Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Want to Teach in Arizona? Better Lose the Accent

Joshua Lott for The Wall Street Journal

Okay, trying not to rant about this one. Deep breaths. The craziness in Arizona is isolated, I tell myself, and will be overturned.

The Wall Street Journal reports that teachers with “heavy” or “ungrammatical” accents must learn proper English–or be fired. Arizona’s racist new law discriminates against public school teachers. Outraged yet? Don’t worry: Those with accents will not be fired immediately. They have the option of enrolling in classes to “improve” (i.e. lose their native) accents.

Makes me wonder if this only applies to bilingual Spanish-English speakers, or if the law discriminates equally against those with Southern or Brooklyn accents.

Not only do these teachers need to lose their accents to keep their jobs, they must also face the irony that they were part of a movement to hire more bilingual teachers in the 1990’s, when No Child Left Behind laws required the recruitment of these teachers to secure federal funding.

Irony, and ridiculousness. I am a U.S. citizen. Makes me want to walk the streets of Phoenix or Tucson without my driver’s license. Will I fear police detainment? Legalized harassment?

Still hard for me to believe that the state of Arizona has enacted such shameful, hateful, extremely odious legislation.

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Filed under: immigration, racism, , , , , ,

Birds, Dogs, and the Photographs of Alec Soth

Two reasons I’ve been drawn to the photographs of Alec Soth:

1. Iowa

Call me a sentimentalist. When I saw that the photos Soth took for the NYT‘s Continental Picture Show series were based in Iowa–my home state–I was hooked. “Iowa Bird Story” is a video of Soth’s journey to photograph Neva Morris, the oldest woman in the U.S. at 114 years of age, unfolds like a picture book. Short, declarative sentences explain the photographer’s actions. Video and still photos capture Soth’s persistence in discovering the real narrative: How does a 114 year-old woman view her world?

2. Dogs

I’d seen Soth’s work at the MassArt galleries last fall, and also solicited work from the gifted photographer for the magazine that I edit. Soth graciously agreed to provide the cover for our upcoming issue from his series, “Dog Days, Bogota.” I love the clarity and composition of his photographs; in the photo that will become our next cover, Soth captures a Colombian family of mother, father, and toddler–parents standing in an embrace beside their child in a stroller. The image is both familiar (it has all of the elements of middle-class America) and subversive (the couple are dressed in leather jacket, piercings, with coiffed hair).

The dog of his title is a sad, likely wild, dog seated calmly on a forbidding cliff overlooking Bogota. Again, the juxtaposition of the domestic and the urban is what grabs your attention. Who wants to consider a dog without a human home?

Filed under: age, animals, art, photography, , , , , , , , ,

Yes, Harvard Law School Students Can Be Racist, Too

A third-year student in Harvard Law School made racist remarks at a dinner earlier this week, then tried to clarify his wrong-headed remarks in an email. The recipients of this email forwarded it to their friends, who sent it to their friends, who shared the law student’s muddled thoughts with even more folks. The power of the Internet.

Among his remarkable comments is this one, justifying racism through a science experiment:

I absolutely do not rule out the possibility that African Americans are, on average, genetically predisposed to be less intelligent. I could also obviously be convinced that by controlling for the right variables, we would see that they are, in fact, as intelligent as white people under the same circumstances. The fact is, some things are genetic. African Americans tend to have darker skin. Irish people are more likely to have red hair.

One bad seed, as the cliche goes, does not mean we need to throw out the apple. But what’s most distressing to me is that this law student–pedigreed, entitled, and holding discriminatory views–is poised to join the highest echelons of power. How will his racist views affect his real-world actions?

Arguments against the uneducated nature of ignorance don’t apply here. Elite, East Coast, overeducated folks can be racist, too.

Filed under: boston, harvard, law, racism, , , ,

Alabama Gubernatorial Candidate: “We Speak English”

When I first saw this political ad, I thought it was a joke.

Tim James is running for governor of Alabama. His platform? Only offer government services in English.

As James says, “This is Alabama. We speak English. If you want to live here, learn it.”

It pains me to embed his shameful video on my blog, but it’s important to share the ignorance and thinly-veiled prejudice still occurring at top levels of government today.

Filed under: language, politics, racism, , , , , , , ,

M.I.A.: Agent Provocateur

Vodpod videos no longer available.

M.I.A. is not one to skirt controversy.

Or politics, for that matter. I’ve blogged in the past about her unwillingness to make bubble-gum pop and her interest in melding the personal with the political. An artist of Tamil Sri Lankan descent–who was once prevented from entering the U.S. because she was wrongly labeled a terrorist–M.I.A. tackles the horrors of martial regimes and genocide in her new art film for “Born Free” (warning: the video is extremely graphic and has been pulled from YouTube and other Internet outlets). Why this unrelenting realism?

I believe her aim in depicting this extreme violence is to upend our complacency with Hollywood gore like The Matrix or Kill Bill. Ordinarily, we as audience members are complicit in the violence. “Born Free” never allows us to comply. And instead of brown people as victims (what we’re used to viewing), it’s shocking to see white, male, red-headed boys and men being hunted and killed.

M.I.A.’s “Born Free” removes the entertainment from this violence, leaving only our discomfort with violence as violence.

Last night, I watched a PBS documentary on the My Lai massacre; it provoked the same feelings of shock and disgust as this video. One documented reality; the other fictionalized it. M.I.A.’s great accomplishment is in refusing to let viewers hum idly to her music, oblivious to the daily terrors in Iraq, Sudan, and elsewhere.

Though she’s received lots of criticism for this video, I agree with M.I.A.’s convictions. Art can not be merely for consumption; it should challenge us, it should unsettle us, it should force us out of the complacency of our everyday lives.

Filed under: art, government, military, music, , , , , ,

Publications

BIOGRAPHY

RECENT PUBLICATIONS
» "Pinays," AGNI, Spring 2016
» "Dandy," Post Road, Spring 2015
» "Wrestlers," Fifth Wednesday, Spring 2014
» "Babies," Joyland, August 2011
» "Nicolette and Maribel," BostonNow, May 2007
» "The Rice Bowl," Memorious, March 2005
» "The Rules of the Game," Screaming Monkeys: Critiques of Asian American Images (Coffee House Press, June 2003)
» "Deaf Mute," Growing Up Filipino (Philippine American Literary House, April 2003)
» "Good Men ," Genre, April 2003
» "The Foley Artist," Drunken Boat, April 2002
» "Squatters," Take Out: Queer Writing from Asian Pacific America (Asian Am. Writers' Workshop, 2001)
» "Deaf Mute," The North American Review, Jan 2001
» "The First Lady of Our Filipino Nation," The Boston Phoenix, 1999
» "Paper Route," Flyway Literary Review, 1996
» "Brainy Smurf and the Council Bluffs Pride Parade," Generation Q (Alyson, 1996)
April 2010
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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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