Wednesday, March 28, 2012

César Chávez Day

Each year on March 31, celebrations in observation of César Chávez Day are held in many states around the country. The holiday, held on Chávez's birthday, pays tribute to the labor leader's commitment to securing basic rights for migrant workers. To date, César Chávez Day is an optional holiday in nine states: Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin, and Rhode Island. It is an official state holiday in California, where in 1965 the farmworker movement first took hold when Chávez's National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) joined Filipino American workers in the Delano grape strike; these efforts provided the spark for what later became the United Farm Workers (UFW).

California has celebrated César Chávez Day since 2001, largely due to the efforts of Los Angeles volunteers who lobbied for a holiday to commemorate Chávez and his legacy. In 1999, state senator Richard Polanco introduced SB 984, which would make March 31 known as César Chávez Day. The bill was signed into law by Gov. Gray Davis on August 18, 2000, and the following spring, Chávez's birthday was celebrated for the first time as a state holiday.

For 2012, a number of activities, including parades, entertainment, and service projects, are being planned throughout California and other states for César Chávez Day. In San Luis, Arizona, for example, local organizations are planning a weekend-long event that includes a public health forum arranged by the farm worker advocacy group Campesinos Sin Fronteras (Farmworkers Without Borders); a parade of up to 500 horses and riders; and a music festival honoring Chávez. Many universities are also hosting special events in commemoration of Chávez's birthday. Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, for instance, is sponsoring educational events on Chávez and a day of service; and San Jose State University will mark its first official César Chávez Day celebration with a morning of planting crops in the community.

Find out more about the life of César Chávez—from his humble roots as a migrant worker to his achievements as one of the most influential labor leaders in the 20th century—by reading the complete Feature Story on the Latino American Experience. If you are not already a subscriber, click here for a free trial.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Movement

On March 31, California celebrates César Chávez Day, an official state holiday honoring one of the most iconic Latino leaders in U.S. history. Observed on Chávez's birthday, the holiday is optional in several other states, including Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. In the commentary below, former National Archives deputy director and author of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Movement Roger Bruns provides insights on Chávez's accomplishments and reasons for why his life and legacy are important to remember.

History has a way of dealing with heroes and icons. First, there is the treatment that sculpts the image as an idol nearly free of imperfections. Then, there is the revisionist treatment that cuts into the myths and tall tales. Finally, there is clearer reflection, recognizing that the man or woman had flaws, sometimes deep ones, that afflict even the most accomplished and successful figures.

In the case of César Chávez, recent revisionist books, scrupulously researched and thoughtful, have moved sharply away from the image of Chávez as a kind of saintly visionary. They have recounted the internal strife that plagued the farm workers movement in the 1970s and fractured many of the gains it had achieved in the harvest fields. They have documented the bitterness and sadness surrounding many of Chávez’s closest associates who left the union or were thrown aside amidst conflict and misunderstanding. They have illustrated how Chávez was not an efficient union administrator, that he was often domineering and controlling, and that the union itself is now a shadow of the force it once was, if only for a few shining years. All of this is true, but . . .

He was the unlikeliest of leaders. Born into a poor family of Mexican Americans outside Yuma, Arizona, faced with an early life doing hard labor as a migrant farm worker in the harvest fields, without money or influence, with little formal education, Chávez took on a personal crusade that seemed totally quixotic, a foregone failure. He would attempt to organize a movement of farm workers, of the campesinos, among whom he grew up.

With little more than grit and uncommon instincts of leadership, Chávez took on a fight against powerful forces of American agribusiness and formidable political enemies. With the help of allies such as Dolores Huerta, he made possible what seemed to most observers a fanciful dream—the United Farm Workers (UFW).

"La Causa," or "The Cause," was never a typical union. It was a movement for dignity as well as higher pay; it was for Latino self-identity as well as for bargaining rights. It had a profound national impact. The sparks of protest lit by Chávez in the tiny town of Delano, California, showed to the world the exploitation of thousands of Americans and the need for social justice.

He attracted to his side extraordinary individuals willing to sacrifice and dedicate themselves to the movement. With few resources, they carried on strikes and national boycotts, won contracts with growers, battled relentlessly against the Teamsters Union and others who resented the audacity and then their success. They influenced legislation, registered people to vote, and changed political dynamics.

In the rise of the farm workers movement, Chávez, Huerta, and the other leaders melded strong passion, commitment, and belief from various elements: religious heritage anchored in Christian social justice; aggressive, nonviolent protest principles exemplified in the civil rights movement and in the teachings of Gandhi; and the community organizing skills developed by Saul Alinsky, Fred Ross and other leaders of organizations fighting for equal rights and justice for the workers and others left on the outside of the American Dream.

The UFW also contributed to a more general movement for civil rights among Mexican Americans during the 1960s and 1970s. It helped inspire a new generation of Mexican American youths to organize their communities and become active in social and political programs. As the movement grew, the picture of Chávez became, along with others, one that hung in the homes of Latinos.

What the UFW accomplished will never be forgotten by the workers themselves or by the thousands of social activists who have been inspired and energized by the farm workers' struggle. Chávez’s movement, with its energy and appeal to the religious and cultural heritage of Mexican Americans, had lit a spark in the harvest fields that consumed old notions that life could not improve, that the system holding down the workers was too intractable and too powerful that it could be changed.

The UFW did not ultimately become a successful labor union, as the revisionists have shown. Yet, the movement stirred passions and commitments to action for countless Latinos, passions that continued to resonate long after his death. People who had shared common humiliations and shattered pride now fought back. People who had never before considered joining social movements now became activists. La Causa had never been simply an effort to found a union; it had been a battle for self-respect—standing up, at last, against a system that destroyed dignity. Not only for farm workers but for other Mexican Americans, the movement became an exciting struggle. People for the first time in their lives joined picket lines in front of grocery stores, passed out leaflets, registered others to vote, sang the songs and chants of protest, and gained a new awareness that they could actually make a difference. La Causa was a fight for empowerment and self-determination.

Chávez said that history would be on the side of the workers, especially the Mexican Americans who were taking their proper place in American society, despite the formidable opposition they faced. In those towns such as Salinas, Delano, Fresno, Bakersfield and Modesto, those towns that had been battlegrounds of the farm workers, it would be the children and grandchildren of those workers who would, in the end, gain justice. Sí, se puede!


Learn more about César Chávez by reading this month's Feature Story, "Celebrating Cesar Chavez Day," on the Latino American Experience. The database also features a primary source collection that includes the complete set of files from the FBI's surveillance of the labor leader, as well as a wide selection of documents, photos, and video clips related to the broader farmworker movement . If you are not already a subscriber, click here for a free trial.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Interview with Jim Elledge, Author of Queers in American Popular Culture

Q: What prompted you to write Queers in American Popular Culture? What "message" do you want to communicate?

I’ve always been interested in the evolution of how U.S. culture in general perceives the GLBT community, and one of the best ways to track that (I believe) is through the larger culture’s depiction of GLBTs in the popular culture. Interestingly, LGBT persons have been portrayed in popular literature, popular art, and in the various forms of everyday media for many, many decades. That’s why I edited the 3-volume set, Queers in American Popular Culture.

Q: What was the highlight of your research? In the course of your research, what discovery surprised you the most? What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

One of the most interesting moments of gathering together the essays—and there’s a lot of them!—is discovering that the issue of same-sex “marriage” has been around since the 1950s. It was a hot topic among gay men and women in those days, although it was never an issue among members of the larger community until quite recently. Readers have commented to me about any number of essays in the book that explore very unexpected topics, among them: the man considered to be the father of body building, Eugen Sandow, had a boy friend; blaxploitation films of the 1970s depicted gay and lesbian characters; and over the years, a series of cookbooks aimed at lesbians have been published.

Q: How did your research change your outlook on queers and popular culture?

I’m not sure it changed my outlook per se. It certainly broadened my own perception of how the portrayals of the LGBT community have evolved from the 1880s or so until now.

Q: How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth? Is it what you hoped for, or is there more work to be done?

There’s always more work to be done because the LBGT community evolves continually and, with it, how it’s depicted in popular culture. I believe Queers in American Popular Culture has done an excellent job accomplishing what I set out to do and in opening the doors for more work.

Q: What's next for you?

My next collection of poetry, entitled H, is due out June or July 2012 from Lethe Press, and I’m finishing up a biography, tentatively entitled Throw-Away Boy: A Life of Henry Darger, which I’ve been at work on for ten years. It’s forthcoming from Overlook Press probably in Fall 2014.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Interview with Emily Moberg Robinson, coeditor of Voices of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Experience

Q: What prompted you to write Voices of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Experience?

One of my friends and another ABC-CLIO author, Tiffany Wayne, told me about the project. I was particularly excited about the opportunity to learn more about other Asian American groups (my own research is in Japanese Americans).

Q: What "message" do you want to communicate?

There is no single, definitive Asian American/Pacific Islander experience. Each individual experiences his or her life through many different lenses—religion, ethnicity, gender, etc. And while it's vitally important to look at broad themes and group identities, in the end, we all have our own story, our own way of interpreting our lives.

Q: What was the highlight of your research?

'Meeting' so many wonderful Asian American authors, bloggers, activists and artists definitely was the highlight of the project for me. People generously shared their work, and I truly enjoyed getting to know all of the contributors. Often, one person would send my name on to another, and then to another—we got some fantastic documents this way, particularly in the Pakistani American section. I also was introduced to several people who knew my mother, grandparents, and great-grandparents back on Kauai. It was a lot of fun connecting with old family friends, and hearing new-to-me stories about the plantation days.

Q: What surprises readers/others the most about your research?

The enormous diversity of the Asian American and Pacific Islander population—both in terms of ethnicity, but also in terms of experience and identity. Several people were surprised that there are Jewish Asian Americans!

Q: How did your research change your outlook on the subject?

I've always loved reading old historical documents and imagining the lives of the people who wrote them, but most of the documents I've worked with in the past are not as personal as the ones we included in this anthology. Reading the interviews, the memoirs, the reflections was so moving for me—a reminder that big events and movements and developments are always lived, pushed, experienced by real people, by individuals, with their own stories. I think this is something every historian and sociologist ought to have in the back (or front!) of her mind when she's doing 'macro-level' work.

Q: How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth?

People are excited to read documents that reflect their own experiences—to see their own personal, family, community history placed in a larger context. No matter what ethnicity you are, there is something in this book that will resonate with you.

Q: What's next for you?

I just finished up another writing project, a chapter in a book on ethnic/religious identity—who knew 18th century Scottish Presbyterian immigrants could have so much in common with 19th and 20th century Asian immigrants! I'd love to do more writing on Asian Americans. In the meantime, I'm running around after my three kids, and trying to convince people that my red headed children really are Japanese Americans.

Monday, March 19, 2012

International Criminal Court's Historic First Conviction Puts Spotlight on Child Soldiers

On March 14, the ICC found Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty for the war crime of using children under the age of 15 as active participants in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo between September 2002 and August 2003. This is the ICC's first conviction in its 10 year history. In his forthcoming book, Child Soldiers: A Reference Handbook, Dr. David M. Rosen tackles the complex legal and social questions surrounding this controversial global issue.

For more than 40 years, humanitarian and human rights groups have sought to ban the recruitment and use of child soldiers. Their efforts have produced mixed results. On one hand, they have had a profound effect on the development of international law prohibiting the recruitment of children, but on the other hand, such laws seem to have had only limited efficacy in reducing the actual number of child soldiers participating in conflicts throughout the world. This huge gap between the aspirations of law and the practical reality of child recruitment is one of the greatest problems in ending the recruitment of child soldiers.

International efforts to end the use of child soldiers first bore fruit in 1977. That year, for the first time in history, there were changes made to the so-called “laws of war” that placed restrictions on recruiting children into armed forces and groups. Since that first victory, the issue of child soldiers has developed and expanded in scope. What began in 1977 as a relatively narrow concern with protecting children under 15 years old from serving as armed combatants has evolved into an international effort to sever a broad range of connections between the military and any person under the age of eighteen. The entire concept of the “child soldier” has evolved to encompass a greater number of children engaged in a wider variety of activities than first imaged. This raises some powerful questions. Are there actually more child soldiers in the world today than in the past? Certainly, child soldiers have been integrally involved in the military for a very long time. Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, joined the armed forces of the American Revolution at age 13, and he was far from alone in doing so. How have changing definitions of child soldiers affected our perception of the actual number of child soldiers in the world? Are all children who are involved in the military coerced or abused? Is it always the case that children would be better off away from military involvement? And finally, when children are involved in military activity, should they be held responsible for their actions in the same way as adult soldiers?

- David M. Rosen is a professor of anthropology and law at Fairleigh Dickinson University

Explore these new ABC-CLIO resources to learn more about the complex issues surrounding the use of child soldiers around the world:

Child Soldiers

Slavery in the Modern World

Issues: Understanding Controversy and Society

Friday, March 16, 2012

Author Interview: Robert J. Miller

What prompted you to write Reservation Capitalism?
I wanted to investigate some of the reasons why Indian reservations are the poorest parts of the United States and how American Indians can work to improve the quality of their lives.

What "message" do you want to communicate?
American Indians supported themselves for millennia by entrepreneurial and intelligent, hard work, and that reinvigorating business and entrepreneurial attitudes can help create viable economies on reservations and bring beneficial and sustainable economic development to Indian Country.

What was the highlight of your research?
The extent to which almost all American Indian cultures supported themselves through what was, in essence, small business activities and how tribal communities protected the private property rights thereby created.

What surprises readers/others the most about your research?
The extent to which American Indians worked diligently to support their families in a variety of occupations and were not nomadic gathering societies that just lived off the bounty of nature.

How did your research change your outlook on economic development in Indian country?
I realized that private entrepreneurial business activities are very much in accord with the cultures and histories of the vast majority of tribal peoples.

How have people reacted to your book and/or the ideas you set forth?
Most people are surprised by the ideas I have put forth because Americans have been misled into thinking that Indians existed by “accident” for thousands of years. Euro-Americans and their governments misunderstood, either by accident or on purpose, how Indians created and sustained their cultures and societies over millennia and the private rights they created and respected. I think that many settler/colonizers societies do this on purpose to justify taking these rights and resources with a clearer conscience.

What's next for you?
I have to deliver my message to both Indian and non-Indians peoples so that we can all work to help improve the economic and poverty-related social conditions that Indian tribal governments and communities face today.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Clash of the Ironclads

March 9, 2012, marks the 150th anniversary of the naval engagement between USS Monitor and CSS Virginia (formerly USS Merrimack) off Hampton Roads, Virginia, during the second year of the Civil War. Although inconclusive, the three-hour battle—the first conformation between a new vessel type known as ironclads—was an important turning point in naval history. In this excerpt from Dr. Spencer C. Tucker's The Civil War Naval Encyclopedia, the initial encounter between the two ironclads is described.

At about 9:00 p.m. the Monitor pulled alongside the frigate Roanoke, where Worden conferred with Captain John Marston, senior Union officer in the Roads. Marston ordered Worden to defend the Minnesota, and at 1:00 a.m. on March 9 the Monitor anchored alongside the grounded Union flagship. Shortly thereafter, fires on the Congress reached the magazine, and that ship blew up. Few men on the Monitor slept that night.

At about 6:00 a.m. on March 9, the Virginia got under way. The sea was again calm, and the day clear. Jones ordered the Virginia to make for the Union flagship. At 8:00 a.m. Worden saw the Virginia and its consorts steam out into the main channel and head for the Minnesota, and he immediately ordered battle preparations. The Monitor was far more maneuverable than the Virginia, but it also was only a fraction of the Confederate ship's size and mounted but 2 guns to the 10 on the Virginia. There must have been serious doubts aboard the Monitor as to whether the ship would prove a worthy opponent.

Jones intended to ignore the Union ironclad until he had finished off the Minnesota with hot shot. At about one mile from the grounded Union ship, Jones commenced fire. Almost immediately a round struck the Minnesota and started a fire. Shot from the Minnesota's stern guns simply ricocheted off the Virginia's armor. Worden now set the Monitor straight for the Virginia. The Minnesota and Virginia exchanged fire until the Monitor had closed the range. The Union ironclad's small pilothouse prevented its guns from firing directly forward, so Worden conned the Monitor parallel to the Virginia. At 8:45 a.m. the Monitor fired the first shot of the battle.

The duel lasted three and a half hours. This time, the Virginia's consorts were only spectators, for the Monitor's heavy guns would have made short work of them. The battle was fought at very close range, from a few yards to more than 100. The crew of the Virginia was surprised that the Union guns did not inflict greater damage. Not a single shot struck the Virginia at its vulnerable waterline. The Confederates believed that the Monitor's crew simply fired their guns as rapidly as possible (every five or six minutes) without aiming. The Virginia was also extremely vulnerable when it ran hard aground, and the Monitor, with half the draft, could circle its antagonist and fire at will. With the Virginia's very survival now at stake and its boiler safety valves tied shut to provide maximum steam, the Virginia at length pulled free.

A Senior Fellow in Military History for ABC-CLIO Publishing since 2003, Dr. Spencer C. Tucker has been instrumental in establishing ABC-CLIO as the premier military history reference publisher in the country. Spence's interest in military history began while he was a student at the Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and was enhanced by a Fulbright Fellowship in France and while serving as a captain in military intelligence in the Pentagon during the Vietnam War. Although he concentrated on Modern European History in his graduate studies, he became interested in all periods of military history. Spence taught at the university and college level for 36 years, 30 of these at Texas Christian University and the last 6 as holder of the John Biggs Chair of Military History at VMI. Spence is particularly excited to be the editor of ABC-CLIO's award-winning series of war encyclopedias, which includes the 2nd edition of The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Author Guest Post: Jay Slosar on Politics Today

Today’s political race highlights intense psychological conflicts within our society. Is Romney a model for “success” you would want your child to become? Is he realistic, e.g., “there are winners and losers”, or is he cold—advocating that Detroit should have been allowed to go into bankruptcy. The advanced and powerful capitalism leads some to immense financial success but it seems to come with a decline for those in the middle.

The issue is not one of eliminating capitalism or going towards socialism. Look at the markets—stocks, mutual funds, options, hedge funds, commodities—do you see any evidence of Socialism? The core issue is that money and wealth have completely taken over as the primary driving force to the definition of “success”. The sophisticated advertising, PR and marketing of capitalism have us brainwashed. We all think we can become a millionaire tomorrow. That has become the American Dream. Yet this new model has in fact damaged what used to be the American dream. I was the youngest of four and my father worked in the steel mill in Gary, Indiana. My mother finally went to work after I entered grade school. We owned a home and I went to a catholic school. Not possible today. We weren’t well off, but I didn’t notice.

I hope the political discussion will be able to address the issue of the definition of success and what type of capitalism is healthy. After all, you can have capitalism without democracy. Just look at China. China decided they needed healthcare for their country so they just did it. No discussion needed. Today’s redefinition of success will need to put democracy ahead of capitalism. I don’t think that can happen. But can we at least discuss it? Isn’t that what the political process is for?

Jay Slosar, author of The Culture of Excess: How America Lost Self-Control and Why We Need to Redefine Success. Visit the author's webpage at

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Super Tuesday

With Super Tuesday upon us, the Republican Party's presidential primary race is in full swing, and today could prove pivotal—either by lending support to Mitt Romney's presumed "frontrunner" status or by leveling the playing field among the candidates.

The concept of Super Tuesday originated during the elections of 1984 and 1988, when many states began holding caucuses and primaries on the same Tuesday in early March. In particular, southern states participated in these simultaneous events in order to increase their region's significance.

Historically, the results of Super Tuesday have often established which candidates ultimately receive their party's nomination. For instance, after losing early primary contests in 1992, Bill Clinton cemented his status as "The Comeback Kid" when he won many Southern states on Super Tuesday, later cinching the Democratic nomination and the presidency. Likewise, in 1996, Bob Dole sealed the Republican nomination after sweeping all seven states holding primaries on Super Tuesday.

The last presidential election's Super Tuesday, February 5, 2008, became the largest presidential primary election day in U.S. history as 24 states held caucuses or primaries. While this quasi national primary—dubbed "Super Duper Tuesday" for the vast number of delegates at stake—had the potential to set up a situation in which party nominations were sealed only a few weeks after the official kickoff of the 2008 primary season, the results of the contests left open the possibility of contested political conventions. Barack Obama, who won fewer delegates on Super Tuesday than close competitor Hillary Rodham Clinton, ultimately won the Democratic nomination. Super Tuesday did provide a boost to eventual Republican nominee John McCain, who came in first in nine of the contests in a strong showing .

More than 400 Republican delegates are at stake in this year's Super Tuesday contest, or about one third of the total delegates needed to lock up the party's presidential nomination. The outcome in today's Super Tuesday contests in Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia could put the GOP on the path to a clear nominee at its August nominating convention in Florida—or Super Tuesday could help put the GOP on the path to a contested nominating convention.

More Resources

American Government
American Government explains the foundations of our government, connects these concepts to the issues of the day, and examines the strengths and weaknesses of the political and economic systems of the United States by comparing them to those of other countries.