The Wonder Woman in All of Us

I recently went to go watch Patty Jenkin’s new movie Wonder Woman with my dad and my younger brother, and I can now say that I have found my favorite heroine. I grew up watching superhero films mainly because I was always fascinated with the idea that people are capable of incredible things. But what I…

How to Get Away with Murder-ing Mexican Culture and Religion.

I was in marching and symphonic band throughout all my four years in high school. Every year we would end our season with a festival of sorts in which our ensemble would perform various pieces. The festival always landed on a school day so we would rush after school to go to each other’s houses and help each other get ready. The few hours that we spent getting ready were hectic, but fun. I pictured us looking like The Three Stooges, running around with badly done makeup, switching outfits until we settled on one, clacking up and down the stairs with different pairs of heels, and scarfing down whatever food we found in the kitchen.

My best friend decided she was going to wear a pair of gold hoop earrings with her outfit. After getting ready, arriving at the auditorium, and getting seated, we were given a few minutes to tune instruments. I turned to my section leader and we began talking when he pointed out the earrings my friend was wearing. She was seated across from me, soundlessly blowing air into her flute and fingering the notes to the music. My section leader then said, “What is she wearing?” Confused, I inquired what he was talking about to which he replied, “The earrings. Why is she wearing those?” Before I could further ask what his problem was with the earrings he proceeded to say, “She looks so ghetto.” My friend is incredibly bright, and the way my section leader was speaking about her earrings made me furious. He continued to imply that the hoops made her seem stupid and that she should take them off because they would make people question her intelligence.

Gold hoop earrings are not the only things that are used to classify Latina women as “ghetto” or “uneducated”. The winged eyeliner, the rosaries, the tattoos, and the outlined lips that are prominent in chola culture are used to undermine Latina women who choose to dress in that way. Latina women are not taken seriously if they “look” chola or dress chola, they are reduced to their appearance and identified in a negative manner. Yet when a person that is not apparently Latino wears gold hoop earrings, they are often met with compliments rather than being viewed as “ghetto”.

Chola culture.

Appropriation of chola culture.

The appropriation of Mexican culture is seen on the runways of big fashion events. Large brands often take credit for the “new” looks that are presented at their fashion shows. Most models are white and are shown wearing fashion trends that began with women of color and they take credit for the trend. White fashion industries steal Latina culture and use it for their own benefit when Latina women who dress in that manner are put down, ridiculed, or treated as “uneducated” for wearing the same thing.

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A group of Latina students at Pitzer College in California decided to express their sentiments towards brown and black culture being appropriated by white women.
Chola culture is not the only branch of culture that has been taken by white people. Cinco de Mayo is often celebrated by white people as “Mexican Independence Day”, and this description is wrong. In Mexico, the 5th of May is remembered as the day when the Mexican Army won a battle (the Battle of Puebla) against French forces. This day is surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly?) more celebrated in America than in Mexico. White people use Cinco de Mayo as an excuse to drink and then they defend their actions as “celebrating Mexican Independence”. The attire that is seen at Cinco de Mayo parties is often racist, with people dressing as “Mexicans”. The attire consists of sombreros and mariachi outfits, and this reduces Mexican culture to stereotypes.

Cultural appropriation.

In another example of the appropriation of Mexican culture, is the usage of Halloween costumes that incorporate traditional Dia de Los Muertos attire and makeup. The Day of the Dead in Mexico is a day to visit the graves of loved ones. We decorate altars dedicated to remembering family members that have passed away. The festivals that take place have people dressed in traditional Mexican garments and many wear either a skull mask or wear distinctive skull makeup. By dressing up with the traditional skull makeup used for Dia de Los Muertos, white people reduce a sacred practice to face paint and costumes. The day is celebrated as homage to loved ones who have passed away but white people think it is okay to use Mexican culture for their own Halloween celebrations. Their actions trivialize the Day of the Dead.

El Dia de Los Muertos is a day to celebrate and remember loved ones who have passed away.

Cultural appropriation.
Not only are practices, celebrations, holidays, and cultures taken from Latinos, but also religion is used however white people wish. Kim Kardashian launched a new “Kimoji” set on April 20 (4/20, also known as “weed day”‘). One of the “Kimoji’s” was a candle that was meant to show La Virgen de Guadalupe on it, a Mexican form of the Virgin Mary, except that Kardashian had her face plastered on the virgin’s face. To my mother, to my aunt, to many Latinos, La Virgen de Guadalupe is a holy and religious figure that they pray to. La Virgen de Guadalupe is a huge symbol of Catholic faith for Latinos, and the candle with her face on it is usually lit during prayers. It is disgusting that Kardashian took a Mexican religious figure and used her own face on it for profit. Her blatant disrespect for the religion of most Mexicans is something that proves that white people can get away with taking our culture without any repercussions. We can get as angry as we want, Kardashian is not going to remove her “Kimoji”. White people will still continue to use chola culture, Cinco de Mayo celebrations, and Dia de Los Muertos makeup for their own benefit.

Our Lady of Guadalupe.

Kim candle.

Tell me again why I can’t burn the precious flag, why I can’t take a knee during the National Anthem, why I can’t protest social injustice for people of color without it being a “riot”, and why I can’t wear gold hoop earrings, but white people can burn and disrespect and trample Mexican culture and religion with ignorance?

Four Lions and Christian Extremism

One of the funniest films I have watched is Chris Morris’s dark comedy Four Lions, which is a movie that follows a group of jihadists and their absurd schemes to become glorified suicide bombers. While often interpreted as offensive and as a gross misrepresentation of Muslim people, the film was made as a commentary on the absurdity of extremism.

Actor Nigel Lindsay as Barry, a white convert to Islam, and Arsher Ali as Hassan, a student who follows Barry’s radical schemes.

What can be seen in that dark humor is how the different ideologies of the group parallel the different ideologies of other religions. Barry’s character is a white convert to Islam and he is also the most radical of the group, with proposed ideas to bomb a mosque in order to “radicalize the moderates”. Omar’s character is the leader of the group and he is also the most humanized character because he is portrayed with a family, a steady job, and he is shown as someone rational and smart enough to be able to criticize the ideas of the other jihadists and he is also able to lead the group into choosing an “acceptable” target to bomb. The contrast in how the two characters believe they should set up their jihad is a representation of how other religious group think as well. The different ways in which people interpret religion are often responsible for conflicts and this is a topic that the film reflects through the clashing ideologies of the characters.

Omar and Barry arguing in the film about what should be their target.

I was able to connect this film to my own religion and I could apply many of the criticisms that the movie delivers about Islamic extremism to Christian extremism. As a child my family was incredibly conservative but as I grew older and many of the churches we attended disbanded, my family became more and more liberal. Having watched the film, the ridiculousness of the jihadists is a similar ridiculousness that I remember growing up in a conservative household. The Harry Potter franchise dealt with “witches and sorcerers” and therefore it was a Satanic agent that I was forbidden from watching. Disney movies had secret demonic and pedophilia themed messages and so those were banned from the household too. Once my younger brother was born, my parents became lenient, and we were able to watch those films. I believe that my parents realized that watching something fictional was not going to influence my faith and therefore it would be okay to allow me to watch those movies. Like in Four Lions, my family thought that there was only one way to follow religion and that everyone who did not agree with that way was wrong and was working against that religion. My parents have changed though, and I am grateful that we have been able to see the world with more open minds, but like the characters in Four Lions, there are still extremists today that believe that they have to wage a war against “pagans”.

Christian booklets that highlight the evils of witchcraft.

There is a line from Four Lions that reminds me of the similarity between Islamic extremism and Christian extremism. When addressing Hassan after his stint at the debate, Barry says, “Islam is cracking up. We got women talking back. We got people playing stringed instruments. It’s the end of days!” This line shows that the main characters in the movie are mainly against any progressive movements because they feel it threaten their religion and this way of interpreting their fight for religion is what leads them to become suicide bombers. In Christian extremism, people use Christianity as a justification to mistreat and control the lifestyle of minority groups, people from the LGBTQ+ community, women, and other people who they believe are either against religion or need to be controlled by religion.

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Islamic Extremism

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Christian Extremism

Defining extremism is not an easy thing to do and there is no clear cut answer to it except that it is often used with a negative connotation. In the film, Sofia, Omar’s wife, wears a hijab. This choice that Muslim women make is often viewed as a sign that Islam makes women submissive or that it takes away a woman’s power and therefore the practice is sometimes labeled as “extreme”. But in the film, Sofia is not shown as a submissive wife to Omar. She has a job in a hospital and the film makes it clear that she is a “free woman” in her house. Omar is even criticized by his (ironically) more fundamentalist Muslim brother Ahmed for not “controlling” Sofia. When arriving at Omar’s house to dissuade him from being a suicide bomber, Ahmed at first refuses to speak because Sofia is in the same room. When Sofia comments about Ahmed keeping the women from his group separate in a small room, Ahmed replies to Sofia, “I don’t argue with women.” Rather than remain quiet or have her husband speak, Sofia retorts, “No, you don’t. You lock ’em in a cupboard.” Omar is then criticized for not following Sharia law and “controlling” his wife. Here Sofia is shown to have more freedom than the women in Ahmed’s group, and her husband Omar is never shown speaking down to her or making her “submissive” so her choice to wear a hijab is unrelated to Islamic extremism. Now Omar’s choice to be a suicide bomber is indeed a form of extremism because his form of jihad involves hurting other people. I believe that that is the point of extremism, where religion is used to justify actions against others. Sofia’s hijab harms nobody and no one used the religion of Islam as a justification to force her to wear it, but her husband Omar is using his religion to justify killing people.

Scene with Omar, Sofia, and Ahmed described above.

In Christianity, principles of virtue are mainly (and unfairly) applied mostly to women. I grew up being taught that abstinence up until marriage is a Christian practice I should follow. My father gave me a purity ring on my 15th birthday and that was meant to symbolize my vow of chastity. This Christian practice is also seen as a form of extremism because it limits the sexual nature of people by making them promise not to engage in any sexual activities until marriage. For a long time I absolutely loathed the ring I wore. I hated it because I felt that it represented a constraint against any choice I wanted to make. I knew that the ring I wore would never be imposed upon my younger brother, but had he been my sister instead, surely there would be one on her finger today. I also felt that if I did not follow what the ring represented then I would be a “bad person”. It was not until recently that I came to terms with what the ring represents to me. I was mainly worried about whether or not I would change my mind in the future and I decided that waiting until marriage is something I want to do, not just because of my religion, but for myself and my own corny beliefs about love. While I did feel at first that this religious practice was something I was forced to do, I know that I always had a choice and I was able to make up my mind at any point on what I wanted to do. Accepting to wear the purity ring and to follow through with the practice is not a form of extremism. I am by no means oppressed by a religious system because I ultimately chose this for myself. Now what would be a true form of Christian extremism is targeting LGBTQ+ groups because the people are “full of sin”. Expressing acts of hate against other people with the justification of religion is an act of extremism. The choice I make with my purity ring hurts no one (maybe my dad’s feelings), but being hateful to others for the sake of religion is wrong and some Christian people endorse this extreme behavior with the intent of fulfilling their own interpretation of scriptures rather than focusing on improving their own lives.

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If you search “purity ring” on in web, most rings will be targeted towards women. Not men, of course.

The movie Four Lions pokes fun at the extremism in religion and it also reveals that extremism exists in other religions besides Islam. While extremism can be mistaken for misinterpreted practices, I believe that practices are extreme once they become harmful to others or to the practicing person. The man sitting in the Oval Office is an extremist. He is leading the American country in a war against people of color, minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, and women all because of his religious interpretation of what is right and wrong. By using his power to control the lives of other people, his actions are a form of extremism. In the end of the movie, Omar realizes that he wrongly manipulated Waj, his child-like cousin, into participating as a suicide bomber. Omar sees that he took away Waj’s choice and tries to prevent Waj from succeeding in blowing himself up. If a fictional terrorist, as absurd and wrong as his actions are, can see that taking away someone’s choice is too extreme, why does our president not see that taking away our choices and limiting the freedom of certain groups of people is abominable?

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Blog Post: 1

As George Orwell said, “Truth is treason in an empire of lies.” While America is not an empire of dictatorships but of freedom and democracy, recent events have made people question the way the American population views equality. From beginning as a small number of colonies fighting to be rid of British rule to progressing…

Evoking Mexican Patriotism

My mother was born in Mexico, and growing up in the United States I would hear her speak lovingly of her country while brutally criticizing the actions of the Mexican government. With the controversies of the current Mexican president, Enrique Peña Nieto, it was easy for me to agree with my mother that the government was corrupt and responsible for the poverty and violence that had spread throughout the country. The Latin media that I watched would occasionally cover protests in Mexico over violence or other national problems, but there was no sense of urgency in the news airings and soon the issues would be forgotten until the next report on Mexico. The broadcasts would show the same issues related to Mexico over and over again that it was almost a given to relate the country with drugs, violence, corruption, and poverty. I became desensitized to all the reports and though I grew up with Mexico in my heart and blood, I thought that being passive about the ongoing issues in Mexico was okay. I believed that since the Mexican government disregarded and censored its people, there was no use in fighting against such a powerful government, a government whose leader won his position through bribes and academic dishonesty.

The Mexican flag reimagined [modern]-from PropagandaPosters
In 2010, my aunt, a police agent from Durango, disappeared. In 2014, a group of 43 students from Guerrero disappeared. Mass graves are found more and more often. Peña Nieto’s promises of a decrease in violence have proven false with his implementations of the same war-on-drugs tactics as his predecessor. The people of Mexico have shown discontent and anger with the government’s incompetency, and protests have long ensued to express those feelings. Still the Latin media airing those demonstrations did not spark any feelings of unity in me or my family. We felt helpless, with our ongoing search for my aunt and the police force giving up the search after a few weeks. The rising number of missing persons was not the factor that made me and my family want to fight back. What caused our passive attitudes to change was the election of Donald Trump as president and the outrage it caused.

Throughout his campaign, Trump made various remarks about the people of Mexico and the disrespect that he showed towards those people is what united many against his ideas of a greater America. Seeing the protests that American’s participated in, like the Women’s March on D.C., made me realize that being passive about the violation of human rights in any country is unacceptable. I believe that the ‘uprising’ of the American people served as a reminder that no government should be above the people. On Facebook and in Latin news channels I noticed an increase in people publicly voicing their opinions about Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, president Peña Nieto, and other national issues. A common phrase that I have seen circulating on social media reads: Amo a mi país y me avergüenzo de mi gobierno. This translates to: “I love my country and I am ashamed of my government.” The type of sentiment that Mexican people have begun to show is a renewed patriotism that I had not felt present before President Trump’s election.

This image has been circling around Facebook among Mexican citizens.
Similar to Gandhi’s works influencing the people of India to protest against the British empire, Trump’s attack on Mexico and Mexican immigrants served as a means to incite people to unite against greater powers. Now Trump is definitely not a man who emanates peace, but his relation to Gandhi is that both men made people under a dominant government realize that it is better to have dignity and to fight against injustice. While people in America protest for equality and social justice, the people of Mexico have begun protests against the gasolinazo, against Peña Nieto’s reforms, and against the narco-state. The parallel situation of the people’s discontent against an unchecked government should serve as an inspiration to other nations that are under oppressive rule. Like the movement in India where many united against the force of Britain, the people of Mexico have begun to unite against the institute of fear and violence under Peña Nieto.

Just as in the previous political cartoons, the political power is shown holding a stick to assert dominance. In America, Trump was holding the stick. In Mexico, Peña Nieto was holding the stick. In India, the British empire used to hold the stick.

My grandmother joined a rally where the people cried out for the resignation of President Peña Nieto.

With all the problems that are occurring in Mexico, Donald Trump’s election was the last straw for the people of Mexico. The conference that Trump had with Peña Nieto served to further anger the people of Mexico with people claiming that Peña Nieto was not decisive enough in the meeting and he allowed Trump to further mock the nation. These events have triggered an awakening of Mexican patriotism, with people fighting for justice in the same manner that Americans are doing.

Peña Nieto with Trump at a conference.
A corrupt government is not something easy to fight against. People have been afraid of speaking up against the government or reporting incidences of drug cartel influences on politics. Votes are often bought or coerced out of people with the threat of violence. Evidence tampering is rewarded in politics. The renewed patriotism in Mexico is one that I hope will withstand against these forces. As the Oscar winning director Alejandro González Iñárritu said, “I pray that [the Mexican people] can build the government we deserve,” that is the goal that I know every Mexican citizen has in mind. I see people rallying, I hear of Mexicans helping out their fellow campesinos by buying only produce from Mexico and boycotting American products, and there are journalists who refuse to let themselves be silenced. President Trump has awakened a proud nation.


Lessons from the Salvadoran Civil War

My dad always tears up after watching the 2004 film Voces Inocentes. The first time we watched it together I remember him staring at the screen with glassy eyes and a faraway look on his face. He was somewhere back in El Salvador reliving the civil war that drove him away from his homeland and to the United States.

The Salvadoran Civil War officially started in 1980 and ended after twelve years. The unofficial start occurred years ago dating back to the 16th century where the Spanish conquest of El Salvador established a military dictatorship, and thus began the long battle between the government and the guerrillas of native people. The ongoing war between the people and the government was later aided by the United States. The role of the U.S. was to supply the Salvadoran government with weapons and military advisers in order to suppress the guerrillas. What the superpower nation would gain from aiding the Latin American country was a guarantee that the Marxist guerrillas would be contained and that their political views would not take over in El Salvador. It was a matter of self-interest and concern over the global containment of communism that caused the U.S. to become deeply involved with the Salvadoran militia and its agenda. By setting up an advantage for El Salvador’s military government against the guerrillas, the U.S. also knowingly sealed the fate of civilians caught between both sides of the battle.

The role of the U.S. in the Salvadoran civil war was reported as an unwitting action that later resulted in being a false statement. Both President Carter and Reagan were fully aware of the massacres and inhumane violence that the Salvadoran military used against the people of El Salvador.
My father left El Salvador in 1987. He was twenty years old and was running away from his home after an air raid. In his arms he was carrying my two year old step-brother. The account of my dad’s life in El Salvador is just one of the many stories of the violation of human rights in the war torn country. With the U.S. having originally denied that their role in the Salvadoran role was a purposeful act, it raises the question as to whether any national superpower should be allowed to decide the fate of country for self-interest or ‘national security’. The world was unaware of the war crimes committed in El Salvador mainly due to the censorship of the media. News sources reporting massacres in El Salvador would be denounced by the U.S. as war propaganda, and the country went on as far as refusing to acknowledge the deaths of American nuns in El Salvador that were brutally murdered by members of the Salvadoran militia; these members were trained and supplied by the U.S. The U.S. went to extreme lengths to cover up the stories and to lessen the impact that the accounts were meant to bring in order to show the world the atrocities being committed in El Salvador. This power should not have been abused because it resulted in the deaths of many innocent people. Most of the deaths in El Salvador during the civil war were comprised of children. With this knowledge one would believe that a leading nation would have helped defend the voiceless, but instead the U.S. kept an anti-Communism agenda at the cost of lives.

Other leaders arose to defend the voiceless. Óscar Monseñor Romero was the archbishop of El Salvador. His defense of the Salvadoran people cost him his life. Interestingly, he was shot dead during a private mass after having recently spoken out against the U.S. government supporting the Salvadoran military. The assassination of Romero is thought to be a contributing factor in the onslaught of guerrillas and revolts against the Salvadoran government. His death was able to rally people to speak up and have their voices heard. What people would fight against was the oppression of the poor and the mistreatment of the common obrero. The U.S. was heavily involved in Romero’s assassination as well as many assassinations that they immediately denied. This example of the U.S. barely containing the reports of war crimes in El Salvador proves that where there is a dominating force, the suppressed will always fight back. What helped spark the movements against the Salvadoran was Romero’s death, the poverty, and other oppressive factors against the people.

Mural of Óscar Romero. “I offer my blood for the redemption and resurrection of El Salvador. That my blood may be a seed for liberty.”
I believe that nations should aspire to have the same mindset as individuals like Romero. Rather than rely on self-interested politics, national leaders should set an example of compassion and work to improve the lives of people in war ravaged countries like El Salvador. While the U.S. cannot travel back in time and fix the damage it inflicted on the Salvadoran people, it can learn from these events to not sacrifice lives for the sake of the weak pretense of ‘national security’. Seeking sanctions in the U.S. does not equate to being a threat to democracy or even to being a terrorist. In the present day, I think that the U.S. should serve to protect people that do not have the luxury of democracy, people who are oppressed and searching for a better life. Rather than meddle with the infrastructure of other countries, the U.S. should be working to repay for all the atrocities that it has willingly participated in. It owes it to the people of El Salvador. It owes it to my dad and to the millions of other people that were displaced or killed in the war. If not them then what other nation will step up for the defenseless?

The song “Casas de Carton”, originally by Ali Primera, featured in the film Voces Inocentes, was banned in many Latin American countries for its lyrics that criticized the state of the poor in comparison to the government.

English translation of the lyrics:

Cardboard Houses

How sad, the rain is heard
On the cardboard roofs
How sadly my people live
In the cardboard houses.

The worker comes descending,
Almost dragging his footsteps
For the weight of suffering
Look how much is the suffering
Look how much the suffering weighs

He leaves the pregnant woman above
The city is below,
And he loses himself in its tangle.
Today is the same as yesterday
It’s a world without tomorrow.

How sad, the rain is heard
On the cardboard roofs.
How sadly my people live
In the cardboard houses.

Children the color of my land
With the same scars
Millionaires of worms, and
Therefore how sadly the children live
In the cardboard houses.
How happy the dogs live in the
House of the exploiter

You’re not going to believe it
But there are schools for dogs
And they give them education
So they don’t bite the newsboys
But the boss
For years, many years
That he is biting the worker.

How sad, the rain is heard
On the cardboard roofs.
How far away, passes hope
In the cardboard houses.

Why the Lobster?

How a lobster and an Anaïs Nin quote represent the importance of risk-taking for growth.