Friday, April 03, 2020

An Interview with Dr. Alvaro Huerta: Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Towards a Humanistic Paradigm, San Diego State University Press

Originally Published September 3, 2013 | Revised April 3, 2020

Dr. Alvaro Huerta authored the newest title to our SDSU Press collection, Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate: Toward a Humanistic Paradigm. Dr. Huerta holds a B.A. (history) and M.A. (urban planning) from UCLA. Also, he holds a Ph.D. (city and regional planning) from UC Berkeley. He is currently conducting interdisciplinary work in the UCLA Chicano Chicana Studies program for top scholarly journals through the studies of urban planning / community development, civic engagement / community organizing, immigration, Chicana/o--Latina/o studies / history, social network analysis; the informal economy. This interview took place over email on the anniversary of the "Chicano Moratorium," August 29, and was preceded by a phone interview. 

SDSU Press:

When did you start writing? Why?
Dr. Alvaro Huerta
I first started writing this book while completing my dissertation at UC Berkeley’s City and Regional Planning program. It was actually not my intention to write or conduct research on the politics of immigration while at Berkeley. I was more interested, at the time, on the history of cities in the U.S. and the people who occupy them, particularly Chicana/os and other Latina/o groups. I was and continue to be interested in scholarly issues, such as labor, social movements and the informal environment.
However, while immersed in completing my dissertation I felt morally compelled to say something about the rise of xenophobia in the last several years with the draconian immigration laws in Arizona and other states. As a son of Mexican immigrants and public intellectual, I couldn’t bury my head in the sand any longer while elected officials, primarily Republicans and other conservatives, perpetuated lies and contradictions against the mostly honest, hardworking Latina/o immigrants in this country. Instead of blaming Wall Street and deregulations of the banks during the height of the Great Recession, many local, state and national elected officials blamed low-wage Latinas/os for America’s social and economic woes.
To complicate matters, Latina/o leaders and elected officials mostly stayed quite during this time period (and to the present). Given that my job is to be a critical thinker and to question the status quo, I started to write social commentaries based on my scholarly research and family history to reframe the Latina/o immigration debate from a negative story to a positive narrative. My aim remains to provide my expertise commentary based on empirical research, rejecting the pejorative and popular views against Latina/o immigrants that only benefit elected officials and their desire to find convenient scapegoats during America’s uneasy economic and political climate. Also, in order to appeal to the white, working class vote and their economic anxieties, Republican leaders and other conservatives conveniently blame low-wage immigrants for the bleak plight of the former.

Photograph by Antonio Turok, click to enlarge
Why should we write from experience, especially when students are told not too?
Dr. Alvaro Huerta
As someone who has taught at UCLA and UC Berkeley, I always tell my students to base their arguments on facts and not personal opinions. While I never judge my students for the political views, I challenge all of them to support their claims with solid evidence. It’s not enough to say that “immigrants represent social burdens,” for example, you can give evidence to back up that statement. Although my first question towards that claim would be do immigrants receive government aid (welfare), social security, Medicare, etc., especially since these programs represent major federal expenditures? If not, what would be the the basis of that claim?
That said, as part of my efforts to humanize the Latina/o immigration debate, I started to write about my own history, as a son of Mexican immigrants. My late mother, for example, worked as a domestic worker for over forty years. Meanwhile, my late father worked as a farmworker during the Bracero Program and later a factory worker for an auto rim factory where he toiled as a janitor for the minimum wage ($3.25 at the time) for over a decade. By telling their stories, I want to give concrete examples of Latina/o immigrants working hard and making sacrifices in this country with little financial compensation. They do so not for themselves, mainly, but for children and families back home via remittances. They do not represent social burdens; they are mostly honest, hardworking individuals who only want to improve their status and that of their family members. It is for them that I write. It is for them that I spent countless hours in the library. It is, in short, for los de abajo /those on the bottom that motivated me to write my first book.
Photograph by Antonio Turok, click to enlarge
"Chicanos say that if you have to ask you'll never understand much less become, a Chicano...the word Chicano is as difficult to define as 'soul.'" 
In the spirit of Ruben Salazar, what does Chicano mean to you?

Dr. Alvaro Huerta

I embrace the words Chicana and Chicano. I first heard of the term “Chicano” in high school and it made sense to me at the time. I did not fully understand it, even after reading many of Ruben Salazar’s articles. It was not until I entered UCLA as a freshman that I better understood the term and the importance of any ethnic group to self-identify how they desire. I love the phrase “black is beautiful,” for example, and find the word “Chicano” to have similar connotations, mainly that “brown is also beautiful.”

I honestly find it tiring to be the only brown person or Chicano in the room. Sometimes I wished that I did not have to deal with race or the burden that those of us who entered privileged universities, like UCLA and UC Berkeley, must carry on a daily basis. I would actually prefer to be treated with other labels or characteristics, such as a caring or compassionate person, but I know that when I go to the library at UC Berkeley or walk into a Starbucks in the suburbs, I am a “Mexican.” Thus, even for those that reject the labels “Mexican” or “Chicana/o,” at the end of the day, mainstream society will always remind them, or us, that we represent “the Other.” That being the case, I embrace being different; I embrace my brown color; and, most importantly, as a social scientist, I am embrace the ethical responsibility of producing research that serves the public good.

Click to buy Reframing the Latino Immigration Debate

If you want to learn more about Dr. Alvaro Huerta and his work visit his site:

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Naief Yehya's DRONE VISIONS! On Sale Now! Cutting Edge Cultural Studies Focused on Surveillance, Drone Culture, and Remote Control Death and Destruction in Science Fiction Cinema

Sunday, March 29, 2020

A New Book From Hyperbole Books, An SDSU Press Imprint: Naief Yehya Interview on Drone Visions: A Brief Cyberpunk History of Killing Machines

Naief Yehya: An Interview with the Author of Drone Visions
Kaylee Arca

In celebration of Naief Yehya's new book Drone Visions: A Brief Cyberpunk History of Killing Machines, Kaylee Arca interviewed Yehya on cyberpunk, technology and inspiration. Buy a copy here.

click to enlarge
Kaylee Arca: Drone visions explores cyberpunk and technopolitics through the lens of film, videogames and technology. What was your inspiration for writing on the influence of cyberpunk on war? 

Naief Yehya: When cyberpunk appeared, it was perceived as an anarchic and liberating force. It was a mix of the technological and the biological, energized by the rebel spirit of punk music, a universe of hybrid beings capable of throwing the world off balance. It was an appropriation of technology by “the street,” imagined as an empowering strategy that consisted in taking technological tools from corporations and governments, improving them, using them for the common good and empowering the imagination. But eventually the trend was inverted and what had been retrofitted and redesigned to be used by the people was retaken and recycled by industry and the military. This applies mostly to software, but it happened all over the technological landscape. I believe that movies and other popular culture artifacts that belonged to that subgenre of science fiction became very relevant in the way we adopted new technologies. Cyberpunk made high tech sexy and brought it to the masses. Suddenly we were surrounded by innovative communication devices, cyborgs, computers, screens everywhere and all kinds of gadgets but also by weapons and killing machines capable, at least in theory, of choosing their targets.

Drone Visions' back cover: Click to enlarge

KA: How and when did you become interested in weapons like drones and missiles? 

NY: I became really interested in missiles and this kind of weaponry during the first Gulf War. Especially, I found myself concerned and terrified by the missile-camera that the USA used against certain targets in Iraq. It was in part a propaganda campaign to prove the smartness of its bombs. These devices turned the war into a spectacle, entertainment pretending to be information. The idea of being able to see the path of the missile all the way to the point of impact and witness, in a flash, the destruction of the lenses, thecamera, the bomb and the building was a reminder of the pornographic image syntax:the obsession of showing the unshowable, a penetrating gaze that tries to reveal more and more, and of the money shot, the external sperm shot that validates the porn narrative.The war drone takes this logic a step further by becoming, in the imagination of politicians and military strategist, an all-seeing eye, an indefatigable, persistent, patient, Never-blinking spying device and precise enforcer. The use of this machine in the theatre of war has been portrayed as prodigious, infallible and a lifesaving resource for the military in a series of never-ending wars. I’m terrified and fascinated by these deadly machines and the way they have been normalized, standardized and accepted as the humanitarian option in war. 

KA: Do you have experience with the weapons you discuss? 

NY: No, just from my research. I don’t like weapons. I like studying them and their psychological, cultural, moral, economic, political impact. 

Page spread from Drone Visions--more below, all are large/high res clickable images
KA: Has tech-noir and cyberpunk personally affected you? 

Enormously. Since I discovered cyberpunk, my work shifted permanently. I received a degree in industrial engineering and have always been fascinated by machinery. So,when I found out that you could actually write about technology and think about The implications of our relationship to gadgets and machines, particularly intelligent machines,I knew I had found my calling. Since then, I have written about cyborgs, pornography, war, the internet and the media sphere from the point of view of how we engage with the technologies that made those phenomena possible. During the 90s these topics were considered unworthy by most of my colleagues, there were not literary enough, too niche and morbid. But now we live in a highly technological time and, in one way or another, we’re all immersed in a techno culture. 

KA: How did you choose Mad Max, Alien, Blade Runner and The Terminator to examine? 

I believe that those films are the canon of cyberpunk. Besides being extraordinary films that were ahead of their time, they were viewed as genre entertainment when in fact they were fascinating masterpieces that spoke about the human condition at a time of fundamental transition. Just like John Ford's westerns showed the transformation of society in a new world when the wild west “opened,” these movies reflected on the inevitable changes to the Human condition at a time when technology was redefining the boundaries of the biological and the mechanical, the evolved and the manufactured, and the appearance of cyberspace. All these films —which started before the massification of the internet, cell phones and the digitization of everything— have sequels, some even have prequels and reboots, and I believe these serials have been amazing at keeping track of the changes that our technologies and dreams of technology have brought. I try to prove in the book that even the lesser products from these franchises and films derived from them are revealing in many ways. 

KA: How is Drone Visions different from your other published works? 

The main difference is that Drone Visions was going to be a part of another book thatI have almost finished and which is a more straightforward history of the war drone.The part of that book devoted to the cultural history of the drone became too voluminous and eventually it became evident that it was a book in itself which gave birth to Drone Visions as an independent project. Technology changes quickly and continuously, making the research and writing process very challenging. And it was difficult to have access to military sources. 

KA: What was your writing process for Drone Visions? 

It took me a long time. I have written extensively about the cyberpunk canon. I wanted to write about how the technological dystopias in these films merged and the way that these ideas have entered the mainstream. I was particularly interested in understanding how some ideas in these films became part of our techno cultural zeitgeist, the most relevant one of those ideas being the notion of the killing robot or artificial intelligence playing the role of executioner. 

KA: Do you think films and video games will continue to change future war technologies? 

Definitely. In ways that we cannot even fathom at this time. It’s clear that drone Technology was heavily influenced by video games and films. Now they are unavoidably linked and, as the nature of digital entertainment evolves, its military counterpart will do the same. 

KA: Do you think technology has created a cultural desensitization to violence? What is technology's role in desensitization? 

Yes, in general, I think that is true. Digital entertainment has made violence extremely appealing, interactive and fun. The abundance of cameras makes it possible for everything to be recorded and eventually broadcasted, the beautiful and the atrocious alike. Special effects and imaging technologies allow for the creation of almost anything imaginable. We have been over exposed to all sorts of violence, brutality and extreme practices in every domain. There are very few things that can shock us now for a prolonged period. Nevertheless, there is a constant search for new technological thrills, it’s part of our nature and the way we are wired. The military drone offers a very special paradigm, by showing scenes happening in real time on the other side of the world as if they were right in front of the viewer. At the same time, these scenes could be imagined as unreal, scenarios of a video game. The viewer can perceive these human beings as playthings to be eliminated in some perverse game. At the same time, drone pilots and operators, in a way, become intimate with the people they spy on, following them for days or weeks, becoming familiar with their world, their everyday lives and, eventually, may receive the order to blow them to pieces. So, in a way, we are becoming more desensitized to violence but also our relationship with what we see on the screen is complex and unpredictable. By turning human hunting into a regular, daily nine to five job, made possible by this peculiar way of telecommuting to war zones and to “suspect hunting grounds” in peace zones, we are creating an unprecedented dilemma. Killing by remote viewing and digital representations is without any doubt one of the most extreme and desensitizing activities we can perform. 

KA: What do you think are the most impactful changes on technologies caused by films and video games? 

Just as many aesthetic choices in films like 2001: A Space Odysseyinfluenced space programs, and design in a great number of areas. Blade Runner and the rest of the sci-fi films I’ve written about have been a major influence in the minds of programmers, engineers, artists and designers who have created most of the gadgets that are part of our lives today. Nobody really imagined 30 years ago that everyone was going to have a powerful portable computer and an amazing communication and entertainment device in their pocket, or that we would become inseparable to our gadgets. It would be hard to find specific movies or games that were responsible for those huge changes in the way we use and relate to technologies. Killing human beings with joysticks is still a morbid irony difficult to accept.

Advance word on Naief Yehya's Drone Visions:

More on the author:

Naief Yehya
Industrial engineer, journalist, writer, film critic and cultural critic, Naief Yehya's writings appear in La Jornada, Letras libres, Zocalo and Art Nexus, among others. He has published three novels, three short stories collections, and essay collections including: The Transformed Body. Cyborgs and our Technological Heritage in the Real World and Science Fiction, War and Propaganda. Mass Media and the Myth of War in the US,and, Pornography, Technoculture, The Intimate Space Transformed in Times of War and Peace and Pornculture. Yehya’s work deals mainly with the impact of technology, mass media, propaganda and pornography in culture and society. Yehya was born in Mexico City in 1963 and has lived in Brooklyn since 1992. 

Twitter: @nyehya

Kaylee Arca was a Marketing intern for Hyperbole Books, late 2019. Hyperbole Books is an imprint of San Diego State University Press.