Radio/Podcast Reviews

The posts in the category are reviews of podcasts and/or radio shows that I found enjoyable and thought-provoking

Mo’Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove

When I was growing up, I an effortless reader, a bookworm who loved to read for hours on end, losing myself in stories. Now, as an adult, I am saddened that it has become hard for me to find the time and attention span to devote to what was my beloved past time. I recently finished reading Mo’Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove, the memoir of Ahmir Thompson aka “Questlove,” the Drummer for the Hip Hop Band The Roots, and was thrilled at how Mo’Meta Blues recaptured my love of reading from childhood, truly immersing me in what I had loved and continue to love about reading–exploring a new world, in this instance the world of Hip Hop.

Mo’Meta Blues did introduce me to people whose lives are so different from my own in a format that felt so unique–less of a memoir and more of a hip hop song that sampled  footnotes from Roots Manager Richard Nichols and emails exchanged between co-writer Ben Greenman and editor Ben Greenberg.  But Questlove also let me return to a place I have not visited in a while, Philly where I am from.

In addition to revisiting the city where I grew up, I also felt a musical nostalgia that brought me back to the first time I heard so many hip hop and R&B artists that make up the sound track of my adolescence. It was so funny reading about Questlove’s experiences attending CAPA (Philadelphia high school for Creative and Performing Arts) where he met Tariq Trotter “Black Thought” whom he created the Roots with as part of a rivalry against their classmates who “were always singing a capella in the bathroom,” classmates who later became R&B group Boyz II Men. It was so cool to read about the Roots performing with the Fugees, and think back to when I heard “Killing Me Softly” all over the radio and school hallways.

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Listen to The Roots & other Hip Hop artists

1. The Roots https://myspace.com/theroots This is the Root’s official MySpace page and includes a YouTube video archive as well as their music.

2. J Dilla https://myspace.com/jdilla I am embarrassed to admit that before reading Mo’Meta Blues, I never knew much about J Dilla and his legacy in what Questlove called the “new Renaissance of Hip Hop.”  After reading Mo’Meta Blues, it’s been a fascinating journey for me to explore J Dilla’s website, and learn about his life and powerful influences on so many artists from Questlove himself to Erykah Badu, Common, Kanye West… the list goes on and on. A moving story of coincidence that also unpacks J Dilla’s legacy was recently featured on the Snap Judgement Podcast: http://snapjudgment.org/j-dilla%E2%80%99s-lost-scrolls   

3. OkayPlayer http://www.okayplayer.com/ Okayplayer.com, created by Questlove in 1999, defines itself as “the original progressive urban music site” and  “premier digital destination for music connoisseurs worldwide.”

Read Mo’Meta Blues and Listen to the Interview that inspired me to read it

1. Thompson, Ahmir “Questlove” and Ben Greenman. Mo’Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. June 2013.  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B000I9S6AE/ref=atv_feed_catalog?tag=imdb-amazonvideo-20

2. “Questlove on Police Racial Profiling, Stop & Frisk, the Message He Took from Trayvon Martin Verdict.” Democracy Now. August 14, 2013.  This insightful interview cemented my crush on Questlove and finally prompted me to read Mo’Meta Blues.  http://www.democracynow.org/2013/8/14/questlove_on_police_racial_profiling_stop

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Searching for Providence and Harvest of Empire

A few months ago, I read Patricia Foxen’s ethnography In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities. An ethnography is a descriptive work resulting from the study of human cultures, and Dr. Foxen has created an insightful analysis of Mayan K’iches’ who have emigrated from a rural Guatemalan farming community to Providence, Rhode Island after the Internal Armed Conflict. I found Dr. Foxen’s book fascinating, and so many parts spoke to my own personal heartfelt experiences. Her description of the Mayan K’iche’ communities in their “host community” of Providence reminded me of my experiences working with recently resettled refugees. Her analysis of K’iche’ in their “home community” in Guatemala gave me deep nostalgia for my experiences at the Mountain School.

Furthermore, I was intrigued by Foxen’s description of how the Maya K’iche’ use trickster behavior. According to Foxen, in El Quiche “the instability caused by poor weather and crops, an insecure economic environment, poor health, and social strife lead most K’iche’s to learn to be flexible and above all, listo (literally to be ready, or on one’s toes) for whatever opportunities present themselves” (194). Foxen elaborates on how as marginalized immigrants, K’iches’ leverage this coping mechanism to act as tricksters. 

Tricksters, present in many cultures’ folktales including those of the Maya K’iche’, usually appear as animals who are metaphors for how an oppressed people can use their position of weakness to outsmart their oppressors. Foxen gives examples of how K’iche’s acted as real life tricksters to survive the Guatemalan military’s brutal surveillance tactics, and later put these techniques to use when contending with “la migra, the police, and bosses” in the United States (195). Foxen noted that K’iche’ migrants take pride in their trickster abilities, which they see as part of their ethnic identity.   

Foxen’s study of May K’iche’s trickster behavior left a deep impression on me because I have studied tricksters in ancient folktales and in contemporary fiction, but had yet to delve deeply into how people in recent history have used trickster behavior. One work of contemporary fiction that I have studied that came to mind when reading In Search of Providence was Junot Diaz’s collection of vignettes Drown, which features Dominican immigrants acting as tricksters in order to adapt to their new lives in New Jersey. Diaz writes in English, and cleverly uses language to express the multiple worlds his characters are straddling. Drown begin with an epigraph by Gustavo Pérez Firmat that expresses this notion:

The fact that I

am writing to you in English 

already falsifies what I

wanted to tell you. 

My subject: 

how to explain to you that I

don’t belong to English 

though I belong nowhere else.

To give further insight into the ideas expressed in this poem Bilingual Blues, I have linked below for a second time to an interview where Junot Diaz and Francisco Goldman discuss how they grapple with living in “two linguistic spheres.”

Another book that I have recently read that address Central American migration to the United States is Juan Gonzalez’s revised edition of Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America. I delighted in taking my time reading Harvest of Empire, slowing pulling back the lens to gain a broader perspective on Latin American history from the Spanish Colonization in the 1500s to the present day. Thus far, my knowledge had been focused on Guatemala. Recently, I have begun to learn more about El Salvador from living in a city with large Salvadoran population as a result of a wave of immigrants and refugees who fled their country’s Civil War in the 1980s.

I especially liked Part II Branches (Las Ramas) and Part III Harvest (La Cosecha) for their comprehensive view of the revolutions in Latin America throughout the 20th Century and the discussion of the contemporary immigration debate. One close-up I particularly enjoyed was Gonzalez’s discussion Puerto Rico. Gonzalez himself is Puerto Rican, and included anecdotes about his family and own life, which added a personal note to the sweeping narrative.

Learn more about the books and radio show discussed in this post

1. Foxen, Patricia. In Search of Providence: Transnational Mayan Identities. 2007. http://www.amazon.com/dp/0826515819/ref=rdr_ext_tmb

2. Gonzales, Juan. Harvest of Empire: A History of Latinos in America Revised Edition. 2011.  http://www.amazon.com/Harvest-Empire-History-Latinos-America/dp/0143119281

3.  Alarcón, Daniel. ”Junot y Francisco : En vivo desde Nueva York.” Radio Ambulante. February, 2013. http://radioambulante.org/es/

Lately reflecting on Trayvon Martin & What can a sincere white person do?

This post has been brewing in my mind since July, but I delayed writing and publishing these past three months–partly because I have been busy but also because I felt nervous about expressing myself on these issues. I learned today that my friend recently met one of my heroes, anti-racism educator Tim Wise, this past weekend. Thinking about all that this sincere white person does to undo racism has helped me find the will to share my thoughts.

Although I spent three months deliberating over publishing my reflection on Trayvon Martin’s death and the verdict of George Zimmerman’s trial for killing him, time has not remained as static as this page in my drafts folder.  George Zimmerman is back in the news for altercations between him and his ex-wife, and the ways in which privileged white women such as myself can dominate social justice movements, unintentionally overshadowing the voices of people of color, came into focus thanks to #solidarityisforwhitewomen.

But this post begins began back in July. Soon after George Zimmerman verdict was announced,  I read Ta-Nehisi’s Coate’s article “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice,” which really spoke to what the verdict says about America, while also providing a great grounding of the laws surrounding the verdictCoates is so articulate in weaving together legal analysis and social insight, that instead of quoting or paraphrasing I will just provide the link and thanks to my friends who shared it with me: Coates, Ta-Nehisi.  The Atlantic. “Trayvon Martin and the Irony of American Justice.” July 15, 2013. http://www.theatlantic.com/national/archive/2013/07/trayvon-martin-and-the-irony-of-american-justice/277782/

NPR’s Tell Me More has covered news involving Trayvon Martin since the winter of 2012, and I have appreciated the show’s focus on the trial and verdict. On July 15th, 2013, Tell Me More dedicated a full show to the verdict, and interviewed people from a variety of backgrounds who spoke about different aspects of the verdict, from the legal proceedings to more emotional perspectives regarding racial biases. One comment that stayed with me was from Jenee Desmond Harris, who writes for TheRoot.com, stating that “if Zimmerman is a racist…he is certainly not the old school kind.” (NPR Tell Me More. “Inside the Zimmerman Verdict.” July 15, 2013. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=202335038 )

Harris was mentioning the hue and cry of whether George Zimmerman is or isn’t racist and how those who insist that Zimmerman is not racist point to “new school” facets like his half Peruvian heritage, or dating and volunteering history. But the focus on Zimmerman’s ethnicity and actions obscure the unspoken internalized prejudices all of us Americans have from living in a country that is entrenched in biases against people of color. Biases that exist from the institutional on down to the individual level. These are the prejudices at play when Zimmerman saw and stalked Trayvon Martin, concluding after a glance at his skin that was a criminal threat, giving rise to the fear that prompted him to pull the trigger, ending an innocent life.

I have internalized racism too.  Part of my own efforts in trying to be a sincere white ally begins with acknowledging my own biases and doing my best to work against them.  A simple way that anyone can be introduced to their internalized biases is through the interactive website  “Project Implicit.”  (Project Implicit. 2013 https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/demo/ )

A key part of trying to be a sincere ally begins with listening, listening to ourselves as we uncover our biases and listening to people of color. In Lois Mark Stalvey’s memoir, “The Education of a WASP,” Lois Stalvey listens to her African American friend Joanna recount a heartbreaking story from her childhood: how a boy with a developmental disability was lynched for allegedly harassing a white woman. Joanna tells Lois that the neighborhood watched after this boy, who was seldom alone and could not be guilty of the crime.  Lois listens to her friend cry, and realizes throughout history white people have enslaved, disenfranchised, and brutally killed African Americans, yet we feared them.”  (The Education of a WASP. 1989. http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1752739.The_Education_of_a_WASP )

In closing, I am brought back to my post title and the author behind the phrase sincere white person.  A professor at my alma mater recently wrote “a love letter to white people”  in the Feminist Wire. ( Osmundson, Joseph. The Feminist Wire. “Love letter to white people.”  September 3, 2013.  http://thefeministwire.com/2013/09/love-letter-to-white-people/ ) and here is what Malcolm X has to say:  “I tell sincere white people, ‘Work in conjunction with us – each of us working among our own kind.’ Let sincere white individuals find all other white people they can who feel as they do – and let them form their own all-white groups, to work trying to convert other white people who are thinking and acting so racist. Let sincere white people go and teach non-violence to white people.” ( Alex Haley and Malcolm X. The Autobiography of Malcolm X. 1964. pp. 383–384. https://www.facebook.com/TalkandAction/posts/10151165765347608 )

Walk the Line & Burn Down the Ground

I love reading, and often wonder about how the voices of authors sound. Many times the narration I read in my head sounds quite different from the authors themselves.

I read Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away  years ago, and was delighted to hear June Cross’s voice in my ear on The Moth podcast. In both the book and the memoir, June describes growing up as the secret daughter of a white actress and black comedian during the 1950s. In the podcast “Walk the Line,” June describes attending a Johnny Cash concert with her mother, and how that experience gave her a way to “walk the line” and thus balance her African-American and white identities, which she had previously seen as separate, and believed that she had to choose between the two.

I discovered memoirist and actor Kambri Crews through the opposite path. I first heard “A Blind Ear,” in which Kambri, a child of deaf adults (CODA) shares a dramatic story that caused her to re-evaluate her understanding of her parents and their marriage. My interest piqued, I read her memoir, Burn Down the Ground.

The act of “burning down the ground” refers to a moment from Kabri’s childhood where  Kambri’s parents had to set a brush fire to clear the land where they built their home in rural Texas. Her father had explained that they needed to burn down the ground so that fresh new plants could spring up.  Burn Down the Ground is a metaphor for how Kambri balances her past and present.

Both memoirs and podcasts are compelling, linked together in my mind because of how the authors describe traversing barriers based on race and disability to forge their own identities.

Read and listen to June Cross

1. Cross, June. Secret Daughter: A Mixed-Race Daughter and the Mother Who Gave Her Away. 2006. http://www.amazon.com/Secret-Daughter-Mixed-Race-Mother-Gave/dp/067088555X

2. “Walk the Line: Stories of Balancing Acts.” The Moth. 2011. http://www.podcasts.com/the_moth_podcast/episode/june_cross_secret_daughter

Read and listen to Kambri Crews

1. “A Blind Ear.” The Moth. Oct 23, 2012.http://www.podcasts.com/the_moth_podcast/episode/kambri_crews_a_blind_ear

2. Crews, Kambri. Burn Down the Ground: A Memoir. 2012. http://www.amazon.com/Burn-Down-Ground-A-Memoir/dp/0345516028

Reflections on Guatemala’s Genocide Trial from the words of Francisco Goldman

Since my post reflecting on the connection between my Jewish identity and the Genocide Trial for Guatemalan dictator Efrain Rios Montt and Maurcio Rodriguez Sanchez, I have not written about the trial.

My reasons for not writing about such a watershed event in Guatemala’s history are complicated.  Writing about the trial necessitates a keen understanding of Guatemala’s present-day judicial system and 36-year Civil War. My knowledge of both topics is limited, and I have preferred to listen to the expert analysis of Guatemalan survivors and Human Rights Advocates. Furthermore, the trial’s proceedings have many nuances, and I believe that I could do harm sharing information on such a public forum without cautious knowledge for how what I publish could affect Guatemalan survivors’ pursuit of justice.

In writing about Guatemala, I perceive Guatemalans and Human Rights Advocates as belonging to the inner rungs of a spiral, and I position myself on an outer rung, whereby I aim to reach outward to promote awareness and simultaneously inward to draw support to them. Yet April 18th and 19th brought about such surprising turns to the Genocide Trial that I have decided to briefly share my thoughts, and point readers to excellent sources of information that they can access to learn more about the trial. In addition to the sources linked below, I recommend following the blogs, facebook posts, and twitter feeds of NISGUA (Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala) and GHRC (the Guatemala Human Rights Commission) to receive up-to-date information of the trial’s proceedings.

On Thursday, April 18, 2013, Genocide Trial Judge Carol Patricia Flores declared testimonies from genocide survivors invalid, which would suspend the trial, and turn back progress to pre-trial proceedings of November, 2011.  According to journalist Allan Nairn, this shocking and confusing decision was politically motivated. Despite this heartbreaking setback, that very night hundreds of Guatemalans, led by a delegation of Ixil Mayan genocide survivors, marched on the Palacio de Justicia, chanting “We are all Ixiles”and held a candle light vigil praying for justice.

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Hundreds of people, lead by the Ixil Mayan delegation, chanting “We are all Ixiles”, marched on the Palacio de Justicia, and in a candle light vigil prayed for, demanded justice. (photo courtesy of Laurie Levinger via Facebook Page for “Granito: How to Nail a Dictator,” April 19, 2013)

The next day, Friday, April 19, 2013 brought even more twists and turns. Judge Jazmin Barrios reconvened the Genocide Trial, and the trial’s panel of three judges issued a statement that the trial would continue. However, the trial was temporarily suspended so that the court could resolve the legal issues that had caused Judge Flores to declare the trial illegal the day before.

While following April 19th’s updates on facebook, I was listening to Radio Ambulante, a Spanish-language radio program showcasing compelling human stories from around Latin America and the United States. I was listening to an interview with Guatemalan American writer Francisco Goldman and Dominican American writer Junot Diaz regarding their experiences writing about Latinos in English and their relationships with Latin America.

The interview was incredibly interesting as I am a big fan of Francisco Goldman’s work, and have reviewed “The Art of Political Murder” on my blog. I also wrote my undergraduate thesis on “Drown,” Junot Diaz’s collection of intersecting vignettes about Dominican immigrants. Much of their conversation about language and identity fascinated me, and I plan to dedicate a future post to their interview addressing this topic.

Toward the end of the interview, Goldman shared a perspective that eerily resonated with Guatemala’s genocide trial proceedings. His recently published  novel “Say Her Name” is about his wife Aura Estrada, who tragically died in a surfing accident. He stated how he was “plunged into trauma” after her death, and his suffering gave him a newfound understanding of Guatemala “as a space filled with thousands of people who have lost their loved ones in a violent way.”

My reflection on the weight of Goldman’s words gave way to thinking about the waves of suffering Guatemalan genocide survivors feel–not just from the loss of their loved ones, but also from the re-traumatization of sharing their stories in a court room that denied them justice on April 18th. However, their refusal to accept this verdict, truly speaks to incredible abilities to yoke their trauma with resilience. As the trial proceedings continue to unfold, I am uncertain of the future portends save for my commitment to sharing information and expressing solidarity and support for justice in Guatemala.

Learn more about the Genocide Trial of Rios Montt and Maurcio Rodriguez Sanchez

1. The Open Society Justice Initiative. The Trial of Efrian Ríos Montt and Maurcio Rodriguez Sanchez. 2013. http://www.riosmontt-trial.org/ This excellent website, written in English and Spanish, contains detailed updates of trial proceedings written by International Human Rights Monitors, comprehensive historical background information, Glossary, and Timeline.

2. Rodriguez, James. “2013-04-19. On day 21, the Genocide Trial’s fate rests on the Constitutional Court.”  MiMundo. http://www.mimundo.org/2013/04/20/2013-04-19-on-day-21-the-genocide-trials-fate-rests-on-the-constitutional-court/ and “2013-04-18. On day 20, the Genocide Trial is Abruptly Cancelled.” http://www.mimundo.org/2013/04/19/2013-04-18-on-day-20-the-genocide-trial-is-abrubtly-cancelled/Photojournalist James Rodriguez’s evocative photoessays document the courtroom on April 18th and 19th.

3. Golman, Amy. “Genocide Trial of Former Dictator Ríos Montt Suspended After Intervention by Guatemalan President.” Democracy Now. April 19, 2013. http://www.democracynow.org/2013/4/19/genocide_trial_of_former_dictator_ros Democracy Now’s interview with journalist Allan Nairn is very helpful in illuminating the reasons that motivated the April 18th trial suspension.

Listen to Francisco Goldman and Junot Diaz on Radio Ambulante

1. Alarcón, Daniel. “Junot y Francisco : En vivo desde Nueva York.” Radio Ambulante. February, 2013. http://radioambulante.org/es/ I thoroughly enjoyed listening to this interview, and look forward to discussing many of the issues the authors discussed in a future post. I also highly recommend listening to Radio Ambulante, which I have compared to This American Life for Latin Americans and Latinos living in the United States.