Friday, October 8, 2010

Bluegrass meets Mariachi...

Some things can only happen in the south....

The musical traditions of mariachi and bluegrass will meet in a free one-hour concert this evening at the Great Aunt Stella Center on Elizabeth Avenue, near Central Piedmont Community College in uptown Charlotte.

I can't say I know much about bluegrass or mariachi music. But the organizers offered an interesting and educational write up about the background of both musical styles.

Here is an edited excerpt:
Back in the 1930s, two tradition-based stringband styles came of age - bluegrass in the U.S. South and mariachi in central Mexico. Today both are part of the New South musical landscape of Charlotte, NC.
The evening's bluegrass ensemble brings several of this region's top pickers together on stage for the first time. Guitarist Jack Lawrence tours internationally with flatpicking legend Doc Watson and as a soloist. Glen Alexander on fiddle captured first prize at Galax this summer, his third win at that prestigious fiddlers festival. David Grant on bass is best known his work with Charleston's Southern Flavor. Randy DeBruhl on Scruggs-style banjo won the top banjo prize at Uncle Dave Macon Days in Murfreesboro, TN.

The bluegrass music that they'll play is often thought of as "traditional," but a better description would be "tradition-based." In the late 1930s and 1940s, Southern fiddle music moved from the family farm to cities and the new medium of radio. Kentucky farm boy Bill Monroe, playing first on Charlotte's WBT then on Nashville's Grand Ole Opry, speeded up old-fashioned picking and added the punchy new sound of the five string banjo as played by North Carolina innovator Earl Scruggs. Performed by polished professionals decked out in matching outfits and cowboy hats, bluegrass swept the South and won eager listeners beyond.
Like bluegrass, mariachi has deep roots in rural stringband playing, then came to town in the 1930s. It may have been born in the state of Jalisco in central Mexico, where instrument makers developed two special variants on the Spanish guitar - the vihuela, smaller and higher-pitched, ideal for the rhythmic chording that drives mariachi, and the giant bass guitarrón, fretless with gut strings that project a solid thwump. The rhythm players supported the lead instrument, the violin. Then in 1934 a Jalisco band, Mariachi Vargas, moved to Mexico City to play for the inauguration of beloved "peoples' president" Lázaro Cárdenas. Musical director Rubín Fuentes added trumpets for punch, dressed his players in stylized charro cowboy uniforms with embroidered waist-length jackets, and forged a polished sound that took all of Mexico by storm.

Gabriel Sanchez, from the town of Toluca (between Jalisco and Mexico City) leads Mariachi Los Gavilanes ("The Sparrowhawks"). His trumpet is joined by the violin of Eifrain Martinez, Rogoberto Silva on guitarrón, and Anzelmo Alaweter and/or Alfredo Jimenez on vihuela. Each played in bands elsewhere in the U.S. - Phoenix, Chicago, Los Angeles - before getting together here in Charlotte.
The event is part of the regular monthly gathering of the Charlotte Folk Society. It's free and open to the public. It's being sponsored, in part, by a grant from the Arts & Science Council, and co-sponsored by Levine Museum of the New South and Latina 102.3 FM / Norsan Multimedia.

Parking is also free. Doors open at 7 pm and the music starts at 7:30. Questions? Visit or call 704-563-7080.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Duke professor films the immigrant journey

Anthropology professor Charles Thompson's documentary traces the path of thousands of Guatemalans who migrated to one small town in Florida.

The professor and filmmaker teamed up with The North Carolina Council of Churches to make “Brother Towns/Pueblos Hermanos.” It tells the story of two towns Jacaltenango, Guatemala and Jupiter, Florida that have been linked by immigration.

Click here to visit the film's website and watch a 12 minute preview.

Thompson will be showing the film as part of a statewide tour starting tonight at 7 p.m. at the Levine Museum of the New South. He was kind of enough to answer some questions about the film.

How did the idea for this film come about? The first Maya person I met was a refugee who came to Pittsboro, NC, where I lived and worked full time on a farm in 1982. I helped teach him English and to learn to drive. From the friendship that developed between us, the refugee, Victor, who later became a US citizen, invited me to live and work in his hometown. By the time I was ready to go, I had returned to graduate school and was already thinking of writing my dissertation about Central America.

Is there a universal theme or story that you're trying to tell? Yes, boiled down to its essence, the story is that we are all family. Borders divide us, but our stories intertwine through unlikely meetings and suddenly we realize that only accidents of birthplace and history are what make our lives different. What if I had been born down there?, as one person in the film asks. It's a simple, but profound, question. Suddenly, if we're paying attention, the idea of pulling up on bootstraps and how one comes by the privilege of wealth become quite complicated. Should we receive everyone in need with open arms? If we do that, we risk being overwhelmed. Perhaps. But wouldn't the availability of jobs, if slim, curtail any additional people trying to come? If one can't make a living somewhere, then one leaves for another option, no? That's what immigration is about for Guatemalans. It's happier to be with family and in one's birthplace, but necessity drives them.

Immigration is obviously a controversial subject. Some will refuse to see the film on the grounds that they'll feel its advocating for people breaking the law? Oh, there are many protesters in the film who get their fair say. This isn't a one-sided diatribe by any means. But it is a study in the meaning of humanitarianism. Do anti-immigrant protesters have good points? Of course! I'm not a filmmaker who makes fun of people who disagree with me. Regarding legalities, we have to look long and hard at ourselves and ask hard questions such as, "why do Latinos harvest our food?" This isn't about people robbing jobs. It's about people being recruited for the worst jobs in society because we want cheap food and we've been willing to look the other way as long as it helps our bottom line. Immigration comes because of a push from the home country but also because of pulls from the receiving country. And I believe there has long been an active pull from the US to Latin America because we know we can get good help that will work cheap and not complain. We're complicit in this arrangement and to blame the workers now when our economy goes sour is simply immoral, especially when it means sending people back into harm's way or separating families, or taking possessions from an immigrant who has worked hard to make a living.

For people who refuse to go see the film, what would you want to say to them? People who "refuse" to see the film have closed not only their minds, but their hearts. I'd say to them, let not your hearts be ruled by the spirit of fear, but by love and concern that doesn't simply extend to an arbitrary line in the sand, but to all the human family. If you could know the Guatemalans I know, you'd see that often it is we who are impoverished by surrounding ourselves with barriers to others. I was a stranger there, and they took me in and made me their family. I think the parable of the Good Samaritan in the Bible is a good place to turn. Remember that the man left on the side of the road for dead was rescued and tended to by one who was looked down on in Israel. Samaritans were immigrants -- they were those suspected of ill then. The man left on the side of the road learned something else besides what his society was saying then: about who his neighbor is, and who is his brother. Brother Towns -- sister communities. Think about it as if the positions were reversed. As if you were born there.

For people who come to see the film, what do you hope they take away from it? A deeper look into the lives of a few of the millions whose situations are intertwined with our own. It's not just a story of "them." It's a story of us - all of us.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Twitter shines light on local immigration debate

"@Meckcommish: 'It's halloween time..... Be scared little Democrats....... Bill James is coming.....' "
Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill James (right) tweeted that message in the midst of a controversial debate over whether the county should report illegal immigrants who seek public benefits for their U.S.-born children.

Commissioner Jennifer Roberts(left) questioned whether James was gloating. In response, James tweeted that he was just reflecting the commentary from the Democrats 'warning' the public about what may happen if Republicans took control of the board. Commissioner George Dunlap had suggested that if Republicans took over the board, the commission would have more people who supported James’ views and perspective.

It was just a taste of the back and forth that was occurring online at the same time of the emotional debate in the government center. When it comes to public meetings, the popular social media service,Twitter, has opened up an entirely new window giving us all another peek into the workings of our county government -- or at least the minds of some of our elected officials.

It's quite interesting to follow, but the one question is should elected officials be playing with their computers/smart phones at all during these meetings? Commissioners don’t typically make comments during public feedback. Should they be tweeting during them? What do you think?

James(@meckcommish) is the most prolific Twitter user among commissioners. (You will need to follow James in order to see his tweets.) He was criticized last night for focusing too much on his Twitter account instead of the conversation. But also Commissioner Jennifer Roberts(@CommishJennifer), who left the meeting early because of a sick child, Commissioner Karen Bentley(@BentleyCommish)(right) and Commissioner Neil Cooksey(@CommishNeil) weighed in online.

“You know, Twitter is great for providing a direct response without all of the back and forth,” James wrote during the meeting.

Here is a rough breakdown of a sample of tweets from last night’s twitterfest. There were simply too many to add all of them. I did my best to capture the conversation in order as it occurred. You can see the entire conversation by linking on the commissioners’ individual Twitter accounts.

(Observer Reporter) AprilBethea: #meckbocc moving up discussion of item 20 in whether county should report undocumented family members of those receiving DSS benefits
AprilBethea: James: action item about "reporting, not deporting," county has obligation to ensure, participate in national security of country
AprilBethea: James amends motion to send letter to dept of Homeland Security & obtain info on how we can privately report info we have to them.
AprilBethea: Cooksey seconded the motion
AprilBethea: Cogdell asks James for "civility in his comments." Came after James says he doesn't know if there are "Osama wannabes"
AprilBethea: James counters, calling out Cogdell for comments about James
Meckcommish: Are the Democrats soft on immigration?
Meckcommish: If individuals are illegal how can we not make sure that they are not terrorists.
Meckcommish: We are to 'comply' with the law by ignoring possible terrorists?
Meckcommish: Not sure where you got the idea that my ancestors were from the Mayflower. My ancestors were from Jamestowne.
Meckcommish: You know, Twitter is great for providing a direct response without all of the back and forth.
Meckcommish: "Change we believe in' - The premise that illegals are entitled to welfare & National Security takes a back seat to law breakers.
Meckcommish: # What illegal acts? Disclosing the NUMBER of illegals on welfare?
Meckcommish: Go Arizona !
CommishJennifer: Bill James wants NC to act like Arizona. So we can get sued by the Federal Govt too? RT @meckcommish: Go Arizona !
Meckcommish: Win or lose - the issue won't go away no matter the result tonight
Meckcommish: Timothy McVeigh?
Meckcommish: Everyone is upset about disclosure but none of them even care about the law.
Meckcommish: The only one that can put a child on the 'wrong path' are the illegal parents.
Meckcommish: parents would be deported with the anchor babies. Happens all the time.
Meckcommish: And the speakers are done. Now for the roasting !!
Meckcommish: I have a dream. That the US will be safe and not scared to enforce the law.
CommishJennifer: #meckbocc. Commissioner Murrey suggesting we add Comprehensive Immigration Reform to our federal legislative agenda. Good idea.
CommishNeil: I am puzzled by the assumption that the children of deported aliens would stay in the community.
Meckcommish: I have a dream. That the US will be safe and not scared to enforce the law.
Meckcommish: It's halloween time..... Be scared little Democrats....... Bill James is coming.....
Meckcommish: Illegal is illegal.
Meckcommish: Anchor Babies is offensive? Why?
Meckcommish: I think turning over the list to ICE would make the US safer
Meckcommish: I would have put it on regardless of the election. The timing was the disclosure of the numbers on welfare
CommishNeil: Cogdell: "Partisanship interferes with good government."
CommishJennifer: Is Bill gloating? RT @meckcommish: It's halloween time.... Be scared little Democrats....... Bill James is coming.....
Meckcommish: @CommishJennifer Not 'gloating' - just reflecting the commentary from D Commissioners 'warning' the public
BentleyCommish: We should not blindly follow federal law when we understand the devasting impact of illegal immigration on our local government.
AprilBethea: RT @MeckCounty: Board says no to Item #20 - asking feds to tell the County how it can report names of illegals who seek County services.

ICE says they'll evaluate, but adds immigration is a federal responsibility

Immigration officials say they're prioritizing their work by first focusing on dangerous criminal aliens who present the greatest risk to our communities.

U.S. Immigration officials were responding to Mecklenburg County Commissioner Bill Jamesoriginal proposal to have Mecklenburg County DSS alert immigration authorities when they’ve identified an illegal immigrant who has applied for public benefits for their U.S. born child. Doing so would violate a memorandum of understanding with Department of Homeland Security.

"ICE welcomes partnering with state and local law enforcement and will evaluate this proposed ordinance, but generally believes that enactment of immigration laws is a federal responsibility,” said Ivan Ortiz, a spokesman for ICE.

Last night, after a contentious debate, Mecklenburg County commissioners blocked a scaled-down version of the proposal to seek federal advice on how the county might report undocumented families of U.S.-born children who receive welfare benefits.
James faced dozens of passionate protesters who charged him with playing dirty politics. James said it was a matter of national security.

"We don't know if they're Osama wannabes," he said.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

French Ambassador to visit Charlotte

The Ambassador of France to the United States, Pierre Vimont, will visit North Carolina to meet with elected officials and business leaders to explore new opportunities of cooperation with France.

Vimont first meet with Gov. Perdue in Raleigh and then travel tomorrow to Charlotte to give a talk on trade relations between France and the United States. The talk is being sponsored by the French-American Chamber of Commerce of North Carolina and the Alliance Française of Charlotte.

Vimont will then stay the night in Charlotte and give a presentation at the Charlotte World Affairs Council on French-American cooperation regarding global issues, such as global warming, the fight against terrorism, non-proliferation and disarmament. While in Charlotte, he scheduled to also meet with Jim Rodgers, CEO of Duke Energy, and Chuck Noski, CFO of Bank of America.

Some 3,000 French people live in North Carolina. France exports almost 3 billion dollars worth of goods and services to the U.S. Southeast, mostly in transportation equipment, industrial machinery, wood products, chemicals, electric and electronic products. More than 170 French companies have invested and created new jobs in the region— 60 in North Carolina alone.

Mecklenburg official: DSS should flag illegal immigrants

Commissioner Bill James' proposal is aimed at families of U.S.-born kids who get public benefits.

From the paper:

By Franco Ordonez

The fiery national debate over the cost of illegal immigrants and their U.S.-born children will land at the feet of Mecklenburg county commissioners Tuesday night when they discuss a proposal to report undocumented family members of U.S.-born children receiving public benefits.

Commissioner Bill James wants the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services to "ignore state and federal regulations" and alert immigration officials and/or the sheriff's office when it suspects an illegal immigrant has applied for welfare or food stamps for their U.S.-born children.

"We're handing out benefits with a wink and a nod and using 'anchor babies' as cover," James said.

James said he wants to ensure that the illegal immigrants identified are not a national security threat.

Jennifer Roberts, the commissioners' chair, and fellow Democratic commissioner Dumont Clarke said Monday that James's proposal has little chance of passing.

Critics say his plan is against the law and would ultimately hurt U.S. children who rightfully deserve those public benefits. Jess George, executive director of the Latin American Coalition in Charlotte, called it "reprehensible."

"Bill James's words continue to be charged with this very anti-immigrant sentiment," she said. "Conflating immigrants with terrorists is not only erroneous and ill-informed, but it also perpetuates the language of hate that continues to be infused in the immigration dialogue."

Under the 14th Amendment, citizenship is automatically granted to children born in the United States. This summer, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., joined several other Republicans when he proposed introducing a constitutional amendment to deny citizenship to children of illegal immigrants.

A recent study from the Pew Hispanic Center found the number of U.S. children with at least one undocumented parent went from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008. More than 70 percent of all children of illegal immigrants are U.S. citizens.

DSS says 5,635 families out of the 61,074 families receiving food stamps in Mecklenburg include at least one unauthorized immigrant. Public benefits to the children of suspected illegal immigrants made up $2.7 million, or 3.4 percent, of the $77 million in total payments to Mecklenburg residents in July, including welfare, food stamps and Medicaid.

DSS checks eligibility for welfare benefits with the help of a federal system known as SAVE. It can also identify an applicant's immigration status.

DSS Director Mary Wilson said the agency is prohibited from reporting an applicant's immigration status to federal authorities unless it knows of a formal order of deportation.

James's resolution would "require DSS to disclose to the Sheriff/ICE/Homeland Security the details of ANY individuals within their files who have been determined to be illegal under the SAVE program."

James said his move was spurred by an e-mail from a DSS staffer who reported that an illegal immigrant mother of a U.S.-born baby can receive 13 months of Medicaid coverage for their newborn and $200 a month in food stamps for the baby.

"We can't lose sight of the fact that these are U.S. children," Wilson said. "The fact that they're born to illegal immigrants is a separate issue. But we're providing benefits to U.S. children."

Sarah Preston, policy director for the ACLU of North Carolina, said if commissioners approve James's motion, they would be opening the county to the risk of expensive litigation.

Similar ordinances around the country, including one in Hazleton, Pa., have been declared unconstitutional and have cost their communities millions of dollars in legal fees, she said.

Roberts said she plans to vote against the measure. She said it's not a good use of taxpayer money in tight economic times to provoke a lawsuit when the county is following federal guidelines and protecting U.S. citizens.

James said the county should not be intimidated by the possibility of lawsuit.

"From my perspective, I'm very comfortable to go to court and have them explain that they know people are breaking the law yet don't submit them to homeland security."
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