Our Modern Family

On Sunday, the sit-com Modern Family won a well-deserved five Emmy awards, including one for best comedy series.  I’m a fan of the show, but can’t help thinking that it is a double-edged sword. 

The show depicts three inter-connected families who reflect a rich, 21st century American reality: a gay couple with an adopted Asian-American daughter, a spring/autumn marriage between a Colombian immigrant with a son and her much older Anglo husband, and a white heterosexual couple with three very different kids.  Part of the brilliance of the situation, of course, is that they are really just one family; the older husband is the grandfather of the Asian-American daughter, the step-father of the Latino son, and so on. 

 

 And the beauty of the show, beyond its smart writing and inspired acting, is that it largely portrays the family’s diversity as unremarkable.  They are mutually flawed and hilariously dysfunctional, but their problems and misadventures are mostly universal ones.  Mostly.

When he accepted his award, the show’s producer, Steve Levitan, told of being approached by a real-life gay couple who wanted to say thanks.  “You’re not just making people laugh,” they said, “you’re making them more tolerant.”
This is profoundly true.  Television has the power to bring new people into our homes and lives, to make us know and even love characters and situations that may have seemed foreign or frightening.  It has the power to make the “other” part of “us.” 

Over the past decade or so, Hollywood has begun to do so with LGBT characters and situations in ways that are creative, heartwarming, and important.  And there is little doubt that the dramatic rise in public support for LGBT human rights, and particularly marriage equality, is attributable in part to these depictions.

This change was the result of struggle.  In particular, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation has worked tirelessly to hold Hollywood accountable for bigoted, stereotypical depictions, while applauding it for positive ones.  Insiders note, also, that the progress of LGBT writers, producers, and actors in Hollywood has meant a presence and an authentic voice for characters who might have been written as offensive caricatures in past decades.

Which brings me to the other side of Modern Family.  Gloria, the Colombian immigrant wife on the show, played by Sofía Vergara, did increasingly become a caricature last season, and sometimes offensively so.  There is the increasing ridiculing of her accent and misinterpretation of English idioms that I thought went out with Ricky Ricardo.  But more troubling are the repeated implications that, as a Colombian, she devalues life, is accustomed to mayhem, and may be dangerous herself.  These are not so much perceptions that other characters have about her, but stereotypes that her character reaffirms through word and deed.

Modern Family has sometimes satirized racism as expertly as All in the Family ever did.  But when the writers repeatedly put in Gloria’s mouth lines about knowing how to use a knife or how to kill because she’s Colombian, they are feeding stereotypes, not roasting them.  And when Gloria responds to an ethnic slight from her husband by saying “Ah, here we go…Because, in Colombia, we trip over goats and we kill people in the street. Do you know how offensive that is? Like we're Peruvians!” they are saying, perhaps unintentionally, that stereotyping is OK because, hey, even the immigrants do it.  It’s a stark contrast to the show’s smarter moments, when it mocks bigotry instead of riding on its back.

On balance, Modern Family is likely doing more to advance inter-ethnic understanding than to undermine it, particularly in its clever portrayal of Gloria’s son, Manny, played by Rico Rodriguez.  Nor should we expect any sit-com to make audience enlightenment its prime objective, Norman Lear notwithstanding.  But if Steve Levitan and his colleagues are going to take credit for “making people more tolerant,” they must also take responsibility for the stereotypes and intolerance they may be sewing, particularly at a time when America is debating the future of millions of immigrants in our modern American family.

 

 

Debunking the Myth That Same Sex Marriage Lost Anthony Weiner's Seat to a Tea Party Candidate

There is a quiet effort to pin the failings of Democrats to beat a Tea Party candidate in the 2011 special election to fill Anthony Weiner’s House seat in NY District 9 on the passage of the same-sex marriage law in NY State. However though a small number of voters may have voted on this as their prime issue, the history of previous Congressional elections in that district prove that support of LGBT issues including marriage do not jeopardize Democratic candidates.

 

 

In 1998, Congressional-member Charles Schumer beat incumbent Senator Al D’Amato and a special election was held to fill Schumer’s seat in the 9th district. As Democrats have held the seat since the 1920’s the Democratic Primary was seen as the de-facto election to fill the seat. The Democratic primary contenders were city council-member Anthony Weiner who previously served as Schumer’s Chief of Staff, former NY Assemblywoman and City Council Member Melinda Katz from the Queens portion of the district (also a strong record on LGBT issues) and Noach Dear, a NY City Council-member from the Brooklyn side a former City Council-member and ultra-Orthodox Jew who has been a very outspoken anti-LGBT bigot.

Weekly Pulse: GOP Would Privatize Medicare, Gut Medicaid


By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

On Tuesday, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) unveiled a draft budget resolution for 2012. Ryan’s program would privatize Medicare and gut Medicaid.

“Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, is waging radical class warfare and ideological privatization schemes and selling it as a debt reduction plan,” writes Karen Dolan in AlterNet. Indeed, Ryan’s plan is larded with tax cuts  for wealthy citizens and profitable corporations, which according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), would actually increase the national debt over the next decade. The CBO projects that the debt would reach 70% of GDP by 2022 under Ryan’s plan compared to 67% under the status quo.

At TAPPED, Jamelle Bouie predicts that Ryan’s budget plan will become the de facto platform for the GOP in the 2012 elections. Presidential hopeful Tim Pawlenty is already gushing about the plan. He notes the irony in Republicans seizing upon a plan to eliminate Medicare when they campaigned so hard to “protect” the program during the fight over the Affordable Care Act.

Attacking Medicare is politically risky. The conventional wisdom is the program is all but invulnerable because it is so popular with the general public, and especially with senior citizens–who reliably turn out to vote in large numbers.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones argues that, in order to win this political fight, the Democrats need to emphasize what they’re doing to grapple with the rising costs of Medicare–such as creating an independent board to regulate the reimbursement rates for all procedures covered under Medicare. Republicans have harshly criticized such a board as an example of health care rationing. Their proposed plan, however, would ration care far more severely, based on ability to pay. Ryan’s plan would give seniors a voucher to defray part of the cost of buying private health insurance. The voucher wouldn’t cover care equivalent to that which is offered under Medicare. So, under Ryan’s plan, care would be rationed based on each person’s ability to pay for extra coverage.

In a separate piece, Khimm notes that the GOP is taking a further political gamble by proposing massive cuts to Medicaid. She cites a recent study by the Kaiser Family Foundation which found that only 13% of respondents favored major cuts to Medicaid. Republicans may be betting that they can cut Medicaid because they associate it with health care for the very poor, a constituency with little political capital and low voter turnout. But while Medicaid does serve the poor, a large percentage of its budget covers nursing home care for middle class retirees and services for adults with major disabilities–care that their families would otherwise have to pay for.

How to save $15 billion in health care costs

New research suggests that the federal government could save $15 billion by reducing unnecessary emergency room visits through investment in community health centers, Dan Peterson of Change.org reports:

This week, new research, from the Geiger Gibson/RCHN Community Health Foundation Research Collaborative, pinpoints just how much we stand to lose in health care efficiency savings if the funding is cut as proposed; $15 billion. Put another way, for every $1 invested in CHC expansion, there is a potential savings in health care costs of $11.50.

Peterson reports that money to expand the CHC program may be cut from the budget. The report explains that if the funding is lost, then CHCs will not be able to serve the 10-12 million additional patients who were supposed to get care through expanded CHCs under the Affordable Care Act. If Congress refuses to allot $1.3 billion for cost-effective primary care, $15 billion in projected savings will evaporate.

If Republicans are serious about balancing the budget, they should happily expand the Community Health Center network.

Danish Antibiotic Resistance Education

D.A.R.E. to keep pigs off drugs. The U.S. hog industry is heavily dependent on low-dose antibiotics to keep its swine infection-free. This practice comes at the cost of increased antibiotic resistance. Sixteen years ago, the government of Denmark, the world’s largest exporter of pork, took the bold step of asking its pork industry to reduce the amount of antibiotics given to pigs. Ralph Loglisci of Grist notes that the experiment has been a huge success: The industry has slashed antibiotic use by 37%, antibiotic resistance is down nationwide, and production has held steady or increased.

Gay-bashed, uninsured

Twenty-nine-year-old Barie Shortell’s face was shattered in an apparent anti-gay attack in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in February. Joseph Huff-Hannon reports on AlterNet on an obstacle in Shortell’s already-long road to recovery:

After blacking out, and spending 10 hours in surgery and five days in the hospital, Shortell is now taking another whipping from one of the insidious antagonists of 21st-century American life—the private health-care system. Shortell, like many of his fellow American twentysomethings, is uninsured.

Up to 30% of people in their twenties are uninsured. The Affordable Care Act should reduce the number of uninsured twenty-somethings, but as Huff Hannon notes, the number of uninsured young adults is expected to continue to rise for some time. The ACA allows young people to stay on their parents’ health insurance until age 26, but this reform is of little help to the millions of families who lost job-linked health coverage during the recession.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: Sweeping AZ Immigration Bills Target Undocumented Children

 

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

The Arizona state Senate moved forward with two controversial measures this week that threaten to marginalize undocumented youth to an unprecedented degree.

An anti-birthright citizenship bill, which initially failed to muster the votes necessary to proceed, was finally approved Tuesday after Senate President Russell Pearce (R) shrewdly reassigned it to a “friendlier” committee. SB 1309 is now headed to the Rules Committee, where it is, again, expected to pass. The bill seeks to deny automatic citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented persons—an effort that, if successful, would effectively create a self-perpetuating underclass of stateless children.

Proponents argue that the bill would discourage unauthorized immigration by taking away a chief incentive, but the measure has more ominous implications. It would render generations of U.S.-born undocumented children vulnerable to a variety of discriminations—their rights to education, employment and a breadth of social services repeatedly contested, if not altogether denied.

Arizona Senate to vote on sweeping omnibus immigration bill

And, as if the prospect of that future isn’t bleak enough, the Arizona state Senate is considering another bill that would, essentially, force similar outcomes on undocumented youth living in Arizona today. Valeria Fernández at New American Media reports that the measure would, among other provisions, “ban undocumented students from accessing higher education; require proof of legal status to attend K-12 schools; and require hospitals to inquire about the immigration status of their patients.”

Like SB 1309, the success of Pearce’s omnibus bill is the product of some artful maneuvering on the part of the senate president. After watching several of his party’s anti-immigration measures flounder in recent weeks, Pearce devised the omnibus bill—hobbling it together over the weekend from the tattered remains of several failed immigration measures. He introduced it Monday, tardily and to the surprise of his fellow senators, according to Colorlines.com’s Julianne Hing. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill on Wednesday—though not without considerable debate and dissent—and it is already headed to the floor for a vote.

Notwithstanding the measure’s swift progress, many opponents believe Pearce’s legislative chicanery is a sign of weakness. Hing writes:

Immigrant rights activists say the maneuver is proof of Pearce’s desperation. “It is clear he does not have the votes to do what he wanted the way he wanted,” said Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state senator who heads the immigrant rights group Somos America. “Pearce has clearly staked his reputation on the 14th amendment bills, but now he’s found himself on the defensive. […] It’s proof that we’re being effective,” Gutierrez said.

Both SB 1309, the citizenship bill, and SB 1622, the omnibus measure, tread dangerously close to unconstitutionality. While the former attempts to reinterpret the 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause—which has, for 130 years, guaranteed the right to citizenship at birth—the latter threatens to violate its Equal Protection Clause—which, as upheld by the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe, grants all children the right to a public education. As such, the bills would likely face myriad legal challenges if passed, much the same as SB 1070.

While the bills are shocking in their breadth and pernicious in their potential for marginalizing scores of unauthorized immigrants, even under current law undocumented youth must contend with a number of barriers to education, employment and stability.

Undocumented college graduates mired in immigration limbo

As Liane Membis notes at Campus Progress, countless undocumented students graduate from college straddled with debt, burdened by the constant threat of deportation, and unable to obtain gainful—or even legal employment—due to their immigration status. Membis relates the story of Teresa Serrano, an accomplished, civically minded, 2010 Yale University graduate whose undocumented status now inhibits her from pursuing her chosen career:

“What I felt on graduation day was different—something more severe,” she said. “I had spent the past four years at this elite institution, compartmentalizing a painful truth, and I knew that when I graduated I would be confronted with my harsh reality yet again.” […] She left New Haven and returned to her home in Texas. Now her daily routine consists of nine-to-five job shifts at fast food restaurants and laundromats, the advantages of her Yale degree negated by her undocumented status.

The DREAM Act, a federal bill that would have created a path to legalization for certain undocumented college students, could have changed Serrano’s life. But after its defeat last November, and given the high improbability that any sort of comprehensive immigration reform will progress this year, her career ambitions are necessarily eclipsed by the simple goal of remaining in the United States.

Undocumented LGBT youth bear double burden

Still other undocumented youth fare worse—among them, a growing population of homeless LGBT immigrants. At Feet in 2 Worlds, Von Diaz reports that roughly half of New York City’s homeless youth identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender while 15 percent were born outside of the United States. Moreover, between 10 and 20 percent of residents at two homeless shelters in 2010 were LGBT immigrants. Many of them were turned out onto the streets by intolerant families and must now routinely contend with threats and vulnerabilities owing to their youth, sexual identities, and undocumented status.

Juan Valdez, a 21-year-old gay immigrant from the Dominican Republic, tells his story below:

<p>[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bejJqEK_wiY[/youtube]</p>

Note that the future imagined by Pearce and his anti-immigrant cohorts is one in which the daily injustices endured by Teresa Serrano and Juan Valdez are not only the norm, but evidence of a job well done.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

Looking forward to 11, we hope 2010 goes out with a bang (and a DREAM)!

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In this past year we witnessed many negative events: An all-time record number of deportations with over 400,000 men, women and children deported, most of whom were not guilty of crimes; reports of medical negligence, sexual assault and the denial of due process in detention centers; unfulfilled promises of immigration reform masked by the threat of raids; the introduction of harsh anti-immigrant legislation such as SB1070, mandating racial profiling and fueling anti-immigrant sentiment around the country; the expansion of partnerships between Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police with the introduction of programs such as Secure Communities; the “anchor-baby” bill; the list goes on and on.

From anti-immigrant actions and racial profiling to bullying and homophobia; from fear mongering to the extreme, divisive rhetoric of the mid-term elections, it is difficult to look back at 2010 and feel hopeful. In the midst of this, however, it is important to note that these events engendered unprecedented activism, and the mobilization and coming together of diverse communities, resulting in a number of victories in the name of restoring dignity, justice and equality. The rigorous debate over Arizona’s controversial SB1070 law resulted in sports men and women, musicians, artists, politicians, faith leaders, business owners, young people, as well as the Department of Justice and President Obama, taking a stand against a law that was unjust and offensive, and finally deemed unconstitutional. The March for America in Washington D.C. on March 21st saw 200,000 people, workers, LGBT groups, faith-based groups, etc., come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform, and even without the passage of CIR, the momentum built during that time was palpable for months after. Most recently, following a rally against Secure Communities in New York City, a judge ordered ICE to be transparent and release documents related to Secure Communities and the ability for localities to opt-out of the program.

And two weeks before the end of the year, we are just hours away from a Senate vote on the DREAM Act, a legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for young people that came to the U.S. as children, have completed high-school, and want to pursue college or military service. Every year, around 65,000 young, undocumented boys and girls- including honor rolls students and star athletes- graduate high school and then find themselves high and dry, without the chance to pursue their careers. A number of them, like Eric Balderas, find themselves facing deportation with the chance of being sent back to a country they are supposed to call ‘home’ but have no memory of. For David Cho, a senior honors student at UCLA who can’t count on entertaining job offers the way that his friends are, there are not a lot of options. So instead of young, able, bright people like David and Eric following their careers, pursuing their dreams, giving back to the country by supporting the economy and making the most out of the taxpayers money that has paid for the k-12 education, they are busy mobilizing support to ensure that the Senate passes the DREAM Act tomorrow morning.

Since Sen. Reid announced that he would be holding true to his campaign promise and bringing the DREAM Act up for a vote in the Senate as a stand-alone measure, the DREAMers and all the activists who support the passage of the DREAM Act have been working extremely hard to put pressure on Senators to pass the bill. As it stands, the Senate will vote on the version of the bill that that was passed in the House last week, by around 10am tomorrow. In addition to the DREAMers themselves, who have come out of the shadows to tell their individual stories and have mobilized unprecedented support for the movement, the Latino community is seeing this as a pivotal moment. Speaking to the New York Times, Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) said-

This will be a watershed vote that Latinos will not forget. There is nowhere left to hide, in the minds of Latino voters. There will be members who choose to stand for innocent children and members who do not. This vote will be an indication of who stands for our families and our communities.

As we get closer to the vote, an increasing number of people are speaking up, urging Senators to vote in favor of the bill. Representatives from the Department of Defense, heads of educational institutions, religious leaders, heads of labor organizations and workers unions, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, and hundreds of others have spoken up in support of the bill and why it is crucial to the integrity and prosperity of the country. President Obama himself made calls to Democrat and Republican senators to garner support for the bill.

Currently, the legislation needs 60 Senate votes in order to be end debate, at which point the House-approved version of the bill will be finally voted on, on Sunday. If passed, it will go directly to President Obama for a signature.The momentum that has brought the movement to this point (since the DREAM Act was first introduced almost a decade ago) is solely the result of intense grassroots activism on the part of students. DREAMers and DREAMActivists have worked tirelessly, putting themselves on the line by coming out as undocumented and basically pushing this piece of legislation forward with their cross-country walks, vigils, hunger strikes and their storming of Capitol Hill online and off. But they can’t do it alone. So on the eve of this historic vote, and the eve of the New Year, call your Senators right now and tell them to vote YES on the DREAM Act.

What better way to conclude 2010 than by ensuring that the hard work and courage of the DREAMERs pays off and the DREAM Act passes in the Senate tomorrow morning, less than two weeks before the end of this year.

Pick up the phone, write a letter, and make a wish for the New Year. See you then!

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

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