The Beheading of a Saint: Junipero Serra and the California Monument Wars

The headless Serra monument in Monterey, California.

The headless Serra monument in Monterey, California.

During his visit to Mexico in February, Pope Francis apologized for the “systematic and organized” exclusion of indigenous Americans over the centuries. This took place in San Cristobal de las Casas, the epicenter of the indigenous-identified Zapatista uprising in 1994, and a town named for the 16th century defender of the Indios against the depradations of the Spanish Conquest. But in September, when the Pope visited the US, a focal point was the announcement and celebration of the canonization of Junipero Serra, the founder of the California mission system, who many indigenous people’s advocates charge with genocide against California’s tribes. In the midst of protests and calls to halt the elevation of Serra to sainthood, the statue of Serra at Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo in Carmel-by-the-Sea was covered with green paint, toppled, and tagged with the moniker “Saint of Genocide.” The next month, another statue of Serra, in nearby Monterey, was decapitated. These attacks and the surrounding controversy, which continues at a slow burn, show the power of symbols to provoke and the multiple meanings attributed to complicated historical figures.

Serra, born on the island of Mallorca, Spain in 1713, decided to become a missionary and sailed for the New World only when already of middle age. As his fellows rode, he insisted on walking across colonial Mexico, out of piety, despite an insect bite that became infected, plaguing him for the last half of his life. After two decades reorganizing the Mexican missions, including an occasion when he defended the Pame people against Spanish soldiers and colonists who were trying to take their lands, he was sent to establish a mission system in alto (“upper”) California. Starting in 1769, he founded the first nine of what would grow to 21 missions from San Diego up the central California coast. Over 50,000 natives were baptized and incorporated over the next 65 years that the system existed; various degrees of force and violence were used to harness their beliefs and labor, and many died of disease and even starvation.

The erection of monuments and memorials to Serra up and down the state through the twentieth century paralleled the process of declaring Serra a saint, with Pope John Paul II presiding over the beatification ceremony in 1988. But as the case wound its way forward, a spreading awareness of the cultural and physical decimation of Native Americans brought a shift in Serra’s legacy. California tribes and advocacy groups, indigenous rights activists and anti-colonialist historians fashioned an alternate view of the “Father of California,” featuring beatings, starvation and destruction of language and heritage instead of the moral improvement and practical education boasted of by Serra’s defenders.

In the months leading up to the canonization, criticism grew. The Mexica Movement, a radical indigenous rights group based in Los Angeles, held weekly rallies outside the cathedral there against the “white supremacist” Serra. The leadership of the Amah Mutsun Tribal Band organized a protest in San Juan Bautista, gathered over 10,000 signatures on an online petition, and cited 55 other tribes who had also written letters in opposition. A “Walk for the Ancestors” traced the El Camino Real, the route connecting the missions, to publicize this position.


But the first canonization to take place on US soil inspired enthusiasm from many Hispanic Catholics, who saw the action by the first Latin American Pope as validation of their own culture and identity. Serra, dubbed the “first Hispanic Saint” in numerous media reports, has been supported by Somos Primos (“We are cousins”), a Hispanic heritage website and publication. Though larger Hispanic rights’ organizations like the National Council of La Raza and the League of Latin American Citizens have mostly steered clear of the controversy, they consistently praise the Pope, in particular because of his support of immigrants and a more humane immigration policy. In addition, the Juaneño people of southern California, a tribe officially recognized by the state, have been cited as in support of sainthood for Serra; and the website of the Costanoan Rumsen (Ohlone) Carmel Tribe states that “We wholeheartedly support the canonization of Saint Junipero Serra because he protected our people and supported their full human rights against the politicians and the military with total disregard for his own life and safety.”

Serra's cenotaph at Carmel Mission.

Serra’s cenotaph at Carmel Mission.

In California over the winter holidays, I visited the mission at San Juan Capistrano, site of “Father Serra’s Church;” as well as the aforementioned Carmel Mission, Serra’s headquarters and burial place. Both sites have extensive exhibits about and homages to their founder, with nary a negative word about his or the system’s effects on their native subjects. On the Saturday I went to Carmel, a wedding was taking place in the mission church, and the several spaces and exhibits devoted to Serra’s legacy were crowded with visitors, including many families with children.

Visitors at the Carmel Mission statue that had been vandalized.

Visitors at the Carmel Mission statue that had been vandalized.

The slightly larger-than-life-sized Serra figure in the courtyard was standing and seemingly unfazed, though the cross he held had been broken off. In the gift shop, mission employees told me that, although the statue is owned by the city, the parishioners of the mission congregation brought a power washer, and cleaned and re-erected the figure themselves, so that by the following morning there was hardly any sign of the act. They also claimed that Serra is misunderstood: he actually protected the natives against the Spanish Army, moving the mission from its original site, now in Monterey, on land the army controlled. They blamed the media for “stirring up controversy,” and said that most locals were in full support of the canonization. When I asked if they were worried about further such acts of protest, they said they “had security,” though allowing that “probably” someone would try again.

Orientational sign at Carmel Mission

Orientational sign at Carmel Mission

Another statue of Serra is one of two representing California at the National Statuary Hall Collection in the US Capitol (the other is Ronald Reagan). In February 2015, as the controversy was heating up, California State Senator Ricardo Lara introduced a bill in the state legislature to replace Serra’s with one of astronaut Sally Ride, to pay tribute to the contributions of LGBT Californians. During a July visit to the Vatican, California Governor Jerry Brown, who as a young man studied for the priesthood, promised the Pope that the Serra statue would remain untouched “until the end of time.” (Lara withdrew his bill, as a gesture of respect to the Pope and Catholics, saying he would reintroduce it in 2016). The controversy mirrors others brewing across the country and around the world about monuments and the symbolic value of history, including vandalism of statues of super-imperialist Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town in South Africa (see Teresa Barnes, “Public historians, this is your moment!” in the May 2015 Public i) and Oxford, and conflicts over the Confederate flag and monuments to Confederate figures and slaveowners in this country.

At a time when the verdict of genocide applied to the European colonial project—at least when we talk about centuries past—seems to be firmly established in the public square, it is remarkable to see such a vigorous contestation. Identity politics, which only seems to intensify, explains a lot. But the powers that be, despite occasional expressions of regret about crimes against native peoples, are hardly neutral: while the University of Cape Town took the side of protesting students and removed the Rhodes monument, the northern California actions are being investigated as hate crimes. The Catholic Church has undoubtedly provided succor to Hispanics, indigenous and non-; but is also a fount of discipline and repression in the present, beyond its historical sins—this institutional power taints the pro-Serra movement.

The sign for the active school at Carmel Mission, named after the new Saint.

The sign for the active school at Carmel Mission, named after the new Saint.

The headless Junipero Serra in Lower Presidio Historic Park, a few miles from the Carmel mission, towers over the gorgeous ocean vista beyond, constituting a weirdly appropriate gesture of historical remembrance—a damaged, and damaging, figure in California and US history. As I was completing this article, the news appeared that the statue’s head had been found by a local girl, in a nearby tidepool at low tide. The Old Monterey Foundation, which had collected $77,000 towards resculpting the head, announced that restoration would now be much easier and cheaper. Would that our historical ruptures and divides could be repaired so straightforwardly.

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Students Rally for Coal Divestment

CoalDivest1 CoalDivest2 CoalDivest3 CoalDivest4 CoalDivest5

On April 4, the student group UIUC Beyond Coal rallied on the Quad to push the Academic Senate to pass a resolution urging the University divest $5.1 million held in the coal industry through stock index funds, in order to slow climate change. The Senate voted in favor of the resolution at its meeting that afternoon. Students had already voted by a six-to-one margin for divestment in a 2013 referendum. The University stated that it has no plans to change its investment policies, claiming that a changeover would be “complex” and would cost too much money.

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Reframing Refugees: Looking Beyond Borders in Champaign-Urbana

The St. Louis

Perhaps you have heard of the Voyage of the St. Louis. On May 13th, 1939, a ship with 937 passengers aboard, predominantly Jewish, set sail from Hamburg en route to Havana. Among the 937 men, women, and children aboard, only a handful had a legal status that would permit them automatic entry upon arrival in Cuba; the rest were European citizens now stateless. They were refugees. The ship docked in Havana on May 27th and 28 passengers disembarked, while the rest were turned away immediately. The ship returned to sea shortly after and turned its rudders toward Florida in hopes that the borders would be more forgiving in the U.S. While hugging the coastline near Miami, eager to dock, the passengers radioed President Roosevelt for permission to enter the U.S., lest they be sent back to the ghettos and rounded up for deportation in Germany and Eastern Europe. Again, they were turned away, and left no choice but to return to Europe. As Jewish organizations became aware of this situation, the Jewish Joint Distribution Committee contacted the governments in Great Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, who intercepted the St. Louis headed for Hamburg and permitted the entry of every refugee aboard. While the Jews that had arrived in Belgium, the Netherlands, and France faced German occupation and persecution in the following years, 287 of the 288 refugees that sought asylum in Great Britain survived the war. [Information made available by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum]

Refusing Refugees

The politics of immigration are contentious, and this short narrative is an abbreviated version of a complex and convoluted history of policies, financial crises, and social unrest. That is to say, the politics of the story of the St. Louis are not so easily distilled and are terribly resonant in the current situation in the U.S., Europe, and Syria. It was undoubtedly a fact that both Cuba and the U.S. were reeling from the recent and devastating effects of the Great Depression, but the refusal to accept incoming refugees was most certainly also a symptom of a larger ailment of xenophobia breeding among citizens. This same brand of prejudice and intolerance, I fear, has permeated borders on state, national, and international levels today and has been permitted to run rampant in governmental structures and local communities in regards to the refugee crisis in Syria. The remedy for these symptoms will not be found in violence or vicious rhetoric, but in education and on platforms for discussion. This conversation is riddled with divisive questions and echoes with difficult answers, but there are no wrong questions. Why should we help? Don’t Americans have enough issues with unemployment and poverty already? How is employing emergency measures to accept refugees fair to other prospective immigrants on the waiting list? How would we bridge the language gap, find work for refugees, feed families, etc.? The truth is that there is no simple solution, but there is no productivity to be found in stagnation. We must begin by resisting the temptation to put price tags on human lives, by separating the disciplines of biology and economy, by returning to our humanity.


Rescue and Relief in Champaign-Urbana

Three Spinners Inc. is attempting to answer the pressing questions that have halted the U.S.’s development in accepting asylum-seekers and providing monetary aid to those living in unsustainable conditions. Far too many of us found ourselves on the wrong side of history in refusing asylum to those that would otherwise perish in ghettos, gas chambers, and camps in the case of the St. Louis. The right side of history is always the one that requires us to share our humanity with one another, regardless of the circumstances. Founded in January, 2016, Three Spinners Inc. is a charitable organization dedicated to providing rescue and relief efforts for Syrian refugees in addition to facilitating educational opportunities and vocational training. Our team is working to establish a self-sustaining community in Champaign-Urbana, independent of governmental funding, capable of providing housing, food, clothing, language training, and employment opportunities for incoming individuals and families. By hosting a series of food, clothing, and item drives and working alongside local businesses, residents, educational facilities, and other non-profit organizations, Three Spinners Inc. is creating an abundance of resources, both material and monetary, in the C-U area, which will be directed towards rescue and relief efforts. With nearly ten resident families who have applied to host a refugee family or individual in their homes, we are well on our way to achieving our goal of presenting Three Spinners Inc. and C-U to the U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of Immigration, and the nine voluntary agencies (VOLAGS) who place admitted refugees as a community prepared to accept as many refugees as we are able to support. More detailed explanations of our mission, the ongoing civil war in Syria, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and refugee admission, housing processes, and volunteering opportunities are readily available on our website at

Get Involved

There are a number of ways to get involved in the refugee crisis, and we welcome any and all volunteers that are willing to lend their efforts in any capacity. Here are a few ways to help refugees right now:

  • Donate food, clothing, items, and/or furniture at a drop-off location in C-U
  • Donate funds to aid refugees
  • Volunteer to work /host a food or clothing & item drop-off location in C-U
  • Volunteer to host a food barrel for ongoing food drives
  • Volunteer to host an individual or family in your home for 3-12 months
  • Volunteer to teach special skills at a vocational training workshop
  • Volunteer to help sort, wash, and store clothing and goods collected at drives
  • Attend movie screenings and talk-backs hosted by Three Spinners Inc. to start a dialogue
  • Subscribe to our newsletter
  • Spread the word about the Three Spinners Inc. mission!

Screening of Red Lines

April 25th, 7pm @ Big Grove Tavern

Three Spinners Inc. will be hosting a screening of Red Lines, an award winning documentary that delves into the roots of the civil war in Syria and the plight of the refugee crisis that followed. Our screenings will continue to be held with the purpose of staying informed about the nature of the Syrian conflict and starting a productive conversation in our community so that we can better lend our efforts to providing assistance.

This screening will be followed by a talk-back with our board of directors and will be one of a series beginning this month and continuing on through the summer.  Light appetizers will be provided and wine, beer, and cocktails will be available for purchase. 


Alexandra van Doren is Ph.D. Candidate in Comparative Literature at UIUC as well as the Co-founder/CEO of Three Spinners Inc., a charitable organization dedicated to providing rescue and relief efforts for Syrian refugees.

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Crime at the News-Gazette

By David Prochaska

There has been considerable recent discussion – and argument – over racial disparities in traffic stops. In Urbana, the findings of a “Traffic Stop Data Task Force Report” are being discussed at City Council meetings. In Champaign, a different report with similar findings has been contentious.

For some, the data is transparent, objective. Jail architect Donald Kimme argues that if African-Americans are stopped more frequently, that is because they are more often doing something wrong. For some on the opposite end of the political spectrum, cops look for Blacks to stop more frequently.

But disparities do not, ipso facto, prove discrimination.

This is why a 28-page, fall 2015 study is important. “Representation of Race and Gender in News-Gazette Crime Coverage” systematically compared all arrests and jail bookings with all crime stories between June and September, 2015. It is the first study ever to compare “the demographics of suspects in the news to the demographics of suspects arrested or jailed” for any Champaign County news outlet. Eight students supervised by a faculty member used meticulous, painstaking social science quantitative techniques to analyze three months’ data. What were the findings?

First, there were 1497 jail bookings that resulted from 5,016 arrests. Many will be surprised that over half – 57 percent — of all arrests were for traffic violations.

2016 03 26 crime fig 1

Second, violent crimes were reported in the News-Gazette seven times more often (49.2 percent) than those arrested (7.3 percent) for such crimes. Conversely, nonviolent crimes were only half as likely to be written up (50.8 percent), compared to the 92.7 percent arrested for such crimes.

The third finding is where it gets interesting. More whites were arrested (48.5 percent) than Blacks (39.9 percent), but more Blacks (55.6 percent) wound up booked than whites (37.7 percent).  Yet you would never know it from the News-Gazette, which was more than two-and-a-half times likely to write on Black crime suspects (48.9 percent) than white suspects (18.7 percent).

2016 03 26 crime fig. 6

This last finding is reinforced by the differential use by race of news photos, typically mug shots. “We see a clear trend in the suspect image data,” concludes the “News-Gazette Crime Coverage” study. “[W]hile the typical local crime suspect pictured in the newspaper is Black, the typical crime suspect arrested in Champaign County is white.” African-Americans made up a full 67.5 percent of suspects pictured in the news, but 55.6 percent of those booked and only 39.9 percent of those arrested. Conversely, only 30.1 percent of those pictured in news stories are white, but whites made up 37.7 percent of bookings and 48.5 percent of arrests.

The “News-Gazette Crime Coverage” study clearly demonstrates striking, statistically significant racial disparities in crime reporting. However, “the reasons for such disparities are beyond the scope of this report.” For that, remarks made recently by crime reporter Mary Schenk, one of the paper’s “stars,” to an Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) class are revealing.

Schenk’s day begins early. First thing, she checks with her sources in local law enforcement: what’s happened in the past 12 hours? They know the kinds of stories she’s interested in. “Serious” crimes – residential crime, rape and sexual assault, gun violence. Although rare, murder, for sure. Drugs, DUIs, so long as they are out of the ordinary, such as the 30 pounds  of cannabis in a courtroom that “had jurors and spectators sniffing, sneezing and coughing.” She “skips the domestic abuse usually,” considering it a private affair. Best are the too-weird-to-be-true stories. The puppy cooked alive in the oven. The guy who tortured his girlfriend’s cat.

What about the mug shots? They are the “most popular” item online. According to Schenk, the News-Gazette pays a commercial company to scrub bookings records such as the sheriff’s public website, adds ads, and leaves the mugshots up longer than the sheriff’s website. “But what about the presumption of innocence – these people have been arrested, not convicted.” Schenk’s response: “I don’t care.”

To be fair, the context here is that the News-Gazette, along with most every paper in the nation, is not doing all that well in the brave new world of digital media. For several years after the Great Recession beginning in 2008, the paper operated at a loss. It only got back in the black after some five years of belt-tightening, expanded online presence, and leadership changes. A 30-year employee, Schenk, for example, cut back her paid hours from 40 to 35 per week. She puts in considerably more time than that.

“Isn’t the paper’s approach ‘if it bleeds, it leads’?” she is asked. “What about the lurid details?” She does not reply directly. “What about the paper’s conservative political slant?”  Her response, “Buy the newspaper. I don’t care if you read it.”

Economics trumps ethics. When the choice is running in the red or in the black, ethics become expendable. After all, that’s what commercial media are all about.

In reporting crime, the News-Gazette makes other troubling choices. Placement. A murder trial gets detailed front-page coverage. The story the day after when the suspect is found not guilty runs in the second section. This happened twice in less than a month in late 2015. Moreover, the paper’s definition of “crime” does not include white-collar crime. Yes, such crime is generally more difficult to investigate, yet it is arguably much more costly in dollars and cents than the usual drug deal.

The News-Gazette generally presents to its readers a feel-good image of the community, such as weekly do-gooder profiles. At the same time, however, it invites readers to troll the mug shots, voyeuristically stalk those too weird to be true, and to fear criminals. The paper unquestionably features stories on distinguished, upstanding African-Americans. But such stories are trumped by the many more stories that produce and reproduce the stereotypical Black criminal. “By stimulating and sustaining stereotyped beliefs about the connections between race and crime, this type of news coverage can also help perpetuate systemic forms of racial injustice that take root in other societal institutions,” concludes the “News-Gazette Crime Coverage” study.

Representations are social facts. I have heard more than one member of Champaign/Urbana’s privileged white elite refer to “the bad guys.” Who are the “bad guys”? I think I have answered that question.

Would we be better off without the News-Gazette? Many readers hold their nose, and read the paper for the local news, “to keep up on what is going on.” The paper, and its supporters, argue that if a national chain operated the paper, then local news would be cut substantially, and covered by less experienced and knowledgeable reporters.

But this either/or choice – a local variation of the stock neoliberal argument, “there is no other way” – comes at a price, and the price is the paper’s skewed worldview. If it bleeds, it leads. Criminal minorities. Politically-slanted news coverage.

Back to ethics. As individuals in a capitalist society, we have the choice of buying or not buying the paper, of consuming or not consuming the News-Gazette’s worldview. But is the kind of community we want to live in, the sense of community we strive to build, the same as the News-Gazette’s?

Imagine. Wake up to a paper that gives the police blotter reporting a rest. A couple of longer stories that take a step back, a longer view. A thorough analysis of the evidence for the racial disparity in traffic stops (such a story would get enough online comments to thrill ad sponsors and editors alike). A story profiling the Police Training Institute. A comparison and contrast of Champaign, Urbana, and University police department cultures. A story on cop culture, featuring the lingo, like “power rings” (donuts).

2014 05 21 cell meeting for Roediger 3

David Prochaska formerly taught colonialism and visual culture in the UI History Department


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Nigerian Man Connects with African American and Caribbean Cousins Through AncestryDNA

Figure 1: African American Tracy Scott meeting with her Nigerian cousin, Ade Omole

Figure 1: African American Tracy Scott meeting with her Nigerian cousin, Ade Omole

“My maternal grandmother told me … that way back in time, we had family members who went to the stream to fetch water and never returned. This stuck in my psyche for all those years,” said Ade. As a young boy of six or seven, Ade and his older brother normally visited with their grandmother Alice after school until their parents returned from work. On one particular day, they decided to play instead of going straight to their grandmother’s home. Their grandmother searched their community in Ijeshaland, Nigeria, but could not find them. When Ade and his brother finally ended their play and went to their grandmother’s home, she “sternly scolded” them, Ade said. His grandmother firmly warned them about their missing ancestors.

“I am 54 years old now, but I remember it like yesterday. I remember wondering that, okay, if they did not return, where are they,” said Ade. Ade later realized that this is the story of his ancestors who were captured in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. He wondered where their descendants might be. They were family, after all.

After some time, he was reminded of the missing stories in his family history when he began to ponder on why family members on his mother’s side had foreign surnames such as Da Rocha, Haastrup, and Doherty.

“I remember asking my mother why they had such names. Much later, though, I found out that Ilesha (the capital city of my home region in Nigeria) was significantly impacted by the slave trade, especially in the late 1700s and early 1800s. I remember her saying that they were Saro and that we had Saro families. I didn’t know much about what that meant until much later. Saro is Yoruba for Sierra Leone. They must have been returning family members who were captives released by the British via Sierra Leone,” said Ade.

When a friend in Madrid, Spain told him about the direct-to-consumer DNA testing company 23andMe a few years ago, he decided to test. “I had always had my grandmother’s story in my psyche, but I didn’t make a conscious connection that the relatives might have been taken to the Americas. I tested [with 23andMe] mainly because I wanted to confirm the story that my maternal grandmother told me when I was little kid,” said Ade.

Ade has since tested with 23andMe and AncestryDNA. Through the website features that allowed members to send messages to DNA-matched relatives, Ade has made contact with several African American and Caribbean distant cousins. Finding these relatives has been a source of great relief for Ade. “It was a huge relief!!!,” said Ade, “and I cried and wished that Grandma Alice was still alive!”

As Ade reconnects with family members, he gives them a warm welcome and introduction on Facebook. Facebook has been a helpful tool in keeping him connected to reunited family members.

Ade Omole. Facebook. October 18, 2014:

“To my aunties, uncles, sisters, brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, and more: Please watch this, as it shows what our taken ancestors (the ancestors of our newly re-connected cousins from the other side of the Atlantic – by the way there is no doubt as we are DNA/ genes connected) typically went through … Now more importantly, please make a special effort and go out of your way if you need to, to welcome our newly re-connected cousins back home and into the family. They were taken from us, but they were never far from our hearts. Most of our newly re-connected cousins are now my Facebook friends. So keep an eye out for posts and threads on my page. You will have plenty of chances to say heartfelt welcomes. Ijesha ni a re!”

This post was accompanied by a link to the article “CNN’s Don Lemon Discovers His Roots in Emotional Journey with His Mother.”

Several distant cousins discovered through AncestryDNA responded to his post.

LaKisha2An African American cousin, Jennifer Chambers Purefoy, responded, “Hello my new found cousin and family! I was so happy to hear from you and hope I can learn more about my family overseas. I am still trying to find out which side we are related. My mother or father’s side. I look forward to meeting you all either in person or on Facebook.”

A Caribbean cousin, José Muñoz, also responded, “Thanks cousin Ade for the post. You were the first to contact me after finding out we were cousins through DNA. It felt good to connect to a part of my African roots. I could only trace my family back to Trinidad and Puerto Rico, but through DNA I now know I have ancestors from six regions in Africa.”

Jennifer had only recently engaged in her family’s African American genealogy search before being contacted by Ade, saying that they were related. “Needless to say, I was very excited,” said Jennifer. After some searching, she discovered that she was related to Ade through her maternal great-great-grandmother, Lydia Doyd Asberry. Ade and Jennifer maintain communication through phone and Facebook. “Finding one’s roots is great but also knowing where you come from is exciting,” Jennifer explained.

Jose Munoz

Jose Munoz

Ade’s cousin, José, grew up with a black family in a predominately black neighborhood in New York City. Although José knew about his Trinidadian and Puerto Rican ancestry, he did not consider how the Transatlantic Slave Trade influenced his family’s historical experiences. He used AncestryDNA to go beyond his Caribbean ancestry and discovered that approximately half of his ancestry was from Africa. “I never realized how much slavery and colonization impacted my ancestry,” said José. Shortly after receiving his results, he received an email from Ade. “I received a message from Ade welcoming his cousin and sharing that we have an African King and Prince in our bloodline … Ade said that even though we may never trace our common ancestors, we will always be cousins. Ade welcomed me to his family,” said José.

When I asked Ade how this experience has changed him, Ade responded, “My life before and after are not even close! I have a huge sense of relief and almost completeness. I am a big fan of DNA testing! If you notice, most of my cousins are people who are not looking for much, really, but the sense of belonging and completeness. To be a part of this is priceless, really, and the sense of family that I have with my cousins is as strong as I have for my brother.”

I asked, “You’re saying that this has given you a sense of completeness, too?”

Ade replied, “Yes indeed! I always wondered why did they not return.”

LaKisha headshotLaKisha David is the director of The African Kinship Reunion (TAKiR). The overall mission of TAKiR is to reunite African families separated by the Transatlantic Slave Trade and to encourage the psychological well-being and social cohesion among reunited family members. TAKiR is a fiscally sponsored project of the Urbana Champaign Independent Media Center (UCIMC). LaKisha David is also a PhD student in the Human Development and Family Studies (HDFS) department of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (UIUC).



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Youth Poetry

by Amina Alamin

My curly hair can do anything it can be in big braids and in little braids
and curled in to ringlets
and many more things.

Some people don’t like my hair and some people do.

I used to hate my

Isn’t a shock? I am talking about how much I love my hair now. I used to think it was too
long and too thick.

Isn’t too bad? Everybody should love every strand of their hair.

AminaAmina is a home-schooled third grader who enjoys gymnastics, tennis, and swimming. She has a 7-month-old cat who she adores. She plans to grow up and become an EMT.




by Selma Alamin

When I switch on the news this is what I see
A black man laying right in front of me
He is laying on the floor
and says no more
The bullets I try to ignore
As I watch the blood gushing
out I have tears rushing
down my cheek
As I watch I see police surrounding him with tasers and guns
as other people run
I feel this is wrong
because they are innocent
but we will stay strong

SelmaSelma is a 10-year-old fourth grader. She enjoys swimming, ice skating, and running 5K’s. She loves to laugh and make others laugh. She hopes to run a marathon in the future.

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Radical Women-An Historical Perspective

“Women have to find a script, a narrative to live by, because all other scripts are likely to depict them in roles that fit the conventional stereotypes.” Mamphela Ramphele

Last month in these pages I wrote about my personal journey as a woman and a feminist moving through a world that has failed to accomplish the gender equity I dreamt of as a child. I reflected on the bitter reality that no matter how strongly one believes in the ideal of radical equality, we all live immersed in social and cultural structures that can work against our best interests in favor of patriarchy, racist ideologies, and socio­economic inequality. As much as I work for justice in my personal life and have found hope in contemporary movements, I have also found inspiration and continued hope for a more equitable future in my professional life as a feminist historian. Throughout my career, I have been fascinated with women who defied the expectations of their time and cultural milieu, and who through their work made a difference in their own lives and their broader society.

The power of learning about radical women in history came right to my doorstep last week, when one of my favorite grown-­up friends sent my twelve­-year-old daughter the perfect gift in celebration of Women’s History Month: Kate Schatz’s Rad American Women A-­Z. Schatz writes in her introduction to the book that she hopes the brief stories of the 25 “rad”-­ical women artists and activists, rock stars and scientists included serve to inspire readers to learn about United States history and seek to make a difference through their own lives as well. My daughter has embraced the book, taking great pleasure in learning about a diverse group of people she’d never heard of before, including the dancer Isadora Duncan, the journalist Nellie Bly, and the Native American activist Wilma Mankiller. In my daughter’s words, “women just aren’t recognized enough and you don’t see many books that are about all these cool women in history . . . [The book includes] all different kinds of women from all different kinds of backgrounds, which is an amazing thing.” Amazing indeed.

To continue the spirit of Women’s History Month and to find inspiration, I invite you to read about a few radical women I admire who have worked for women’s rights and human rights around the world in the last century:

C is for Claudia Paz y Paz:

The human rights lawyer Paz y Paz (b. 1967) grew up during the 36 -year Guatemalan Civil War (1960­-1996), and has dedicated her career to winning justice for women and marginalized peoples. During her tenure as Guatemala’s first woman attorney general, from 2010 to 2014, she actively pursued prosecutions against the perpetrators of atrocities including genocide and mass rapes, who had evaded justice since the end of the war. The verdict she won against former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt was the first of its kind in Guatemala’s national courts. No longer safe in Guatemala, Paz y Paz continues her work on behalf of human rights from Spain and the United States.

K is for Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya:

The Indian anti­-colonial, socialist, and women’s right activist Chattopadhyaya’s (1903­1988) life is a testament to what women of her generation in India sacrificed for the cause of liberation. Widowed at age 12, she went on to remarry outside her caste, and later divorced her unfaithful husband, despite strong cultural taboos against divorce and Mahatma Gandhi’s disapproval. She continued to break boundaries throughout her life to become a leader in the movement for Indian independence and an outspoken advocate for women’s economic and political rights. Amongst her many causes, she lobbied for the Age of Consent Bill and the Child Marriage Restraint Bill in the late 1920s. Throughout her life she worked to expand the women’s movement in India to include recognition of the role socio­economics play in limiting women’s freedoms and relegating them to a lower status.

L is for Li Xiaojiang:

Now a leading academic in the women’s studies movement in China, Li (b. 1951) received only eight years of formal education before being sent to a work camp during the Cultural Revolution. But her determination to be an academic later led her to graduate school, where she dedicated herself (against the advice of male advisors and classmates) to deconstructing the discrepancy between the dominant Marxist rhetoric on the equality between men and women and what she observed in academics and in women’s lives. She went on to write the first scholarly women’s studies paper in China, organized the first Women’s Association, and established the first Women’s Studies Center in the 1980s. Li continues to work for true transformation in women’s lives by educating Chinese women to self­-recognition, subjective awareness, and collective consciousness.

M is for Mamphele Ramphele:

The South African physician, politician, and academic Ramphele (b. 1947) came to feminist consciousness later in her political life. A founding member of the 1970s’ Black Consciousness Movement (BCM) led by Steve Biko, Ramphele only later realized that women’s rights were not a part of that movement’s political landscape, where, in order to be fully accepted, women had to either conform to traditional behavior, or, as in the case of Ramphele, become “honorary men.” But by the late 1980s, after working in migrant labor hostels, she began to focus on the role of gender. She came to believe that real transformation in South Africa would not happen without attention to gender, and true freedom would only come when women had equal access to political organizations and participation in society.

S is for Shirin Ebadi:

The Iranian lawyer and writer Ebadi (b. 1947) trained as a lawyer in the 1960s, and in 1975 became the first woman appointed president of the Tehran city court. After women were forced to resign their judgeships following the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ebadi dedicated her life to writing on the subject of human rights and to defending political prisoners, women’s rights activists, and others who challenged the Iranian authorities. In 2003, she became the first Iranian and the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of her decades of activism for human rights and particularly the rights of women, children, and refugees. Though in exile in London since 2009 due to increased persecution of opponents of the Iranian government, Ebadi continues to work on behalf of human rights in Iran.

X is for ??: Who would you add to the list?

Kate Schatz dedicated the letter “X” in Rad American Women to all “the women we haven’t learned about yet, and the women whose stories we will never read.” She continues, “X is for all we don’t know about the past, but X is also for the future.” I believe the space of X is infinite, creating room not only for us to learn about prominent activists, but also to recognize what work we can do individually on a day-to-day basis to bring about change. From these histories, we can learn important lessons about both the sacrifices and the rewards that come from brave speech and brave action on any scale that will move us toward greater equality.

Julie Laut lives in a drafty old house in Urbana with her husband, two kids, and two dogs. After earning her PhD this spring, she will be embarking on her third career since leaving college two decades ago.

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Citizens Divided: the Presidential Campaign and Film

Trading Places-1You've Been Trumped-1Annie 2014Audrey Wells

(Audrey Wells is a retired educator, freelance writer, and co-author of The Art of Theater: Playing Movies for 100 Years.)

In an important film from the 2008 presidential race, Ann Coulter warns of Hillary Clinton: “She’s far more liberal than she’s going to let on.” And Dick Morris bemoans, “Hillary Clinton is really the closest thing we have in America to a European Socialist.” I’m talking about Hillary: The Movie, produced by the Koch-funded conservative group Citizens United. A fancy piece of propaganda, complete with ominous music, stark lighting, and reenactments of allegedly shady dealings, the film tops off years of right-wing accusations meant to undermine Hillary Clinton, who in their words has “mastery of the black arts of attack politics.” Irony included.

Poisoning the reputation of Hillary Clinton has sopped up large chunks of private money from the right wing – and way over $50 million in tax dollars. These efforts led to the 2010 Supreme Court decision many want to overturn, known as Citizens United. (If you find yourself wanting to blame Hillary for these attacks, it may be a sign the poison has worked.)

Let’s back up. In 2002 Congress established the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act (BCRA) also known as McCain-Feingold. Section 203 in the BCRA prohibited unions and corporations from paying for broadcast, cable, or satellite media that mentions any candidate within 60 days before a general election and 30 days before a primary. In other words, no pooling large amounts of corporate or union money to air political advertisements — attack or promotional — close to an election.

Then two years later, in 2004, the group Citizens United filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission (FEC), claiming television advertisements for Michael Moore’s Fahrenheit 9/11 violated the BCRA because the film was openly critical of President George W. Bush. The FEC dismissed their complaint, saying funding for the advertisements was commercial activity, not electioneering. Inspired, Citizens United branched into the documentary film business. If Michael Moore could make documentaries that influence political opinion without restraint, well, they could too.

Check out the Citizens United website to watch previews of some of their 24 films. Try Occupy Unmasked to get their version of the Occupy Movement, Rocky Mountain Heist on how the liberal agenda has taken over Colorado, or Battle for America to hear how an Obama presidency would ruin our country.

Back to 2008: in their effort to advertise Hillary: The Movie close to a primary, Citizens United brought suit against the FEC. The case made its way to the Supreme Court, and in 2010, the group Citizens United, in a 5-4 decision, won and won big. Any restrictions on money spent on political speech by corporations, unions, or associations were lifted. Why? In the majority view, to protect First Amendment rights.

On to another presidential candidate this year. Did you know that, as it says on his website, Bernie Sanders worked as a documentary filmmaker? He wrote and produced his major project in 1979, two years before being elected mayor of Burlington, and you can see it on YouTube. It’s a 29-minute biography titled Eugene Victor Debs: Trade Unionist, Socialist, Revolutionary 1855 – 1926.

The narration begins with a dose of Sanders’ sarcasm, saying, “If you are the average American who watches television forty hours a week, you have probably heard of such important people as Kojak and Wonder Woman, have heard about dozens of different kinds of underarm spray deodorants, every hack politician in your state, and the latest game between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Strangely enough, however, nobody has told you about Gene Debs, one of the most important Americans of the 20th century.” Debs ran for President of the United States five times as the candidate of the Socialist Party of America, conducting his last campaign, in 1920, from prison for defying the draconian 1918 Sedition Act by speaking out against American involvement in World War I.

The film’s simple soundtrack has two narrators and features Sanders reading Debs’ own words. The imagery is limited to still shots of stock photos (including a lynching), campaign paraphernalia, and political cartoons that each stay on the screen for about 30 seconds. The production values may not impress, but the content is worthwhile as a primer. Debs is a key historical figure of the American labor movement, and for people who want to know Sanders better, this film makes clear why Debs was a hero to him.

For some laughs on the subject of American social class and racial divide, I recommend John Landis’s 1983 Trading Places with Eddie Murphy and Dan Aykroyd. Remarkably, this film plays well today, and it is fun to see Minnesota Senator Al Franken in a bit part as a clownish baggage handler. Bo Diddley has a role, and Jamie Lee Curtis too. Yes, today’s viewer will have to forgive some of the dated attitudes and depictions (especially around sex), but if you take it easy, there are laughs to be had.

The plot is launched by two brothers, commodity brokers Randolph and Mortimer Duke – one percenters, in today’s parlance – played by Ralph Bellamy and Don Ameche, who in this film both bear resemblance to the banker icon from the Monopoly game. In an effort to resolve their ongoing nature versus nurture argument, they manipulate the lives of street hustler Billy Ray Valentine (Eddie Murphy) and ambitious executive Louis Winthorpe III (Dan Aykroyd) by reversing their fortunes and callously betting on the results.

Landis fills the film with gags. The Dukes frequent the Heritage Club, where the sign over the door reads: “The Heritage Club, With Liberty and Justice for All, Members Only.” When Mortimer says to Randolph, “Mother always said you were greedy” his brother retorts “She meant it as a compliment.” But serious themes run throughout this comedy, and underlying racist attitudes are exposed. Funny as it is, the film still has the power to make us uncomfortable – in a good way.

A current popular culture depiction of super wealth can be seen in a 2014 version of Annie (the character who was born during the Great Depression). When Jamie Foxx, in the role of Will Stacks, a cell phone tycoon who runs for mayor of New York City, bellows “Politicians are all liars” and “You’re fired,” we get a whiff of Donald S. Trump. As a publicity stunt, Stacks takes in foster child Annie (Quvenzhané Wallis), and her life is transformed, not with servants, not with robots, but with a smart home that can read her mind and fulfill every wish.

Round out your viewing experience with Anthony Baxter’s 2011 documentary You’ve Been Trumped, and watch Trump in action as he bullies and bulldozes his way to establish a luxury golf course on wild sand dunes in Scotland. Now, Trump is on the political course and swinging. “FORE!”



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UIUC is Balancing a False Budget “Crisis” on the Backs of Students and Faculty

Illinois has not yet passed a state budget for higher education, and schools like Chicago State have been left in the lurch. According to the Chicago Tribune, Chicago State will not be able to pay employees after April. Similarly, the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, is pleading poverty. Unlike Chicago State, the University has the money to withstand this crisis. Instead, it is trying to balance the budget on the backs of graduate employees, non-tenure track faculty, and undergraduates. As Grievance Officer for the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO), I have heard from graduate employees across campus who have been told to look outside their department for funding or that the funding will simply be unavailable next year. Those graduate employees left will be left with more work as class sizes increase, meaning that educational quality will go down. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

In February 2015, the Daily Illini published a story about the impact of Governor Rauner’s proposed budget on UIUC. The story featured a graph that showed a stark decline in University funding. From this graph, one would assume that the budget has been devastated by cuts to state appropriations. However, this graph, like many University financial statements, is misleading.


State appropriations, if they are passed soon, would be lower than in past years, but the difference is not as stark as the University claims. Using 2015 numbers, state appropriations account for about 1/3 of the budget. However, the University also has income from another source: tuition. While state appropriations have dropped, tuition has steadily risen. Between the 2006- 2007 and 2013-2014 Academic Years, in-state tuition rose from $7,708 for incoming freshmen to $11,834, according to the University’s own reports. Tuition for non-resident students rose at similar rate, from $21,794 to an alarming $26,216 during the same period. For the 2015-2016 Academic year, the resident base tuition is $12,036 and non-resident base tuition is $27,196; the international student base is $28,026. Tuition for international and out-of-state students is so high that even though non-resident students make up about 26% of the student population, they contribute about 43% of the tuition income from undergrads.

In fact, the University makes more from tuition than it gets from appropriations. According to the Daily Illini, the proposed state appropriation for the Urbana campus for the 2015-2016 academic year was $387 million; I estimate the income from undergraduate tuition as $529,127,608. This does exclude financial aid; but most forms of aid, like grants, outside scholarships, and loans, will produce tuition income; and the University reports an expenditure of only $241,000 in student financial aid for the 2015 fiscal year (not including financial aid administration). And my calculation, based on the resident and non-resident ­base tuition and the student population data for undergraduates, excludes tuition from professional students and does not account for departments that charge more than the base. Thus, the total amount may be even higher.

tuition vs appropriations

Yet, despite the amount brought in via tuition, UIUC is pleading poverty. It is hard to tell where exactly the money is going. The University audits report combined financial data for all three campuses (Chicago, Urbana, and Springfield), making the data useless for determining how much was spent on any individual campus. The budgets are divided by campus, making it a bit easier. However, the budgets report what the University plans to spend, not what was actually spent, saved, or in excess. And some categories, like “auxiliary expenditures” are loosely defined, so it is unclear what money goes where beyond the broad categories. The budget for the UIUC campus in 2015 was about $2 billion.

However, Governor Rauner and the State Senate are only part of the story. The University has also made a series of bad financial decisions. The University signed incoming football coach Lovie Smith for $21 million over the next six years, plus $4 million per year for his staff. In 2014, UIUC was paying just over $3 million to former athletic employees, meaning that the Athletic Department was running at a deficit of $6 million at that time, according to the Washington Post. According to a USA Today study of NCAA athletic departments, UIUC athletics is running at a deficit of $3 million currently. UIUC ranked fourth in the nation in terms of severance pay to former athletic employees, according to the Washington Post. In addition to bad decisions in the Athletics Department, UIUC has had a series of mishaps with administrators, who may also receive severance pay. The University should be ashamed of forcing their budgetary problems onto undergraduates, graduate students, and instructors. The lifeblood of the University should not bear the burden of the poor decision-making of UIUC administration and athletics.

Despite the University’s claims that there is no money to go around, there is. The active endowment (what the University currently has and is investing) is $2.39 billion, and the total endowment (including planned gifts) is about 3.3 billion. According to the National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund Institute, UIUC ranks 37th in the nation in terms of the size of its active endowment. Yet the University claims that it cannot afford to pay graduate employees who previously had appointments, and overworks current graduate employees to cut down costs. If the University spent the recommended 8% of its endowment, that would cover nearly half of the planned contribution from state appropriations. The University should use some of the endowment to weather the storm, but instead they’re claiming that they must slash positions and funding, compromising the quality of undergraduate and graduate education.


The University claims to be in dire financial straits, but doesn’t report its finances in a way that would allow the public to assess its spending. Based on the budget of about $2 billion, the bargaining unit accounts for about 2% of spending based on the monthly salaries reported to the GEO. Here’s what that spending gets us, calculated as if all graduate employees worked for 12 months, instead of the usual 9 months:

About 43% of the bargaining unit makes a living wage, based on the MIT living wage calculator. Graduate employees protected under the GEO’s collective bargaining agreement work between 25% Full-time equivalency (FTE) and 67% FTE. A 50% appointment would be 20 hours a week and considered “full-time” for most graduate employees, but about 25% of the bargaining unit does not have a 50% appointment, meaning that they may have to work a second job or take loans to pay their expenses. If the University devoted just 3% of its reported $2 billion dollar budget to graduate employees, instead of 2%, then all 2755 members of the Graduate Employees Organization could have appointments for an entire year at the living wage for Champaign County. Instead, most graduate employees are not employed over the summer, meaning they have to take out loans or seek employment elsewhere. The University has the money, but has refused to allocate it towards bettering public education. Instead, it claims that it must cut costs on the backs of employees who make the University what it is: a quality institution of higher education. The University needs to release audits for the UIUC campus, rather than hiding behind UIC and UIS. As a public institution, the University needs to remember that its duty is to the public. Everyone at UIUC has an interest in the state budget being passed; instead of forcing students to bear the brunt of budget cuts, we should be working together to get the budget passed and enlarged. Undergraduates are not a budget solution either. While the University has created a situation where it can survive without state funding, the University needs to re-assess its purpose. The State of Illinois has forgotten its promises to higher education. It is time to hold the state accountable for its failure to promote higher education, but we must also hold the University accountable for obfuscating the budget and balancing the budget on the backs of students.

Mary Grace Hébert is a PhD Student in the Department of Communication at UIUC.  She serves as the Grievance Officer for the Graduate Employees Organization.

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#North Carolina Tweet Goes Viral

Steph BlueThis tweet by U of I student Stephanie Skora, written in response to the homophobic and transphobic law HB2 in North Carolina, garnered over 7,400 retweets on Twitter and was also shared widely on Facebook:

“Time to remind folks that there have been more US Senators arrested for sexual misconduct in bathrooms than trans people #NorthCarolina”

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