Modeling an Open Chicago: Taking The City Back

4 10 2010

This is the first in a series.

They know what’s best for you.


With an open Mayoral seat, Chicagoans a generation removed from the last competitive election for that office are unsure of their footing. The media is either causing or reflecting that confusion, unsure where to start an analysis of what this election “means,” what will determine its outcome, who the players are. Path of least resistance: we focus on the personalities running, the staff they’re hiring, the money they’re raising. Is this a new chance at democracy? Have we had democracy all along? Does Chicago need a strong hand? Or are we looking for the next Harold? White? Black? Latino? Man? Woman? Gay? Straight? Machine? Progressive?

The cat’s away. The mice are frantic.

“Progressives” are eager to make this election a change election, to “take the city back” from what they perceive as decades of corporatist policies under Daley’s leadership. Their archenemy is Rahm Emanuel, the insider’s insider who has openly mocked progressive leadership nationally and who made a curious insta-fortune on Wall Street after his years in the Clinton White House. And, it should be noted, who made his bones raising money for Mayor Daley. Whet Moser of the Reader directs us to a painfully prescient piece by David Moberg from those days, wherein Moberg by simply looking at Daley the Younger’s fundraising deduces that the “new Machine” will be run by big money rather than neighborhood patronage:
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“The Guide To Being Brown”, By Everybody Else

11 08 2010

I had a clashing of two worlds that happens to brown people, particularly first generation brown people; this is when different groups of your friends collide. In this case it was some friends from work meeting some Assyrian friends of mine. Afterwards, one of my friends said I didn’t act like myself around my Assyrian friends.

“How do you know I’m not not acting like myself around you?” I asked. It wasn’t snide; I was honestly asking. To me, both selves are equally me.

This issue has been flogged to death; suffice to say that if you are white and have brown or black friends, please never tell them they’re “basically white.”

This is more common than you’d imagine, particularly for brown people of my ilk; I belong to a tiny ethnic group (less than 4 million worldwide) with no nation-state and who aren’t that phenotypicaly distinct from descendants of Europeans. There aren’t enough of us to generate stereotypes (except parochially–talk to people from West Rogers Park or Sodertalje). A creepy anthropological study of the people of northern Iraq (called “Southern Kurdistan” in the study) from the 1950s cataloged the Assyrian tribes and provided things like the average size of their skulls and chests, and the authors noted that many Assyrians are often “very light complected” and “could pass as Northern Europeans”. My mom for example has blonde hair, greenish eyes, and milky fair skin; my dad on the other hand is dark, has a prominent Semitic nose, and deep-set dark features. I’m undeniably brown. But because I skateboarded and listened to punk rock as well as hip hop, and shed my accent, when push came to shove people would be kind enough to inform me that I was “basically white”.

How cool is my mom? Studying science in Basra in the 60s.

I don’t want to discuss a struggle with identity or the prejudice (or advantages) I’ve had because I’m brown and working class. Again, that’s a boring story, boo hoo, sometimes things are hard. That’s not my point.
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Will International Competitions Become Anachronisms?

22 06 2010

Following up on the previous post about sports and nationalism, I decided to take a look at some of the rosters for the best teams in the World Cup, looking at the two best teams in each group, with a focus on the “developing” nations.

Not surprisingly, these rosters are heavy with players who live and play in different countries–often different continents. Not only this, but you could show a direct correlation between the best players and the wealth of the nation in which they’re playing. Association football in its day-to-day form is organized around the capital in the game, not nation-states.

Nearly half of Mexico’s team plays in Europe, and two-thirds of Uruguay’s. None of Slovenia’s players play in Slovenia (contrast with Germany, where every single player plays in Germany). Only two of Serbia’s players play in Serbia (and they’re both back benchers). Half of Paraguay’s team plays in Europe, 20 of Brazil’s 23 the same, and just over half of Chile’s team the same. Many of these players (and more and more in recent years) left their home country in their teens and became a part of the popular culture (not to mention the upper class) of another country within a handful of years. To what degree these individual players are really “representing” the nation is questionable, isn’t it?

Sports and Nations

18 06 2010

I watched Mexico beat France at Cleo’s on Chicago Ave, sitting in the big open doors that give out onto the street. At the final whistle, hoots broke out up and down the street, accented by a few choice celebrations in Spanish. I asked my buddy Alberto, who is Mexican-American, about how strong Mexican nationalism was–say, as compared to loyalty to your region or town (or indigeneity)–in Mexico.

I was surprised to learn that pride in being Mexican, as opposed to say, Michoacan, is very strong all over Mexico, including among the rural poor, particularly around athletics.

It’s surprising because the idea of a “Mexican nation” (as opposed to a “Mexican country” which has no personal identity component) is fairly recent–less than two hundred years old–and was originally championed by the European-descended metropolitan professional classes. And also, Mexico the country was a fabrication of European settlers.

The symbols of Mexico–at parades, at sporting events, in civic culture–are often lifted from Mayan and Aztec civilization. Yet their intellectual and political elites, even their professional athletes, are primarily descendants of Europeans. That rural people more closely descended from indigenous groups would so fervently buy in to a construction of Europeans settlers–complete with the somewhat contradictory pre-Columbian symbolism–is a little counter-intuitive.

But that’s the thing about nationalism; the concept of a nationalism wrapped up in national identity is fairly new and based on intellectual and legal constructs, rather than anything tangible or historical. And in most parts of the world, those constructs were a result of European commercial and imperial activities. Being a, say, Zimbabwean nationalist takes as a settled question the reality of a “nation” of Zimbabwe. Just as often in those places, the European-fabricated nation-state is in peril because free of the bonds of imperial administration, more “natural” in-groups–tribes, religious sects, clans, etc.–begin to buck against the coercive power of the state.

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