Reading Response: Becoming Mexican American… by George Sanchez

Considering the title, Becoming Mexican American: Ethnicity, Culture, and Identity in Chicano Los Angeles, 1900-1945, one would assume that George Sanchez’s book would be a history about the growth and development of a unique Chicano culture in Los Angeles between 1900 and 1945. However, the scope of the book becomes increasingly far-flung as the narrative progresses, much to the detriment of the author’s stated intention of examining cultural change in Los Angeles. Instead, Sanchez’s book shallowly covers multiple topics and areas, from labor history to radio programming, from rural villages in central and northern Mexico to El Paso, TX and points beyond, leaving the reader with the impression that much ground has been covered, but not in detail on any given subject. Despite the wide range of topics covered, Sanchez uses a variety of records and information from numerous fields of research to support his arguments, including Mexican consular documents, American government records, transcripts of oral testimonies from Mexican immigrants, and letters to provide a broad understanding of the factors that impacted Mexican immigrants to Los Angeles and their descendants.

One of the areas where Sanchez’s work excels is in his depiction of the social and economic interconnectedness of Mexico and the southwestern United States as a result of pre-existing Mexican communities in the area as well as through labor migration that led to cyclical and, eventually, additional permanent settlement. Part I of Becoming Mexican American… describes this process and is, in effect, a transnational historical narrative. Sanchez states that he wants to show that the culture that immigrants brought with them to the United States was not stagnant, but was rather a vibrant, complicated amalgamation of rural and urban mores that developed in Mexican villages in in the second half of the 19th century. However, this does not come through clearly in his writing. For one, the implication is that rural laborers somehow came to possess urban culture while migrating along rail lines for work. Additionally, it implies that laborers arrived in Los Angeles with a fully formed and static culture. It seems more reasonable to say that the process of cultural change that took place in Los Angeles was a continuation of what began in small rural villages in central and northern Mexico.

Sanchez’s comparison of labor migration within Mexico and the United States builds on the idea of regional interconnectedness. He demonstrates this primarily through his discussion of the Mexican rail system that connected northern Mexico more fully to the U.S. than it did to the rest of the country. The opportunities for labor created by the rail system pulled manual laborers away from their homes to travel and work on the rails. As they reached areas closer to the border with the U.S., they saw opportunities to perform the same labor for higher wages. However, this discussion, along with the highly detailed habits of border checkpoint guards, does not seem highly relevant to the topic of the development of a unique Chicano culture in Los Angeles.

Certainly, the openness of the border led to continued migration into the U.S., part of which created the community in Los Angeles, but why was a third of the narrative devoted to what feels like only partially relevant background information. It would have been more useful if the author had provided a brief overview of this topic and then spent more time explaining what the culture of Mexicans in Los Angeles was and how it developed over time. For example, Sanchez devotes an entire chapter to religion, but never goes further than saying the immigrants practiced what Catholic priests in the U.S. considered “folk Catholicism”. What is folk Catholicism? Exactly what were their beliefs and how did they contrast to mainstream Catholicism? Similarly, why did Sanchez spend so much time describing propaganda to encourage Anglos to move to Los Angeles? Why should we care what a Mexican intellectual who is not a resident of Los Angeles thinks about racial homogeneity in relation to the topic of this work? Also, why does Sanchez treat buying a radio as a special sign of cultural development? Is it not normal for people to be interested in purchasing devices that make their lives more comfortable, like the sewing machines he notes were prominent in rural Mexican households in Mexico?

While Sanchez’s book clearly has a lot to offer in terms of in-depth research about regional migration and labor history, most of what he presents is only coincidentally relevant to the community in Los Angeles and how their view of themselves and their position in relation to other inhabitants in the city changed over time. One is left with the feeling that certain sections of the book were originally meant to be stand-alone articles and that an original, cohesive text was supplemented by partially relevant, sometimes dense, textbook-style prose that was book-ended with an argument to attempt to tie everything together.

LaFeber The Clash Book Cover

Walter LaFeber, The Clash: A History of U.S. – Japan Relations (1997): xvii-xxii, 3-159.

Reading Response:

LaFeber’s main argument in the sections covered in the reading is that America and the Japanese generally saw each other as partners in East Asia, but that there has been an ongoing series of clashes that led to war between the countries during World War II. LaFeber boils this difference down to a conflict of economic interests in China. He states that there is something uniquely different about Japanese and American forms of capitalism that led to different approaches over China.

LaFeber states that the topic he is covering has been covered before, but hasn’t been viewed from a long perspective. He intends to cover the entire post-1850s relationship between the US and Japan to show that the conflict was inevitable (xxii). Essentially, that from the moment Perry forced open Japan, the two countries were set on paths to conflict. He does this by showing that both the US and Japan were heavily reliant on China for exports and that there was a crucial difference in methods. Japan wanted to create a closed market system that would protect its domestic market while the US wanted to maintain Chinese territorial integrity and include the country in a global economic system.

LaFeber’s methodology is interesting in that it shows a lot of the background and details of the relationship between the U.S. and Japan that eventually led to conflict. The title of the book and the way LaFeber framed his argument in his preface seems to imply that a clash was inevitable from the beginning. His argument feels a little fatalistic, and maybe makes sense in hindsight, but was everything that happened from 1850 onward definitely leading to war? Or is LaFeber placing too much emphasis on that one aspect?

Avatar Used To Justify The Belief That 9/11 Attacks in NYC Were Staged

“In September 2001, the World Trade Centre was attacked allegedly by terrorists. I am not sure now that Muslim terrorists carried out these attacks. There is strong evidence that the attacks were staged. If they can make Avatar, they can make anything,” said Dr Mahathir during his speech at the General Conference for the Support of Al-Quds here. Al-Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem.

For those of you that don’t know, Dr Mahathir was the Prime Minister of Malaysia from 16 July 1981 to 31 October 2003. He gave this statement, and others that will be in this entry, on January 20th, 2010.

Now that you have some background on this guy, let’s dive right into the heart of the matter. This guy is either senile, crazy, or both, but he’s most obviously a racist and should no longer be allowed to get near a reporter or microphone. How the hell can you say that because the US can make a 3D movie, we were capable of staging the September 11th attacks that killed around 3000 people? It’s absurd. Guess what, Dr Mahathir? Those holes in the ground in NYC aren’t special effects. They’re real. The people that died weren’t extras that shared a beer and laughed about the film later. They were real too. And they’re dead. Al’Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attack. The last time I checked, Osama Bin Laden wasn’t the Commander in Chief.

And, as if this weren’t enough, he went on to make plenty of off-color comments about the Jewish people and Israel.

“The Jews had always been a problem in European countries. They had to be confined to ghettoes and periodically massacred. But still they remained, they thrived and they held whole governments to ransom.

“Even after their massacre by the Nazis of Germany, they survived to continue to be a source of even greater problems for the world. The Holocaust failed as a final solution,” said the outspoken Malaysian leader who was noted for his anti-Western and anti-Zionist stand while in power for 22 years, until October 2003.

Nice job projecting your racist views about Jews onto the entire European population. He seems to imply here that all Europeans wanted to get rid of the Jews all along and that, given the opportunity, would have sanctioned their mass extermination. I must have missed that page in my history book, and I certainly don’t recall World War II playing out quite that way.

The only sensible thing to come out of his mouth was what he had to say about Obama:

“Well, I am a bit disappointed because so far none of his promises have been kept. He promised to get out from Afghanistan but he ended up sending more troops there instead. He promised to close down Guantanamo but he has not closed down Guantanamo. Even other things he has not been able to do.

“It is quite easy to promise during election time but you know there are forces in the United States which prevents the president from doing some things. One of the forces is the Jewish lobby, IPAC,” he said.

I wonder why he went easy on him? It might be because he feels like Obama is a fellow Muslim being oppressed by supposed Jewish powers in Washington.  This guy’s paranoia runs deep.

There should come a point in all of our lives, famous politician, rock star, or whatever, where we realize that we’re no longer competent to speak to the public. If we can’t see it in ourselves, someone should tell us, because obviously Dr Mahathir’s time has long since come and gone.

More Thoughts On The Fort Hood Incident

I’ve been trying to keep up with the news about what’s going on with the incident at Fort Hood and it looks like Nidal Malik Hasan is going to be facing the death penalty.  Well, that’s what prosecutors are pushing for anyway.  He’ll be tried in a military court, rather than a civilian one, and if he is executed it will be the first time that an active duty serviceman is put to death since 1961.

That’s all well and good but honestly I’d rather the guy spend the rest of his life in a Federal penitentiary, without the possibility of parole.  It would be like throwing a child molester into a general population prison.  This guy killed soldiers in a cowardly act of domestic terrorism and I think it would be much fairer for him to get his ass beaten in jail every day for the rest of his life.  Ya, the other people in the Federal penitentiary may have broken the law as well, but I have a feeling that the majority of them won’t take kindly to a person who killed a bunch of soldiers on a US military base, especially given his terrorist ties.

Something that’s bothering me is that the papers and online news sites are still referring to him as a Major.  They’re also still referring to him as a soldier.  While both of these are technically true, I think he’s lost the right to be accorded that honor.  Yes, it’s an honor to be called a soldier.  It’s an honor to be addressed by the rank you’ve been awarded.  It’s an honor to be acknowledged as one of the country’s finest.  He’s a domestic terrorist with ties to known Middle Eastern terrorists.  He killed real soldiers.  He’s not a soldier.  He’s not a Major.  He’s just an asshole.

Also, people seem to be trying to paint Hasan as the victim, or at least a victim, in this whole scenario.  He’s not a victim.  In fact, I read that he wasn’t even a therapist.  He was just one of the people that processes paperwork and occasionally prescribes medication.  It’s likely he never spent more than 15 minutes with any single person.  He certainly wasn’t putting them on a couch and trying to couch them through personal problems or help them deal with PTSD.  That being the case, you can’t even claim that he was suffering from some second-hand PTSD, whatever the hell that’s supposed to be.  Does anyone else notice how medical illnesses seem to create themselves whenever someone does something f*cked up and wants to justify their actions?

It’s pretty clear what happened to him.  This guy never felt like he was an American.  He never felt like he belonged.  He had an ideological difference with how the US does business.  For whatever reason, he joined the Army as an officer.  That was the stupidest thing he could’ve done.  People join the Army for a lot of different reasons, but to some degree all soldiers are patriotic.  So, if you don’t believe in what your country is doing why be in the military?  I refuse to believe that he didn’t have ample time to resign his commission.  Instead of doing that though, he reached out to Islamic extremists and used his position of trust as a military officer to do as much damage to the Army as he could alone.

People are arguing that if this guy was a Christian his beliefs wouldn’t be at the forefront of the investigation, but we’re not at war with a Christian country and we’re not at war with groups of extremist Christians.  Hasan is a Muslim with ties to Muslim extremists, who committed this atrocious act with the idea of protecting his Muslim beliefs in mind.  His religion has everything to do with the investigation and with the cause of the killing of 12 US Soldiers and 1 devoted contracted medical professional.

I’m in no way saying that we should take a hard stance against having Muslims in our military.  I know a lot of Muslims, especially after having lived over here in Singapore, and for the most part they’re good or just average people.  They live their lives more or less the same way any other person does.  Hey, there are even gay Muslims.  I think people have the misconception that all Muslims are hard ass extremists.  That’s simply not the case.  What I am saying is that we need to take a harder look at Muslims who are put into positions of authority and trust, at least for the time being, to make sure they have no ties to any extremist groups.  Consider the minor loss of privacy to those individuals a temporary necessity of war.  At least we’re not throwing them all in concentration camps like we did to the Japanese during the second World War.  Hasan had obvious and known ties to extremists and it was brushed off by top government agencies as legitimate professional and educational research.  I call bullshit on that.  I think someone just dropped the ball.  At a time when we’re at war with Muslim extremist groups I think more care should be given to those who are obviously reaching out to them, especially those who are within our military ranks.  I’m getting really tired of seeing our government drop the ball when it comes to stuff like this.  First the September 11th, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center in NYC.  Now this.  What next?  Are we going to miss connecting the dots and have a whole city get blown up?

I have a feeling this is going to turn into a long drawn out process.  The legal proceedings I mean.  This guy will probably push for appeal after appeal, and the final execution order would have to be signed by the President himself, since he’s technically in the military.  For example, remember the other guy that rolled a grenade into a tent full of soldiers in Kuwait?  Well, that guy, then Army Sergeant Hasan Akbar, was sentenced to death four years ago.  His case is still held up in the first level appellate courts.

Responding To The Fort Hood Tragedy

On Thursday afternoon at around 1 PM CST at Fort Hood, Texas, there was a tragedy involving an Army major opening fire on fellow soldiers. The result was that 12 soldiers died and 28 were wounded. I can relate to this incident because I spent 8 years in the US Army. I don’t have a degree in Military Science. I was just a soldier, a Sergeant, but something like this really hits home for me, because I spent 8 years of my life living through the Army experience. It wasn’t all good, but it wasn’t all bad either, and what I miss most about it is the people. And, the people are who suffered in this tragedy, so after reading the news articles and watching some of the videos, I can’t help but wonder what happened. I didn’t get along with everyone I served with. In fact, I had a serious dislike for some of those bastards, but there was never a day where I’d have chosen an outsider over another soldier, for whatever reason. It may sound cheesy, or like some line from a movie, but you do form a bond with each other and on some level you feel like you belong.

Most of the reports indicate that the shooting took place in the Soldier Readiness Center on Fort Hood. Just to clarify what that means, it’s a place where soldiers go to verify paperwork and ensure medical readiness prior to and after deploying. I’ve been through one on two occasions. I can’t remember every step, but there are medical checks including verifying whether or not you’re current on vaccinations, audiograms, and getting your eyes checked, as well as paperwork checks to make sure your last will and testament are complete and up to date. You can also have powers-of-attorney made to allow family members to handle your business for you while you’re gone. Typically, whole units at a time, and usually more, will go through these checks at once, for the sake of ensuring it gets done and everyone gets processed. It’s a really busy place with a lot of ‘stations’. It’s crowded, chaotic, and I can very easily see an incident happening in one area of an SRC without the rest of the poeople there being immediately aware.

The shooter in this incident, Major Nidal Malik Hasan, was a mental health professional, whose job was to help soldiers returning from deployments deal with post traumatic stress syndrome. Every day he listened to soldiers tell him about their troubles, about the things they’d done and seen, and about how they couldn’t adjust to ‘regular’ life again. This is a pretty serious issue in the Army. The first time I came back from a deployment, when I was returning from Iraq, there wasn’t any sort of training about dealing with these kinds of issues. As the war dragged on, though, the Army recognized the problem and addressed it by providing training before and after deployments about PTSD. I distinctly remember watching the videos after my second deployment and thinking they were cheesy, but they addressed a serious problem. In addition to these videos, soldiers who self-reported problems could receive additional therapy and consultation, which is what I assume Major Hasan’s job entailed. With Major Hasan already dealing with a lot of internal struggles about the possibility of having to confront other Muslims in combat, hearing these details daily must have piled on the stress tremendously.

I spent some time in Iraq during 2003, when the initial wave of US troops entered the country. I was in Kuwait when the war started on a training deployment and our unit was pushed forward to provide logistics and repair support. Ya, I wasn’t in a combat unit. I was a supply specialist. Most of my duties involved warehousing operations, logistics convoys and vehicle recovery operations, since I was certified to operate the large forklifts sometimes required to flip over and lift vehicles, or pieces of vehicles onto trailers. I didn’t see much of any combat. I was only fired on once during the time I was there. I did see the results of combat though. It wasn’t pretty. Still, living in the middle of a foreign country where every person you encounter could potentially end your life, going to sleep each night wondering if a mortar would land in your tent and you’d never wake up again… Well, it was stressful. I still think about it sometimes.

I can only imagine the kind of mental problems combat troops come home with. I really felt for those guys. Sometimes they would come through our camp in Bradley Fighting Vehicles or M1 Abrahms tanks, and I would mentally wish them luck as they rolled by. I knew I had it easier than they did. I remember one time I was on guard duty at a checkpoint and a Bradley (if I remember right) stopped and the hatch popped up. The driver offered me 20 bucks for a pack of smokes. The American money we brought with us didn’t mean much out there. I tossed the guy my pack and told him to keep it. It was the least I could do. I never even knew the guy’s name, or whether he’s still alive today. Just the same, some of the chopper pilots running supplies up from Kuwait would give us cartons of cigarettes, because they knew we didn’t have a way to get any. It’s the small things that reminded us that we were all in the same boat, that we were part of a larger family, and we were taking care of each other as best we could.

So, it really disturbed me to find out that a solider, a Major no less, opened fire on fellow soldiers. It’s disgusting to me that soldiers died on a military base in the US, under fire, without a chance to defend themselves because one guy couldn’t handle the pressure. These are people that, for whatever reason, made an oath to defend the country against all enemies, foreign and domestic. Who could’ve guessed that the domestic enemy would be one of their own, a person who had been entrusted with the rank of Major and also entrusted with the mental health of soldiers returning from combat. Perhaps it’s unreasonable, but officers, at least those that get promoted to Captain and above, are supposed to be the kind of guys you should emulate. They’re supposed to be the ones who have things under control and set the example for the troops under their command. They’re held to a higher standard. Perhaps that was part of the problem though. Enlisted soldiers or the ranks E-6 (Staff Sergeant) and below are pushed through all of the hoops and are scrutinized carefully. I have no clue, but I assume the same is true for the officer ranks of Captain and below. Once you get above those points, though, you’re golden and are often able to excuse yourself from training or appointments. You get away with more and are therefore more likely to fall through the cracks if you have a problem. I think people forget that they’re still human despite their rank.

The reports I’ve read say that Major Hasan was a Muslim, and that he’d been harassed by other soldiers because of his religion ever after the September 11th incident. They also said that he had tried to leave military service but hadn’t been successful. I really don’t understand that part. What contract had he signed that required him to stay in for 8 years past the time when he first expressed the desire to resign? Some officers have to stay in for a term of four years, to pay back college loans. Beyond that, I believe they can tender their resignation at their convenience, barring the setting of a “stop-loss” just prior to their unit deploying. If this guy was really serious about getting out of the military he had ample time to make it happen. Maybe he thought he could handle it. Maybe he thought he could deal with the occasional taunting. Maybe he thought he’d found a safe spot where he wouldn’t get deployed. Prior to my completing my contract and leaving the military, a lot of folks were very interested in finding out which bases had the lowest deployment rates and then finding ways to get assigned there. Maybe he got comfortable, and then was suddenly presented with orders to be deployed to the Middle East.

I remember when I got deployed to Kuwait the first and second time, and was informed that we would be moving forward to Iraq during the first deployment. You really have no choice but to accept it. You might not want to go, but no one does. You see, when you get orders like that you either go, or you go AWOL. When you go AWOL you can’t work because the IRS will report you to the military and you’ll be picked up by Military Police. When you get orders, you have to suck it up and push forward with the mission until the mission is done. That doesn’t mean you don’t bitch and moan about it along the way, but you don’t go apeshit and kill your buddies either. In short, when you get orders you’re locked in. I was actually extended past my contract date for a deployment. My discharge paperwork reads “extended XXX days for the convenience of the government.” So ya, there’s really no way out, even if your discharge date was close at hand. He was locked in. I imagine he must have tried to fight the deployment, possibly using his rank to try to sway someone into reassigning him elsewhere, but it must have failed, and after failing, he must have felt trapped.

This guy had some serious personal conflicts with the deployment. From what I gather he seems to have been very conflicted about the potential of having to kill other Muslims. It wouldn’t be likely, given that he was a health care professional, but it was possible. Even if he had never pulled the trigger he might have felt as if he were an accomplice to the murder of other Muslims, depending on his view of the ‘rightness’ or legality of the war. Feeling trapped, feeling conflicted about killing other Muslims, and feeling afraid of what might happened based on the stories he was told by his patients, it must have caused him to snap.

He apparently disposed of his personal belongings prior to going in to work Thursday morning. It seems as though he had reached the decision much in advance of his actions. What I wonder is why did he choose a path of violence? He could have simply refused to go and accepted the consequences. It might have resulted in his being jailed and losing his rank, but isn’t that a better option than killing your comrades, possibly dying, and swaying public opinion of Muslims into a much worse light than they already are? Let’s face it. Most Americans see Muslims as fear mongering, hate filled people who are all potential terrorists that are not to be trusted. Some Americans even feel that all Arabs and/or Muslims in the US should be rounded up into internment camps like the Japanese-Americans were during World War II. His actions have definitely not helped the situation any.  The weirdest part is that the morning before he did this, he handed out copies of the Koran to his neighbors.  What a way to advertise!  “What’s up guys! Here, have a copy of the Koran.  It’s great and will help you lead peaceful lives devoted to Allah.  Now, pardon me.  I have a readiness center to shoot up, Praise Allah!”  I just don’t see this going over too well.  If things were bad for Muslims in the US, and Muslims in the Army specifically, it’s only going to get worse now.  Oh, and after that he went to his regular convenience store and bought breakfast and had a chat with the store owner.  I guess he wasn’t too disturbed by what he was about to do.

Almost as disturbing as the tragedy itself are some of the reactions of people on the Internet. Mostly people are posting out of ignorance, but some people are outright lauding this man’s actions. It’s infuriating. What people fail to realize is that the soldiers themselves shouldn’t be blamed for the actions of the government. I’m sure there are some nutballs in the Army that can’t wait to go to combat, but for the most part soldiers are just like everyone else. They’re normal folks that go to work during the day, then go home at night to their families, or to their computers and XBOXs. They’re just people who got a job they could do to put food on the table for themselves or their family. Some soldiers don’t even want to be in the Army at all and are just doing service to pay off loans or save up money so they can do something else. Still, they’re all bound by contracts and they can’t just quit. And, they all have to follow orders or risk going to jail, which could put their families in jeopardy and sacrifice their future careers. I just wish people would ask questions and think a bit before blurting out ridiculous statements about soldiers. It’s also a bit ridiculous that some people have asked why Majar Hasan was able to kill and wound so many people before the police showed up. A military post in the US is like a town. There aren’t tanks rolling down the streets, or armed soldiers on every corner. There are no choppers flying through the air monitoring the situation. The firearms are all locked up in armories and require a unit commander’s approval to be released for cleaning or use at a range for annual qualification (which makes me wonder how Major Hasan had those two pistols in the first place). There are usually a mix of military police officers and contracted civilians. Response time for law enforcement on a military base is generally the same as or a bit better than that in a regular town.

The whole situation is disgusting. I kinda understand where the guy was coming from, but I just can’t understand what he was thinking when he decided that killing a bunch of people was the way to solve his problem. I’m actually glad Major Hasan is alive. Now he can stand trial for what he’s done. And, after all that shame, embarrassment and knowing that he’s made the US a worse place for Muslims, I hope they hang his ass.

(Photos snagged from CNN)