In August and September, the smell of roasted chile is a common perfume in the Southwest. People know its scent like they know the smell of rain in the desert a day before it arrives. This is the time of chile.
Whenever we cook chile on a comal, an Indian griddle, we are reminded of our grandmothers, especially when the smoke fills the house, trips the smoke alarm and gives us a choking cough. Our grandfathers often joked that smoke was a sign of a mad or jealous cook. As children, we remember the adults challenging each other in chile-eating contests. Eating chile was a rite of passage, and our families prided themselves in growing chile so hot it burned our hands to touch them.
The way to measure the intensity of chile is not simply whether it rips your tongue to shreds--all good chile does. Real chile causes your eyes to water, nose to drip, ears to pulsate, body to sweat and limbs to tremble--and that's before you've even tasted it!
Dr. Paul Bosland of the Chile Institute at New Mexico State University says that chile will become the penicillin of the next millennium because capsaicin--the natural compound that makes chile hot--is good medicine. One New Mexico green chile contains six times more vitamin C than one orange.
Bosland says that for the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas, the chile had great medicinal importance. They used it to treat sore throats. The American Medical Association also recommends chile. It is used as a pain reliever for headaches, shingles and arthritis, and as an alternate spray weapon to mace. The high amounts of beta carotene in chile is also believed to reduce the risk of cancer.
Studies have shown that chile releases endorphins, the same morphine-like substance the body produces to control pain and pleasure. That may explain why many people can't live without it. We have a friend who packed a container of chile on her trip to China. We have friends whose mothers or spouses pack some in their briefcases for long trips.
One friend tells us that if you are ever stranded in the 100-plus-degree Sonoran desert without water and come across the chile tepin's tiny red chile balls, suck on the juice to survive.
We've had the pleasure of eating "Chimayo [New Mexico] holy famous chile," which is grown from the earth of a nearby sanctuary where miracles have been reported when the sacred soil is rubbed on the sick.
At this time of the year, trucks carrying New Mexico chile are a common sight in barrios throughout the country. And chile ristras--strung-dried chile that is used as a chile reserve--are hung as decorations in homes of the Southwest. There is even a song immortalizing chile as a metaphor of la llorona, or the legend of the weeping woman.
"Red or green?" That's the official question in New Mexico. There, eating chile is a question of honor. The question isn't simply about which is hotter, but also, about which part of the state, north or south, grows them the hottest. Some people chose "Christmas"--red and green.
Another question is whether it's spelled "chile" or "chili?" For the record, chili is considered an Americanized version of chile, and generally refers to a bean and meat dish.
When we heard that scientists had found a way to take the fire out of chile, we were aghast. As the good Ristra-farians that we are, we thought of what the First Lady once told the Washington Post: "Bring on the jalapenos and the salsa and I can get revved up." It's hard to get revved up without heat.
As the end of the century approaches, we thought it a good time to put the heroic and historic chile into perspective.
We believe a new age is upon us--the millennium of the chile--an era in which society will be divided by those who eat chile and those who don't. We foresee that by 2001, a "Committee to Save the American Tongue"--inspired by gourmet Julia Childs, who believes chile numbs the taste buds and diminishes flavor--will organize and mount an effort to proclaim ketchup the official sauce of the United States. The committee may even declare chile, which surpassed ketchup in sales this decade, illegal.
That's what the next great millenary struggle promises to be; not racial or cultural, but palatal. We can't wait. Until 2001, hasta la ristra!
The drugs/guns connection between the U.S. government, the Nicaraguan Contra and Los Angeles street gangs recently uncovered by a San Jose Mercury reporter, Gary Webb, is startling. Yet it is anything but news, and Webb's report barely scratches the surface of a much larger operation.
The articles reveal that a drug-dealing Contra leader, Oscar Danilo Blandon Reyes, with U.S. government approval, supplied cheap cocaine in the 1980s to L.A.'s black street gangs. The rationale according to Blandon, was that "the ends justify the means." The end was funding the overthrow of the Sandinista government. In the process, tens of thousands of Nicaraguan civilians were killed and, as a byproduct, the lives of a generation of inner city and suburban American youths were also destroyed.
This was during the era of Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign and the U.S government's worldwide "war on drugs," in which the U.S. charged other governments with corruption and complicity in the drug trade.
As a result of the Mercury News articles, not only is the African American community demanding a full investigation, but so are major media outlets throughout the country.
Oddly, thorough investigations of this matter have already been conducted--a while ago--and their conclusions indicate that the U.S./Contra, drugs/guns operation was much bigger than what Webb uncovered.
Ten years ago, the interreligious Christic Institute filed a lawsuit against 29 defendants on behalf of journalists Martha Honey and Tony Avirgan, who ha almost been killed by a 1984 bomb blast intended for Nicaraguan Contra Comandante Zero. As a result of their investigation into the bombing, they uncovered a drugs/guns connection between CIA operatives and the Contras.
A few months later, when American Eugene Hasenfus was shot down over Nicaragua, investigations revealed that 10 of the defendants in the Honey/Avirgan lawsuit were connected with the Hasenfus/Oliver North gun-running operation.
The Hasenfus affair, of course, is what led to the Iran-Contra hearings--which inexplicably did not probe the drug connection.
The drug link did not go unnoticed by Sen. Bob Kerry (D-Neb), though. While the 1987 Kerry Report found a direct drug connection to the Contras, the findings were virtually ignored by the media.
That connection was once again exposed in 1994 by Celerino Castillo, an ex-DEA agent who was stationed in Central America during the time in question. That year, he authored a book, "Powderburns: Cocaine, Contras & The Drug War." He says that he personally documented the drugs/guns Contra operation being run out of Ilopango Air Force Base in El Salvador, at which time he became aware of the complicity of the U.S. government.
In a column we wrote last year on this same subject, Castillo told us that only a small quantity of drugs come into the United States without the knowledge or complicity of U.S. and foreign intelligence agencies. He continues to stand by his statements: "I very strongly believe that."
Castillo says that the Contra/L.A. gangs connection was but "a small little branch of a massive operation" that also involved extensive drug networks in Texas, Florida, and virtually the entire United States. "The pilots [at Ilapongo] were leaving with planeloads of cocaine, not kilos," he says. The operation also involved U.S. complicity in human rights abuses, including assassinations, in Central America.
On the subject of bringing the guilty to justice, Castillo says, it was not the work of rogue agents, nor was it intelligence agencies acting on their own. Approval, either overt or tacit, had to be gotten somewhere. "You have to go straight to the top. To the White House," he says.
Months before the Hasenfus affair, Castillo says he personally exposed the drugs/guns operation to then Vice President George Bush. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that Reagan knew. He was always advised."
The immoral actions of the U.S. government in fighting the Sandinistas--with drug money--says Castillo, "is now coming back to bite [former members of the Reagan/Bush administrations] in their behinds."
Castillo maintains that many ex-Contra operatives were still dealing drugs in the 1990s, with government approval. This whole sordid episode seems to confirm the 'crazy' conspiracy theories that many people have always had about the drug trade: street gangs don't bring drugs into this country, and the distribution of billions of dollars of drugs--and the resultant money laundering--cannot occur without governmental complicity.
In 1989, the U.S. invaded Panama under the rubric "Operation Just Cause," an under the pretext that its government, led by dictator Manuel Noriega, was dealing in drugs. So, who should invade the United States?
For many Latinos, Oct 12 -- El Dia de la Raza -- will be a declaration of their existence, "a day of affirmation, a day to let the nation know we are here to stay." in the view of one Latina college student.
On that day at 10 AM, Latinos from across the country are expected to gathe by the thousands for a historic march and rally at the Lincoln Memorial in the nation's capital. But preparations for the event have taken on the traits of a near-underground movement.
Though the Coordinadora '96 has been organizing since 1994 -- in response to California's anti-immigrant Proposition 187 -- its biggest publicity boost has come as a result of the April 1 beating of several Mexican citizens in Los Angeles County by Riverside County Sheriff's deputies. While the resultant nationwide protests turned the spotlight toward the upcoming march, the national media has generally ignored it.
According to event organizers, part of the reason for the minimal exposure is that the march is being organized from the "bottom-up." Most of the organizers are long-time human, civil and labor rights advocates from virtually all parts of the country, says Maria Jimenez, a Houston-based human rights organizer with the American Friends Service Committee.
Despite this national underexposure, the organizers see it as a blessing in disguise. And unlike the African American community's Million Man March, there is no nationally known controversial figure leading or "distracting" the Latino march. People are happy to hear it's not being led by politicos, she says.
"The leadership is coming from immigrant rights organizations, not politicians or established national Latino organizations," she says. "It's new blood."
The fact that workers, immigrants and students are raising their own money - as opposed to relying on an infusion of foundation grants or corporate monie -- is very profound, says Jimenez. "It will be a time where we stand united as a family, for dignity and justice. And it will have a long-lasting effect [in creating new leadership]."
While the Coordinadora has specific demands -- most of them centered on demanding human and Constitutional rights for all -- most people nonetheless are viewing the march as simply a time to say "Ya Basta!"
Leticia Villareal, a student at Vassar College and the administrative chair of the East Coast Chicano Student Forum (ECCSF) says that people will be going to the march to let the country know that "that we've had it with the injustices and that no matter how many times they try to beat us down, we will keep getting up." The student forum, which has members from more than two dozen colleges, will also be holding a national student conference on the eve of the march at Georgetown University in D.C.
Juan Jose Gutierrez, director of One-Stop Immigrant in Los Angeles and one of the principal organizers of the event recently moved to the nation's capital to help coordinate the march. He says that the way law enforcement officials and the Justice Department have stonewalled the April 1 beatings investigation shows the need for the march. "They're not taking us seriously."
In Los Angeles, close to 30 Latinos have been killed by law enforcement officers since the Rodney King beating and in New York, more than 30 Latinos have been killed in just the past three years. Additionally, dozens have als been killed and hundreds brutalized along the U.S./Mexico border.
Since April 1, there have been additional tragedies -- including dozens of deaths and injuries -- due to Border Patrol chases and there has been no action, says Gutierrez. What the Clinton administration and the bureaucrats are telling us regarding all these deaths, "is get used to it."
Even though unions have in the past been anti-immigrant, unions have been on of the strongest supporters of the march, says Jaime Martinez, an organizer with San Antonio's International Union of Electrical, Salaried Machine and Furniture Workers AFL-CIO. Their support is critical because Latinos haven't been able to count on either political party for support. "Both Democrats an Republicans have been falling over each other to prove who is the toughest against immigrants," he says.
Saul Solorzano, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Central American Refugee Center is confident that the march will not only succeed, but that i will bring the different Latino groups together, particularly Central Americans. Currently, because of the civil wars in El Salvador, Guatemala an Nicaragua in the 1980s, many Central Americans find themselves in the countr with tenuous legal status. The organizers of the march have endorsed the cal for granting legal permanent status to all Central Americans, he says.
People are coming and it's not because of the mainstream media, says Seattle activist, Maria T. Jimenez, director of the Coordinadora's listserv and web page. In addition to the voluminous traffic in cyberspace, organizers receive hundreds of informational calls daily -- from places such as Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, Dallas, Kansas City, Albuquerque and Phoenix.
The AFSC's Jimenez concurs: "October 12 will be a rare historic moment -- a convergence of unity and a moment of consciousness. This will be the first y time Latinos attempt to demonstrate their power at a national level."
Coordinators for the march can be reached at:
202-296-1200, 713-926-2799, 213-268-8472 and 210-340-8636
by Patrisia Gonzales & Roberto Rodriguez
These Articles are Reproduced with Permission from the Authors.
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