Monday, November 28, 2011

Auxilio! The Mexican Dropout Rate

The New York Times published an article about the appalling dropout rate of Mexican high school students in New York City, which is the worst among Mexicans in the country. The numbers are horrible:

If the article is sad and shocking, the comments section is terrifying. So many hostile comments comparing the ignorant Mexicans with the progress-driven Asians, classic comments about sending everybody back, and Americans getting "the dregs", instead, I guess, of Nobel Prize winners.
Anybody who thinks that the NYT is only read by bleeding-heart liberals is in for a rude awakening. I was so offended by the hatred and hostility of the majority of the comments, that I chimed in:
If you come from a country where poverty makes work, not education, the most significant social value, and you yourself had nothing but an elementary school education, if at all, it is hard for you to understand why education is so important. You place a much higher value on work, so that the family can survive. Unfortunately, many of the hardworking Mexican parents who come here are victims of these circumstances. If they barely had an education in their native language, how can they be expected to master two? How can they really comprehend what education means?
If Mexico better educated its people and gave them more opportunities, there wouldn't be millions of Mexicans trying to make a better life for their families in this country. But it is in the interest of the ruling Mexican elites to keep Mexicans poor and ignorant. The government has to deal with millions less people, and wages can be kept miserly, all because the majority of Mexicans can't really afford to have an education.
Don't blame the immigrants. And don't blame bilingualism. Bilingualism can be a solution if it helps Mexican parents learn English, so they can participate in the education of their children.
John, 23: these people are not the dregs. Without their hard work and cheap labor, who else would Americans like you exploit? 

John is a commenter who thinks that Americans are getting the dregs (that is, Mexicans) of the cream of the crop of immigrants.
Let me add that Mexico has a free education system ranging from elementary school to a postgraduate degree, but even a free education is something that many Mexicans cannot afford.
Twenty years ago, as I started my career in Hispanic advertising in New York, our agency was commissioned to create a public service campaign to address the issue of the Hispanic dropout rate in the city. In those days it wasn't yet about Mexicans, but still more than 50% of Hispanic students did not finish high school. We created a powerful campaign (TV, subway and bus shelter posters, radio) based on the poor prospects that young Hispanics faced if they did not continue their high school studies onto college. It was meant to shock them and their parents into thinking seriously about finishing school. It never saw the light of day because of squabbling between the different well-intentioned but politically correct social agencies that were supporting it, among them the United Federation of Teachers and I don't remember which Hispanic groups. We were heartbroken. We all thought it would have made a big splash.
The numbers among other graduating Hispanics seem to have risen since then, but the Mexican immigrants to the city are relative latecomers and something must be done to shake them out of their belief that work, not studying, is the most important value they can instill in their children.
The reasons for dropping out of high school here are many, but key are: an illegal status and fear by parents of deportation plus lack of serious opportunities for illegals, and lack of education and English skills by parents, who do not participate in the education of their children simply because they can't. I have always maintained that Hispanics who come to this country need to learn English. In fact, the big Spanish TV and radio channels, which have absolutely no educational or cultural programming, could include bilingual or English literacy programs for adults, if, as they claim, they are so invested in the well-being of the community. Hispanics are not going to desert them the minute they learn English. Why wouldn't they keep enjoying their favorite programs in Spanish?
Many of the NYT's commenters have a very negative perception of bilingualism. I don't think that having Spanish media or bilingual communications in Spanish is the only thing that keeps immigrants from learning the language. It helps of course, but bilingualism is something to be desired by everyone. In the anti-immigrant hysteria currently sweeping this country, defending bilingualism has become tantamount to invoking Satan, but speaking more than one language is always an advantage to anyone, including Americans who rely on the fact that their language dominates the world, and thus can't see why it is desirable to speak something other than English.
Bilingualism is a two way street, and just as Spanish speakers are aided by communications in Spanish, by the same token they can learn English through bilingual education and immersion. What keeps Mexican parents, who are key figures in their children's educational attainment, from learning English is their inexperience with learning in general. Learning a new language is already very hard for adults, and many Mexicans are at an even bigger disadvantage because of their extremely deficient educational level, which is a national disgrace. This, unfortunately, is the perfect storm that the article speaks about. Their neglect of education needs to be changed into an appreciation of education as a value of the highest priority.
Education makes you smarter. Let's say things are so bad that you may still only find a job washing dishes: if you speak two languages and you are educated, you will rise faster than someone who doesn't. This is not a hard message to understand. A strong work ethic is a great value to have, but education provides a wider net of opportunities and a true chance at progress. Imagine: with their hardworking ethos, plus a strong value in education, there is no limit to what Mexicans (as well as anybody else) can do.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Now Showing at a Theater Near You

Here are some films you could watch this weekend:

Martha Marcy May Marlene
The Descendants
Into The Abyss
Le Havre

You are welcome!

This is The Last Straw

Arrests, pepper spray, evicting protesters from Zuccotti Park and now they're banning the cheese and crackers from Sardi's (and the mini pretzels too!).
This has gone too far. This is a fascist state.
I've had it with Bloomberg and his obsession with hygiene. If he wants this city to be so squeaky clean, he should get rid of the mountains of rats and garbage on the streets, not the radioactive orange cheese and mini Ritz crackers from Sardi's, which, as the article points out, constitute dinner, with the olive in the martini as an appetizer, for many theatergoers. It is a much more satisfying dinner than if you order from the menu, believe me. Now you have to pay three dollars for hardened, congealed cheese?
The end of civilization.
I say let's firebomb everything!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Today On I've Had It With Hollywood

My review of Into The Abyss, a Tale of Death, A Tale of Life, by Werner Herzog.

Yet one more movie which should encourage the national debate about the death penalty in the US. We are after all, the only civilized, industrialized nation that has it, to our enduring shame. We are in the company of evil, rogue, and backward regimes. Just to be in that list should make us strike it down.
It is a complicated issue. True, there are certain people one wishes they die a painful death. If someone killed someone I loved, I'm sure I would feel a burning desire for revenge, but that doesn't mean that this is what a civilized democracy in the 21st century needs to do for me. To put them away for life should be punishment enough.
It's hard to fathom how all those ghastly Republicans bitch and moan about big government, but they conveniently forget to factor in that the death penalty is the most humongous, egregious intrusion of government into the lives of citizens. All they want is to shirk their responsibilities to their fellow citizens and not pay taxes, but government is suddenly not big enough when it comes to the death penalty or to telling women what to do with their reproductive health, or to terrorize hardworking illegal immigrants, or put mostly people of color in jail and profit from it.
Hardly anything that their beloved Jesus Christ would have ever approved of.
In fact, Jesus was a victim of the death penalty. It is beyond human reason how they can reconcile his suffering and his teachings, to which the notion of revenge is anathema, to their cheering a candidate under whose watch more people get executed by the state than anywhere in the world, except perhaps for Ghadaffi's Libya, or Syria. This brand of American Christianity can only be described at bat-shit lunatic crazy, and evil. And the sane citizens of this country need to fight it with all their might, if they want to live in a free democracy.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Real Chamoy

Every time an unsuspecting tourist lands on this fair island, we take them to eat soup dumplings at Joe's Shanghai and then walk them around the tea stores, Chinese pharmacies, and weird foodstuffs purveyors of the cabinet of wonders that is Chinatown.
I like to go into candy store Aji Ichiban because they have free samples of candied and preserved fruits, which I gobble right after I've had a sumptuous Chinese meal and my gut is about to explode, like that guy's in The Meaning of Life.
So I'm there, speaking in Spanish, explaining that in Mexico we have something similar called chamoy, and the employees brighten up at the name and point me to two samples of preserved plums: the real Chinese chamoy, one version sweet, and the other sweet and salty.

Original Chinese Chamoy
I was ecstatic to confirm that indeed, there is something in China called chamoy and some enterprising Chinese person must have decided that Mexicans had to have it too. Another theory could be that Mexican tourists came by Aji Ichiban, screamed chamoy, and the employees just decided to go along. I subscribe to the first theory because I was told by the employees at Aji Ichiban that the word chamoy only describes preserved plums and no other fruit. They sounded authoritative. 
Now, I love Mexican chamoy faithfully, as any true Mexican should, but I have to say that our version is chazerai* compared to the Chinese one. I'm not talking about powdered Chamoy, which I think would make Chairman Mao spin in his grave, and which Mexicans are starting to put on everything, but about the dried plums. In Mexico, the dried plums are super salty and tart, and they are actually apricots. There are red apricots in red brine that make your soul pucker, and give you instant high blood pressure, they are so salty and acid. Mexicans add chili powder to chamoy, making it sweet, salty, acid and spicy. We all know it's the best kind of junk candy there is.

Mexican powdered Chamoy, now in several artificial flavors.
Mexicans love chamoy, although our chamoy is as authentic as our Philadelphia sushi rolls with lox and cream cheese. In fact, chamoy has kind of had a renaissance, as there are chamoy stores at malls where you can have a chamoyada (shaved fruit flavored ice with chamoy), or chamoy covered popsicles, or bars where martinis, micheladas or margaritas are garnished with chamoy. The original brand was always Miguelito but now everybody and their mother has a version of chamoy. Chamoy has exploded. On Google I found images of something called a Rosca de Chamoy, like a chamoy Bundt cake. I can't even fathom what it's made with.

Google image search of chamoy.

Alas, I could not find a picture of the preserved fruit chamoys. I'm afraid they may have disappeared from the Mexican candy repertoire, which would be tragic.
The Japanese have a version of preserved plum paste called umeboshi, which is supposed to be a digestive. I love it too.
And because it is supposed to be a digestive I just gobbled an entire bag of the two Chinese chamoys as I wrote this post.

*horrible junk.