Month: May 2013
New York — May 30 — Approximately 200 people bid farewell to El hajj Malcolm Latif El Shabazz, the grandson of El hajj Malik El Shabazz, the martyred black revolutionary human rights leader, also know as Malcolm X, at a public memorial service Thursday at a Harlem church. The three hour remembrance began around 10:30 am with a drum processional featuring members of the Shabazz family marching hand in hand into First Corinthian Baptist Church, located just a block west of Malcolm X Boulevard. One of Shabazz’s aunts, Ilyashah Shabazz, said her nephew had the “biggest smile that would light up the room.” “He was smart, enormously intelligent,” she added. “A little book worm.”
Angela Freeman, a teacher of both Malcolm Shabazz and his aunts, the daughters of Malcolm X, remembered being impressed by the grandson’s speeches as an activist. “His grandfather would have been very proud,” Freeman said. “(Shabazz) had something to say… I’m sad today, but I am also very proud of the young man he became.”
In recent years, he traveled around the world speaking out against youth violence. Family members said he spent a year studying Islam in Damascus, and was fluent in multiple languages. His trip to Mexico, they said, was inspired by his desire to “aid the plight of African-Mexican construction workers.” “He was stepping into his grandfathers shoes, “said Ilyahsa Shabazz.
Retired NBA player Etan Thomas, a friend, said. “The people in this room know who he was (and) what he was about.” Dominique Sharpton, the daughter of civil rights leader Al Sharpton and goddaughter of Betty Shabazz, described Malcolm Shabazz as a role model. “This was a young man who really was on the cusp of a breakthrough — not only in his life, but (also) on his way to achieving greater things that would make us all very proud of him,” the younger Sharpton said. “We will not forget him. We will pick up his flag, and we will finish the race.”
Mourners Remember Malcolm Shabazz at California Funeral
by Lee Higgins and Gary Stern, The (Westchester County, N.Y.) Journal News 9:17pm EDT May 17, 2013
Members of the Black Riders Liberation Party joined hundreds of mourners gathered at the Islamic Cultural Center of Northern California in Oakland for a traditional Islamic funeral service for 28 year old El hajj Malcolm Latif El Shabazz, eight days after Shabazz was robbed and beaten to death in Mexico. “Traditional Islamic prayers will be offered over his remains.” said Imam Al-Hajj Talib Abdur-Rashid of Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem said before the service, which drew more than 200 people.
The service, which lasted more than two hours, featured plenty of prayers, songs, spoken word and tears. Many among the procession of speakers said that while they initially connected with Shabazz because of his famous grandfather, they learned to appreciate a man they called “Young Malcolm” as a leader in his own right. If I could put into one word about Malcolm, it would be “inspiration,’ ” Hussein Mekki, 32, told fellow mourners. ‘Hopefully that will continue, and he will inspire us for the rest of our lives.” Shabazz, a former Mount Vernon and Yonkers resident, settled in the San Francisco Bay Area about four years ago.
Mexico (AP) —
A judge on 25 May 2013 issued an order for the imprisonment of two waiters accused in the beating death of Malcolm Shabazz (May 9th) the Mexico City attorney general’s office said. The resolution begins the judicial process against David Hernandez and Manuel Alejandro Perez de Jesus, who worked at the Palace bar near Mexico City’s popular Plaza Garibaldi. The men are accused of theft and homicide, and are being held in a Mexico City prison. Prosecutors say Shabazz and a friend (Juan Ruiz) were lured into the bar by a young woman who made conversation with Shabazz in English. They were later presented with a bar tab worth $1,200 and a violent dispute ensued. “He was murdered. He was in Mexico City and I believe they attempted to rob him and he didn’t allow it, so they beat him to death and he died on his way to the hospital,” Juan Ruiz, a member of the California-based labor organization RUMEC, told TPM. “This is all I can confirm, everything else is under investigation for the meantime.” Juan Ruiz has also been quoted as saying that he and Malcolm were together inside the Palace bar and that he was taken into a back room at gun point, as Shabazz remained up front. Juan Ruiz said, he later escaped and returned in a cab only to discover that Shabazz’s body had been dumped in a gutter two doors down from the Palace. A parking lot attendant who was awaken by the commotion caused by people crowded around Shabazz’s body, said that he could not determine if “he was beaten to death or ran over by a car.” On April 18, 2013 RUMEC’s Miguel Suarez was deported by the United States to his native Mexico on or about May 9, 2013 Malcolm Shabazz had traveled to Mexico City with Juan Ruiz in support of Miguel Suarez.
SF Bay News Paper: Deportation of a labor movement leader
May 2, 2013
by Juan Ruiz
On April 18, RUMEC was economically and morally destabilized with the deportation of Comrade Miguel Suarez to his native Mexico. With a successful construction business growing, assuming leadership of the new labor movement and establishing a non-profit organization, Miguel Suarez was expelled from this country just moments before being exonerated of minor traffic charges at traffic court in Santa Clara County. For over 10 years, Miguel has been at the forefront of the Mexican struggle, establishing strong bonds with the Black community and creating an environment for oppressed groups to establish business connections as well as maintaining a revolutionary agenda.
Upon his arrival in the United States at the age of 18 about 12 years ago, Miguel had ambitions of becoming an independent business owner. From a labor element of the construction industry. Comrade Miguel grew to become a business owner who employed friends, family members and local community individuals. His alternative form of doing business allowed for his growth to acquire resources that were once unclaimed by his community. His acquisition of the historical building Cine Mexico, a community theater, is a symbol of his constant growth as a business owner.
Maintaining a business was not the ultimate goal for Comrade Miguel. His observation of the necessity of organizing and educating our labor force was the purpose he felt obligated to fulfill. Miguel took leadership of the new labor movement — assigning people various duties, organizing the community and orientating everyone to the oppressive circumstances we face. His representation of our people was driven from a sense of duty and obligation to a fair and just cause. Leading and educating our people was Miguel’s daily task.
Liberating our oppressed labor force from corporate neo-liberalism was a passion that Miguel Suarez shared not only with Mexican groups, but also with the Black community. Being a believer of Black and Brown unity, Comrade Miguel educated us about the common African roots and heritage we share. Native to the land of the Olmecs and inspired by Yanga, Miguel promoted merging Brown and Black community business to liberate ourselves from economic slavery. Through music, art, public speaking and business ownership, Miguel had the passion to reach out an employ both oppressed groups.
Statement by Malcolm Shabazz Concerning February 2013 Harassment
Saturday March 9, 2013
Malcolm-latif Shabazz: My statement concerning the harassment from the police/Federal Bureau of Investigation which resulted in my unjust arrest & detainment in February 2013, and place a halt on my travel to Tehran, Iran to participate in the International Fajr Film Festival.
I sincerely appreciate the care & concern of the People over my well-being after Press TV’s report of the most recent events which have transpired regarding the F.B.I.’s harassment of me.
Given the storm of lies, and half truths that come with being associated with being the descendant of El Hajj Malik El Shabazz, also known as Minister Malcolm X, any and everything that I do; great or small, good and not so good, real and imagined is subject to controversy. However, in this missive I will take this opportunity to properly & fully disclose what transpired.
In the beginning 0f 2012 I had been informed that I was under investigation by the F.B.I.’s Counter Terrorism Task Force Unit based in Goshen N.Y.
The agents of this division-and in collaboration with others-have visited several residences of which I was known by them to frequent. However, they would never come when they knew me to actually be there. They would leave their cards with the residents asking them to tell me to call them, and then would tell surrounding residents to observe the house and to notify them if they saw me.
These are the homes of long-time friends, and very close supporters. Yet, when federal agents begin knocking on someone’s door on multiple occasions to snoop, and ask questions, whether one is guilty of an offense or not, it’s enough to coerce people into distancing themselves from you. This cheap tactic employed by the F.B.I. is a means of agitation & harassment. They seek to neutralize my networking abilities.
They have visited locations in California, Chicago, Miami and most aggressively in New York.
People were advising me that if I had nothing to hide, then I should just contact them as requested and cooperate. Though I must say that in these kind of matters I am of a particular ethic. For one, I have been engaged in no criminal activity of their concern, and they could have located me if they chose. Secondly, I don’t recognize the authority in them beckoning me.
It wasn’t even until my mother informed me that they had been contacting her that I truly became agitated. She advised me to see what they had to say, and so I obliged the next time they came around looking for me. My encounter was with 2 federal agents of Goshen, N.Y.’s Counter Terrorism Task Force Unit. The primary agent identified himself as Special Agent Tom Brozicky.
They expressed concern over-as they put-it-my “international travels;” I have lived and studied in Damascus, Syria for over a year, and now the U.S. is instigating conflict within the very same region; I went on ex-congresswoman/former presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney’s delegation along with Dr. Sandy Short to Libya, and met with Leader Muammar Gadhafi one week prior to N.A.T.O. intervention and I was most recently getting ready to travel to Tehran, Iran to be a participant of the International Fajr Film Festival and give a lecture addressing the issues of Hollywood and violence
- Modern Violence & Terrorism
- Provoking clashes between religion and populations
I was picked up by authorities after I filed for a visa to Iran, and 2 days prior to my departure. A detective squad from the City of Middletown Police Department surrounded me in the street about two blocks from where I was residing. They asked me my name, and I gave them an alias, but they were already well aware of who I was. I didn’t tell them my real name because I didn’t know what was going on. When I was brought before a Judge of City of Middletown court I was surprised to be informed that I was being charged with Grand Larceny, and False Impersonation charge. Then I was sent to jail, and told to appear again 7 days later. Then following the court date the bogus charge of Grand Larceny, which they only put to justify stopping me in the first place, was dropped. And they left me to face the False Impersonation. I was offered 90 days for the offense of giving the authorities the wrong name which I declined before bailing out after two weeks.
When I was being held within the belly of the beast on trumped up charges, to my rescue came the journalist at Press TV based in Iran. My relationship with the powerful & progressive news outfit began in April of 2012, and prior to that I had discussions with their journalist regarding current events internationally. I developed a positive rapport with some of them, and as a result was invited to travel to Iran to discuss the impact of Hollywood in stereotyping Muslims, Iranians and African people. From January 15 through 18th, 2013, I was a featured interviewee for the Press TV documentary “The Façade of the American Dream”. And prior to my date of departure to Iran, Lifetime television released a television bio-picture called “Betty & Coretta” which was a sensationalistic misrepresentation of my grandparents, my mother and me. This film aside from being poorly acted , and shallow in depth also threatened to inflame old controversies, and open unhealed wounds and to remind the public of sad outcomes without ever identifying B.O.S.S.I., the C.I.A., F.B.I., and other forces that set the climate for my grandfather’s assassination, and made my family a long suffering casualty of COINTELPRO, and other anti-Black repression programs. Naturally, anything done to stir up old hatred of the Shabazz Family will impact me as the name-sake, and first male heir of Malcolm X, and whether I am high or low in fortunes does not exempt me from this reality.
The Formula For A Public Assassination
The formula for a public assassination is: the character assassination before the physical assassination; so one has to be made killable before the eyes of the public in order for their eventual murder to then deemed justifiable. and when the time arrives for these hits to be carried out you’re not going to see a “C.I.A.” agent walk up to someone, and pull the trigger. What they will do is to out-source to local police departments in the region of their target, and to employ those that look like the target of interest to infiltrate the workings in order to set up the environment for the eventual assassination (character, physical,/incarceration, exile) to take place.
For several months prior to my arrest in late January, 2013 I faced a pattern of harassment from law enforcement which is usually reserved for important figures.
On Thursday, November 1, 2012 @ 11:53pm in the park circle area of Middletown, N.Y., I was stopped by officers of the Middletown Police Department, and given a ticket for “J-Walking” (crossing in the middle of the street), which then escalated into a “Disorderly Conduct” supposedly because of the exchange of words that I had with the officers. I told them that they couldn’t possibly be serious for writing me a “J-Walking ticket”, that I didn’t appreciate how they were treating me and that they shouldn’t be looking at me as less of a man because they were in police uniform. For this I was arrested, the officers stole the little amount of money that I had on me, they then stripped me and threw me in a freezing precinct cell for the remainder of that early morning. I was finally taken before the “Judge Steven Brockett” around 1:30pm. He gave me an unreasonable bail, and then ordered that I be remanded to the Orange County Jail.
This penalty may seem a bit extreme or harsh to most of you, but here is where it gets worse: On Tuesday, October 30th, exactly two nights prior to this incident, the same officer “J Berman” who wrote me the ticket for “J-Walking” & Disorderly Conduct” stopped me coming from out of the store in the same area, and questioned me as to what I was doing. I told him that I was coming out of the store. He asked to see what I bought which was a pack of sun flower seeds. I had actually just so happened to be eating a few while he was talking to me, and I spit one of the shells on the ground. At this point officer “J Berman” threatened to write me a ticket for littering. Needless to say, I was dumbfounded, but I went home that night.
Yet, it still doesn’t even begin there. I had an encounter with other officers of the Middletown Police Department one week prior to officer “J Berman’s” threats to write me a ticket for spitting a sun flower seed on the ground: I was coming out of a restaurant with my mother, and her friend. As the 3 of us entered the car to leave 2 police cars converged on our vehicle, and boxed us in. My mother was petrified. With guns drawn I was then ordered to step out of the back seat. I asked them why to which they replied that I had several warrants for my arrest. I told them that they were mistaken, but I still complied with their request. Humiliated in front of all on-lookers I was then thrown on the car while officers ripped through my pockets. After they were done they said it was my lucky day because I actually didn’t have any warrants at all, and so I was free to go! One of these officers name was “R. Ribeiro”.
You may wonder if it could possibly get any worst than this. Well, it does! Approximately 3 weeks prior to the public humiliation of my mother, and me by “R. Ribeiro” and another officer of the Middletown Police Department I found myself subject to the discrimination & prejudice of mayor Joseph M. Desterfano of Middletown N.Y. himself. A friend, and I went out to eat at a restaurant in Middletown, which is owned by the Mayor, and to our surprise he appeared from nowhere and asked us to leave. When we inquired as to why he stated that officials of the Middletown Police Department told him not to let us patronize his establishment. Mind you that this goes without incident. As I stand for the people, God-Willing, I would pray that the same people wouldn’t hesitate to stand for me. If these unjust & heinous actions are tolerated & allowed to be done to me without recourse, then no one is safe. Just as Huey P. Newton of the Black Panther Party stated that the police are in the white community to protect and serve, yet occupy ours like a foreign troop. I tell you that we shouldn’t fall victim to the conditioning of feeling inferior or fearful at the presence of law enforcement for no apparent reason.
With that being said, I was not arrested by federal agents. I was taken in by a squad from the City of Middletown, N.Y.’s Police Department. I was not being held in an “undisclosed location” so to speak. I was actually being held in the Orange County Jail in Goshen N.Y. However, from the time that I was booked at the precinct, to standing before a Judge the next day who told me to come back in 7 more, to being processed at the Orange County Jail and up until 7 days later I was not permitted to make any calls to notify anyone of my status; as though I had just been kidnapped from the streets.
Unfortunately, until this day my family hasn’t been fully abreast of my situation as I haven’t had the opportunity to properly consult with any of them. Dr. Randy Short, who notified Press TV about my situation is a close comrade of mine who was on our delegation in Libya. Media reports from Press TV about my situation were not intended to create controversy. In reality, I have a few associates that are affiliated with this reputable International media outlet, and they had expected to meet me in Iran. So, when I disappeared, an rumors spread, the inability to get concise information from credible sources prompted them to rouse public attention on my behalf, for which I am grateful. In April of 2012 I had the opportunity to be a guest analyst/contributor on Press TV. This network has a large following all over the world, and millions find its news, documentaries, and programming to be both an educational, and insightful alternative to the conglomerated, and highly biased mainstream American & British news media. Regarding the Source magazine, nothing that they published was vetted by me, and was made by persons, at best, vaguely familiar with my situation. Further, I have never had an affiliation or relationship with The Source, nor have they personally consulted with me about anything.
Joining the Journey
By Rula Al-Nasrawi,
Posted: January, 4, 2011 – 3:48pm
San Francisco Bay Guardian Online
Although he is often portrayed in media accounts as disturbed, Shabazz seemed calm and reflective during a two-hour interview with the Guardian. A soft-spoken man with few but well-chosen words, Shabazz is not unafraid to speak his mind about the state of the country and his grandfather’s legacy.
“If you want to know anything, then go back to the source,” he told us, which is what we did, reviewing his long, twisted journey to Mecca.
As the oldest male heir to Malcolm X, Shabazz was born into a fascinating family. Media accounts have documented him as a troubled young man, shuttled back and forth among family members. Like his grandfather, he spent time on the streets and in jail. Like his grandfather, it was behind bars that he found himself fully immersed in Islam. Shabazz explains that while he was born into Islam, he finally began to feel its presence in his life during his most recent incarceration period. While quarantined in Attica Correctional Facility in New York, Shabazz explained that he “I didn’t have any hygiene supplies, I didn’t have any reading materials.”
But it was during his time in Attica that he met another prisoner — half Mexican, half Iranian — who identified himself as a Shia Muslim. “He asked me ‘Are you in a lie? or are you a real Muslim?” Shabazz recalled. He answered that he was a real Muslim. “He gave me reading material to read in my cell.”
According to Shabazz, this was the man who discussed and poured over religious texts with him during their time together, and the one who inspired him to convert from the Sunni sect to Shia.
“I was raised a Sunni, everyone in my family was Sunni,” he said. There is much antagonism the two sects, so his conversion caused a backlash akin to when his grandfather left the nation of Islam in 1964 and declared himself a Sunni, which led to his assassination the following year.
When word spread of Shabazz conversion, various Sunni leaders and community members expressed their discomfort with what he had done. He explained that many people wrote to him asking, “How could you become a Shia?”
After his release from prison, Shabazz decided to move to Syria to study at an Islamic institute and then spent the following eight months teaching English to children. “I came home from prison (and) wanted to get away for a little while,” he explained.
After arriving back from Syria in April, Shabazz went to Miami and worked on his memoirs, which he said are due to come out this May. The book discusses Shabazz’s life and tribulations, noting that “there are misconceptions that I would like to clear up.”
Once he returned to the United States, Shabazz decided to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and make the pilgrimage to Mecca, where, he said “the air felt different.” But he also explained how the people he saw on the pilgrimage seemed less willing to impose their rules on Americans.
“It seem like they have more fear (of) Americans than they do for Allah,” he said. “If they know you’re American, I don’t know what it is, but they leave you alone.”
Shabazz said that he had the experience of a lifetime and proved his intense vigor for the Islamic faith. He circled the Kaa’ba , and despite swollen feet and a bad case of the flu, carried on his pilgrimage like a true believer. “I never saw this many people at one place one time. It was more of a struggle than I had anticipated,” he said. “But everything was earned.”
Decades before his grandfather, Malcolm X made his mark on American culture, taking a radical approach to demanding equal rights. When asked if his grandfather would admire President Barack Obama if he were alive today, Shabazz replied, “Definitely not. To me, Obama is no different than (George W.) Bush.”
He said that democracy in this country is a sham, an illusion effectively perpetuated by the ruling elite. “The U.S. is a land of smoke and mirrors, and they’re the best at doing what they do,” he said. “My grandfather? Hah. He wouldn’t have supported any of those dudes.”
Although Shabazz doesn’t particularly admire Obama so far , he does hope that the election of the first African-American president will “boost the esteem of the young black youth.” And he said that the messages of Malcolm X are more important today than ever.
“My grandfather once stated that there are only two types of power that are respected within the United States of America — economic power and political power — and he went on to explain how social power derives from these two. Unfortunately, the majority of the people (today) are economically illiterate and politically naïve. They believe most of what they see on television and read in the papers. I say believe half of what you see, and none of what you hear.”
For his own personal politics, Shabazz said change begins with education and unity. “(Education) could be done through music, spoken word poetry, art, preaching from the pulpit, or putting in physical work right in the trenches,” Shabazz said.
In terms of unity, he cited the European Union, explaining that it is an organization “where nations that don’t necessarily like each other (but) have at least enough common sense to come together for a cause, to achieve a common goal, or stand up against a common enemy. When it’s time to put niggers in check, they know how to come together.”
Almost 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, Shabazz sees growing potential for Islam to exert an influence in the U.S. “After 9/11, a lot of people did not know too much (about Islam). But they started to investigate and learn more.”
Although many people’s first reaction was to turn away from the religion of Jihad, Shabazz feels many people also felt the need to educate themselves on the matter — and found that there is much more to Islam than the main stream media portrays. And for a young man who has already led a turbulent life, Shabazz is seeking something basic from his newfound faith: “I want a peace of mind.”
A Deeper Look At Malcolm Shabazz
Posted on muslimmatters.org May 15, 2013
By Dawud Walid,
Executive Director, Michigan Chapter of the Council on Islamic American Relations
Former Assistant Imam, Masjid Wali Muhammad, Detroit Michigan
Much to do has been made in the media of the troubles that Shabazz went through as a youth from the fire that he set as an adolescent, which killed his grandmother Dr. Betty Shabazz, to later brushes with the law. However, little has been spoken about the positive maturation of Shabazz.
I met Shabazz along with Hamza Perez, the focus of the “New Muslim Cool” documentary. approximately three years ago at the Ershad Center in Miami. Shabazz gave a lecture about his recent stay and studies in Syria and some of the challenges he faced being a Black American in the Middle East. He also spoke of the impact of his grandfather and his decision to follow the Ja’fari school of thought.
After this meeting and having some conversations with Shabazz the following three days, I interacted with him later at conferences in other states and spent time with him when he visited Michigan. My last discussion with him was after he gave a lecture at Michigan State University last year in which he later attended the Islamic center off campus in which I was the Khateeb for Jumu’ah. I definitely noticed an evolution in his ideas and purposes.
Shabazz was more than a man with brushes with the law. He spoke at conference about human rights and joined in solidarity with immigrant and workers’ rights activists in the Latino community. He made Hajj and was a reader of philosophy. He was a father who was beloved by his family and respected by many Muslim youth, Black American community organizers and leftist activist.
I am not delving into conjecture about the veracity of media reports surrounding his demise or if his homicide was part of a broader conspiracy. Shabazz was Muslim, who went through many struggles in life. I ask that we pray that he receives ease in the grave and that his family is granted patience during this difficult time.
A Close Encounter With El Hajj Malcolm Latif Shabazz
By Pierre Harbin-Ahmed
Publisher of Islamic American Heritage
I Met El Hajj Malcolm Latif Shabazz in 2011. Shabazz had just delivered a lecture to the youth of the Islamic Center of Southern California and by chance I was in the Masala (prayer room) for noon-prayer. I was privileged to be invited by Jihad Turk, who was at that time serving as the Religious Director of the Islamic Center, to attend a private meeting in his office with the “grandson of Malcolm X”. I was honored that my 10 year old son accompanied me in our meeting. Malcolm Shabazz, was, as previous commentators described, soft spoken and genteel. He appeared very much as any African American male youth of his generation. He was dressed in Urban attire including a hoodie. He had an innocent somewhat shy smile. But, I was struck and even amazed at his commentary of African American Muslim history and the clarity of his narrative.
When asked by Jihad Turk what he knew of Master Farad Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, Shabazz said; “In the beginning of the twentieth century there were two great leaders in the African American community, Marcus Garvey and the Noble Drew Ali. The Noble Drew Ali set up one of the largest organizations in the country called the (Moorish Science Temples of America) and ordered his followers to not change the beliefs he had established. Their were top ministers in the organization. When the Noble Drew Ali passed away several top ministers separated and started their own organization. The man you know as Master Farad Muhammad was one of those top ministers.”
Later in our discussions, Shabazz introduced ideas he had attributed to the Shia school of thought. I ask him if he was Shia, in classic African American Muslim style Shabazz said: “I am not Sunni or Shite, I am Muslim.” I was satisfied with his answer knowing that even though the vast majority of African American Muslims follow the jurisprudence of one of the ‘rightly guided’ imams of the Sunni tradition, and in most cases, including myself, adhere to the school of Imam Shafi’i, do not practice ‘taqlid’ ( whereby, one allows himselves to be led by the collar of one school of thought). By allowing the Jafa’ri school of thought into the Muslim American discourse, ‘Young Malcolm’ demonstated his ability to think outside of the ‘Sunni Box’ and form an opinion independent of went further than most Muslim Americans truly stepped into to the revolutionary “shoes of his grandfather.”
A private burial for Malcolm Shabazz was led by Imam Abdur-Rashid at Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, where his grandparents are buried.
“Truly to Allah do we belong and truly to Allah do we return.”
In Mexico, racism hides in plain view, by Ruben Navarrette, a CNN Contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Update 11:01 AM EST, Tuesday November 2012
Mexico City, home to 20 million people, represents the paradox of the modern Mexico, the side-by-side juxtaposition- in everything from politics to architecture – of old and new. Turn a corner, and you’ll see a church that is 300 years old. Turn another, and you can get free Wi-Fi in a Starbucks.
The Distrito Federal, also known as Mexico City, serves as a constant reminder that Mexicans are about maintaining traditions, except when they’re sidestepping it. They’re about moving forward, except when they are unable to let go of the past. They’re about preserving memory, except when they have amnesia. For example, when it comes to forgiving the corrupt Institutional Revolutionary Party (also known by its initials PRI), whose leaders brutalized the Mexican people and plundered the country for much of the 20th century, they have short memories, they recently returned the PRI to power by electing Enrique Pena Nieto to the presidency. he takes office December 1.
But when it comes to the aftermath of the U.S.- Mexican war, which lasted from 1846 to 1848 and resulted in the United Stated States seizing half of Mexico’s territory – the modern day U.S. Southwest — Mexicans’ memories are long, and forgiveness isn’t easy to find. Even after all these years, in diplomatic circles, you still hear talk of the “sovereignty” issue — which loosely defined, means the constant effort by Mexico to keep the United States from meddling in its domestic affairs and the need for the U.S. to tread lightly.
I went to Mexico City recently as part of a delegation of Mexican-American and American Jewish leaders organized by the Latino and Latin American Institute of the American Jewish Committee. For the global Jewish advocacy organization, the goal of the trip was to strengthen relations between Mexican-Americans and Jews in the United States. Although my grandfather was born in Chihuahua and came to the United States with his family as a boy during the Mexican Revolution, I’m hopelessly American. This is my fourth trip to Mexico City in the past 15 years, and I still feel like a foreigner. With each visit the place reinvent itself.
As becomes clear when one spends any length of time here, this beautiful city is also the place where taboos disappears — except when they don’t. A liberal island in this overwhelming Roman Catholic country, the city legalized early-term abortion in 2007 and gay marriage and single-sex adoption in 2010. Pena Nieto has even broached a topic that would have been heresy’ just to mention 20 years ago: amending the Mexican Constitution to allow foreign companies to enter contracts with the government and drill for oil on land and in the Gulf of Mexico.
And yet, even with all the progress and openness in Mexico over the past few years, there is still one subject no one talks about, one that is still off limits: race. The enduring taboo subject is skin color, whether an individual’s complexion betrays an allegiance to the Spanish who conquered the Aztec empire in 1521 or the Aztecs who were conquered. It’s no exaggeration to say that, in this country and especially in this city, the best, highest-paying, most important jobs often seem to go to those who, in addition to having the best education and the strongest connections, have the lightest skin.
On television, in politics and in academia, you see light skinned people. On construction sites, in police forces and in restaurant kitchens, you’re more likely to find those who are dark-skinned. In the priciest neighborhoods, the homeowners have light skin, and the housekeepers are dark. Everyone knows this, and yet no one talks about it, at least not in elite circles.
Nor do Mexicans seem all that eager to discuss the larger dynamic that race feeds into: the fact that this is, and has always been, a country of deep divisions. In the 100 years since the Mexican Revolution, one part of Mexico has often been at war with another: urban vs. rural, rich vs. poor and, yes the dark-skinned vs. light-skinned.
It’s one reason that institutions such as the economy, the political system and the social structure haven’t matured as quickly as they should have, given Mexico’s advantages.
This country of 120 million people has ports, highways, airports and skyscrapers. It takes in billions of dollars every year in revenues from oil and natural gas, and billions more from tourism and remittances from Mexican migrants living abroad. Mexico’s economy is growing faster than the U.S. economy, and investments are flowing in from Asia and Europe. It’s consistently within the top three of trading partners for the United States. But what good is all that when only a small number of the population can live up to their full potential? Prejudice kills progress.