver Springs, Maryland, the Cubans in New Jersey, the Tejanos, the Chicanos. It is the dreamers and the migrants who identify with a U.S. lived experience. It is the children of immigrants at the border and the children of recently arrived Puerto Ricans in Orlando and Pennsylvania Post- Maria, that have and will grow up here.

In The Heights is not exclusively an exploration of Washington Heights; it is a partial representation of the diasporic Latinidad in the 21st century described above. Miranda and Chu did an exceptional job representing the colors of the Latino/a/x rainbow. Often many of those colors are not represented, except as criminals and maids. You know where the representation is really lacking? American Spanish language television.

James Baldwin, in The Fire Next Time, wrote, “It is rare indeed that people give. Most people guard and keep; they suppose that it is they themselves and what they identify with themselves that they are guarding and keeping, whereas what they are actually guarding and keeping is their system of reality and what they assume themselves to be.” Miranda gave us a story of a hopeful and positive diasporic Latinidad that deftly responded to the bigoted Trump era still lingering. It’s not Scarface or Carlito’s Way. Artists with Miranda and Chu’s scope and vision should be revered, not reviled—they are the ones carving paths. Anyone saying otherwise is just a limited focus group participant.

edwinroman.com

Si Es Goya Tiene Que Ser…Alternatives!

Today is July 10, 2020. The coronavirus continues to rage on in the United States while Republicans continue to politicize wearing a mask. Today, The New York Times noted that the United States was the biggest source of new coronavirus infections, reporting more than 59,880 cases as it set a single-day record for the sixth time in 10 days. Make no mistake and spin it all you want, this is because of Trump failed to coordinate a national effort.  

The New York Times published another story today on how ICE helped spread the coronavirus:

“Even as lockdowns and other measures have been taken around the world to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, ICE has continued to detain people, move them from state to state and deport them.”

Speaking of ICE, the United States is STILL caging the children of individuals seeking asylum—many of whom are from Latin America.

—–

Yesterday, Bob Unanue, the president of Goya Foods, was at the White House to announce that the company would donate one million cans of chickpeas as well as one million pounds of food to food banks in the United States as part of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, an executive order created to “improve access to educational and economic opportunities.” Really? What happened to sufficient aid from the federal government for Puerto Rico after a series of natural disasters? Notably, the founder of Goya, Prudencio Unanue Ortiz, a Spaniard, got his start in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico before he moved to New York City.

During this event, Unanue bizarrely said the United States was “blessed” to have Trump as its leader.

While I truly applaud the company’s humanitarian efforts, I have to wonder if Unanue has been living under a rock these last three years? Trump is enormously unpopular among Latinx Americans: according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll, Latinx Americans favor Biden over Trump by a 36 percentage-point margin. The timing of the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative is curious.

The following day, Unanue went on to Fox “news” to say he wasn’t going to apologize.  He claimed a double standard in the reaction to his remarks about Trump, noting that he accepted an invitation from Michelle Obama in 2012 to an event that promoted the former first lady’s healthy-eating initiative. Unlike the Hispanic Prosperity Initiative, the healthy-eating initiative had been in full swing by 2012 and President Obama was not trying foster divisiveness. In short, Unanue was simply acting as a cog in Trump’s publicity machine.

Predictably, conservatives belly-ached about freedom of expression. Unanue indeed has the right to express himself, but I also have the right to no longer buy Goya products (in spite of the fact that they employ many Puerto Ricans) and express it. Maybe the company needs a change of leadership, much like the United States does right now. My message to Unanue is to look at what Trump does, not what he says.

—–

Looking into my pantry, it is FILLED with Goya products and I have to plan on how I am going replenish them once I have consumed them (and to anyone thinking about throwing out Goya products, don’t be foolish—eat it or donate it). I would like to present you with some possible alternatives.

  • Sofrito and Recaito: Iberia makes a product similar to Goya.
  • Abodo: Iberia makes a similar product  as well as Simply Organic. I have tried the latter and it is more expensive, but it is organic and the taste is on par with Goya.
  • Sazon: I have not tried these, but it seems that Iberia also produces this (with achiote).
  • Tomato paste and sauce: Again, we have Iberia as well as an assortment of other companies. I have tried the organic brand, Muir Glen, and it is very good, but more expensive.
  • Beans: Again, Iberia, like Goya, offers canned and dry varieties. I have tried the canned beans by Eden Foods and they are quite good (expensive, but organic). In a pinch, I once used Bush’s kidney beans and they were quite good.
  • Rice: If you can find Vitarroz (I feel their presence in stores has diminished in the last few years, and the company doesn’t appear to have a website); I actually prefer to use sushi rice (which is a lot like Valencia rice) when I make the classic rice and beans and having been using the one produced by RiceSelect for several years now.
  • Empanada dough: This was a tough one because I have been using the Goya discs for a very long time. Then I remembered that my Mother used La Fe.
  • Frozen banana leaves: These are often used for pasteles, but Asian markets also sell them.
  • Frozen yuca: Since I discovered Goya packaged these, I started using them for my pasteles as they save a ton of time. Thankfully, La Fe packages them as well.

I feel like Unanue is having his ‘shooting someone on Fifth Avenue and not losing voters’ moment—I can shoot my mouth off and praise Trump and I won’t lose customers. Words matter and let’s show Unanue how much they do.

#BoycottGoya #goyAWAY #BoycottGoyaFoods

www.edwinroman.com

Why Disco Doesn’t Suck

I grew up in the Inwood neighborhood of upper Manhattan. Back then the neighborhood had a clear physical division: east of Broadway was primarily populated by Dominicans and other people of color, while the west of Broadway was primarily populated by whites. The neighborhood residents seemed to coexist and share public spaces such as Inwood Park without any strife I was cognizant of. I attended a Catholic grade school where I had friends of varied ethnic backgrounds. I was fortunate in that my first encounter with bigotry was not until I was 12 years old (though as I got older, I certainly experienced it).

In the summer of 1979, I entered Inwood Park and saw this boldly spray-painted on a wall: “Disco Suxs!” For some reason, it rattled me. What was so bad about disco? I was a fan. It had ENERGY and you could dance to it. It made me happy. Back then, and to this day, I never understood people who severely went out of their way to slam something that was not of their taste. If you don’t like something, ignore it and move on—why deface a wall? Why troll online?

I asked my parents about it and that became our first talk about bigotry. Because they knew I loved music so much, they used the history of Motown Records as a way to explain it to me. They noted how Motown played an important role in the racial integration of popular music. After that talk, I never looked at or heard those records in the same way again.

Years later, on a VH1 Behind the Music episode on disco, virtuoso musician and producer, Niles Rodgers conveyed that the hate stemmed from the fact that it was the music of minorities that included people of color and the LGBTQ community. Music critic Robert Christgau noted that homophobia, and most likely racism, were the driving forces behind the anti-disco movement[1] that resulted in a preposterous disco demolition night at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The way the 1960s counterculture ended at Altamont, disco ended at this event (by the way, those in attendance trashed the stadium[2]). The haters were also likely intimated by the liberating physicality of disco dancing and hastily labeled the music as vacuous.

Concurrently forceful and sensual, disco was the resurgence of Dionysian pagan culture in the 20th century. Disco is not vacuous and is indeed complex.

First and foremost, disco took significant effort to produce than say the four-piece bands found in other genres. Disco often contained an ample band, with chordal instruments, drums, percussions, horns, a string orchestra, and various classical solo instruments like the flute. The recording of complex arrangements with a large number of instruments required a team that included a conductor and mixing engineers. Disco also had extraordinary vocalists that included powerhouses such as Donna Summer and Barbra Streisand as well as Gloria Gaynor, Diana Ross, Chic, France Joli, Michael Jackson, Cheryl Lynn, Sylvester, A Taste of Honey, and Barry White.

After the ridiculousness of disco demolition night, disco found a second life in early rap, notably “Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang which sampled Chic’s brilliant song, “Good Times.” Disco still lives on under the sapped title of dance music. Dance music is not as beautifully produced as disco but has had many remarkable moments over the last forty years.

If you hated disco in the 1970s, let me encourage you to put aside your prejudices and put on a pair of headphones and embrace the genius. Let the music take you away.

www.edwinroman.com


[1] http://www.robertchristgau.com/xg/pnj/pj78.php

[2] http://www.fuzzymemories.tv/index.php?c=4548

Community Organizing and Voting

A Brief History of Community Organizing in the 20th Century

Community organizing seeks better responsiveness of institutions to the needs of the community by addressing and restructuring decision-making processes. Community organizers recruit residents to take on powerful institutions in their community through direct, public confrontation and action. Respected figures such as Saul Alinsky and noted organizations such as the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) have advanced community organizing.

Saul Alinsky founded the Industrial Areas Foundation in 1940. The IAF is a grassroots organizing network involving people in over sixty cities in the U.S. that draws together coalitions of poor and middle class people to address poverty, housing, education, public infrastructure and many other issues. However, the IAF is not necessarily about issues: its aim is to build a culture of vibrant participatory democratic practices that gradually transform political and economic power. The IAF is an organization of organizations, drawing upon religious congregations, neighborhood associations, community centers, and unions. Issues tend to be chosen and negotiated with an eye to how they might strengthen and broaden grassroots democratic relationships. The IAF has been successful at drawing people into long-term democratic practices and bridging relationships that cross lines of complex difference, creating new political relationships that concurrently work with traditional and the emerging.

The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), like the IAF, is also a grassroots community organization of low and moderate-income people. Started in 1970 by Wade Rathke and Gary Delgado, the early version of ACORN helped people obtain clothing and furniture; it campaigned for schools to provide healthy, affordable lunches and promoted Vietnam Veterans’ rights. The organization then branched out into housing and workers’ rights advocacy and has helped thousands of working-class and poor citizens obtain home loans, register to vote and fight for better wages. ACORN differed from IAF in that it engaged in electoral politics as a way of gaining power and ddi not rely on support from organizations and churches, but on door-to-door solicitation and dues paying members. ACORN did not limit itself to local issues and campaigns; and was very particular about picking winnable issues. ACORN found that it could win on issues that are not just about welfare and the poor.

As the IAF expanded, Alinsky felt that the most essential element of organizing was relational organizing. To make IAF organizations more cohesive and assertive, especially when dealing with municipal government, Alinsky encouraged face-to-face meetings. He also believed in establishing local power through individual local leaders who organized and mobilized the poor. One of ACORN’s strengths is its combination of insider and outsider tactics and strategies: activists and leaders often work both inside the system (organizing the poor) and outside the system (protests and confrontation). ACORN did not shy away from using the in-your-face confrontational protest tactics. ACORN was unapologetic about its tactics because it helped draw attention to neglected issues and built membership.

One criticism of the IAF was the lack of diversity among the organizing staff. ACORN’s organizing staff was 90% white in the 1970s and 1980s, but the organization has made considerable progress hiring and retaining organizers of color. Regarding matters of membership and possible racial issues, both organizations approached it in somewhat similar ways: they essentially ignored it. IAF’s practice of multiracial equality presupposes that common religious values creates a basis for cooperation that over time could overcome longstanding prejudices and create a mutual understanding. IAF emphasized the economic and ignored the racial fearing that raising the issue of race could disrupt and divide their organization. ACORN rarely framed issues racially; therefore, it had difficulty forming alliances or coalitions with Black organizations. ACORN also did not organize around single issues such as desegregation, police brutality or the loss of needed public services.

Interestingly, The IAF and ACORN had chapters in some of the same cities that often work on similar issues, but they never work together. Because the IAF uses religious values as a unifying force, their local chapters usually had more members than ACORN’s, but it never sought to build an amalgamated organization that could have waged national policy campaigns. Interestingly, IAF’s Baltimore affiliate, BUILD, coordinated the first successful living wage campaign, but was not able to translate that into a national movement. ACORN, on the other hand, had used its amalgamated structure to build a national living wage movement, with victories in several cities.

While organizations such as unions have historically played an effective role in representing everyday citizens, those organizations now have weaker organizing power. What we have left are community-based organizations. The IAF and ACORN both sought broad-based constituencies that spanned race, ethnicity, religious affiliation, and geography. But in this political atmosphere, can they survive?

The Mid to Late 2000s

In 2007, ACORN had field offices in 100 cities and 260,000 members, mostly from minority communities. ACORN helped register more than 1.6 million voters nationally between 2004 and 2008. In 2004, it initiated a successful ballot measure raising Florida’s minimum wage. But by 2008, Republicans were accusing ACORN of voter fraud, even though prosecutors across the country failed to find any evidence. Let us be clear that ACORN was indeed contributory in getting Barack Obama elected.

In 2009, workers at ACORN were secretly recorded by conservative hacks Hannah Giles and James O’Keefe. The videos were heavily edited to create a misleading impression of their activities.

In September of 2009, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly voted to ban the ACORN from receiving federal funding. Here’s how the Democratic leadership voted on the “De-fund ACORN” amendment (A “yes” is a vote to de-fund”):

  • Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi: did not vote.
  • Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen: Yes
  • Majority Leader Steny Hoyer: Yes
  • Majority Whip Jim Clyburn: No
  • Senior Chief Deputy Majority Whip John Lewis: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Maxine Waters: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip John S. Tanner: did not vote
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Ed Pastor: Yes
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Jan Schakowsky: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Joseph Crowley: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Diana DeGette: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip GK Butterfield: No
  • Chief Deputy Majority Whip Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Yes
  • Democratic Caucus Chairman John B. Larson: Yes
  • Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra: No
  • Steering/Policy Committee Co-Chair George Miller: Yes
  • Steering/Policy Committee Co-Chair Rosa DeLauro: Yes
  • Organization, Study, and Review Chairman Michael Capuano: No

In December of 2009, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) released a report on ACORN activities, commissioned by the House Judiciary Committee. It noted that ACORN has not been found to violate any federal regulations in the past five years. The report’s other findings included that there were no instances of voter fraud by people who were allegedly registered to vote improperly by ACORN or its employees, and no instances where ACORN violated terms of federal funding in the last 5 years. In fact, the CRS found that O’Keefe and Giles may have violated Maryland and California laws banning the recording of face-to-face conversations without consent of both parties.

Postmortem Denouement

I can’t help but wonder how could an organization that had become a force across the country, mobilizing low- wage minority workers and Democratic voters, be pushed to its downfall by its beneficiaries? Alinsky wrote, in the afterword of his Reveille for Radicals (on page 225), “A political idiot knows that most major issues are national, and in some areas international, in scope. They cannot be coped with on the local community level.” He also warned against jumping directly to a national organization while skipping “the organization of the parts” (page 226). Is this what happened to ACORN? Were they not firmly rooted in the communities they worked in? If they were, would politicians have been less inclined to throw them under the bus?

Speaking of politicians, I want to single out Debbie Wasserman Schultz as one glaring example of what is wrong with the Democratic Party.

In 2011, she missed 62 votes of Congress. In December 2015, Wasserman Schultz was one of 24 co-sponsors of H.R. 4018, authored by GOP Congressman Dennis A. Ross, which would delay the implementation of Consumer Financial Protection Bureau regulations. Wasserman Schultz was among a dozen Florida representatives who cosponsored the legislation that would delay the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s payday lending rules by two years. The fees for these loans, over the course of a year, can add up as high as the equivalent of a 300% APR.

The following year, during the 2016 presidential primary, Wasserman Schultz only scheduled six debates, significantly fewer than in previous election cycles (and half as many as the Republicans counterparts). Some of Wasserman Schultz’s actions that the media covered during the primaries included:

  • halting the Sanders’ campaign’s access to DNC databases;
  • defending the superdelegate system used in the Democratic primaries;
  • rescinding a prior ban on corporate donations;
  • and accusing Sanders supporters of violence at the Nevada Convention.

The following story from Politico is an advisable read: https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2017/11/02/clinton-brazile-hacks-2016-215774

The right wing’s efforts to demonize ACORN had made the organization a discomfiture to Democratic leadership, and it was far easier to throw ACORN under the bus than it would be to stand up for fundamental fair play and justice, and actually investigate the charges before deciding what the appropriate response might be. After the debacle of the 2016 election, as well as later this year, Democrats like Wasserman Schultz will wish they hadn’t been so cavalier especially if the GOP continues to prevent those who put them into office from voting.

Edwin Roman

https://edwinroman.com/index.html

A Motherfucking Mistake

Let me preface this blog entry by conveying that it is absolutely acceptable to criticize ideas, politicians, and anyone you support. Similarly, one should be open to criticism and should be constantly reexamining their own beliefs. Without this, there is no growth.

Yesterday Freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), when speaking to supporters at an event on the night of her swearing in, said:

    “when your son looks at you and says ‘mama, look you won, bullies don’t win.’ And I say ‘baby, they don’t’ because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker.”

Dropping the motherfucker bomb was a colossal mistake.

I have been known to drop fuck bombs often, but I don’t do that at work (unless I am in a private conversation with a close colleague). I have two voices: my professional voice and my personal / artistic voice, the one that has no problem saying the word fuck. I also don’t have a problem with women dropping fuck bombs. I have been a fan of Madonna for over thirty years and can’t think of any other entertainer, male or female, who has dropped more fuck bombs. But note, she is an entertainer, not a politician.

I have come to realize, in my middle age, that the overuse of swear words is just a lazy way of expressing yourself or the individual simply does not have a good command of the language—something Trump demonstrates everyday whether in front of the camera or on Twitter. In essence, what Tlaib did what stoop down to Trump’s level. She also gave him what he wanted.

Trump and other conservatives will now use Tlaib’s motherfucker bomb as an endless talking point to steer the conversation away from the real pressing issues. And of course, the bigots are going to endlessly EMPHASIZE the fact that she is a Muslim. The rules for a politician of color are not the same; Obama would never have been elected if his credentials were as paper thin as Trump’s.

Earlier today, I commented on a Twitter posting that supported Tlaib that this was a mistake and people responded with comments that she conveyed what we were thinking. One person responded that intelligent people swear more and that I should Google the studies. How do you explain Trump? Also, some additional context is needed beyond that overshared article and meme. One ridiculous post actually said that no one should criticize Tlaib because Trump sat there smiling while Kanye dropped the fuck bomb in the Oval Office. Again, Kanye, like Trump, is an entertainer. The most vexing were the ones that tried to justify her behavior by saying that Trump does it. No. I agree with the line of thought that we cannot normalize Trump’s lack of decorum, which Tlaib did by acting like him.

Our politicians are not entertainers and should be held to a higher standard. Speaking eloquence is not required, but expletives are always inexcusable. The most scandalous thing I want the politicians I support to do is to wear a tan suit.

edwinroman.com

A Nazi Christmas? Sorry Bigots, You’ve Got Your Wires Crossed

Bigotry is a consequence of ignorance. The less you know, the more you fear. Benjamin Franklin once said: “Being ignorant is not so much a shame, as being unwilling to learn.”

On October 31, 2018, The Washington Post ran a story on Nazi and KKK memorabilia being sold at a Kentucky gun show. Joe Gerth, a columnist with the Louisville Courier-Journal, was at the show to do research for a piece he was working on, interviewing gun dealers to inquire if they feared that the guns they sold could end up being used by the wrong people. Earlier that week, a gunman had gone to a Kroger store in Jeffersontown, Kentucky, and fatally shot two Black customers. Later that week, the Tree of Life synagogue was the scene of yet another mass shooting. Both shootings that week were racially motivated and executed by White domestic terrorists.

While at the gun show, Gerth tweeted the following:

A spontaneous face palm hit me when I saw the above picture. Why? Because the Nazi party actually worked to repress and oppress the Christian Church in Germany. In fact, many historians believed that the Nazis intended to completely eliminate Christianity in Germany after winning the war. 1

In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote, “by defending myself against the Jews, I am fighting the Lord’s Work.” But Hitler’s early views towards Christianity were born purely out of political necessity, he knew that he needed the early Nazi Party to attract a majority of Christian voters. However, Nazi ideology could not come to terms with an independent establishment whose legitimacy was not founded and fostered by the Nazi government.2 From 1933 to 1945, more than 6,000 clergymen were charged with treasonable activities and were imprisoned or executed. 3

Interestingly, Heinrich Himmler, the second most powerful individual in the third Reich, became interested in Germanic myths, which reinforced the idea of the superiority of the German race as well as other occult ideas. He wanted Germany to be restored to its mythological roots, free of Christianity.4

I know that people like to cherry pick passages from the bible in order to find justification for their bigotry, but to combine your faith with a secular belief that are actually incongruent is ignorance at its worst.

 

“First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” – Martin Niemöller

 

1 https://www.nytimes.com/2002/01/13/weekinreview/word-for-word-case-against-nazis-hitler-s-forces-planned-destroy-german.html

2 Theodore S. Hamerow; On the Road to the Wolf’s Lair – German Resistance to Hitler; Belknap Press of Harvard University Press; 1997

3 Overy, Richard (2004). The Dictators: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia. New York: W. W. Norton. p. 281.

4 Peter Longerich, Heinrich Himmler, trans. Jeremy Noakes and Lesley Sharpe (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 77.

 

edwinroman.com

 

Deconstructing a Twitter Troll

Growing up, I thought that trolls were repugnant fabled creatures that lived under old stone bridges and came out at night to scare children. As an adult, I am surprised to find that variations of the troll actually exist in daily life! You have probably had dealings with them too. Examples include:

  • that annoying colleague who copies everyone in an e-mail in a half-baked attempt to make you look bad;
  • that angry motorist who flashes their bright lights in an effort to get you to move faster when you are already driving at the speed limit;
  • the individual who cannot stay off their phone in a movie theater or at a concert;
  • the man who endlessly harasses the woman after she clearly has shown she has no interest in his overtures; or
  • the Westboro Baptist “church.”

And then there is that troll who unfortunately has an outsized presence in the modern world: The internet troll. You know who they are, that sub-human who uses cyberspace, often anonymously, to aggravate and defame others. Social media has been a boon to this obnoxious individual, most notably for those who support conservative viewpoints. I avoid contact with these creatures of vitriol who sustain an intra-cerebral mythos of greatness and domination. I recently fell into a trap with one and wanted share my experience and suggestions for dealing with these little punks.

It started back in December 2017 when he replied to a retweet I posted from Senator Dianne Feinstein.

troll one

Shortly after he started following me. When I noticed it in my notifications, I remembered thinking, “Okay, I am being followed by a long-dead silent film actor.” His profile picture and name is that of actor John Gilbert, who died in 1936. This is a red flag that you are likely dealing with a troll: they don’t use their own pictures and/or their own names. Now John Gilbert could be his name, but that is definitely not his picture. You have to wonder what and why is he hiding? All of my social media accounts use my name and picture and are connected to my website.

After following me, La Gilbert would swoop in on to my Twitter feed and comment and every now and then. And I always ignored it—which is exactly what you should do with trolls: don’t respond!

troll two

Then one day I retweeted something from Black Lives Matter and he replied with an utter lie. I replied with this simple statement:

troll three

No response. Instead, he oddly chose to retweet a retweet of mine from Neil deGrasse Tyson. Classic deflection—very tRump-esque!

troll five

Then the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre happened and I became very engaged in social media conversations on it. Then La Gilbert replied to this retweet:

trollsix

I responded by providing several viable sources. He then replied with the following and you can see my reply, which was a mistake. I did exactly what he had been waiting for months for me to do.

troll seven

He then replied with this.

troll 8

How did he even know I have cats, unless he was indeed following me? Or even more creepy, has he stalked me beyond Twitter? And what is with that Metrosexual dig? Interestingly, a friend was following the discussion and hilariously noted, “Wow, he really has a hard-on for you!” I replied with:

troll 9

He then must have had a mental nuclear meltdown, because the first thing he did was un-follow me and reply with the following:

troll 11

Anyway, he would to on the post on his wall how he took me down. Chest thumbing at its worst. He then oddly pinned his own response to his remark on that earlier retweet I posted from Black Lives Matter.

troll thirteen

On to the postmortem denouement.

In order to attack others, trolls need one or more victims and a public forum because they need an audience. While you can’t control whether you will become a troll’s target, you can decide if you will make yourself a troll’s victim. Knowing that the troll’s goal is to demean, you have a choice regarding how you are going to react. Understand that where there’s one troll, there may be many more waiting to follow up on what the first troll started.  This just means there may be more than one troll that needs ignoring. And ultimately, that is my recommendation: ignore them. Don’t feed the troll. Don’t try to be clever, just ignore them. They can not be reasoned with—especially if they support conservative viewpoints.

A fair question regarding this blog entry would be if I am indeed feeding the troll. Not exactly. First and foremost, this is on my blog and I am not responding directly to anything he posted. Second, I am not going to let La Gilbert know that I have written it. I also did not hyperlink his account to this entry. If he stumbles on to it, it is because he is indeed following me. If he retweets it, then this publicly debunks his own assertions that he was not following me. This blog entry presents quite the conundrum for the attention hungry La Gilbert.  He probably will be unable to stay silent. We will see.

I don’t know about you but I have had more than my fill of trolling liars.

edwinroman.com