Sunday, January 29, 2012

Yale Herald: El Pueblo unido

El pueblo unido: Latin American identity at Yale


Iris Cano, PC ’12, now a member of the Yale Mexican Students Organization (YMSO), made no distinction among three of the prominent Latin American student groups when she first came to Yale. Hailing from a border town in northern Mexico, Cano settled on YMSO after attending the Cultural Connections pre-orientation program. But despite the ostensible similarity between three of the major groups—YMSO, the Latin American Students Organization (LASO), and the Movimiento de Estudiantes Chicanos de Aztlán (MEChA)—Cano would soon learn that the organizations not only have vastly different ideologies, but that membership in any one group can be a strong indicator of background or social status.

When upperclassmen who regularly interact with LASO, YMSO, and MEChA refer to the relationship between the three groups, they inevitably recall a party that was planned two years ago, but never came to fruition. This divisive event revealed to the entire campus the differences between the Latin American student groups.

In the last two years, there has not been a noticeable clash between these groups. When interviewed, however, members of all three organizations mentioned conflict. Four years ago, tensions between MEChA and YMSO came to a head over a Mexican Independence Day celebration. El Grito, as it is called in Spanish, is an event organized annually by both organizations. Before the traditional singing of the Mexican national anthem, MEChA passed around sheets of paper with the lyrics to the anthem of the Zapatistas, a leftist rebel group based in southern Mexico. Lyrics of the Mexican national anthem were not available at the event. Some members of YMSO were surprised by the absence of these lyrics and perceived it as disrespectful. The discomfort went no further.

“It may just have been that someone forgot to make copies; it was not a political, guerrilla-type attack. I don’t see MEChA doing that, ever,” Edgar Díaz-Machado, PC ’11, a former member of MEChA’s national board and of MEChA’s Yale chapter, said in a Herald interview. Moreover, Díaz-Machado claims that the Zapatista anthem can be part of a Mexican Independence Day celebration, given its importance to some of the Chicano activist community. Historically, the Zapatista anthem has been sung at Yale’s El Grito celebrations, and the incident did not impede co-sponsored El Grito events in the years that followed.

But in 2010, a controversial mixer called “Colonizers and Colonized” was co-organized by LASO and the Yale European Union. MEChA members, other Yale students, and faculty did not consider colonization an appropriate theme for a party. The debate led to the cancellation of the party, and to a dialogue hosted by the Cultural Connections program. After Díaz-Machado wrote an article in the Yale Daily News expressing his discomfort in regards to the party, the YEU and LASO apologized and stated that they had not intended to offend any members of the Yale community in choosing the name. They also claimed that “there is no innate, universal ‘common sense’ that allows one to judge whether something will be considered offensive.”

Alejandro Gutiérrez, CC ’13, former president of MEChA, feels a personal link to the party theme. A commenter on Díaz-Machado’s article urged the groups to keep it behind them. “It’s history, we are in another chapter,” he said. But the article itself noted that “many members of La Casa still reel from the negative effects of colonization.” Gutiérrez attributed these differences in opinion to the broader phenomenon of migration and inequality.

Díaz-Machado grew up in a diverse neighborhood in a suburb of Chicago. His parents came to the U.S. from small towns in the northern state of Durango. Today, unemployment and poverty in these towns force many young men and women to migrate in search of better economic opportunities elsewhere. Díaz-Machado is the first member of his family to go to college.

Lissy Giacomán, MC ’12, a former president of YMSO, grew up in San Pedro Garza García, one of the wealthiest municipalities in Mexico. In her high school, the American School of Monterrey, there is a strong tradition of encouraging the best students to seek college education in the United States. Historically, Mexican students at Yale—as well as other Latin Americans—come from similar schools. Many members of Giacomán’s family have college degrees.

At Yale, though, Díaz-Machado and Giacomán lead similar lives: long study hours in crowded libraries, meetings with their respective organizations, calls home on the weekends. They both know Toad’s aroma of cigarettes and beer. Here they are only Yalies, and outside of the bubble everyone can characterize them as such.

All of the members interviewed agreed that the socioeconomic environment in which one grows up is relevant. Different backgrounds explain diversity in mindsets. Cano asserted that even when these differences result in an argument, the overall feeling is not confrontational. She went on to say that sometimes extremist views from both sides get blown out of proportion and do not represent the general feeling of any group. Murat Dagli, PC ’14, YMSO president and member of LASO, claimed that frictions between organizations should not be translated into personal conflicts. Furthermore, he said that friendships are stronger than any “institutional” disagreement.

MEChA distinguishes itself by a strong political component that neither YMSO nor LASO has, and is also registered with Dwight Hall Center for Public Service and Social Justice. Giacomán agreed that YMSO and LASO are more focused in cultural themes, rather than social activism. Gutiérrez stressed that MEChA is a nationwide political organization that advocates for civil rights. The Zapatista anthem that sullied 2008’s El Grito is closely tied to political struggle and oppression in Mexico, and is relevant to anyone who identifies him or herself as Chicano. Viewing MEChA as a political organization and YMSO and LASO as international student organizations explains much of the organization’s contentious recent history.

In spite of these clashes, MEChA and YMSO— and, to a lesser extent, LASO— work together extensively. “The aim is always working together,” affirms Diego Salvatierra, PC ’13, and president of LASO. Taking into account the differences among the organizations, it is a given that they will pursue different objectives and interests. Both Giacomán and Gutiérrez, former presidents of YMSO and MEChA respectively, spoke about the collaborative events they have organized. They worked together when celebrating the bicentennial of many Latin American nations’ independence days, and YMSO is currently organizing a symposium called “Convergencias 2012: Mexico’s Roadmap Forward” with assistance from MEChA.
All of the members interviewed agreed that conflict is not intrinsically part of the three Latin American student organizations. Cano said that clashes could occur between any groups at any level without transforming into perpetual conflict. Díaz-Machado called it “cold war politics.”

Both Gutiérrez and Díaz-Machado agreed separately that if more Latin American students from a wider variety of socioeconomic environments came to Yale, underrepresented groups would grow in number, broadening mutual understanding.

“I have grown and learned so much these years,” said Giacomán. She highlighted the common work of the organizations and mentioned Mexico as an inspiration. Because these groups share an unquestionably strong link to Latin America, working together goes beyond political differences and economic backgrounds. The different ways they express Latin American identity are the differences that nourish Yale’s diversity. “We can be very diplomatic and respectful with each other,” Díaz-Machado said. “We don’t have to have a battle about our disagreements.”

Cuesy Edgar attends Yale through the Visiting International Students Program


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Narcotics Control and Connecticut

In June 2011 Connecticut became the 14th state to pass a bill decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of Marijuana. It is no longer a criminal offense that will land individuals in jail and leave a stain on criminal records. Legal reform like this marks the changing attitudes towards drug consumption in the United States, and encourages more pragmatic approach for the future of drug control in this country, but I encourage you, as consumers, to look beyond our borders and consider the effects of our decisions.

The passage of laws like SB 1014, fewer individuals from our communities will end up with criminal records that prevent them from seeking employment. I encourage cities like New Haven to implement proposals like Good Samaritan Drug Policy (recently passed in New York), but we cannot turn a blind eye to the reality of the American drug market.

According to Professor Mark Kleiman at UCLA, 80% of drugs consumed within the United States are consumed by 20% of the population of drug users. He estimates that about 1 in 10 users actually becomes addicted to Marijuana, whereas 1 in 3 become addicted to Tobacco. This is important information for law makers to take into account when they develop drug laws, and while I support these efforts to keep more people out of jail for minimal offenses, I do believe that discussions like these are all together too isolationist to give consumers the full picture of what is going on in the narcotics market.

I can tell you, as someone who has lost family members and close friends to the violence of the Drug Wars, there isn’t a clear way out of this for Mexico and Central America. With homicide rates reaching 40 per 100,000 people in Mexico, and in some of the most violent parts of El Salvador 80 per 100,000 people, this violence becomes part of the reality that each new generation lives and breathes everyday. Imagine a world where teenagers talk about how many bodies they passed on the streets on the way to their one room, abandoned school house. That is what a day in Cuidad Juarez looks like. Or where people depend on others tweeting about which streets in Veracruz have been shut down by the cartels to plan their daily routes to work.

While the cartels are have expanded their economic holdings, 60% of their profits come from selling just Marijuana in the United States. Mexico is now the second largest exporter of opiates in the world, and the largest exporter of synthetic drugs. Yes, we can pretend that all of the marijuana on campus comes from small farmers in California who sell to the medical marijuana stores in Venice Beach, but I can promise you that this is not true. As it is, California is a border state and a major transaction point for narcotics. Look at the cartels in Tijuana that fought so hard for control of that point of entry.

The conversation surrounding drug enforcement in the United States does need to change. All together too much money is spent on ineffective prevention and enforcement projects that put individuals back into a repeating cycle of damage. But I am also here, asking that you consider where your money is going, and do not just see these reforms as an opportunity to take up the habit.

Split Families, Split Personalities

ENRIQUEZ: Split families, split personalities

‘Listen. My boyfriend is in a hospital just outside Guatemala City. He doesn’t have enough money on him to pay for his medical services in cash, like they asked him to. I have never done this before and the money needs to get to him today. I have time to run to the bank to take out money and then run over to your store to wire him the funds, but I do not have time to go back and forth a few times so I need to know exactly how much I will need to take out to pay for any transfer fees and the difference in exchange rates so that he will receive $200 from me. Can you help me?”

I don’t have a boyfriend in a Guatemalan hospital. Nor do I usually make phone calls and demand information from people I don’t know personally. I am not really as emotionally distressed as I sound, except for the fact that I have had to call the same woman three other times, change my accent and my story, and request the same information in different ways. I like to call this one my “entitled” voice. It is the one that I fall back on when personalities one through three fail to get me the data I need.

I spent the summer working on a research project comparing remittance costs from different cities across the United States to various Latin American countries. This means posing as someone who wants to send money to family abroad and comparing transfer costs.

Remittances account for $60 billion that go to Latin America every year, but most migrants are sending home somewhere around $200 or maybe $500 at a time. The differences in exchange rates from the daily rate give some of these companies a chance to significantly boost their profits without disclosing these hidden costs.

Remittance tellers are usually happy to tell you about initial fees, even when they vary from different sending locations, but they will not tell you the exchange rates without careful prodding. The exchange rate from one company in particular means that 10 percent of the money sent to a family in Guatemala really goes to the transfer company. But they would rather not have that information out there.

When I asked for that exchange rate in my first, “very pleasant, Spanish-speaking local with family back in Guatemala” personality, the remittance teller told me she could not give me that information and hung up the phone. The same woman told me that I would have to come into the store for information when I spoke in my “very spacey, city-girl Chilanga” accent. She told me that she could not help me over the phone, because it was against their policy, when I called her in “desperate Spanish,” pleading for her help because my mother was sick and needed me to send her money so that she could buy her medication. So the “entitled American English” voice came out and I finally got the information that I needed.

Sometimes people answer the phone and ask me what company I am calling from before they hang up on me. Most migrants do not call remittance locations beforehand to compare prices and select the best one. I am lucky in that usually one of my personalities gets something out of them.

The Frank-Dodd Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act includes provisions that require that remittance transfer companies disclose all information regarding transfer fees, exchange rates and taxes in a simplified and easily comprehensible format. Companies like Western Union and Moneygram disclose all of their information online, making them the most transparent but not necessarily the cheapest services. The challenge, in future years, will come from trying to regulate money transfers between two countries, like Guatemala and the United States, that have different levels of technology and financial structures used to reach their clients. For now, families will have to find their own way to navigate through the fancy wording, hidden fees and transnational exchanges.

Diana Enriquez is a junior in Saybrook College.