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Friday, February 22, 2013

TRUTHOUT: "Bless Me, Ultima": Movie Revisits Controversy, Succeeds, After 40 Years

TRUTHOUT: "Bless Me, Ultima": Movie Revisits Controversy, Succeeds, After 40 Years

Tuesday, 26 February 2013 14:09 By Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, Truthout | Movie Review

First a confession: I was not a Chicano Studies major when I attended UCLA back in the day. Probably for that reason, I have never read Bless Me, Ultima, cover to cover. That's probably an unpardonable sin, akin to me never having donned a Zoot Suit.
But let's talk about the new movie, set during World War II in northern New Mexico. Yet, for me, the context is always Arizona.

Read more articles by Roberto Cintli Rodriguez and other authors in the Public Intellectual Project, here.

Bless Me, Ultima is one of the books that was at the core of Tucson's controversial Raza Studies curriculum. It had been previously banned around the country, but the Tucson Unified School District put it on the map in 2010 by shutting down the program, essentially banning all books and other materials (the Aztec Calendar) associated with it. All this was precipitated because then-state superintendent of schools, Tom Horne, decided that Raza Studies were "outside of Western Civilization."

That said, I would recommend the movie to any and all past, present and future censors, starting with Mr. Horne, his successor, John Huppenthal, current Tucson superintendent, John Pedicone, all the TUSD school board members and all the state legislators (nationwide) who have conspired to destroy Raza Studies.

To them and to the world, I would say: Bless Me, Ultima is Raza Studies!

From the opening scene, it is magical. More than magical is the beauty of New Mexico, whose reality is virtually unknown to urban types (like myself), who grew up knowing little of the land, the mountains, the waters and the open skies.

Ultima is a curandera, an Indigenous healer, who moves in with a family in a village in northern New Mexico, where everyone knows each other but where feuds stretch far back, and where violence is no stranger.

In the movie, Ultima takes 7-year-old Antonio under her wing, teaching him about life, about medicine, about the natural world, but most of all, about the nature of human beings.
Without giving the story and ending away, Bless Me, Ultima indeed is about pride and prejudice. It is about faith and beliefs in a "modern world." Its power is that it is seen through the eyes of a 7-year-old, a boy who is destined to become a priest.

Ultima is recognizable - a woman whom people both respect, but also fear, and as the movie shows, a woman who is shunned, even after she heals. Unstated is that this story takes place among what people refer to as an Indo-Hispano village.

The fact that the book and movie touch upon the subject of curanderas is what roils conservatives. Just as in the movie, Ultima is accused of being a witch who practices witchcraft. Many of the village people react to her, akin to the way they've been taught to react for 500 years.

Beyond watching the movie (and reading the book), I would recommend two related books: Women and Knowledge in Mesoamerica: From East L.A. to Anahuac (2011) by Paloma Martinez-Cruz and Red Medicine (2012), by Patrisia Gonzales, both from the University of Arizona Press.

Both deal with the topic of woman healers and their knowledge and medicines that survive the so-called conquest, or European invasion. It is living knowledge, knowledge that cannot be destroyed, despite a 500-year effort.

The magic of Bless Me, Ultima is beyond its content; it is, after 41 years, the ability to see Rodolfo Anaya's classic work on the big screen. Truly, to see brown faces throughout the whole movie, not simply in support roles or as extras - was part of the magic.

In effect, Bless Me, Ultima was one of the first fruits of the Chicano/Chicana literary renaissance. It made me and makes me wonder when we will be seeing a few more classics, a product of the Flor y Canto (translation: flower and song) Movement of the 1960s-1970s, also referred to as "In Xochitl In Cuicatl." There are hundreds of stories ready to be told.

To author Rudy Anaya: Gracias-Thanks-Tlazocamati. For more info, go to:
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission

Rodriguez can be reached at: -

Friday, February 15, 2013

Supporting Derechos Humanos: A Humanizing Campaign

By Roberto Dr. Cintli Rodriguez -

For several thousand years, Arizona was a great place to live. Then Gov. Brewer became governor… joining Sheriff Joe Arpaio as the undisputed rulers of this now, godforsaken desert… Actually, Arizona is still a great place to live, primarily because it is the home of numerous human rights organizations, including Tucson’s Derechos Humanos, perhaps the premier immigrant/human rights organization in the nation. And now, Derechos needs our assistance.

The Tucson/Arizona desert is where migrants die horrific deaths; this is where the fences and walls are. It is la cuna de la migra. This is where all the high-tech wizardry is deployed, including drones and all kinds of military troops and vehicles. Here is where migrants – Mexicans, on either side of the border – are also shot with impunity. When people think of militarization of the border, this is ground zero.

This is also the home of operation streamline - an operation that would've been the pride and envy of apartheid South Africa. This is the kangaroo court that charges some 70 migrants with illegal entry, tries, convicts and sentences them to private prisons, all within an hour, every day, since the Bush days. Not coincidently, there is a national campaign to shut this operation down – which includes a series of National Days of Action (Feb 19 in Tucson, 12:30 in front of Federal Building) leading up to a Feb 22 legislative hearing in DC.

Not to be forgotten is that Arizona is the home of much repressive legislation, including the racial profiling SB 1070 (which has been exported nationwide) and the anti-ethnic studies HB 2281. It is also where relentless extremist politicos continue to try to overturn the 14th amendment - which ensures birthright citizenship. Amid these assaults, Derechos Humanos has uncompromisingly and continually risen to answer the call of history for a generation (20-year anniversary this June), to combat the injustices and the inhumanity of this nation’s immigration policies. This, amid death threats, and attempts to fire those affiliated with Derechos (several years ago Arpaio tried to get Isabel Garcia fired over a piñata incident).

Derechos needs $7,000 to stay alive and it needs it by the end of February. Those of us who live in Arizona know that we have asked the country over and over for support for our many battles. And people have given it because they understand that Arizona is this nation’s anti-rights laboratory. People everywhere understand that and they also understand that human rights are not handed to anybody and that there are perils involved in these struggles. Please go to their website and donate whatever you can (I will send $70… so we now need 99 other people (colleagues and allies) to step forward with this same amount. Go to: or 631 S. Sixth Ave. Tucson AZ 85701 - 520-770-1373

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

TRUTHOUT: "To the End of the Line"

Remanding Migrants "To the End of the Line"

Wednesday, 06 February 2013 09:27 By Roberto Cintli Rodriguez, Truthout | Op-Ed 

After decades of nonstop demonization and scapegoating of migrants, the unveiling of Congress' comprehensive immigration reform proposals was profoundly disturbing. Congress continues to link criminality with the humane and courageous act of migration. Its proposals are anchored in prioritization of enforcement; that is, criminalization of migrants, punishment, detention, imprisonment, mass deportations, the continued militarization of the border and the borderization of the nation.

While the president's overall message was better, his passage about migrants "going to the back of the line" was equally troubling, especially when considering that the policies listed above are the president's current policies.

Specifically, the president said: "We've got to lay out a path, a process that includes passing a background check, paying taxes, paying a penalty, learning English, and then going to the back of the line behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally; that's only fair."

It is doubtful that most people expect much from Congress, at least in the realm of proposals that treat migrants as full human beings, but expectations for the president are much higher.

While that "back of the line" slogan was in there to soothe conservative doubters, what could faintly be heard were "back of the bus" echos.

Indeed, the most profound aspect of the immigration "debate" over the past few decades has been the normalization of dehumanization. This is what permits inane proposals to be passed off as reform. This is what permits the conflation of migration, criminality, drug-running and even terrorism. This is what permits the view that migrants are subhuman, or, at best, exploitable labor.

While the president's message to migrants is better, his approach is still mired in the concept of blame and punishment. Most Republicans/conservatives who speak up on this issue, apparently tone-deaf, are seemingly incapable of listening to themselves. Their aversion to "amnesty" is the embodiment of dehumanization. Their clinging to legal/illegal binaries does not conceal their true sentiments as they often refer to migrants as "illegals," clueless as to why this is demeaning and inaccurate (acts are illegal, not human beings). The unmistakable message they send out: you brown people are not welcome in this country.

But no one expects much different from that side of the political spectrum (and I'm not even talking about the extremists here). Top Republican leaders have already threatened to derail the process if the president goes too far. Apparently, once again, it is the people on the losing end of the presidential election and on the wrong side of history who are dictating the solution to the immigration crisis.

That's why the president's statement was disturbing: he is already sending signals that he will not go too far. He already has a very disappointing four-year record of "not going too far" in favor of migrants, except for the last-minute deferred status program that suspended the deportation of young people eligible for the as yet unpassed DREAM Act. The record number of deportations under his watch, the continued separation of families, the massive expansion of the immigration detention system (some 275 detention centers) and the continued militarization of the border have earned him the moniker "deporter in chief."

And he is the good guy in this debate.

And now, remanding human beings to the end of the line is an even bigger step backward and incongruous with treating migrants as full human beings. It sends out the wrong message. The codification of unequal and dehumanized categories of human beings is both impermissible and contrary to human rights law.

Yet, the primary issue here is not about specifics or details regarding the immigration proposals, but rather a mindset or narrative.

Without the change in attitude and mindset, policy will always lead to the codification of this inequality in the form of temporary and limbo categories of human beings. For many, these would actually become permanent categories, considering the size of the current lines for legalization and citizenship. This is why - when there are already more than 11 million so-called undocumented immigrants - this mindset still permits the creation or expansion of guest worker programs.
Guest workers? Read: braceros. That's where the problem started, in 1942 through 1964: the importation of human beings who were treated as less than human, undeserving of full human and labor rights.

This back-of-the-line mindset is setting us up for converting these 11 million migrants into less-than-humans, undeserving of full human and labor rights.

Yet, in the end, conservatives are right about one thing: if the source of the problem is not addressed, migrants will continue to stream into the United States. If the nation is serious, and if the emphasis is on Mexico and Central America, rather than spending billions building moats, the United States should embark upon a long-term program that equalizes the economies of the region, a program akin to a NAFTA-type agreement, but with human beings at the center, as opposed to absent from the equation.

But would the big corporations really want that? Can society as a whole accept the equality of all peoples and nations in this region, in this hemisphere? It's easier to build moats, isn't it?
Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Roberto Cintli Rodriguez

Roberto Rodriguez, an assistant professor in Mexican American studies at the University of Arizona, can be reached at