Welcome to Esther J. Cepeda's archive of columns published by The Washington Post Writers Group and other publications.
It was like an object lesson from a training film about cultural competency: There I was, sitting on a fluffy rug in my classroom surrounded by 20 native Spanish-speaking first-graders. I’d just read aloud the English version of “Too Many Tamales,” Gary Soto’s children’s story about mischievous Maria’s secret angst after having lost her mother’s diamond ring in a batch of corn dough.
“Did you ever lose your ring when making the Christmas tamales, Ms. Cepeda?” asked one of my students.
“No, I don’t eat tamales,” I responded, “But I did lose my wedding ring in the broccoli bin at the grocery store once.”
“You don’t eat tamales?” the children asked incredulously.
“Nope. Don’t make them, don’t eat them — I don’t like them. Not everyone does, you know,” I told the gawking crowd of youngsters.
I almost added my other fun cultural/culinary fact — that I’ve never eaten a burrito — but I figured I’d blown their minds enough for one day. I went on to explain that I grew up with my father’s family from Ecuador and in our house, for the Christmas meal, the assembly lines of women were dedicated to making empanadas, the deep-fried turnovers that are filled with savory or sweet fillings.
This warm memory of teaching first generation immigrants that even in Hispanic communities there is diversity in how we celebrate and eat recently came to mind when I got the following pitch from a public relations firm:
“The holidays are the perfect time for friends and family to gather and celebrate the festive season, but cooking for a crowd can often be difficult. This year, skip the hassle and prepare tamales for all of your guests using an IMUSA Tamale Steamer! … With recipes like George Duran’s Pumpkin Pie Tamales, Aaron Sanchez’s Tamales de Mole Amarillo, and Cheesy Sun-Dried Tomato Tamales, your guests are sure to find a flavorful option to enjoy.”
Pumpkin pie tamales? Bleccchhh, I don’t even like actual pumpkin pie much less such a consumer-driven cultural mash-up (but I’m a picky eater — my white husband would absolutely adore pumpkin pie tamales just as he loves each dish in its original form).
Several years ago I would have tsk-tsked at the insularity of a PR form assuming that because I have a Hispanic-sounding name, I would naturally be interested in helping shill “tamale steamers.”
But in our ethnic foodie culture such thinking is backward — blatant commercialization of ethnic dishes and flavors is not only the norm, but a welcome and tasty way that the American melting pot works its magic.
These days not only can you find countless recipes for tamales in variations from authentic (in traditional pork, chicken and sweet corn permutations) to gourmet (vegan spinach zucchini or mushroom and roasted garlic) but also “Americanized” versions, such as the recipe for “Tamale Pie” I found on Martha Stewart’s website (“Tamale pie is a holdover from America’s first flush of romance with Mexican cuisine. The love affair hasn’t let up — not with the lure of cornbread, cheese, and chili, even when made with turkey.”)
Not only that, but you can make “homemade” tamales even if you’re too busy to go through the hours-long rigmarole of mixing corn flour with lard, letting it rest, etc.
Last week while I was at an Albertson’s grocery store way outside the city, near the Wisconsin border, I saw pre-mixed dough for tamales (“Gluten Free”!) in four holiday flavors: Original, Chile Pepper, Pineapple and Strawberry.
If your local supermarket isn’t quite as cosmopolitan as this, never fear, the good folks at Chicago-based food distributor La Guadalupana (“La Casa de la Masa”) will mail you two 5 lb. buckets of dough for under $20.
La Guadalupana’s website says that Pedro and Lucy Castro arrived from Mexico in 1945 and set up shop. In 1992 their son Rogelio moved production to a USDA approved plant and started expanding.
How’s that for achieving the American dream?
I wonder if Pedro and Lucy ever imagined a world where tamales are so mainstream that their ready-to-wrap dough sits next to frozen apple pies and scalloped potatoes for holiday revelers to take and make.
Alas, even ease of preparation cannot sway me to the charms of the tamal. My sons’ Christmases have involved the toil of making sugar cookie dough from scratch and stamping out festive shapes — someday we may even graduate to empanadas.
Esther Cepeda’s column is distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., NW, Washington, D.C., 20071.
Posted at 02:59 PM | Permalink
You know something in education is broken when both ends of the political spectrum are saying the same thing about it. The hot-button issue of teacher evaluations is a duel between the left, which believes they are ineffective in identifying excellence or negligence, and the right, which believes that this evaluation dysfunction makes it nearly impossible to get bad teachers out of classrooms.
When you dig beneath the surface bluster of competing political views on how classroom teachers in public schools should be evaluated, you find agreement on one point: All students deserve highly qualified teachers who are effective in leading classrooms in which students make academic progress.
But that’s where the consensus ends.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, recently analyzed the relevant state and local policies and practices in 25 diverse school districts to learn how they enable or constrain the dismissal of ineffective veteran teachers. The institute learned that in 17 of the districts, teachers can earn tenure and keep it regardless of performance, and in 12 districts, dismissing an ineffective teacher takes a minimum of two years.
The institute created a ranking of districts, scoring them on whether ineffective teachers were easy or feasible to dismiss, or difficult or very difficult to dismiss. Not surprisingly, school districts with reputations for the poorest student performance — such as Chicago Public Schools, New York City Public Schools and the Los Angeles Unified School District — have policies making it very difficult to dismiss ineffective teachers.
It would seem unimpeachable to say that maximal protections for poorly performing teachers should be changed. But the prevailing argument on the left is that stringent protections ensure that good teachers who are more highly paid aren’t made easily expendable. The problem with this, of course, is how to define a “good teacher.”
Recent Brown University research on Race to the Top-era teacher evaluation reforms and their impact on measures of teacher effectiveness found that in 19 districts that adopted major reforms in how teachers were evaluated, less than 3 percent of teachers were rated below proficient. Compare this to 2009 data, which had found that less than 1 percent of teachers were rated as unsatisfactory but 81 percent of administrators and 57 percent of teachers could identify a teacher in their school who was ineffective.
Several studies have characterized teacher evaluation as a superficial exercise that fails to assess instructional quality or inform teacher professional development and personnel decisions. The Brown University researchers concluded: “The design of teacher evaluation systems has changed substantially over the last five years, but it appears that evaluation norms and practices are proving much more difficult to change.”
They blame the failure to differentiate between effective and weak teachers on conscious choices by evaluators who are burdened with “implementation challenges, competing interests, unintended consequences and perverse incentives” like being uncomfortable telling teachers they are not cutting it, inadvertently making them less receptive to suggestions on how to improve their instruction and even generating racial tensions.
Without such objective criteria for teacher evaluations, teachers cannot feel good about being observed and given constructive advice on how to better themselves. And teacher unions cannot be confident that administrators won’t use subjective observation data to usher expensive, seasoned teachers out the door in favor of cheaper, newer teachers when budgets get tight.
Until teacher evaluations can be reliable, apolitical and rigorous — and provide accountability while being objective and fair — fixing systems where ineffective teachers are almost impossible to fire will continue to be a pipe dream.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.
Posted at 03:00 PM | Permalink
CHICAGO • Lately, when masses of people don't like a long-standing rule or tradition, they believe it should be discarded — until it becomes useful.
After Justice Antonin Scalia unexpectedly passed away in February and it seemed a Democratic presidential victory was likely, certain Republicans decided that not only should the outgoing president not have the right to appoint a new Supreme Court justice, but neither should the new president — if she turned out to be a Democrat.
It was a bipartisan impulse. Vice President Joe Biden had, in 1992, said much the same when suggesting that a Supreme Court nomination be delayed until after Election Day should there be a vacancy during a presidential campaign. Then, in the days after Donald Trump won the election, there were calls for Democratic lawmakers to obstruct the nomination and seating of any Trump nominee to fill Scalia's seat.
More recently the Electoral College has been a target for extinction.
Immediately after President-elect Trump was declared victorious, calls to dismantle the Electoral College so that elections would be more democratic and mirror the popular vote crescendoed.
But that changed when the Central Intelligence Agency confirmed that the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin actively worked to undermine the election by hacking into both campaigns but releasing only Democrats' emails to WikiLeaks, thereby acting to give one candidate an advantage.
The day after the election I observed a classroom of high school students who were emotional and confused — they had no idea what the Electoral College was and why the popular vote didn't determine the presidency. The adult leading the class was unable to explain it and he is not alone.
A 2008 report by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a nonprofit educational organization that promotes conservative thought on college campuses, found that 34 percent of all respondents to a national survey — and 43 percent who identified as having been elected to a government office at least once — did not know that the Electoral College is a constitutionally mandated assembly that elects the president. One in five of the officeholders thought it "trains those aspiring for higher office" or "was established to supervise the first televised presidential debates."
In this context, it's obvious why the masses don't value the Electoral College — how can you value something you don't understand?
And yet, even the most surface-level understanding of why the Electoral College was put in place underscores its relevance today. To quote the Broadway celebrity of the moment, Alexander Hamilton, from the Federalist Papers: "The process of election affords a moral certainty, that the office of President will never fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications. Talents for low intrigue, and the little arts of popularity, may alone suffice to elevate a man to the first honors in a single State; but it will require other talents, and a different kind of merit, to establish him in the esteem and confidence of the whole Union, or of so considerable a portion of it as would be necessary to make him a successful candidate for the distinguished office of President of the United States."
Now the same liberals who a week ago wanted to kill the Electoral College are hoping it will be used to serve its original purpose: Keeping someone who proved popular, but who they think is unfit for the presidency, from taking power.
And that's how traditionalists found common cause with hypocrites.
Some people appealed for calm after Trump's election, hoping it would all turn out OK. But adding a definitive tampering of our elections to the laundry list of craziness that has unfolded since Election Day — and a president-elect who swore our electoral process was compromised but, in the face of evidence, is now claiming that the tampering is a fabrication — is enough to make even the most starry-eyed positive thinker look for the panic button.
The Electoral College was established to protect voters from the influence of outside actors, bullies, demagogues and populism. The electors deserve to be briefed by the intelligence community on the Russian sabotage allegations and, when they meet on Dec. 19, they can make history by selecting a compromise candidate — a level-headed Republican not likely to run our country off the rails sounds great right about now.
Although this unlikely scenario was referred to by The New York Times as a "moon shot," it would cement the Electoral College's utility in this, our messy, American republic form of government.
Posted at 03:03 PM | Permalink
According to the latest National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) rating of 875 of the nation's undergraduate programs that prepare elementary school teachers, only 5 percent require teacher candidates to take sufficient courses in literature, science and history/social studies.
The subject of math is an apt example: Only 13 percent of programs require coverage of topics deemed critical by mathematicians.
"Elementary school education is foundational, and if you want to understand how important elementary math is, look no further than today's PISA scores," said Kate Walsh, NCTQ's president, referring to new figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development's Program for International Student Assessment. They found that 15-year-old U.S. students score below the global average on math.
"If we're trying to figure out why kids are performing so badly in mathematics," Walsh added, "there's no subject more reliant on foundational skills from kindergarten on up. Yet we're looking at what programs do in math and they're all over the map; they do not expect elementary school teachers to master topics found in the elementary curriculum. And if you have a weak grasp, it may be that you are able to solve a fraction but not able to teach it."
Posted at 01:02 PM | Permalink
This Election, Were We Treated Fairly in the Media?
BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA
Now that the wild ride of the campaign has given way to the reality of a Trump presidency, it’s time to reflect upon how Latinos – their communities, their issues and their participation in the electoral process – were treated in the media. How did the coverage leading up to the shocking result serve such a culturally, linguistically and politically diverse electorate?
From Trump’s description of Mexican immigrants as “rapists and murderers,” to the vilification of Indiana-born judge Gonzalo Curiel (who Trump insisted was a biased Mexican), and the shaming of Venezuelan beauty queen Alicia Machado, as well as the supposed threat of omnipresent taco trucks and, finally, “bad hombres,” Latinos were anything but ignored in the 2016 race for the White House. But according to a group of veteran political journalists, there’s plenty of room for improvement in how mainstream media portrayed us.
“I’ve always thought that the mainstream media could do better,” said Victor Landa, editor of the English-language website NewsTaco. “It’s not for lack of trying but there is a fundamental lack of understanding. When you look at the mainstream media’s Latino coverage, it’s just not framed right. It’s always presented as the ‘Latino community’ from the point-of-view of the non-Hispanics who comprise the media. For instance, we saw a lot of headlines about Donald Trump being the reason we’re seeing an increase in voter registration and expect an increase in turnout. So instead of it being a story about the many reasons why Latinos are voting, the reason is put out there as being this white guy we’re voting against – and that point of view is troubling. Unless the composition of the newsrooms changes this will continue to occur because those news outlets could increase the number of people covering Latinos but if they don’t change the quality of the coverage, they’re just going to continue framing it wrong.”
For the record, not everyone agrees. Brandon Benavides, president of the board of directors of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists (NAHJ), said that English language media did a good job of diversifying coverage: “ABC, CBS and NBC had correspondents in the field and on the campaign trail. Latinos aren’t the only ones who can cover our stories – many of our colleagues, no matter their race or ethnicity, are asking the important questions. Chris Wallace brought up immigration at the presidential debate so, for me, as long as people of whatever race ask questions important to all communities, I think that’s the important thing.”
However, according to nationally syndicated columnist Ruben Navarrette, the substantial lack of politically diverse Latino voices throughout this campaign only served to reinforce the wrongheaded notion of a monolithic Latino community – ultimately undermining the needs of Hispanic news consumers.
“It doesn’t do me any good to turn on CNN and see either Alex Castellanos talking about all the Latinos getting ready to vote for Trump or a Clinton [supporter] like Maria Cardona, or not see a Latino, period,” said Navarrette. “That erases the complexity, nuance and unpredictability of Latino voters in favor of watching Latinos get in each others’ faces...”
Navarrette goes on to say: “Of the 54 million Latinos in this country there are far-right, far left and millions of tias and comadres in this community who are more complicated than either Maria or Alex would have you believe. You put people on the ends of the spectrum on TV, though, and they’re just caricatures and cartoon figures. If you give me a Latino Trump supporter who goes on to speak up about the horrors of taco trucks on every corner then you’ve jumped the shark because he’s so out of the mainstream as to not represent anyone but his own crazy self. What’s really missing is that the people they get on these shows is there to advocate for their candidate and none of those people are advocating for the community. No one is a Latino first and a political operative second.”
One notable exception was Ana Navarro. The Nicaraguan-born, Republican strategist-turned-commentator made waves on CNN by going up against Trump surrogates and was subsequently celebrated in glowing profiles in the New York Times Magazine, on blogs, Hispanic-centric websites and, most notably, on Twitter.
Just before Election Day, Navarro appeared on The View, where a montage of her anti-Trump clips was played to applause. “We are crazy,” she complained. “We are surreal, right? We have gone through the looking glass. We are now sitting down with Alice in Wonderland. Think about this, guys. We are in an election where people are boasting about being deplorable or being nasty. That’s where we got.”
If there was another bright spot in the barren desert of Latino political commentary, it was journalist Maria Hinojosa. Through her podcast “In The Thick,” and “Latino USA,” NPR’s only national Latino news and cultural weekly radio program, she was one of the few voices amplifying the concerns of the community.
“There are many things that happened in 2016 but I never imagined I’d spend this much time as a journalist thinking about the Commission on Presidential Debates,” said Hinojosa, who appeared on Meet the Press, and whose segment schooling Trump surrogate Steve Cortes about why immigrants should not be referred to as “illegal” went viral.
“The fire that I feel, I think, in many ways, encapsulates how Latinos and Latinas have to think about what just happened,” she said. “Sadly, when they decided to not include a Latino or Latina journalist as a debate moderator what they made clear to the world is ‘We get to decide who’s in and you’re not in.’ They are supposed to guarantee the journalistic integrity of the presidential debates and how could they – if they read the newspapers from the day Trump announced his campaign – not have one Latino or Latina to question the candidates on the issues important to us? To not include us… to me that says everything about where we stand.
“There is a club of quote-unquote American journalists who make decisions and the rest of us have to fall in to line. For us to not be included in the presidential debates…those decisions are communicating to a huge electorate that somehow our perspectives, our questions, our issues and, yes, our personal connections to these issues, don’t matter because they were not brought up during the debates. It doesn’t feel good. It says: ‘We can talk about you all we want and talk about you in the third person and never refer to you even though you’re in the same room.’”
Stephen A. Nuño, associate professor in the Department of Politics and International Affairs at Northern Arizona University, and NBC Latino contributor, experienced some of the same feelings of being on the outside of a conversation centered around the issues he most cared about, but put it in the context of the dying journalism and ascending tabloid media environment.
“A lot of people like to blame the media and I’m not saying the media had zero responsibility and culpability, but I think most people I work with take their job very seriously. The problem is that we have a system that basically rewards reporters for traffic and punishes them for not entertaining audiences while providing the news,” Nuño said. “You can complain about that, but how many people watch C-Span as a regular portion of their news diet? And why don’t they? Because it’s ‘boring,’ complicated, requires context and information. Most people I work with are pretty busy every day trying to create stories with context about what’s going on but presenting it as why this is exciting and entertaining and you should pay attention.
“I think the question about whether the media failed us or not goes to a much deeper problem. Our society is arranged to be entirely focused on and measure success based on how much money can be made. If you want to change that, fine, I agree it should change. But the people mostly arguing about this are not looking at Al-Jazeera America, which had really good reports, really good stories and really good investigative journalism but nobody read them because it’s ‘boring.’”
Marisa Treviño, the long-time editor of the English-language political blog “Latina Lista,” had much the same to say about the blind spots in Spanish-language media coverage. “Univision been very disappointing, it’s kind of like the Fox News for Spanish-speaking Latinos. They have a very biased agenda and I think it’s unfortunate because when I look at the Latino blogs and mainstream media English coverage I think, for the most part, they’ve done a fair job of informing the Latino voter by showing facts of what was happening without talking down to the Latino voter and saying who to vote for,” Treviño said. “But because Trump basically came out with derogatory, prejudicial and racist language, it created a kind of line in the sand that you almost can’t fault [Univision] for focusing solely on that.”
Treviño, however, pointed out that while a Hispanic-serving media organization can go overboard on the ethnic taunts angle, the reverse was often apparent in English language media coverage:
“I think this is an age old problem in journalism – it kind of underscores the reason why we need diversity in the newsroom and why when you don’t have that it’s not surprising that the mainstream media didn’t pick up on the ‘bad hombres’ comment during the last presidential debate. Also not surprising was that the Latino-centric sites picked up then seized on it, stretched it and made assumptions about why it wasn’t mentioned in the mainstream media more, whereas the mainstream media might not see it as a big deal unless there is specifically a Latino in that newsroom to find offense. They see it just as rhetoric and it gets a pass because I don’t think even Trump realizes the import of everything he says. So, yes, it was tweeted out, it was noticed, but at the newsroom someone had to ask ‘Is this big enough for a full story?’ and they opt not to make it one because their audience is not comprised of just Latinos.”
Lastly, what about the Sleeping Giant? Did it oversleep?
Even though on Election Day, the New York Times ran a breathless story (“This Time, There Really Is a Hispanic Voter Surge”), there are many people who believe that Trump’s solid win showed that there was no decisive victory for Latino voters. Though they had been promised by the Clinton campaign that if they only turned out, the Trump nightmare would be vanquished, it just didn’t materialize.
Instead, popular polling predicting that Clinton had Hispanics in the bag was taken as gospel, making the subsequent exit polling showing that she wasn’t able to capture Florida and even lost a chunk of Latinos to Trump a painful blow. And the term “Sleeping Giant” has been derided by many Latinos who think it is not only patronizing but other-izing .
“The question of ‘Will the Latino sleeping giant awaken?’ just shows that we’re not quite included yet, and not being considered a viable game changer and you don’t see those same headlines regarding the African-American community and you don’t see white voters addressed that way,” said Treviño.
And this context makes it easy to see how a mainstream media could seize on such a simplistic idea and not worry too much about whether the prevailing pre-cooked narrative of Clinton and the Democrats having Hispanics at their beck and call would eventually prove false on Election Day.
But why didn’t the mainstream, Latino-centric or Spanish-language media see this coming? Why didn’t more alarm bells go off? Following the election, many Latino journalists were stunned and there were few answers to those questions. No doubt there will be much soul-searching. Univision anchor Jorge Ramos lamented on Twitter, “As journalists we made many mistakes. We didn’t see the resentment, the polls were wrong and we should have asked tougher questions sooner.”
Maria Hinojosa tried calming her Twitter followers with a message of strength: “Many of us will be fine. But many will be scared. Find them. Give comfort and witness. We are all bearing witness. No se me agüiten.”
A few hours later, she was asked her if, after all was said and done, the media had let Latinos down. Hinojosa said: “They let us down. They have reckoning to do. But so do all of us.”
Originally published in Latino Magazine Winter edition 2016
Posted at 02:13 PM | Permalink
NAME: Jonathan Marcantoni
HERITAGE: "Boricua de pura cepa" (true Puerto Rican)
HOMETOWN: Tampa, Florida now living in Colorado
OCCUPATION/TITLE: Publisher and author
Jonathan Marcantoni is a Puerto Rican novelist and publisher of the recently created La Casita Grande Editores, an imprint of Black Rose Writing, which specializes in Latino and Caribbean literature. His books "Traveler's Rest," "The Feast of San Sebastian," and "Kings of 7th Avenue" deal with issues of racial politics and corruption in both the Puerto Rican diaspora and on the island. "Tristiana," due out in 2017, will be his first Spanish-language novel. Marcantoni's work has been featured in the magazines Warscapes, Across the Margin, Minor Literatures, PANK, and the news outlet Latino Rebels. He holds a B.A. in Spanish Studies from the University of Tampa and a Master of Humanities in creative writing from Tiffin University.
The biggest challenge in the Latino publishing scene is getting stories that go outside of immigration, identity and the American dream narrative, which is what Latino authors are stuck in. It seems like the big publishers feel that if you tell a story it has to include one of these three things because you're really writing for a white audience. As a result there aren't so many science fiction, crime or romance novels that are geared towards a Latino audience that kind of stand on their own as genre works.
They do exist but more often than not they're coming out of the small presses, not the top five publishers - and those top publishers are looking for literary novels, not just stories about life and humanity. They are looking for Latino authors that are telling about their particular identity so you end up getting a lot of the same stories.
I want to find crazy surrealist novels and Indiana Jones-type novels set in Puerto Rico and I was able to find writers telling stories not expected from Latinos. We give them that space because we're not bound by the pressure that the publishing industry puts on writers of color to fit narratives that are comfortable for white audiences. We want to give writers an outlet so that they can be different and not have to write stories about where they're from but that focus on the writer's imagination and appeal to universal themes.
Posted at 11:04 AM | Permalink
CHICAGO - Long ago in a faraway land called Post-Election East Coast, the major media companies published mea culpas about having overlooked "real people" with economic anxieties not reflected in aggregate national unemployment and GDP numbers. After incorrectly projecting that Hillary Clinton had the presidency in the bag, they vowed to do better reporting on communities in the so-called fly-over states and to not discount the views and circumstances of the people living there.
Unfortunately, the media never vowed to stop condescending to them.
Last week, in reference to Manitowoc Foodservice, a manufacturer whose Indiana factory is laying off 84 workers and moving production to Mexico, a New York Times article noted, "The truth across the Rust Belt is that there are more Manitowoc Foodservices than Carriers. ... In Indiana, in particular, as in other so-called Rust Belt states, there are a lot of people who are less educated: Just 16.5 percent of the state's residents ages 25 to 64 have a bachelor's degree, half the rate for the country over all. And while about 30 percent have an associate degree or some college, the bulk of Indiana residents, 44 percent, have only a high school diploma - or less."
This sort of reporting, while factual and impartial to most East Coast media types, is the kind of looking-down-your-nose journalism that working-class and rural people feel is elitist. This implication of rube-ishness through low educational attainment makes people living in what used to be referred to more positively as America's Heartland believe that the media do not tell the whole truth about them - or about anything else.
Posted at 10:59 AM | Permalink
Chicago • It looks as though president-elect Donald Trump is getting serious about repealing the Affordable Care Act, which means that the gains women made in access to birth control are as up-in-the-air as the vitriol-inducing requirement to pay a fine for opting to not get health insurance.
But before fretting about what might be taken away, it's worth noting that even in its present form, the ACA did not magically make birth control universally accessible to all the low-income women the law hoped to cover.
According to data from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, there are currently 19.7 million women in need who live in what they call "contraceptive deserts." This means they lack "reasonable access" to public clinics that offer a full range of birth control methods, from access to condoms and spermicide to pills, IUDs, implants and others.
They define "reasonable access" as a county where the number of public clinics, and estimated number of providers in those clinics, are enough to meet the needs of the county's population, defined as at least one clinic/provider for every 1,000 women.
But even having this baseline number of health care providers in a geographic area doesn't mean that women are necessarily able to access the birth control services they need.
Posted at 08:40 AM | Permalink
CHICAGO -- Fake news is on people's radar like never before, due to speculation about what role it may have played in the past election. And not a moment too soon; the lack of media literacy in this country is becoming an epidemic -- one that, like so many other public health threats, is particularly harmful to children.
Recently, researchers at Stanford University's History Education Group began to measure what they call "civic online reasoning," which they define as the ability to judge the credibility of information viewed while on electronic devices.
The Group administered 56 tasks designed to evaluate understanding of the reliability of news sources to middle school, high school and college students -- in both well-resourced and under-resourced schools -- across 12 states.
What the researchers found comes as no surprise to anyone who spends time with young adults who have had digital devices in their hands since toddlerhood:
"Overall, young people's ability to reason about the information on the internet can be summed up in one word: bleak," reads the study's executive summary. "We would hope that middle school students could distinguish an ad from a news story. By high school, we would hope that students reading about gun laws would notice that a chart came from a gun owners' political action committee. And, in 2016, we would hope college students, who spend hours each day online, would look beyond a .org URL and ask who's behind a site that presents only one side of a contentious issue. But in every case and at every level, we were taken aback by students' lack of preparation."
Posted at 08:37 AM | Permalink
It is indescribably powerful to see an older Latin American man apologize to his brother for having been intolerant of his sibling's gender identity. That's just not the kind of openness you expect to hear from conservative people living in a traditionally religious and macho culture.
In the opening segment, we meet Juani - whose birth name was Juana Rosa - and who is described as the first Cuban to get female-to-male sexual reassignment surgery. It is Juani's brother, Santi, who regrets his homophobia and begs for forgiveness. Their elderly mom reminisces, also with regret, at having forced a very young Juana to wear dresses even though she hated it. Her acceptance of Juani is obviously as natural as any mother's toward her grown son.
Posted at 05:03 PM | Permalink
This is my sixth year highlighting favorite books that are diverse but not about diversity. I get a lot of raised eyebrows and questions about this peculiar genre.
Well, there are a lot of books out there that are diverse and about diversity — meaning that they are written by an author from a minority group and are specifically about that particular group’s unique life experiences.
For example, Jennine Capo Crucet’s “Make Your Home Among Strangers” is a devastating story about the trade-offs a first-generation college student makes when she leaves home for that “better life” all immigrant parents wish for their children.
Lizet’s experiences are universal to any first-in-their-family to attend college. But her Cuban-American identity struggle in the shadow of the circa-2000 Elián González drama makes for a story that has particular resonance for Latino readers.
This is fantastic — obviously, writers of color often pursue literature in order to tell their own stories.
Equally wonderful, however, is when an author gets to write for a very broad audience on a topic not specifically associated with his or her ethnicity.
As Puerto Rican novelist and founder of La Casita Grande Editores, a new publishing house specializing in Latino and Caribbean literature, Jonathan Marcantoni recently told me, “The biggest challenge in the Latino publishing scene is getting stories that go outside of immigration, identity and the American Dream narrative, which is what Latino authors are stuck in.
It’s almost an unspoken rule that if you tell a story, it has to include one of these things, and as a result there aren’t too many science fiction, crime or romance novels written by Latinos and other writers of color that stand on their own as genre works.”
This is why it’s so important to highlight when such authors and books do come along — they have stories to tell that are meant for everyone and aren’t anchored by the few topics that have been deemed authentic and acceptable for nonwhite authors.
Posted at 04:59 PM | Permalink
Thanksgiving is upon us again and Feeding America, the nation's largest domestic hunger-relief organization, estimates that one in seven people in our nation utilizes its network of food banks.
This number applies even in one of the richest places in the world — Silicon Valley — where the tech explosion has fueled skyrocketing rent and mortgage costs that have cast many longtime residents into near or actual homelessness.
"My family has been here since 1860 or so; they were pioneers who came in a covered wagon to farm the rich land and now, all these years later, there's concrete and tar, parking lots for high-tech companies and freeways covering what used to be called the Valley of the Heart's Delight," said Dee Dee Kiesow, a development officer with Cityteam Ministries, a San Jose-based nonprofit that works to help people struggling with poverty, homelessness and addiction. "Now, with the high cost of housing, just renting a room in a house takes nearly all your money and people are making hard choices about whether to eat or pay the rent. After living in this area 150 years, even my family is facing having to move out."
Kiesow told me that, counter to the stereotypes about who goes hungry in America, in the heart of Silicon Valley, homelessness and hunger are not exclusively linked to unemployment:
"Many of the people who use our food pantry have jobs. We have lots of two-parent working families but they have to choose when and what to eat. The biggest crisis facing all of us is being able to afford to have a roof over our heads. The big tech boom brought a glut of people with very high salaries — to the point where there is little or no housing for our low-income men, women and families. Food and everything else have become so expensive, and if you have a minimum-wage job and make, say, $22,000 a year, I don't even know that you could find one room to rent for that kind of money here."
(Apartmentguide.com says that a studio apartment in San Jose averages $2,537 per month.)
Posted at 04:58 PM | Permalink
Pedro J. Torres-Díaz is a principal at Jackson Lewis, P.C., a law firm that concentrates on employment discrimination, wage and hour counseling and litigation both in Florida and Puerto Rico. Torres-Díaz graduated from Washington University in St. Louis with a bachelor's degree in business administration and then obtained a Juris Doctor (magna cum laude) from the University of Puerto Rico School of Law. After his graduation from law school, he clerked for the Hon. Aida M. Delgado-Colón, United States Magistrate-Judge (now Chief United States District Judge), at the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.
You've been a lawyer for 20 years now, how has the legal profession changed in that time?
The state of the economy and changes in technology have made the practice of law different from 20 years ago. One mission that we have at the Hispanic National Bar Association is to provide members with tools for adapting to practice of law in modern times by learning alternative technologies and skills. Also, we do training for our membership so that they can successfully sit on boards of directors of corporations.
We found that only 1 to 2 percent of all Fortune 500 boards have Latino directors and we are actively providing training to members so they have the necessary skills to serve on those boards across the nation.
My theme for my term as president of the HNBA is 'Strengthening the Future of Law,' but that's not just about professional development.
One thing that hasn't changed is that we continue to be severely underrepresented in the legal profession. Only about 4 percent of lawyers are Latino and in the case of Latinas, they represent only 1.2 to 1.3 percent of the legal profession. Despite our efforts a lot remains to be done.
The make-up of the lawyer population should clearly reflect America's, demographics but is there something more to it?
Posted at 02:03 PM | Permalink
When Kirn Kim was 16, he was part of a group of five teens who killed an honors student who attended their high school in Fullerton, California. Kim had been along for a ride with a pal who was known for his big talk and ended up in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was convicted and sentenced to 25 years-to-life in prison for having been a lookout in the murder.
Today, 23 years later, Kim is one of an emerging class of individuals – the formerly incarcerated – who are struggling to make a life for themselves after they've paid their debt to society.
"What happened was a tragedy," Kim told me. "But I was determined to make the best of a bad situation and be that one exception, if I ever managed to get out of prison."
To that end, Kim used his time behind bars to earn a bachelor's degree in business and became active in rehabilitative programs where he could counsel and help struggling inmates. After 20 years and two tries, Kim was finally granted parole.
He moved back home with his parents and, taking back up with a childhood love of computers, delved into coding and computer programming courses at a local college.
But he hit a brick wall when it was time to find work.
Posted at 01:59 PM | Permalink
CHICAGO -- Pre-K education has long been seen as a potential silver bullet to help at-risk children excel in school. But new research is prompting second thoughts about its effectiveness for low-income kids.
In a recent policy briefing describing statewide pre-K programs in Tennessee, Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution and Jeanne Brooks-Gunn of the Annie E. Casey Foundation report that by third grade, children who attended pre-K had worse attitudes toward school and poorer work habits than children who didn't.
About 3,000 children were randomly assigned either to attend a pre-K classroom or to not participate, then data on both groups' subsequent academic performance were taken from a state database.
The short-term impacts of the program, reported in 2013, looked good. Researchers found that children who attended preschool performed better than those who didn't on end-of-year achievement tests and got higher ratings from their teachers when kindergarten began. Plus, teachers said that the pre-K children were better prepared for school, had better work skills, and were more positive about school (this is similar to results in other studies of pre-K programs).
However, the 2015 data, which included results of student performance into the third grade, showed that the achievement-test advantage for children who attended the pre-K program had disappeared by the end of kindergarten (also similar to results in other studies).
Worse, by the end of first grade, their teachers rated pre-K program children as weaker in their work skills and less prepared for and more negative about school. Strikingly: At the end of both second grade and third grade, children who hadn't participated in the program performed better on academic tests than children who had.
No one knows why, but factors could include that the activities the children experienced were not age-appropriate to their developmental needs -- i.e. heavily dependent on structured direct instruction rather than on student-interest-based play (we've all heard the horror stories about kindergarteners made to fill out worksheets, so this is not far-fetched). Or that students who had initially been ahead of peers got bored by waiting for them to catch up as they progressed through grades 2 and 3.
Posted at 10:25 AM | Permalink
BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA
You wouldn't have expected much from the modest young man who moved to the big city from his backwater country home and ended up in an artsy halfway house peddling hand-painted postcards to pay for his next meal.
He was a late-blooming boy; a congenital late sleeper whose dad thought he was lazy and underachieving (a perception shared by many others). A dreamy kid who was bad at spelling and grammar, he was a scatterbrain who was always running late. Plus, he was terrifically boring and normal in the way he loved his mom, his sweet cakes heaped with whipped cream and his white fox terrier.
And yet from these humble beginnings emerged the man German historian Volker Ullrich calls, in his spellbinding new book "Hitler: Ascent (1889-1939)," a "sensationalist, pop-cultural icon of horror."
Ullrich explains that part of his reason for reconsidering Hitler is that since the global entertainment industry has created a caricature designed to "send the maximum shivers down audiences' spines," the phenomenon of the dictator stands to lose all connection to real life.
And so over the course of 998 pages, Ullrich leads us through Hitler's early life and his rise to power, before chillingly concluding this first of two volumes with Hitler nearly killing the Czechoslovakian president Emil Hacha during a late-night bullying session in which Hitler secured that country's forced break-up.
Ullrich starts us off with what few details the world has about Hitler's youth, then the disappointment that Hitler's social-climbing father felt about his moody son's artsy aspirations. We quickly move to Adolf's time in Vienna (where he lived alongside Jews in a men's home), his gratitude to his mother's Jewish doctor during her long and ultimately fatal battle with breast cancer, his seven years of struggle to make it as an artist and, eventually, his unimpressive military service.
Then things get interesting.
If one’s perception is, effectively, one’s reality, then we can expect life to get better soon. That’s because despite the media — and a certain presidential candidate — battering us with negativity about demographic change, racial strife and political polarization, America’s 55 million Latinos are feeling sunny about the future.
In a new National Council of La Raza poll of Latino registered voters’ views on the economy and health care, 51 percent of respondents said that the economy is getting better. Forty-eight percent said that a year from now they expect to be doing better financially, with 63 percent of 18- to 35-year-olds saying so compared with 36 percent of respondents 36 and older.
A full 66 percent said they expect that their financial future and opportunities will be better than their parents’.
Though the individuals polled expressed fears about Social Security not being around when they retire, about debt loads and about potential job losses, majorities (61 percent of 18- to 35-year-olds and 55 percent of those 36 and older) still said that they believe that their hard work will pay off and they will be able to get ahead.
To give you an idea of just how radically positive these young Latinos are compared with other groups, let’s look at the Harvard Institute of Politics’ most recent national poll of America’s 18- to 29-year-olds.
When asked whether they are “hopeful” or “fearful” about the future of America, 51 percent of all respondents indicated that they are fearful. However, of the whites, blacks and Hispanics who were polled, no group was more fearful about America’s future than white men and women.
Sixty percent of white women and 54 percent of white men are scared about the future — about 10 percentage points more than Hispanic women and men. And only 36 percent of white males and 32 percent of white females believe they will be better off financially than their parents, compared with 45 percent of Hispanic males and 52 percent of Hispanic females.
I blame this on a decade’s worth of alarmist news headlines about minorities displacing white people as the new majority. Without a doubt, 10 years or so of pitting minorities against white people in a high-stakes game of demography-is-destiny has been the impetus for our current presidential contest in which making America “great again” is code for making it white again.
In the two weeks before the election, the dueling narratives about the Latino vote are boiling down to this: The “Trump Effect” will propel more Hispanics than ever before to the polls, or “Don’t believe the hype.”
There’s so much uncertainty about what will happen on Nov. 8 that partisans are basically stuck grasping at anything that might predict victory for their favored candidate. Yet the data continue to say different things.
The Pew Hispanic Center recently published numbers that threw a wet blanket on those hoping Donald Trump’s insults of minorities would spur trips to the polls. Its late-summer survey of 1,507 Latino adults, including 804 registered voters, painted the so-called “Sleeping Giant” as still snuggled in its pajamas, snoring away.
Pew found that the share of Latino registered voters who said they are “absolutely certain” they will vote this November (69 percent) is down from the share who said the same in 2012 (77 percent).
Predictably, young people, who have a reputation for not getting out to polls, reflected some of the sharpest declines.
Posted at 02:11 PM | Permalink
CHICAGO -- Like manna from heaven, a small bit of much-needed joy fell upon Chicago Saturday night as the Cubs secured a trip to the World Series for the first time since 1945.
I wasn’t watching the game but knew the moment they won because the pure bliss emanated from Wrigley Field many miles out to me as my neighbors burst from their homes onto the street shrieking and hooting. Moments later, the sky was awash in fireworks and people were driving down the street honking their horns in jubilation.
The collective delight offered a refreshing pause for Chicagoans distressed over the nation’s election-year anxiety and the gun violence pounding the city’s lowest-income residents.
On Saturday night, people of all backgrounds, races and income levels were in the streets singing together, hugging and crying -- there were quite a lot of bittersweet tears, in fact. The Cubs’ win brought wistfulness to those lucky enough to witness the October miracle.
Yahoo Sports’ Kevin Kaduk picked right up on it, writing: “The thing that struck you were the tears.
“The tears were for so many things. They were for the achievement, of course. ... But for the fans, the tears were also for so many other things. It was for relatives no longer with us. One man waved a posterboard sign that said ‘Best fan in heaven: Mom’ with a picture of a woman wearing a Cubs hat in a hospital bed. ‘I wish my dad was alive’ trended on Facebook because so many people were posting that phrase in relation to the Cubs.
“It was for people no longer near us, too. Fans texted and called others from the stands when they could catch a signal. When’s the last time so many sons and daughters called their mothers and fathers that late on a Saturday night?”
Posted at 02:14 PM | Permalink
In its trademark satirical style, The Onion nailed it with its stunningly prescient story titled, "Trump Maps Out Plan For First 100 Days Of Not Conceding Election."
Deliciously, the imagined post-election press release from the floundering Republican presidential candidate detailed: "Within my first 10 days, I will introduce a comprehensive plan for my disgruntled supporters to march on the White House, and by day 30, I will submit a formal petition demanding [Hillary] Clinton's immediate removal from office." The spoof concluded by saying that Trump "looks forward to fiercely disputing the legitimacy of a Clinton presidency for the next four years."
You'd be forgiven for accidentally believing this was a legitimate statement from Trump, who has managed to suck so many people into his reality distortion field that even normally levelheaded people are getting out of whack.
Former presidential candidate John McCain made remarks last week that basically outlined a scenario in which a Clinton win would trigger four years of Republicans blocking any Supreme Court nominee put forward by the incoming president. McCain eventually walked back his strident comments but they give you a good idea where things stand.
For those of us who believe in the strength of a two-party system in which the loser of an election peacefully concedes to the victor and works harder to win next time, things look grim. Trump's insinuations of rigged elections and his call for his supporters to monitor polls for fraud – mostly in communities of color, it turns out – are eroding what little public trust in government is left.
Posted at 07:34 PM | Permalink