Immigration On The Concert Stage, Silver Screen & In The Legislature: Calle 13 @ Coachella, <em>The Undocumented</em>, <em>How Democracy Works Now</em> + Mercedes Sosa's Final Recording Session

Immigration On The Concert Stage, Silver Screen & In The Legislature: Calle 13 @ Coachella,,+ Mercedes Sosa's Final Recording Session
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Herewith, a legend's final studio recording, a great day at Coachella, notes on heroic forensics and a decade and a half of failed immigration legislation efforts (plus several other worthwhile docs). Please ignore all typos.

How Democracy Works Now, or, 14 Up The Down Escalator, or, Loop Dreams

Kudos to the New York Film Festival's selection committee for recognizing the genuine utility to community which documentary cinema-as-newsreel can serve, circa now.

For better and worse, we're seeing more (usually narrative feature) television mini-series screened at festivals, and this partnering with festival-sponsor PBS to world-premiere the entire, updated documentary How Democracy Works Now (which had previously aired earlier episodes on PBS) made for smart, timely programming.

Those blessed film festival-goers earnest enough to watch the entire series should have been rewarded with T-shirts emblazoned "I watched all fourteen episodes of How Democracy Works Now, and all I got was this lousy T-Shirt"; sadly, such a shirt would be apropos, because although this film is simply dynamite in its capture of the epic concatenations to bring legislative sanity to America and her newest citizens in this twenty-first century, we are absolutely no closer to this vital national self-realization than when the cameras started rolling on this doc, just before the events of September 11th, 2001 returned the capital "O" to otherness in America, and legislation efforts begun in earnest were waylaid.

Consider this the Citizen Kane of policy-wonk and political snake (and political snake-charmer) documentaries. At 14-years-and-counting, this saga delivers an immersive real-world update to that Schoolhouse Rock primer that we all fell in love with during Sundays of yester-yester-year, as we learned how a bill becomes a law.

At its best amidst our worst, How Democracy Works Now lives up to its title, tracking an issue and the proposals to remedy it, throughout legislative formalities and technicalities which, simply put, kill the very thing they are supposed to serve.

And in these days when governmental dysfunction and our general apathy (and with such high stakes, you cannot, indeed you haven't the right to discuss the former without conceding the latter) have burned out the engines of progress like a car without oil, this film remains crucial viewing.

These repeating episodes of human nature's corruption of ostensibly noble ideals via the diabolical exploitation of technical processes which subvert the template of representative democracy should make eminently manifest how erroneously presumptuous a workaday citizen's illation of non-susceptibility really is, and on all issues, not just immigration reform. This is what opportunism, reactionism and apathy (in a word, our illusion of democracy) look like.

Through fourteen-plus hours (covering as many years) we witness vastly differing social groups, lobbyists, labor unions, businesses interests and other strands in our societal cloth, as they clash-slash-mesh during the precarious stages in a bill's shaping: statistics, rules, individuals and the media are manipulated, and abused -- at times ingeniously, at times evilly and ingeniously, and at times heartbreakingly -- in the lumpen, wholesale succumbing to the utilitarianism of what is cavalierly, nihilistically referred to as realpolitik.

In one interview (monologue, really), a suspender-clad insider, David Kensinger (chief of staff to Sam Brownback), dusts himself off after an episode of legislative betrayal (to employ euphemism, since, per Kensinger's actual dysphemism, post-coital is more accurate) explaining his hard-earned perspective with an anecdote from his initiation years ago into the minging relativism of life on The Hill.

And this is pretty much the tone of the film; it's always just another betrayal amidst an environment described by the late Ted Kennedy as "...a very chemical place; there's a rhythm to this place, there's sort of an ebb-and-flow, in terms of when things are possible -- and then suddenly, you know, the stars sort of align. You can't manufacture that, like it's a continuing process, and that's what we're in for." This analysis is of course delivered during one of the more (always cautiously) optimistic moments of the film.

During a particularly wrenching segment, a breakthrough plateaus at a compromise which forces dedicated lobbyist-activist Frank Sharry, a fulcrum in the entire matrix, to rhetorically ask why he wouldn't agree to something that would legalize life for millions of families, despite the fact that there is another, very real group of long-suffering individuals who will be cruelly excluded.

To be certain, in How Democracy Works Now, we see how the baby and the bath water become increasingly, perilously similar, or rather, perhaps more accurately, like on the cover of "Nevermind", the baby is born into a toxic stream, chasing an extremely elusive payoff that's taxed to death by trade-offs.

Presently, this very issue of compromise has revealed a fascinating divide which is reminiscent of the 60s battles during which understandable efforts toward incremental change were not wrong-headedly challenged by equally understandable calls for greater change, with, sadly, last year's falling out between two parties which should be getting together more: Democratic Congressman of Illinois Luis Gutiérrez , who delivers one of the best speeches in the film, and the earnest young citizens who are calling for a more universal approach; it is a division for which this writer still hopes there is remedy.

Given the stakes, there seems to be no choice but to unite somehow, despite the animosity, which simply and urgently must be bridged. I concede herein that I am not at all informed enough to really pass comment; I can only impart my optimism, hope and admiration for these parties, who, in their seemingly divergent ways, are both fully committed to change, a change which I would posit to be inevitable if they could perhaps adopt elements of each other's perspective, and somehow work together. Amen.

In the real world, the legislative (read: self-interested) dilemmas and trade-offs which color the once (when?) hallowed halls of Congress have been trumped by hunger-strikers around the country, and one hopes that it won't take the ultimate self-sacrifice to raise national alarm, though frankly, given the misperceptions which fuel the animosity on this issue, there are those fanatic opponents of immigration reform, for whom this is also kind of life or death battle, and even the peaceful, victimless self-sacrifice for the sake of humanity will still not be respected, even though many such anti-immigration hard-liners claim legitimacy from, well, an alleged Christ-consciousness. These are the wages of ignorance, of rank-and-vile xenophobia.

Returning to the film, what emerges most from this largely observational doc -- which could do with either less or more narration, I am genuinely not sure -- is a shape-shifting mosaic chessboard of our polis, wherein fractures and fissures constantly re-make the playing board into yet another puzzle wherein the designated powers and values of pieces morph with the season, and the only checkmate arrived at seems to be placed against any accomplishment whatsoever.

During one of my favorite chapters, aptly, poetically, titled "Marking Up The Dream Act" we see a kind of filibuster-by-amendments, and the amendments that are passed and defeated:

Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn III's no confidentiality for immigrants amendment passes, Oklahoma Republican Senator James Inhofe's English-only amendment passes; North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party Byron Dorgan's sunset clause for temp workers, endorsed by Illinois Democrat Obama, who was then a prez candidate-in-waiting, passes, while Obama's effort to end the ridiculous points system that makes all of Europe eligible, yet none of the tax-paying laborers who are already here, fails; then-Democratic Senator from New York Hillary Clinton's family unification amendment (despite strong support from The Catholic Church) fails; New Jersey Democratic Senator Bob Menendez's green-card amendment fails...

These are just six of a 22-amendments slaughterfest which occurred on June 6th 2007, furnishing one of the best encapsulations and case-studies of our totally failing democracy, which has in 2013 seen a kind of constitutional tragedy -- the filibuster nuclear option -- not quite on par (yet) with the election of 2000 (thanks a whole helluva lot, Supremes, for nothing -- or perhaps I should say, everything that came after 2K, and thanks again for ostensibly staying out of the fray regarding the denying of free speech via the wholesale buying of free speech in your ruling on Citizens United -- which begs the question of media and advertising companies' -- by this I mean their employees' -- responsibility to, at some point, be citizens rather than dollar-swallowers, but I digress).

Simply put, How Democracy Works Now makes for must-see Reality TV, and those who enjoy various mini-series will find an instant addiction to this real-life soap-opera.

By way of yet another digression, I wonder if some of the cable and web series in which DC politics, or historical intrigue serve as the mis-en-scene are perhaps sometimes subverting their ostensibly revelatory purpose of showing us how things really work, by instead reinforcing our cynicism and apathy -- though of course, we the audience are to blame. I don't know that these shows reflect our cynicism about politics, so much as reinforce it, forge it into apathy. Put another way, in terms that might be viewed as paranoiac, at the intersection 'twixt statecraft and media, the revealing of the proverbial man behind the curtain is actually the most self-serving, power-reinforcing tactic.

And by way of additional thought: with Netflix (which I use and like, though its foreign film selections are weak) serving as the sleeping pill for millions of Americans who (to re-mix a 60s triptych) log-in, click "watch instantly", and nod-off, I believe there is cause for concern that the drama, violence and intrigue they are absorbing during the sleep cycle is having an immeasurable, possibly negative effect.

And, just like on the soaps, serials, web series, etc., in How Democracy Works Now, when a Congressperson or Senator is running for re-election they simply disappear, like a star on maternity leave, or doing a stint in rehab, though in DC, regarding immigration, the re-election stasis nets a still-born child, and a re-lapse into the addiction of failure and of course, vice-versa. And since House members are pretty much always running for re-election, well, nothing gets done.

With 2014 being an election year, it will be interesting to see who continues to give voice (pro or con) on the matter, and who, more likely, stays silent. And so, How Democracy Works Now leads one to cry in anguish: Mr. Obama, Mr. Boehner, et, al -- including we citizens of America -- pass immigration reform now, in 2014. You can do it, and well, History will thank you.

Those viewing this as moronic idealism would do well to consider -- if it's even possible -- what the ongoing failure is going to cost. I can only note that it won't likely be commensurate with the inflated rhetoric; it will outstrip it far beyond what this great nation deserves, and how it is designed to serve its citizenry. I am shocked -- and I also don't know if I am impressed or disappointed -- that the demand for citizenship and citizenship rights by millions living this legacy hasn't taken a more urgent turn, like the civil rights protests of the 60s.

By way of my own unanticipated re-educational note, and take-away from this film: we are not a two-party system, no matter what your teachers say. Yes, we have a bi-cameral system (remember that term from school?) but we have the legal capacity for a number of political parties, and to my feeble mind, if the self-regarded-as-slightly above-average, generally more concerned Joes and Janes out there (irrespective of heir party affiliation) don't find a way to counter an irrelevant, recalcitrant corporately co-opted Republican party and a know-your-place calcified, corporately co-opted, cynical, hypocritical Democratic party, and a well-funded loose-cannon corporately birthed, co-opted Tea Party ascendant, we will not have a working democracy, or rather, we will continue to not have a well-functioning democracy.

Perhaps also, third parties out there may need to stop their occasional practice of selecting opportunistic mainstream party exiles and or single-issue candidates, and instead, boldly support independent candidates and yes, to be certain, irrespective of the make or flaws of the established parties, during perilous times third parties simply must strategically align themselves with said establishment parties ("strategically" being the operative, very difficult term here). By way of a fun fact and useful reminder: you generally need relatively few signatures to get a candidate on the ballot, and in this age of social networks, your signature-getting process can serve to create the cornerstone of your campaign.

By way of an additional fun fact about access and political particpation in New York City: Hey kids, did you know that if you're sixteen or older you can vote on your school board? Think about that and share it widely. Now if we could just change the drinking age back to 18 in order that we might match the age at which very young men and women are trusted to take and save lives in the battlefield, we might actually look like we respect our young healthy citizens who do our dirty work (and no, being able to drink on a military base at 18 does not count, because when one wears a uniform, one does so in defense of an entire nation, not a military base).

Returning to our film, an ugly duckling -- make that (by way of a Darwinian challenge to flip the script on Creationists) a Duckbilled Platypus bill emerges, with the Catholic church in this case very correctly and quite admirably ready to use its muscle if humane, common-sense confidentiality and family protections are not included, and the National Restaurant Association poised to use its muscle if temporary workers aren't protected and a sunset-clause is, well, sunsetted. And, of course, labor unions are at the ready to use their muscle if temporary workers don't have sunset clauses, while, yet again, many former passionate advocates are now MIA due to election cycles.

To wit, some encapsulating dialogue:

LOBBYIST: I think the coalition has held, [although] there's a revolt on the right and quite frankly, [Las Vegas Democrat and Senate Minority leader Harry] Reid's got a revolt on the left. Every one of the goddammed [poison pen] amendments is by someone who's gonna vote "No" on the passage, and is framing a campaign ad: (IN FOREBODING ALARMIST COMMERCIAL NARRATOR TONE) 'They voted for amnesty, for terrorism, for gangbangers', you know, that [kind of sensationalistic] crap."

Sadly, the person who says this is right, and the predictability of the intentional impasse and strategic propaganda wars remind us that strategic traffic jams are the norm far beyond the George Washington Bridge (insert cartoon of Christie, à la "Washington Crossing the Potomac", helming a sinking boat, rowed by lackeys, scooping out water with road-block pylons -- though, in reality, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has always been a cesspool, and New York's MTA is a bad joke).

During a great scene from a grassroots training session in an episode titled "The Battle for Arizona", we also learn the importance of optics: "racist" becomes a term which the pro-reform camp is loathe to use, lest it alienate centrists, as our resident good-guy strategist, the aforementioned Frank Sharry explains in his effort to assuage a fight-ready, albeit ideologically top-heavy volunteer who insists (with perhaps, the understandable, at-times vain morality of youth, which is of course infinitely preferable to the vain morality of the old, present company included) that he first admit that there exists a (sigh) White Power Structure before she commits, and he does so, whilst also patiently explaining to her that stating a problem militantly is anathema to diplomacy, and that "Revolution lies in control, not confrontation".

Subsequently, we hear another example of the value of the ground game in a beautiful, low-key speech about what Cesar Chavez really meant as an importantly human-scale hero, delivered by one of his former volunteers, now a veteran leader himself. Speaking of the first time he heard The Great Man he'd admired actually speaking in person, the anti-climax of Chavez's un-mythic persona ultimately reinforced for him the appreciation that Caesar, was, well, just a man, and that if someone of such humble stature and small voice could have such courage and impact, then he too, was capable of, and responsible for contributing, and of making great sacrifices.

In another vignette, during a citizens' teaching session, we learn how "amnesty" is the killer-term used by The Right to make any remedy other than mass deportation seem like the condoning of criminal behavior, as the aforementioned Luis Gutiérrez, in one of the best moments of the entire series, delivers with a poetic emphasis, a correctly arch apologia: "Forgive us for cleaning your bathrooms, taking care of your kids..."
In this one beautiful oratory, he renders the term "amnesty" wholly irrelevant by simply positing it back in reality; there is effectively nothing that a self-righteous abuser of the word "amnesty" can say to this without also revealing her or his true bias.

And of course, we are also witness to the political bluster that makes for great C-Span, when we cut to the floor of the senate, and hear the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia dropping feathers all over the podium, in his Barney Fife dogged earnestness, reminding all that "Chickens have a way of coming home to roost", during a self-justifying moment of a contrarian stance against his own party's presumptive line, which to his mind, though noble its ideals may be, lacks substance and financial discipline.

Which, of course, (this being politics) is not to say that Byrd's only motive is fiscal soundness, and thus it is that we also see the subsequent homage-paying (read: ego-stroking of) to a veteran legislator by same, when the late Ted Kennedy invites Byrd to read his favorite poem, which is apt of how democracy works now, "The Ambulance In The Valley".

We are shaken from this moment of warmth in the Senatorial ether, when we learn of real-world consequences: if the immigration reform bill fails, the now-heightened pitch in the national immigration battle (resultant of how the entire debate had played out in the mass media) will lead to a sense of victory, empowerment, and a very dangerous sense of entitlement to war spoils by the anti-immigrant faction who will assuredly weaponize, vigilantize their platform to an even greater, more perilous degree, as one worried participant observes:

"The raids -- it's open season on Hispanics; it's not [about] a bill or no bill [passing], it's a lot more [about] enforcement; it's only going to intensify. The debates have stirred up the reactionairies into action and this has continued under Obama -- he's had more deportations than Bush."

And it was this same mindset, in the legislative sessions following a very mean year, that fueled the passage into law of the very scary Enhanced Border Security Act & Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002, proving that Congress can get something done, when it really wants to.

Although info-graphics are generally over-used both in documentaries and on the floor of congress, we subsequently are provided (thanks to an on-the-ball staffer) with a very informative box diagram revealing the real devil in the details, showing exactly why Immigration Services should stay under the Enforcement branch, rather than be migrated to Border Security, where, without a strong protector, it -- and much more importantly, its humane elements - will wither and die, facilitating, indeed, bestowing federal imprimatur upon the aforementioned open-season, and we come to understand the cruel calculus of bureaucracy, and are yet again, simply disgusted.

In episode 4 Kennedy votes "NO" on a bill and someone says he came through again: "If you can't do the right thing in the senate after forty years you'll never do the right thing" - but he does the right thing. For me, Ted Kennedy's insistence on special elections -- flying in the face of his own party - is something I will always admire him for. You can read my very first Huffington Post blog some seven years ago, on this very topic, HERE. It's nice to know that Mr. Kennedy also read my post, and I'm glad Caroline Kennedy bowed out of the appointment game and is now ambassador to one of the nations with which we have the greatest number of secrets, Japan. I hope that the lessons of the untenable perils of nuclear energy will be shared by her office with US energy policy makers, despite the fact that our president's political home state of Illinois is one of, if not the biggest recipient of nuclear energy research ear-marked tax-payer dollars.

In another episode, a young congressional staffer introduces a poison-pill component into a bill, presuming that he will score doubly, by appearing to be cooperative with efforts to pass a law, whilst actually insisting on elements that would of course make said passage impossible.

However, he -- and we -- are shocked when his proposed measures are largely accepted, and catch the interest of his boss, who now sees a "Yes" vote as part of a politically viable strategy, in an episode perhaps not unlike the Kerry-Putin transmogrophication in which a rhetorical comment about Syria's chemical weapons gets taken seriously, and actually creates a potential opportunity for progress. Whether the concerned parties will make the most of it, remains to be seen.

Fortuitousness notwithstanding, when the effectiveness of our elected leaders to command legislative processes, and when the opportunity for international cooperation by presidents and diplomats are almost exclusively reliant upon mere happenstance, you know your entire process and way of being is, well, FUBAR.

How Democracy Works Now is available on DVD. More information can be found

Continuing on the subject of words and action, beyond McCain's aforementioned comments about the discovery of yet another migrant's corpse, several recent films have given anima and historia to the dead unknown (beyond the living-dead elected officials that populate much of How Democracy Works Now), delivering for those who care to watch, the empathic experience and insight that is unique to cinema.

In Here And There, we see the incremental dissolution of a family, as a migrant worker and father of two becomes slowly alienated from his family, experiencing the cruel irony of losing through distance, the very family he'd trekked so far to find paying work to support. Although it is a narrative feature, the film has a beguilingly documentary sensibility. Who is Dayani Cristal?, which features Gael Garcia Bernal, and covers ground very similar to the outstanding documentary The Undocumented, (see my review further on in this blog posting) is built around this very question: a corpse emblazoned with a titular tattoo is found at Arizona/Mexico border, and like in The Undocumented, we learn of the heroic forensic experts who are the last hope for returning the deceased border-crossers with their families.

Looking at African migration to Italy, Cardboard Village and Terra Firma might perhaps be mistaken as sentimental, until you realize how much Catholicism is, at times, a part of much of Italian consciousness, and by extension, at times, its cinema. The former film reduces (restores?) the domain and existence of a downsized priest whose church is being demolished to the most elemental building block: a courageous, humanitarian act of simply housing refugees in the very church which has been deconsecrated. The latter film posits the burden of humane responsibility on a young man who, ignoring the laws of the sea taught him by his venerated deceased grandfather, sees the loss of life he is responsible for, washed up on a beach, in a fascinating scene during which tourists at an Italian resort island gawk at the corpses of African migrants. The beautifully filmed (digitized?) final scene atop a dangerous roiling sea delivers, in its inconclusiveness, a bulwark against sentimentalism and the presumption that there are any easy answers. Terra Firma can currently be viewed on Netflix A People Uncounted: The History of The Roma is an interesting documentrary on the historical ostracization (making for a kind of permanent immigrant status) of the Roma peoples, AKA to most of us as "Gypsies", who also faced genocide during World War 2. More information on that film can be found HERE

The Undocumented

This is a re-posting of a review from my coverage of the 2013 Human Rights Watch International Film Festival Information on the 2014 HRWFF which runs from Jun 13th to the 22nd, can be found HERE

This film opens with what is perhaps the penultimate primal human act: one human chasing another, in this case, in the middle of a (existentially poetic -- I was reminded for a second of Pasolini's Porcini) desert, namely the Sonora in southern Arizona/northern Mexico.

This relatively granular event, this micro-confrontation between brinqeros and la migra, set against the backdrop of a thousands-of-miles-long border, emerges (perhaps because of the camerawork, which is liminally reminiscent of "The Office" or "Reno 911") as tragicomedy, manifesting that humans don't have to be seen from on high to appear ant-like in our struggles.

Of course, this isn't really any different than what we see on TV shows all the time, be it bounty hunter or cop reality-TV shows, etc. What is different is the story of undertakers and activists who endeavor to, whenever possible, deliver unto these death-enobled, desert-sun-frozen Pompeiians, Robert Frost's version of home.

Despite being a little too long and certainly (like nearly all docs these days) repetitious at times, The Undocumented serves as a kind of cultural anthropology, circa now, examining and detailing the deceased's possessions and clothing (which often have sewn-in pockets into which are stashed the phone numbers of next-of-kin, in anticipation of a mortal event) as well as their sun-desicated corpses which have the leathery, layers-dark complexion of a ham-hock (shorter footage of a much fresher, soaking wet corpse, is completely unnerving).

The particulars of each case study humanize the death-stats: a father in search of work up north to earn the money to save the life of his child whose kidneys are failing; a grandmother insisting that she accompany her grandson, who is headed north to meet his mother; a mother and daughter dying on or near the daughter's thirteenth birthday (leaving one to imagine that at one point they must have said to themselves that if all went well they'd be celebrating en el norte.)

Due to the aforementioned repetitiousness, it all starts to feel like the aim of the filmmakers is to scare one straight, and we learn during a volunteer training class, that the design of one border area is in fact to leave corpses which might serve as border-war psy-ops, and scare some migrants straight.

Irrespective of one's view on how we are going to deal with migrants in the highly migratory 21st century, The Undocumented succeeds beautifully in correcting its own title, if only for a few precious souls.

You can learn more about this film at its very worthwhile website which features updates and a very cool mapping feature.

Calle 13 Play Coachella

I shot this after I left the pit, about a mile away from stage. Like a 21st-century Lady Liberty under the desert sun, on a polo field in Cali, PG-13, AKA Ileana Cabra Joglar alternates twixt chorus and lead with her big brother on this chantey, sounding less like a hype-man (as it were) than a sophisticated Salsa lady. Her voice gives the song a kind of moral and spiritual authority, eminently manifesting why nations are referred to in the feminine.

A slow a cappella (which could be a longer song unto itself, like that beautiful, nervy chestnut, "Tom's Diner") opens "Pal Norte" ("To The North") widescreen onto the Calexico desert (or rather, a verdant polo field atop same), like a Sergio Leone whistle or a high, lonesome steel guitar.

Bearing witness to the epic, individual history of a border-bound migrant traveling on "the path of the wind" with a "snake-bitten leg", singer PG-13 emerges as a kind of narrator-slash-scrappy lookout, a Lady Liberty standing atop Coachella's main stage, delivering another stone-cold classic life-moment at this festival, simultaneously flashing me back to another bit of worthy verse about the immigrant experience - also delivered in the form of a communiqué to the folks at home - recited during a prior magic day from Coachellas past, when I filmed the great Lynton Kwesi Johnson as he read "Sonny's Letta".

A trans-genre anthem across Spanish-speaking regions of the world, "Pal Norte's" migrant diary is a case-study of sorts, from a global every-immigrant-as-rude-boy recounting learning to navigate the desert without a map, drowning his depression in beer, finding work serving sputum-spiked spumante for a subsistence wage overseas making (by way of an unintended, diabolical corollary) Residente's pre-song expression of genuine thanks to those in the audience who might also be employers that treat immigrants well, an invocation of instant karma, relating to how one treats the help.

We come to ken the heartiness and humanity of "Pal Norte's" migrant-laborer narrator, in his reassuring note to his Grandma, which concludes a litany of precautions and stealth tactics ensuring that he won't be detected by dogs, with an assuring reminder to her that La Virgen De Guadalupe hangs around his neck, (in this video, see PG-13's Christ-pose in slo-mo during this line at the 3:23 mark); I got the idea for the slo-mo before I saw the official video in which she dives off of a cliff into the arms of a posse, and transubstantiates into a statue of The Virgin Mary for an instant.) In the aforementioned How Democracy Works Now, John McCain says almost the same exact thing to reporters, referencing the crucifix around the neck of the corpse of a migrant when citing the body count at his state's border.

Residente's lyrics manifest a sense of peril and also of fear's mitigation by the very real economic need of the song's border-crosser who attains a pilgrim's aura, though in verse he characterizes himself as an athlete, via Residente's hooky phonetic rhyme-scheme, an on-the-third bop through "deporte", "norte" "pasaporte" and "transporte", with PG-13 backing him up like a first-rate hype-(whoa!)man, and delivering a beautiful vocal, detailing what the pilgrim carries on his journey, with a voice destined for continued greatness.

When she spits in this video (careful not to hit a photographer), per the lyrics about spitting in served champagne, it is not the collective nihilism of Punk's gob-webbed feedback loop into the crowd and back again, it is a collective achtooey decanted with an evil curse into the crystal from an entire army of mistreated. One imagines her as a kid sister in PR copying her brothers, maybe drinking malta and practicing her cowboy spitting, though a tomboy she is not.

If, in my admittedly uninformed, heart-sleeve, gutbucket blog on immigration I sound moronically optimistic, then I suggest you imagine something worse and how that would be dealt with; then maybe we can learn together that optimism is a practical necessity, not a symptom of denial.

More simply put, the creation of a global underclass or the disenfranchising of millions of citizens on a retrofit technicality is untenable -- again not within the confines of some political agenda nor theoretical proscription; it is quite simply, not future-proof; it is in fact the opposite of what the future means for human existence. This is true from The United States through The European Union, throughout South America, Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East, Russia and The People's Republic of China -- in short, again, it is a planetary deadlock we are heading toward.

Calle 13's pan-Latin mindset is summed up in the line noting that the song's author finds in the language of his compatriot, a movement; in his smile, he sees a guerilla, and it dawns that this is a kind of rallying cry for the Hegelian tortoises, and by this I don't mean some twisted historically deterministic reading, nor some revolutionary underclass -- hardly; yet as phrases like the global village swell to even greater literal significance, our migratory patterns are one of the myriad Hegelian accelerators of yes, our humanity's march toward freedom.

I simply see, well, the march towards freedom; the inevitable self-remedies in business and government that inextricably-connected labor, resources, manufacturing and distribution will engender through the recognition of planetary and species peril, changing the meaning of "migrant labor". Of course, this is a non-unique contemplation insofar as whether or not peaceful cooperative efforts in global "business" will outpace irreversible planetary damage is anyone's guess.

Speaking of which, interestingly, when I look up the etymology of "migrant" I find this sentence: "they exploited the Puerto Rican migrants who toiled in their orchards for dismal wages".

I agree with Calle 13 that Puerto Rico should be its own country again, though, as a Puerto Rican who's only lived there briefly, I am not sure I have a right to comment without participating. Hearing a song about global immigration (and seeing mostly South Americans for whom this was a stone-cold anthem singing along in the crowd) by Puerto Ricans made me well up with pride.

Although as I grow older am I endeavoring to dispense with all tribal identity and ethnic chauvinism (rather than becoming increasingly reactionary) I do think that while Puerto Ricans were not immigrants on paper, we were not welcomed in this country and in fact were treated very badly (to put it mildly).

One could argue that Puerto Ricans were pioneering Spanish-speaking communities and we paid a classic immigrant price for it. PBS Newshour co-anchor Ray Suarez provides a valuable history lesson, adding dimension in Ken Burns' New York documentary about the unfortunate timing of our arrival to the United States. An episode in Penny Arcade's and Steve Zehentner's The Lower East Side Biography Project delivers anecdotes including stories about drive-by shootings at Puerto Ricans in handball courts in Losiaida in the 60s. The bullets were fired by a few small groups of other immigrant groups who were themselves called "ethnics" (a divide and conquer term of the past) and who perhaps tragically lost sight of what being an immigrant -- and by this I mean being an American -- means.

Mercedes Sosa: Voice of Latin America

These voices, verses, kill fascists. R.I.P. Mercedes Sosa, proud daughter, mother, sister of Latin America.

This is Mercedes Sosa's final studio session, with Pan-Latin musical scholar-activist Residente, who delivers his signature low-key, mildly raspy cocksure flow, hypnotic in its drive which aims at a sense of menace -- not from violence-slash-braggadocio-slash-bullshit-slash-legitimizer, but rather, from the promise of action grounded in spirit and in letter by a moral drive that warns of the fire next time, enkindling hearts and minds with every turn of phrase.

Through a half century of song-as-chronicle of the heart and the times, the trajectory of Mercedes Sosa and her voice is one of the twentieth century's great chapters of a singer and a people. This doc is a fairly straight-forward chronicle which is the right approach - no literalist animation, not floating text, nor re-creations which fill so many bio-docs these days. Instead we get a proper tribute from Chico Buarque de Hollanda, Elba Bustelo, David Byrne, Luz Casenave, Maria Herminia Miñano Cerna, Josefina De Medici, León Gieco, Víctor Heredia, Fabian Matus, Pablo Milanés, Milton Nascimento, Juan David Nasio, Teresa Parodi, Isabel Parra, Jacqueline Pons, Fito Páez, Antonio Rodríguez, José Segovia, Cacho Sosa , Chichi Sosa, Flora Strozenberg, and Alfredo Troncoso.

Kudos the inaugural Americas Film Festival of New York, which will be screening this film on their opening night. Tickets are free to the general public. More info can be found HERE


A final - and certainly not new -- thought those who've forgotten their own forefathers' lineage as immigrants, and the battles fought during our nation's and our democracy's continued growing pains, and also to those perhaps fearing the end of what they incorrectly, tragically believe to be a purity of race: although it is a very beautiful thing to have ethnic pride, there is no such thing as a "mixed-race"; there is only one race: the human race.

I was wondering
what adidas were paying Calle 13 to wear their shoes; perhaps they might also sport artist Judi Werthein's creation: "brincos", sneakers manufactured in China for $17 and donated to migrants en route to a border-jump.


More information can be found HERE

Another shoe,
designed by architectural collective Sibling for Gorman clothing, comes with a built-in tent, making the case for mixing shoes. This image of a model sporting the Sibling creation looks eerily like La Virgen de Guadalupe, the immigrants' patron saint, whose history is told in the documentary Guadalupe: No Passport Needed, also screening at the Americas Festival of New York

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