Five Tips to Help You Crush the First Year of Law School

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Written by Nicole Bastos and Rafael Magaña, February 12, 2019 

—-Las Vegas, Nevada   Starting law school is stressful. There are a lot of unknowns ahead and if you want to succeed, you’ll need to know how to navigate the difficult year to come. Because the journey is challenging, it’s important to be proactive and stay positive. That requires strategy in your preparation and execution. Here are five tips to help you get through that first year.

1. Find the right mentor

Many law schools offer formal mentorship programs to help you ease into law school. If your school has one, take advantage of it. If your school doesn’t have that kind of program, then seek out friendships with upperclassmen or young attorneys. These potential mentors can relate to your experience because they know what it’s like to be a firstyear law student. They also have the benefit of looking at the experience in retrospect. This perspective is valuable because they can share their mistakes, their suggestions, and finally, some hope. It is easy to get lost in the everyday grind of reading your cases, keeping up with research, stressing about finals, and feeling like you’re always behind. A mentor who can have an honest conversation about those challenges is someone who should be a part of your support system. Moreover, that mentor can prepare you for certain challenges with difficult professors and classes. They can help you choose the right hornbooks and study guides, and give you outlines to help keep you on track.

 

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There are many upperclassmen and attorneys who are glad to help 1Ls throughout their law school journey. Be open to finding more than one mentor. Indeed, some mentors are resourceful and can help you understand difficult material. Other mentors provide a listening ear and may be excellent at coming up with internship options for you over the summer. There is no one-stop shop for a law school mentor. It is common to feel as though the relationship between mentor and mentee is one-sided. Your mentor understands this. One day, you will be able to give back to your mentor. Make sure to maintain those relationships for the long-haul.

2. Preparation is the key to success

You will quickly find out that everybody is smart in law school. The pressure to perform well is constant. However, unlike in your undergraduate experience, procrastination is no longer an option. Without preparation, time constraints can overpower even the smartest, most talented student. Preparation not only helps you work smarter, it will alleviate stress and allow you to have a better social/academic balance. There are 3 ways you can prepare:

Maintain an Online Calendar

Calendaring is essential to help you keep track of all your assignments, networking events, deadlines, and activities. I guarantee you, there will be so much going on that without a calendar, you will forget about something. The benefit of online calendaring is that you can connect it to your phone. Whether you are grocery shopping or walking in between classes, you can always access your calendar to double check assignments and edit events. You can also set alarms to give you extra notice about an important deadline coming up. If you know you are a procrastinator, you can set reminders a week prior to a big assignment so you know how to space out your time to complete the assignment.

So, what goes in your calendar? First, your class schedule. Second, as crazy as it sounds, include your breakfast, lunch, and dinner. It is common to sit down, work on something, and then suddenly realize it’s 10pm and it has been hours since you’ve eaten. It happens all the time. If you do not eat at the right times, it jeopardizes your immune system and if there is something that everybody in law school can agree on, is that you cannot afford to get sick. Third, create study time blocks that include breaks. Picture yourself studying for four hours straight. After a while, you realize you keep reading the same two sentences over and over and again. The more you go back to figure out what you just read, the less it all makes sense. Before you get to that point, take a break. During that break (15-20 minutes), do some stretching, play a mindless computer game, watch part of a show, or wash some dishes. Your brain, like a computer needs to go through defragmentation. When you return, you will see that your mind is clearer, fresher, and ready to go for another round of reading.

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Outlining

Your outlining sessions should be in your calendar. It is commonly something 1Ls do not commit to consistently. Keep in mind that everyone outlines differently. An upperclassman’s outline can serve as your base. However, the more comfortable you get with outlining and learning about what works for you as a student, the more you will feel comfortable making an outline on your own.

Office hours

Calendar in the times you plan to visit your professor. Whether it’s just to say hello or ask a question, you need to make sure you are getting face time with your professor. Once or twice is not enough. Remember, you are not the only one going to see them. Additionally, use office hours to share your thought process about a question in the reading. See how they respond. Soon enough, you will have a better understanding of your professor’s expectations on the exam including issue spotting and analysis. Additionally, this face-to-face time and academic interaction will help you feel more confident if you decided to ask your professor to list them as a reference as you start applying for those summer internships.

3. Consider taking notes by hand

Law students commonly use their laptops to take notes in lecture. However, this generation of law students have fallen victim to internet distractions. Whether you just got an event invite on Facebook, or you cannot resist reading the latest news on Twitter, social media sites are not the only distractions. Some of the most common distracting activities include online shopping, computer video games, and instant messaging. With all the distractions on the internet today, it can be difficult to take notes this way. If writing notes by hand minimizes these distractions, consider swapping your laptop for a spiral notebook. Embrace taking notes the old-school way. If anything, try it for one class and compare it to your note taking on your laptop. See what works best for you.

4. Maintain a healthy social life

This one is difficult for many students. They know how competitive law school is, so they want to give it everything they’ve got. While it’s good to work hard, you can burn out quickly if you’re not careful. Maintain a healthy social life in order to keep the fire lit. Find a group of friends that likes to do the things you enjoy. This will allow you to return to your work refreshed and focused. Those who forego a social life may find themselves sick of the study of law before they reach their second year. One of the easy ways to maintain a healthy social life is to include that time in your calendar! Additionally, it is always good to dedicate one day or half of a day to self -care. Whether you choose to sleep in, hang out with friends, learn a sport, or take on a new hobby, this is a way to make sure you are getting a break from the constant law school stress.

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5. Make it count when it matters the most

Just as sports teams want to be peaking around the playoffs, you need to peak during exam time. Law school isn’t like your high school or college experience. You don’t get to build up solid grades through homework, quizzes, and participation. Typically, it all comes down to the exam, where you have to perform and show your mettle. Think of every class as a chance to learn a new skill you can show off on the exam. Take every opportunity to engage with practice tests.

Thousands of students across the country manage to survive law school each year. They’re able to survive because they take it seriously, come up with a plan, and maintain their sanity. Don’t allow the challenges of law school to deter you from putting your best foot forward. These five tips will get you started on the right path toward a great legal career.

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@Copyright February 12, 2019 by Nicole Bastos and Rafael Magaña. Contact for usage license.

About the Authors:

Nicole Bastos is a law student. She is interested in exploring diversity in the legal field and the impact of mentorship. She grew up in Los Angeles, California and majored in History with an emphasis in Latin American indigenous revolutions. UC Irvine Alumni.

Follow Nicole on LinkedIn

Rafael Magaña helps organizations grow. Helps leaders accelerate strategy implementation in their organizations. He specializes in donor-centered fundraising philanthropy. Manager of Midlevel Giving at Hispanic Scholarship Fund. He resides in California. UCLA Alumni.

Follow Raphael on LinkedIn and on Twitter: @RafaelMagana

***Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors.***

 

DANCERS GIVING BACK to the Migrant Caravan: A first-hand account of a non-profit’s efforts to send humanitarian aid to families along the Border

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Written by James Rodriguez Daza

—-Tijuana, Mexico  The road least traveled is usually the one that brings you closer to your destination. Traveling with a non-profit group to Tijuana, Mexico to help distribute much needed supplies to migrant families who were part of a caravan from Central America, the policy implications surrounding the issue of immigration reform and border security resonated throughout a trip I took to the border. Having spoken with immigration lawyers and human rights activists during the summer as the political crucible began to heat up over immigration, I felt I needed to go to the border to see first-hand what the situation was really like and if possible offer some level of assistance. What I saw for a single day had opened my eyes widely while producing a sense of sadness for the families who had traveled so far. Nevertheless, the trip had indeed strengthened my resolve toward furthering the call for a significant change in US immigration reform and human rights advocacy.

Nearing the end of 2018 and as the holidays were reaching their conclusion, the subject of immigration and the migrant families affected by the US Zero-Tolerance Immigration Enforcement Policy (implemented in May of 2018) continued to linger. Reports of increasing numbers of migrant families being detained and unaccompanied children being transferred to US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) facilities and/or camps kept circulating throughout political and media circles especially as conflict within Congress intensified as both Democrats and Republicans argued over budget appropriations for the New Year. US President Donald Trump’s insistence on a $5 billion price tag for a border wall that he had championed since his presidential campaign over 3 years ago have however continued to be the lynch pin derailing recent efforts to reach a bipartisan accord. The end result was another US government shutdown before Christmas, which is not expected to end until well into the new year.

Debate on the subject of migrant family separations and reunifications at the US Border spiraled into new territory as a recent caravan of migrants from Central America (primarily from Honduras) had reached the border inspiring heated, angry debates on both sides of the political spectrum over the next steps to deal with this latest cohort of arriving migrants—mostly comprised of women, children, LGBT, and temporary workers escaping acute gang/political violence and persecution from their home countries as others were seeking work and a better way of life in an attempt to escape extreme poverty. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 7,000+ migrants comprised this particular caravan that was making its way to cities along the US border. Some had returned home due to the extremely difficult and precarious journey. The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) estimated over 2,000 children were among the caravan numbers. Both UN, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) specializing in immigration law, human rights advocacy, crisis management, and humanitarian aid had dispatched representatives to address the matter as US military personnel were eventually ordered to the border for security purposes. Among the NGOs, Dancers Giving Back (DGB), a registered 501 (c)(3) non-profit had been directly distributing humanitarian aid to migrant families at the border in addition to other charitable pursuits in Los Angeles, CA that included feeding the homeless in Skid Row and distributing clothes, blankets, and supplies to other indigent pockets throughout the city. It was DGB whom I had accompanied to the border in mid-December of 2018.

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Founded and led by Jose Lopez, Dancers Giving Back had been operating for the past 3 years steadily growing support as their social media presence continued to grow and their collaboration with local charities like the Adopt-A-Meal program and local churches gained notoriety. A number of their donation drop-off locations have in fact popped up allowing contributors to leave needed clothes and toiletries for them to collect and distribute for their following trips. According to Lopez, the group’s humble beginnings really originated from a personal desire to engage his daughters in caring for their community. As a member of the Latin dance community in Los Angeles, Lopez soon realized and appreciated the potential neighboring social dance events had for congregating a large population of patrons. Appreciation soon turned to opportunity as Lopez gathered his fellow dancers and formed DGB hosting their own charity drives and social dance events throughout Los Angeles. Early in April of 2018, Lopez registered the group under the 501 (c)(3) non-profit tax code forming a board of directors and networking with local charities in order to solidify and increase their impact onto the community. Guided by members of the board, Lopez worked tirelessly to cement the group’s standing within the non-profit sector learning about the bureaucratic labyrinth and the political realities associated thereof.

BORDER TREK

On their third outing to the border, I had accompanied DGB trekking through Tijuana carrying 4 carloads of donations made up of clothing, shoes, toiletries, blankets, and non-perishable food to distribute directly to the migrants in the caravan. Zooming down the I-5 Freeway during the early Saturday morning hours, we had arrived at Lopez’s family home in Mexico where DGB members were already prepping some of the donations that we were about to distribute separating them by type and gender. Multiple bags of mostly women’s and children’s clothing were piled onto a towing trailer waiting to be hitched onto one of the trucks Lopez had prepared for the trip.

Curiosity spurred by the carloads of donations we had brought down to the border prompted my inquiry as to why larger trucks had not been acquired for the trip. After all, larger trucks meant more donations could be distributed and required less vehicles. Understandably, Lopez broke it down for me when describing their previous efforts to help out at the border:

The very first time that we did this, we didn’t know [about the import fees imposed at the Border]. So, we went from people who told us that ‘Yeah! It’s fine. Just go and take a letter that you’re going to an orphanage and they’re going to help you out.’ So, we did that, and we got fined [by Mexican officials]. It was for a Christmas [about a year and a half ago]. We had another truck that we brought full of donations along with another truck from a U-Haul. We managed to get a lot of sponsors for these kids at the orphanage. We were able to get about 5 sponsors per kid. So, we had a lot of gifts. They were wrapped really nice. The trucks were full. We figured we’d be cool. When we crossed over, we got pulled over. One truck we had to pay something close to $500 US. The next time we came to an orphanage. They did the same thing. We brought a trailer full of stuff. This time I figured I take my 501 (c)(3) letter and they’re going to let us cross the border. Nope. They taxed me another $500 US saying that they were giving me another break because if they were to weigh that, it was going to be over $1,000 US. So, I had to pay $500 bucks because if I didn’t agree to pay it they would’ve confiscated everything and something about registering or tacking the truck with some additional costs. In the end, I had to pay the $500 bucks. I had no choice. This time, I said we’re not going through this again. So, I decided to bring the [donations] in multiple cars.

Indeed, all of us (15 in total) packed our vehicles completely with donations and headed over to the Benito Juarez migrant refugee station making a short stop at a local area where homeless Mexican indigents were also camped out. The migrants by the Benito Juarez location were camped outside the initial station where all of the families were placed upon arriving in Tijuana. According to a migrant, Eduardo Avila, who had been there for 40 days after traveling from Honduras with the caravan, explained that when the rains occurred in early December, families were pushed out from the station because it had completely flooded the area forcing them to live out on the street in the cold. Since then, none had returned leaving a somber empty space with only tattered clothing and personal belongings spread throughout the area as a testament that they were once there.  Many families were later shipped to neighboring shelters, churches, and other refugee stations dwindling the number of migrants seen in one given space.

According to Lopez, this time around was much better controlled compared to when he visited Tijuana as the caravan first arrived in late November. As he described it, multitudes of families were packed here. It looked like a “’war zone’…We didn’t get enough footage to show what it was really like for them then. We didn’t get footage of kids bathing in cold water or setting up their own tents wearing old clothes and shoes.” Organizing the donation distributions then was very challenging. For Lopez, the experience from that trip felt chaotic as many rushed their vehicles to grab what they could before they were left with nothing. People were desperate, and members of DGB empathized with their desperation and took steps to improve their coordination. This time around, they felt better organized and asked a couple of members in the caravan to help group families in lines separating the women and children from the men alongside opposite sides of their vehicles. Wearing surgical masks and gloves, we tried to quickly pass out shoes and clothing while leaving an open bag and box of toiletries and mixed supplies on the trucks and alongside the walls. Children as young as 3 were either holding on tightly to their mothers or were roaming around our vehicles playing while their parents asked us for shoes or blankets. As we came to learn, many men had asked for additional clothing and shoes directing our attention to their current clothes’ state of disrepair. Alas to our dismay, we were in short supply for them during this trip.

In cases of supplies and storage, allying with local churches or shelters would seem to prove useful in these situations. However, experience has taught DGB that some of these locations are unreliable having lost a full load of their donations from one trip.

[Having gone with my brother the first time before bringing the group], we went to a shelter in Tijuana with over 200 brand new shoes to donate. We also decided to bring cash and buy blankets there. When we came there on a Tuesday shopping, and…sometimes I get it. It’s hard for these people, and the blankets we’re getting over here in the US are super cheap wholesale [by comparison]. The blankets are 3 times more there. I mean the market was crazy. So, I ended up not buying the blankets. I just went to Downtown LA and bought them there and ended up bringing them down next time we came. By then, I had left about 200 shoes [at a shelter]. Now, I made the mistake of leaving them in a shelter. I don’t like to do that not even in LA or anywhere. I like to do the [distribution] ourselves with our group. Well, I made the mistake of leaving the shoes there because I didn’t want to take them back. So, I asked the shelter to hold them for me. The next week when we came back to pick them up, the shelter told me that they never saw me. They don’t know what we were talking about. So, they pretty much took the stuff. It sucks because when we left the shelter, one of the guys that…They had arrived at Tijuana from Honduras about 3 days later… had told us, ‘You know what guys. Sorry to say but the stuff you left here, you’ll never going to see it. He had said that that last week. When a few other families came, the shelter had charged us for the stuff we had left and kept the rest. So, the following day we tried to get some of the shoes back. We were able to get what little shoes we could get but not everything because the guy even told me that if ‘you go right now they’ll take everything from me and they’re not going to let me spend the night in the shelter. So, please don’t do that.’ And yeah! Sure enough, they did exactly what he had said they would do

Benito Juarez

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Conditions in Benito Juarez are such that the migrant families from the caravan are sadly left to their own devices despite the presence of local shelters. Interestingly, some members of the caravan have had taken leadership roles among their group organizing the rest to coordinate with visiting NGOs or neighboring shelters when they arrive to offer help. Since some speak English, it was easier for them to rally the others in the caravan to follow them. Our guide, Eduardo escorted a DGB member and myself through the encampment of migrants camped out along the street just outside the Benito Juarez refugee station informing migrant families to meet with DGB staff around the corner for donations they were distributing. As we kept meeting other families, Eduardo explained how some shelters do not always pass out donations or have enough beds to offer for a night. Moreover, he stressed that some migrants at times do not even know where they’ll sleep the next evening. In some cases, neighboring shelters from other regions may drop by and offer food sometimes enticing some to join them. In fact, in an effort to lessen the optics of the caravan, arriving migrants have been at times rustled together (appx 200-500) and taken to different locations further reducing the number of migrants seen in one setting where they had congregated.  When asked what the current status of asylum applicants were, he indicated that each were given a number and were called to present themselves. The average number of applicants called to present themselves by his count was approximately 60-80 applicants per day. He approximated that the number of applicants with assigned numbers thus far was around 2,668. The day we arrived, Eduardo told us that roughly 800 migrants were currently situated in this area around Benito Juarez. Of that, there were around 185 children.

Many tents throughout the area were seen erected where you can easily find a family or a group of indigents huddled together inside just idling as we pass them. Eduardo kept explaining the hardships he had witnessed as the caravan arrived and how the residents in Tijuana had responded to their presence. In fact, he had noted how a number of NGOs had dropped by to lend support albeit it was not always consistent.  Medical assistance was one need he did point out describing a couple of incidents of the ill being shipped out by ambulances when their conditions were brought to the attention of Mexican authorities and aid workers. One girl was actually seen covered in chicken pox following her mother down the street as we passed by. Seeing each person in the encampment stare at us as we peruse the site, their eyes—better yet what one sees in their eyes—spoke volumes. The level of desperation even now after just a few weeks passed when the caravan first arrived is incomparable. Sadness and dread can be seen by many. Only the few smiles from playing children that circled our vehicles were able to lift one’s spirits if only momentarily. The more we spoke with Eduardo, the more we received a better picture of how the situation at the border is developing. There are no local bathrooms or enough food and water to go around. Surrounding shelters do not have enough beds, and migrants (especially children) are exposed to the elements increasing their risk of illness. Some local residents in Tijuana have at times offered migrants the use of their bathrooms for as much as 20 pesos for showers and 5 pesos for the use of their restrooms. If they wanted to rent a room for the evening, migrants would have to pay 5-10 pesos per night. For many who ventured on this journey with very little if anything at all, finding enough to pay for just the use of the restroom is difficult. Since there are no public restrooms or outhouses conveniently located nearby, many are forced to use gutters or anywhere else that may serve as a momentary substitute.  A few feet away, we had passed a kitchen soup line where you could see a line form for food offered by neighboring NGOs. Piles of freshly laundered clothing were gathered in the middle of the street for onlookers and nearby scavengers to inspect and carry off should anyone so desired. Actually, I mistakenly thought the pile to be dirty laundry until Eduardo had corrected me to my surprise.

Here’s Eduardo’s first-hand account of his experience joining that caravan to the border for approximately 2.5 months:

To see this video with subtitles, go to the YouTube link below and click the closed caption button at the bottom of the window to activate the translator. Click on the settings (gear) icon. Click on Subtitles/cc. Then Select Auto-Translate to configure the preferred language. 

MEXICO’S RESPONSE

Mexico’s response to the arrival of the caravan had been well documented by reporters highlighting the fact that the overwhelming numbers of migrants had strained local resources frustrating some residents and officials while prompting others to help as more migrants arrive. Resentment toward the caravan had in fact set in among some calling for their deportation. Although, the Mexican government, under former President Enrique Peña Nieto, had already instituted stricter immigration guidelines and have deported thousands arriving from Central America. According to the Mexican Interior Ministry, 84,000 were deported in 2017 alone. Considering recent NAFTA deliberations though, Mexico had been under considerable pressure by the Trump administration to further tighten their immigration processes and increase their border enforcement if they wanted to continue receiving US humanitarian aid—a vital financial source to the nation’s economic stability. As incoming Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador recently took office this month, he had to balance the promises he made during his campaign of softening immigration policies while avoiding Trump’s ire and risk a complete cutoff of US aid. According to Professor Javier Urbano of the Ibero-American University in Mexico during an interview for the Guardian (https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/nov/09/migrant-caravan-mexico-response-rich-poor-supplies-complaints), Mexico’s recent tightening of its borders have ironically resulted in an increase in migrant caravans. Since Mexico’s borders are tighter with greater numbers of border security, migrants had opted to take more dangerous routes through the northern region forcing many to travel in groups for safety purposes resulting in the current migrant caravan situation. In one attempt to help alleviate the pressure along the border cities, President Obrador had even promised to offer migrants temporary work visas with healthcare and education benefits and help fund job creation programs angering many local Mexican citizens who are currently suffering rising unemployment and poverty rates. Moreover, evidence of such programs being developed are still up in the air as the new administration is trying to calm the citizenry along its borders. With respect to the temporary work visas, journalists have reported that some migrants from the caravan have been skeptical and feared that such offers were lures, a ruse to trick them into detention and eventual deportation prompting some to dismiss some offers out of fear; while, others have agreed to enter legally and presented themselves to a few shelters.

According to reports from some NGOs like Al Otro Lado and CHIRLA, many migrants who arrive at the border to apply for asylum do want to cross legally but both US and Mexican immigration officials have purposely stalled or have engendered processing obstacles delaying many to apply expeditiously forcing many to wait up to 45 days to a couple of months for some.

Here’s an interview by Rise to Reunite founder, Angeline Chen interviewing Erika Pinheiro from Al Otro Lado on the current obstacles facing asylum applicants at the border:

Frustration eventually sets in for many migrants, and they attempt to cross along other areas at the border forcing border agents to respond and arrest them. Videos and photographs of migrants taking extreme measures to cross borders have circulated during media outlets like the clips of migrants crossing the Suchiate River along the Guatemalan and Mexican border. Immigration rights attorneys and advocates have consistently stressed that such stalling acts are in direct violation of both US and international laws—specifically the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 along with US anti-human trafficking laws. According to the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and the subsequent 1967 Protocol to the Status of Refugees, asylum seekers may not be turned down or sent back to their country of origin if sufficient evidence/cause is determined that such return would endanger the lives of the applicants. Among US anti-trafficking laws, the more commonly referenced by advocates is the US Victims on Human Trafficking and Violence Act of 2000. According to the law, victims who were victims of human trafficking can seek assistance if they admitted/presented evidence showing they were victims of human trafficking and are willing to prosecute their traffickers. Sadly, migrant families are at a greater risk of falling victim to human traffickers as they trek the perilous journey to the border, and they still face danger from them the longer they stay on the streets by the border. Reports of cartel kidnappings are well documented in federal DOJ reports and in academic journals like those archived in the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS).

Considering that less than 100 asylum cases are generally reviewed daily and the number of migrants in the caravan are numbered in the thousands, processing asylum requests have no doubt presented challenges for both US and Mexican officials as they try to manage an already beleaguered immigration system. With recent US immigration policies calling for either a postponement or a reduction of additional asylum petitions during and soon after the US mid-term elections back in November, migrant families have been left in limbo until US authorities review their petitions for consideration and adjudication effectively extending the wait time thus increasing pressure on Mexican officials to deal with these families at the border.

SUMMATION

There is no doubt by either side of the immigration debate that the current political environment has placed a spotlight on the inadequacies and overall short-comings of immigration policies and enforcement. In the struggle to balance effective border enforcement and human rights advocacy as global economics, national security, and the rule of law along with international laws and treaties intersect throughout the discussion, the one group most affected are the people who risked everything and traveled thousands of miles through perilous conditions to find refuge from severe poverty and acute violence back home.  Returning for most would mean certain death. As such, these families are left without a home and have effectively become less like human beings seeking help but instead political pawns subject to ridicule and xenophobia. As 2018 comes to a close and 2019 is welcomed with jubilation, policy makers and the judiciary in both the US and abroad should redirect their energy and political capital towards seriously finding multitudes of practical solutions if only to reduce the human casualty witnessed at the border. The rule of law should indeed be followed; however, when the laws have proven to operate in contrast to the spirit of the collective moral standards of human decency and utilitarianism, change is required.

Special thanks to Jose Lopez and the rest of the Dancers Giving Back (DGB) team for allowing me to join them and help distribute humanitarian aid to the migrants we encountered at Benito Juarez.

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Also, special thanks to Eduardo Avila who helped us gather the families and speak about his experiences. Gracias Don Eduardo. Espero que llegues bien a tu país con salud y tranquilidad. Tus palabras serán escuchadas y se iluminará una luz en esta historia.

For additional information on Dancers Giving Back and how to donate along with upcoming scheduled events, they can be reached at:

DANCERS GIVING BACK
738 W 99th St
Los Angeles, CA 90044
(323) 807-9487
Email: dancersgivingbackofficial@gmail.com
Facebook Page: www.facebook.com/dancersgivingbacklosangeles

 

 

A Warrior’s Return

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by James Rodriguez Daza

The warrior returns home from the battlefield fatigued from the many skirmishes he endured. Looking back at his life, he questions the path he took and re-examines his choices.

Days pass. Reunions follow. Family and friends welcome back the warrior weathered by his experiences in combat. Quiet, somber, and soft-spoken, he exchanges salutations and embraces his once-estranged kin with a quiet enthusiasm feeling grateful to hold them again. Excited for his safe return, the family holds a celebration in his honor inviting the whole town to join in the festivities.

Now, the warrior is not accustomed to such Roman triumphs as that of which had been prepared. He, on the other hand, takes greater delight in a simple stroll through the forest. Nevertheless, he understands and appreciates the gesture.

Twighlight sets and the cool night sky is lit up with the celebratory fires of the party. What a party!!! The town arrived with gifts, food, and drinks. Entertainment ranged from live bands and performance artists to acrobats and clowns. The sheer magnitude of such a celebration had the warrior feel so overwhelmed that he began to prefer to long for a good duel with a respected foe.

Strolling through the massive wave of guests, he sees an unexpected sight, a familiar face. Her smile and glistening eyes always stood out. Dressed in a classy evening dress, she stood inconspicuously among the crowd having a drink, laughing with friends, at times accepting a dance from a few men politely ending with a bow or a gentle hug. The warrior has battled against bandits, elite soldiers, tested the violent seas, trekked perilous terrains. None however matched the simple challenge of a friendly salutation between old friends.

Tongue-tied, he took a drink from a passing waiter for needed courage. Among the hundreds present, she stood out. She always has to his recollection. An awkward but gentle hello clumsily blurted out. She in return offered a welcome hug and her gratitude to God for the warrior’s return. Reluctant to let go of their embrace, he thanked her. He wanted to say more but for that moment, he suffered a momentary episode of muteness.

She continued to enjoy the party sometimes sneaking a passing glance at the smitten warrior. As the evening continued, the two shared a couple of dances and on occasion engaged in small talk.

To the warrior, it was enough to realize after so many years how much she meant to him, yet like all dreams, this one eventually had to end when he learned that she had been promised to another who couldn’t attend the party due to the fact that he was away on business.

Nevertheless, he knew that night what he felt. As she left the party offering her good-byes, the warrior looked over as she disappeared into the evening with her kin with whom she had traveled. That night all he thought about were those few moments he shared with her. The battle scars and bruised limbs didn’t seem to bother him as much as they normally would. For that small moment, he was genuinely at peace.

“Rise to Reunite!!!!”–A grass roots call for all to address the Trump Zero-Tolerance Immigration Policy

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written by James Rodriguez Daza, June 30, 2018

Pasadena—During the early part of the 20th century, the United States received millions of immigrants from all over Europe, Canada, Latin America, as well as the Far East. According to Kraut (1982)*, an estimated 9 million immigrants had arrived during the early decades mostly from Northern and Western Europe having dropped a bit during the 1920s due to conditions left after WWI. Many who did arrive at Ellis Island, NY at the time were escaping persecution, severe impoverishment, political violence, natural disasters, or severe state health and safety conditions beyond their control. The Statue of Liberty soon became a symbol of refuge from such conditions for many immigrants arriving to the US for years that followed….until recently.

As far back as the early 1990s, immigration policy has been a hotly-contested, persistent political minefield for congressional players that culminated in the creation of several laws addressing it that eventually led to the denigration of immigrants among US society today.

“…we [the US] started to understand that immigration into this country was a problem. It was a problem that we needed to take to respond to in a militarized fashion. That’s the reason why President Bill Clinton had signed a number of laws in 1996 that made it harder for immigrants to seek asylum. It ramped up the militarization of our borders. I say that to suggest that what we are facing today is the imminently crueler, harsher version of what’s been really a consensus of a bipartisan problem we’ve had in this country. I’m heartened by folks [recently] on the left and by Democrats now who are starting to understand that particular problem and starting to say that, ‘Maybe voting for tons and tons of money to police our border today is not something that’s tenable any longer. And that maybe when we did that in 1996 was a mistake.’”—Mohammad Tajsar, ACLU Immigration Attorney, 2018.

After three presidential administrations and increased border enforcement, the debate continues with increasing fervor as the Trump administration took the debate into a much harsher place with the implementation of a zero-tolerance immigration enforcement policy that separated families and galvanized both the nation and the world to decry against it. An estimated 600 grass roots assemblage of concerned communities and professionals had gathered in less than a month throughout the country to discuss ways to address the current immigration policy and work toward ending it. One such effort took place over the weekend at the Flintridge Retreat Center in Pasadena, CA. aptly named “Rise to Reunite: Panel and Action Workshops”.

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The event offered an approximately 150 attendants a full afternoon of workshops intended on setting up actionable campaigns to lend a voice to both the affected undocumented migrant families and the numerous concerned citizens, professionals, and advocates who were outraged by the current US government actions that led to the current immigration dilemma. Several organizations were represented. They included the ACLU of Southern California Pasadena Foothills Chapter, YWCA Pasadena – Foothill Valley Chapter, the Pasadena/Altadena Coalition of Transformative Leaders (PACTL), the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the Central American Resource Center (CARECEN), the Law Office of Carl Shusterman, Day One, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA). In fact, Congresswoman Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA) of the 27th District of California was present to speak to attendants recanting her experience visiting the detention facilities at the border emphasizing the importance of such grass roots efforts like that displayed on the streets in DTLA and in workgroups like Rise to Reunite.

The event started with a panel discussion (overseen by senior counsel for the Law Offices of Carl Shusterman, Angeline Chen, and moderated by public speaker, Ernest Fenelon, Jr.) had key experts in the field who addressed numerous issues related to the current debate on immigration policy, the effects of the separation of undocumented migrant families, and first-hand accounts of site visits of some of the detention facilities where the children were held waiting to appear in immigration court. PACTL executive director, Yoland Trevino briefly gave a history of how US-CIA intervention in Guatemala during the Cold War helped sow the seeds to the political upheaval that eventually engulfed the country in acute cases of violence and poverty prompting an exodus of migrants to the US where they endured substandard living conditions and living in a constant state of fear and uncertainty.  ACLU attorney Mohammad Tajsar gave a general description of the current immigration policy and explained the historical events that led up to it stressing that the problem had continued under both Democratic and Republican administrations. NILC communications director, Adela de la Torre provided a heart-wrenching, first-hand account of her organization’s visit to the Artiga detention facility in New Mexico where they inspected the facility and interviewed both staff and migrants in order to confirm that all immigration legal detention requirements concerning the care and treatment of the detainees including the children were being adhered satisfactorily. A video of the panel discussion is provided below.

Interestingly, the most important take-away from the panel discussion was the importance of helping attendants understand the current problems facing undocumented migrant families under the zero-tolerance policy and identify areas of focus to direct their efforts at establishing a coherent and actionable campaign to end it. So, participants were separated into four discussion workgroups after the conclusion of the panel discussion. The groups included advocacy, fundraising, community organizing, and general volunteering coordination. Each were headed by group leaders to brainstorm ideas, identify target audiences, identify actionable steps for goal execution, and more importantly group direction which would maintain the overall sustainability of group actions. Attendants actively engaged in their corresponding groups discussing possible solutions and voicing their personal feelings on how friends and families were directly affected during the enforcement of the contentious immigration policy.  Many feared the repercussions and direction toward which the country was heading and understandably expressed their frustrations. IMG_1437The general consensus from the community organizing group (at least) was the importance of providing a face and/or voice to the undocumented migrants in order to humanize them and educate both advocates and naysayers alike of the real immigrant experience that follow them as they pass through an immigration system that Adela de la Torre had described as a “labyrinth that is difficult to navigate” for anyone caught in the process without adequate legal counsel, counsel which is generally not provided to immigrants who seemingly do not have the rights to it. Moreover, the direction that the workgroups emphasized was collective inclusion and fact-based campaigns to help persuade a larger consensus to support undocumented migrants and keep their families together. As one attendant noted, it doesn’t matter how much planning and coordination is done, if the other side of the immigration debate cannot be swayed to veer the pendulum toward a more moderate, coherent, and humane immigration policy, all their efforts would be in vain.

What are the current problems presented by the Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration prosecution policy onto undocumented immigrants?  

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According to the policy that was announced by US Attorney General Jeff Sessions on April 11, 2018, any undocumented person that has been caught crossing the US Border will be detained and criminally prosecuted for illegal entry into the United States. If they were requesting asylum at any recognized port of entry, they would not be arrested and prosecuted; instead, they would start application proceedings for asylum. However, if undocumented families were caught crossing the US Border other than a recognized port of entry, the families would be detained. Since only the adults can be prosecuted, the children as young as infant-aged would be removed and held separately. In the meantime, the adults await adjudication–most often than not–without the benefit of legal representation. To complicate matters further, a 1997 Supreme Court ruling called the Flores Consent Decree stated that the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service (now U.S. Customs and Border Protection) cannot detain undocumented, unaccompanied minors for more than 20 days at which point they must be released from their custody. With respect to the zero-tolerance immigration policy, children who were separated from their families are then reclassified as “unaccompanied minors” and subject to the Flores Consent Decree. Once the 20 day limit is reached and they have not been reunited with any member of their families, they are released from US Customs custody. Since the US cannot simply release unaccompanied minors without being placed under the care of a designated adult custodian other than a relative, these children are subsequently remanded to the custody of the US Health and Human Services where they would be assigned to foster care anywhere in the country while they wait to appear at a court hearing to decide their fate (i.e. deportation, asylum, etc.) Again, legal representation is less likely to be provided and the probability that they speak or understand English sufficiently to compose an adequate defense is very low. Considering that children younger than 3 years old are also separated from their families at the border, they too would be required to present their case in court.

Considering the varying bureaucracies at each stage of the immigration process, the policy implications present several areas of concern. Immigration experts point out that these children and their parents may wait several months before seeing a judge to decide on each case leaving affected families separated for extended periods of time potentially permanently keeping them apart especially if the parents are deported before the children are located and reunited with them. Another point of contention includes the fact that an overwhelming number of families arrive at the border seeking asylum from the extreme violence and poverty in many of their home countries that the designated points of entries at the Southern US Border are backlogged leaving asylum seekers to wait weeks to be seen. Frustrated, desperate, and often requiring medical attention due to the perilous journey to the border, they look to claim asylum at other points on entry not recognized by US officials resulting in their criminal arrest. In addition, US staff is severely undermanned to attend to the number of children housed in the facilities that have resulted in a decrease in the quality of care and trained personnel. Due to US child protection laws, detention facility staff and visitors are prohibited from touching, holding, or hugging children crying for their families in order to provide needed comfort from the trauma of family separation. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics,

“Studies of detained immigrants have shown that children and parents may suffer negative physical and emotional symptoms from detention, including anxiety, depression and posttraumatic stress disorder. Conditions in U.S. detention facilities, which include forcing children to sleep on cement floors, open toilets, constant light exposure, insufficient food and water, no bathing facilities, and extremely cold temperatures, are traumatizing for children. No child should ever have to endure these conditions.” (https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Statement-on-Executive-Order-on-Family-Separation.aspx).

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Such areas of concern only briefly describe the Rubicon that the current policy presents. The initial effect was both national and international outrage. In the 2 months that followed the implementation of the zero-tolerance immigration policy, reports of the separation of thousands of families had displaced well over 2,370 children in holding facilities, tent camps and shelters. As stories of babies being torn away from nursing mothers, a father committing suicide after losing his children, and pictures, videos, and audio recordings of children being held behind cages and crying for their parents began surfacing, a world-wide rebuke of the controversial policy rang through every form of media. The United Nations Human Rights Office in fact had declared that the United States had violated the human rights of these families and in turn had violated international law stressing that the practice of criminalizing what for all-intensive purposes was considered an “administrative offense” is detrimental to the general welfare of the children and constituted a flagrant violation of the their human rights. The Organization of American States (OAS), which is an international, continental body of 35 independent states (including the US) that promotes regional solidarity and cooperation throughout the Americas, had approved a resolution at the end of June 2018 that called for the US, its headquartered base, to abandon its migrant child separation policy at the border and increase family reunification efforts immediately or risk possible injunctions from its Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.  British Prime Minister, Theresa May, had also gone before Parliament herself and denounced the policy. “This is wrong. This is not something that we agree with. This is not the United Kingdom’s approach”.  Even a French government spokesman, Benjamin Griveaux, chimed in questioning the moral direction the US policy has taken.

The pressure was much more tumultuous nationally spurring outcries from different fronts. A majority from both Democrat and Republican camps publically repudiated the Trump policy on the floor of the House and Senate while former First Ladies Laura Bush, Michelle Obama, Hilary Clinton, Roslyn Carter, and the president’s own Melania Trump publically spoke out against it on Father’s Day.

“…Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso. These images are eerily reminiscent of the internment camps for U.S. citizens and noncitizens of Japanese descent during World War II, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history…Americans pride ourselves on being a moral nation…We pride ourselves on acceptance. If we are truly that country, then it is our obligation to reunite these detained children with their parents — and to stop separating parents and children in the first place.…[C]an we not as a nation find a kinder, more compassionate and more moral answer to this current crisis? I, for one, believe we can.” –Former First Lady Laura Bush (https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/laura-bush-separating-children-from-their-parents-at-the-border-breaks-my-heart/2018/06/17/f2df517a-7287-11e8-9780-b1dd6a09b549_story.html?utm_term=.3b8c7fa3e315)

Numerous non-profit, advocacy groups, national, professional organizations, like the American Medical Association, and faith-based organizations such as the Evangelical Immigration Table, the National Association of Evangelicals, and the US Attorney General’s own Methodist Church denounced the zero tolerance policy. As more stories, pictures, and videos like those taken from the former Walmart warehouse in Brownsville, TX or the detention facilities in San Diego, CA, came to light, US public opinion toward the separation of migrant families had begun to gather the attention of many more government officials (for some) whose seats were up for grabs this year. According to a Quinnipiac University poll in mid-June, for example, 66% of respondents opposed the policy while only 27% supported it. Government officials who were moved morally to respond demanded an end to the infamous immigration policy and called for an expedited reunification process for the families that have already been affected.  17 State Attorneys General led by New Mexico AG (Hector H. Balderas) wrote a letter to US Attorney General Jeff Sessions vehemently opposing the order while 3 state governors, Govs. John Hickenlooper (D-Col.), Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) and Charlie Baker (R-Mass.) signed an executive order prohibiting state agencies from participating in the policy’s enforcement.

 

The political backlash that resulted backed US President Trump and his administration against a wall forcing him to reluctantly postpone separation efforts and demand that the US Congress pass an immigration bill that he could sign (which would have to include increased funding for his proposed border wall) in order to put the immigration debate to bed highlighting Trump’s efforts on using immigrant children as a political bargaining chip to fulfill his hard-lined immigration campaign promises. Predictably, after a week of political wrangling, no bill could pass through the House of Representatives that had a realistic chance of being signed into law by the President. Frustration, demoralization, and national polarization continued to increase. So much so, that national protests were organized and took place over the weekend demanding a complete end to the zero-tolerance policy. Since AG Sessions’ announcement of the strict enforcement on April 11 and Trump’s announced postponement of its family separation enforcement on June 21 due to political and international pressure, approximately 500 children had been reunited with their families while thousands more await their turn to see their families; however, the complexities related to family reunification due to the lack of proper comprehensive planning and protocols may potentially slow the process or potentially leave many children permanently separated prompting grass roots efforts like Rise to Reunite to overturn the immigration enforcement policy completely.

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Tajsar summarizes this grass roots push best when referring to the immigration enforcement that had affected many Central American immigrants during the past decade as an example:

“They have been met with a series of brutal responses from the US that date back to Bill Clinton but also through the Bush administration and unfortunately into the Obama administration. And chief among them is the idea, the principle of the jailing of families is the right approach to this problem. So, we start from the baseline of heightened amounts of detention and jailing of families of migrants that are coming into this country. That was a problem that predated Trump. But what Trump has since done is announce this policy, a policy of zero tolerance. This was a policy that was announced in [April] but it was a policy that they were already starting to consider as early as March 2017. …There have been approximately 66 children separated from their families every day since April.  What we have to do now is figure out a plan, a response to that problem.”

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Ultimately, the purpose of immigration advocates and these community events is to remind the country of the basic principles on which the United States was founded: It is a nation of immigrants that represents the best of each culture while serving as a beacon of hope to the disenfranchised and offer a chance at a new life where persecution and intolerance has been abandoned. Instead, justice, tolerance, and hope ring louder in the US than any other nation on the planet. When immigrants traveled to this country so many years ago, the Statue of Liberty was a symbol of those hopes and dreams. The efforts currently being laid out by such grass roots efforts are an attempt to remind this country of that very ideal and take action to preserve it. For that reason alone, the fight to help these families continues with such urgency and passion. President Trump and his base of supporters may argue that America has fallen into disarray due to poor policy and leadership promising instead that their own policies and vision for the country will help make America great again. On the contrary, it is important to let them know that America HAS ALWAYS BEEN great. Some were just too blind by ignorance, bigotry, and their own short-comings to see that. Now, it’s this country’s moral imperative to help others see it too.

*Kraut, Alan, The Huddled Masses: The Immigrant in American Society, 1880-1921 (1982); Handlin, Oscar, The Uprooted (1951)

 

The Struggle of a Bilingual America: A retrospective on bilingual education and biliteracy programs and how Montebello USD’s Dual Language Immersion program leads by example

 

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“We can no longer afford to simply learn languages and cultures; but rather, we must provide students with opportunities to learn languages and cultures by participating in communicative interactions that prepare for real-world language use and global citizenship. Language learning needs to be a lifelong endeavor.” —“Developing Global Competency” introduction excerpt to the California World Languages Content Standards 2009.

Montebello–December 8, 2016, written by James Rodriguez Daza

In the mid-2000s, California was experiencing a reawakening as technology and the global economy advanced connecting countries and redefining international commerce in its wake. The global market itself by the nature of professional natural selection began to evolve eliminating positions of old in favor of new innovation and modern skill sets. Mass communication itself had to evolve in order to catch up. Global markets opened up inviting international players to play with their US counterparts. Forecasters predicted that a major change was going to hit our economy, but the degree to which it actually occurred in hindsight was unprecedented. After the Great Recession of 2008 struck sending ripples of economic uncertainty across the globe, scholars, educators, and professional elites agreed that the US had to better prepare its youth for the 21st century marketplace which included changing old perspectives like that of bilingual education, bi-literacy, and multi-cultural awareness.

California became the first state to lead the charge on this linguistic enlightenment. After a political battle that nearly put the state on the path of an English-only state through Prop 227, educators and policy makers worked tirelessly to keep most of the current bilingual programs afloat and set the groundwork to which would later develop into the first state Seal of Biliteracy. The Seal of Biliteracy is now a nationally recognized certification awarded to students who meet all the bilingual literacy requirements that will better prepare students to develop multicultural and language relationships that will increase their chances of success in the 21st century marketplace. California became the first state in the nation to award the state Seal of Biliteracy to students in participating school districts in 2012. Ten thousand seals were actually awarded that year for proficiency in 29 languages. That number doubled the following year as additional school districts, charter schools, and county education offices began participating. In 2015, records show that California awarded 31,816 seals to graduating seniors in a state where 22% of the state student population at the time were English language learners. After the implementation of California’s Seal of Biliteracy, other states like New York, Texas, New Mexico, Illinois, and Washington state followed adopting their own respective Seals of Biliteracy with several more waiting for legislation to pass in their respective districts.

However, the benefits of a bilingual education and literacy are not only regulated to the economy alone. Empirical research shows that the benefits extend to cognitive, academic, social and cultural areas of interest. Language learning has been found to increase long-term cognition improving memory, problem solving, pattern recognition and critical thinking skills while preventing mental diseases related to aging like Alzheimer’s and dementia. Academically, students in dual language immersion programs promoting bilingual literacy and multiculturalism show increases in academic performance on achievement tests especially in areas related to language and literacy (California Campaign for Biliteracy. 2014). In a Stanford study, for example, students finishing middle school showed that they “were doing better in English and earning higher grades in other subjects, while graduates of English immersion programs often reached a plateau in English and performed consistently worse in other subject areas (Bilingual battle brewing in California. The Hechinger Report, Apr 19, 2016).” In a study by the Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence on two-way immersion education, findings showed that “on average, native Spanish speakers in this study exhibited more balanced abilities in reading, writing, and oral language in English and Spanish than did their native English speaking peers… On average, both groups of students demonstrated intermediate to advanced levels of proficiency in English reading and in English and Spanish writing and oral language by the end of the 5th grade. (The Development of Bilingualism and Biliteracy from Grade 3 to 5: A summary of findings from CAL/CREDE Study of Two-Way Immersion Education. 2004).” On a social level, students in dual language immersion programs have also shown an increased level of cultural awareness and competency since language allows for a better understanding and empathy for other cultures. Bilingual competency also allows students to help bridge the cultural gap with their families by providing them insight and translation while engaging in their own native culture preserving their heritage while assimilating to another.

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Despite these benefits and the paradigm shift on bilingual education and biliteracy policy makers and stakeholders have demonstrated, resistance still exists mostly on the issue of teacher preparation. Amid the growing research advocating increased academic performance, arguments have been made that teachers currently lack sufficient training on bilingualism and biliteracy to warrant continued support for the programs; although, the research says otherwise. The microscope is currently on teachers to perform along with their children who are enrolled in bilingual education programs. SB 2042, for example, arose in 1998 to increase teacher accountability and insure teachers are highly credentialed in California to meet the state’s education performance goals. However, the language in the bill doesn’t specifically address standards addressing bilingual education, literacy, or bilingual certification of teachers complicating the matter further since student performance indirectly becomes a reflection of teacher performance. California certification does use the BCLAD (Bilingual, Cross-cultural, Language, and Academic Development) credential/certificate to certify and prepare teachers to teach English language learners, but SB2042 didn’t include the domains under this certification in the body of its own legislation which became a dominant legislative force in the late 90s and early 2000s. Instead, legislative focus was geared toward English Language Development (ELD) than dual immersion or any other pluralistic bilingual model. Omission of any caveat related to bilingualism in that particular piece of legislation, experts say, contributed to the state’s decreasing number of qualified, certified bilingual education teachers. In a population of 1.4 million children in California’s public education system, only 693 bilingual teachers were certified for 2014-2015; that’s a big difference when looking at mid-90s figures when 835 teachers were state certified. Recently, state efforts to remedy this problem had occurred including the state’s Department of Education adopting new standards for English learning development, developing teacher workbooks to guide them while instructing English learners, and new sources of funding allocating some funds that could be appropriated to bilingual education like the California Local Control Formula, Titles 1 of the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Title 2 of the US Department of Education’s Higher Education Act, and Title 3 of the CA Department of Education’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act (Bilingual battle brewing in California. The Hechinger Report, Apr 19, 2016, Is there room for Biliteracy? Issues in Teacher Education, 2006, http://www.cde.ca.gov, www2.ed.gov).

There are several models of bilingual education school districts have used throughout the nation over the years ranging from assimilation to dual immersion. The oldest and rarely used now is described as submersion where the goal is to have non-English speakers learn English and assimilate to US society. The native language is not supported and the students are placed in a regular English-only classroom. Current laws have made this model illegal. The next model is ESL Pullout. Sometimes called language intensive, the model has students “pulled out” of their regular classes in order to receive an English as a Second Language (ESL) class for either a few minutes to a couple of hours depending on the program design. A similar model is the “sheltered model” where ESL and regular classes are combined and taught by either a single trained ESL teacher or by a team. In Transitional Bilingual Education, the model has the students learn content material in their native language, then taught ESL, and gives them the option of taking other less language intensive classes in English like P.E. and art. Maintenance Bilingual Education differs slightly from the others because the model requires transitioning students into English-content classes while offering support in their native language. The Enrichment, Two-Way, or Developmental Bilingual model involves both non-native English speakers and native English speakers entering a maintenance program where they’re learning the same content material but in both languages in the same class. This is designed so that the students begin to work with each other to help each other succeed in class. The design is similar in the immersion program where a portion of the curriculum is taught in a non-English speaking language during a portion of the day then it switches to English for the remainder of the school day or vice versa. Like the concurrent model where classes are taught simultaneously in both languages under a team of teachers, immersion also has students learn both languages but the majority of the content is taught in the native language then transitions to English after the first couple of years of instruction when the students are fully immersed in both English and their native language. This is called a 90/10 model where 90% of the material is taught in one language while the remaining 10 % is taught in the secondary language slowly leveling off as the children reach middle school (Bilingual Education Program Model. The Bilingual Research Model, 1995).

As general popularity for bilingual education and biliteracy increase, programs promoting them also pop up. In California, Glendale Unified School District have offered numerous immersion programs covering languages ranging from Vietnamese, Armenian, to French. The San Francisco Unified School District has programs spanning 15 schools which include middle and high schools covering languages from Spanish to Mandarin. In Montebello Unified School District, its elementary and intermediate schools have been running their immersion program for 17 years and still going strong.

In fact, Montebello Unified recently hosted an event promoting bilingual education at one of its elementary schools, La Merced Elementary, where they had partnered with Read Conmigo , a biliteracy advocate organization which debut its first documentary (Read Conmigo: A Journey to Bilingual America) on their efforts to educate the public on the realities of bilingual education and biliteracy. Free bilingual books were distributed and a panel discussion was held to answer parents’ questions on the school’s dual immersion program. La Merced Elementary Principal, Rebecca Castro, Program Specialist, Adeline Canedo, and 5th grade teacher and 2015 Dual Teacher & Language Educator of the Year, Alicia Ramos spoke on the topic of “a bilingual America” and their own Montebello USD Dual Language Immersion program.

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Montebello USD K-8 Dual Language Immersion Program

Could you please tell me how you became attached to the Read Conmigo: A Journey to Bilingual America event?
Rebecca Castro: Well, a couple of years ago…This is my 1st year here at La Merced Elementary School…they were invited to participate in our Back-to-School Night. So, they came and they setup a table. Their goal is promoting literacy and reading in another language. So, when they were here, they gave out free bilingual books to families as well as providing an online resource for the families to access and continue to receive free bilingual books over the course of the year. I think it was 1 book every quarter.

Being a teacher here at the school, how has the topic of bilingual education affected your perspective on your work? What has been your perspective?
Alicia Ramos: I think when I first started teaching here about 18 years ago, there was a traditional bilingual program during a time when it was very negative and thought of as an awful philosophy of teaching. People thinking that it was not making students culpable of increasing their English capacity. There was a very different vibe. Parents who enrolled their children really believed in the program and really saw the positive effects that they could instill in their children. And so, I think the community has really begun to really see it in a different light. Being bilingual as a positive rather than a negative, and that building language is really building capacity for all of our students for the 21st century. It should be something that should be accessible to all students. Not just being bilingual but mostly bilingual and hopefully will be the goal of Montebello because we have such a diverse community. We hope to extend it to other languages.

What’s a rough, ball-park percentage of the students in your school who are “bilingual”?
RC: I can tell you that a 1/3 of the school…We have 808 students at the school, and a third of that population are enrolled in our dual language program. So, I can tell you that those children are already bilingual or are on their way to being bilingual. We have another segment of our population whose parents have chosen to place them in a mainstream, English-setting who are also currently bilingual. We have about 200-300 English learners at our school. Not all of them are in the dual language program.

How has the dual bilingual program helped the students? Have you seen a marked improvement in their scores, homework, etc?
Adeline Canedo: I think right now at the lower grades, they’re still learning 2 languages which is their primary language and secondary one which is the 90/10 model where they are learning in the other language I would say then 10% in English. So, I think as you see the children move through the grades, especially at the 3rd, 4th , 5th grade, you’re going to see some progress in academic achievement in both languages—not just one, but in both. We are assessing our children in English and in the target language which is Spanish. There’s certainly other benefits other than test scores measuring academic achievement. There are so many other areas that we need to take a look at when we talk about achievement. It’s a great group of students that we take through the process. Also great is that we get to send the students next door to the intermediate school where they have a dual language program. So, the program doesn’t stop at 5th grade; it does continue to 8th grade.

Does the dual program also encourage parent participation?
AR: Definitely. We have a very involved parent population in the dual program. They’re definitely wanting to participate and engage. We have workshops that we provide for parents. We have meetings where we promote bi-literacy and just inform parents about the benefits of the program. So, once parents become part of the dual program, they really embrace everything that comes along with it– parents volunteer for different activities at school even as much as tutoring. Other students (on their own time) hold meetings with parents who are uncertain about the program or who are feeling uncomfortable about keeping their kids in it. I mean it’s just supporting each other. They build community. I think they really support one another and they help each other to understand the way the program design works and that it’s an acquisition process that it takes several years to really see the benefits of i . You can really see in the middle school where you can see the leaps and bounds of the program.

With respect to the school district, have they received much support for the dual bilingual program, or have you experienced some difficulty in promoting or continuing it?
RC: The program is 17 years old. We’re starting our 17th year starting this coming year. We’re very happy about that. I got to see the program start from the beginning in 2000. Actually it was in September of 1999. I came on board on January of 2000. At that time, we were working under a Title 7 grant, and we were able to start at with 1-2 kindergarten classes at each school. We had 3 elementary schools and so at that time we had a lot of support in terms of the grant; we had people at the district that were supporting and promoting the program. I was a resource teacher, and I had the parent’s involvement. So, we went out to recruit…which is to speak with parents and inform them about the program. After the grant ended which was in 2005, then the program had to sustain itself after that from about 2006 to now in terms of continuing and maintaining a strong program. So, it did despite—sometimes—a lack of resources which is often times the challenge of these types of programs have. Now, we have a board that supports the program. We have admin, a district office where some of them will be here tonight that are supportive as well. I think in the last 3 years (I would say) we’ve seen a lot of resources going into the program to build our libraries– to provide professional development to teachers and resources. Now, we have the program at 4 schools—2 elementary and 2 intermediate schools.

What other sources of funding have you requested to maintain the program?
RC: I think as far as funding we don’t have a particular grant that was just slated for the dual language program. We have our general funds that support it. We have our Title 1 federal monies that also offers support. Title 2 supports are professional development that comes from the district office to our teachers. We have Title 3 which supports our English learners and that could be part of our dual language program support, and of course our Local Control Accountability Program supports. That’s part of the general fund.

Out of curiosity, what’s the ratio between teacher and students in the dual language program and what cultures are represented in the school?
AC: That varies. In Kindergarten, it’s 24 to 1, and when you get up…It all depends on how many students you are able to enroll in kindergarten. So, when I was meeting with parents, last Spring we were able to get…it just worked out…we have 24 and 24, 25 which is our number, and you go up the grade levels, I think 1st grade has a little lower. They’re at 21. 2nd grade…they’re a little higher. 3rd grade has probably the highest number which is at 27. Then we have 2 4th grade classes then a 5th grade class which has 28. 
RC: We have mostly Latino. I don’t have the breakdown. It’s in our Census report. But we have Armenian students. We have Asian. We have African-American, Filipino, and some Indian cultures. 
AC: In the district, we have some 17 different languages. I would say the school has quite a few languages.

The Montebello USD Dual Language Immersion Program is an option for parents who are interested in enrolling their children. Principal Castro pointed out that the program is open to all students regardless of language background. Information can be accessed online on http://www.montebello.k12.ca.us . Simply look for the La Merced Elementary tab where visitors will be taken to the website detailing the program’s parameters and criteria. If you would like to contact Principal Castro to discuss the program, she can be reached at castro_rebecca@montebello.k12.ca.us or you can call her at (323) 721-5043.

As more information on bilingual education and biliteracy reach parents, the more popular programs like dual language immersion will become. The most recent development on the issue was the recent passage of Prop 58 where multilingual education funding was approved by a 72% margin reflecting California’s growing acceptance of bilingualism. More work is still required getting the word out on helping the nation become a more multicultural, multilingual society. California is the trend setter as in so many areas to jump start a movement that reaches across the coasts of a country where diversity and cosmopolitan sensibilities define numerous generations. Only through communication can diverse cultures reach common ground in order to achieve progress. In our current polarizing political reality, movements, such as the promotion of bilingualism and biliteracy, are so important in uniting our society so that as a nation we can advance and lead the world by example. Nothing less should be expected of us.

Mentoring Partnerships-Best Practices for a Mentee

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Los Angeles–Written by Nicole Bastos, Staff Writer  AAEAAQAAAAAAAAqBAAAAJDA3MWExOTAwLWJmOWQtNDAzMC1iNWRmLWE5ZTMxOTFmZTkzMw

Mentoring has become a buzzword in tech companies and corporate America looking to find ways to grow and retain talented employees. A good mentoring partnership can help boost your self-esteem, expand your professional network, and connect you to professional resources, but it is important to note that these things come when you are honest about where you are at, what you want, and if you are willing to put in the work. Like all other relationships, mentorships require time, effort, understanding, and patience.

While the traditional form of mentorship between an older, experienced person guiding a younger, less experienced person provides a basic definition of mentorship, we must be aware that the term is no longer black and white, and that it comes in many forms. Whether it’s formal, peer, group, or informal mentorship, here are five practices mentees can follow to get the most out of a mentoring partnership.

1. ESTABLISH GOALS and COMMIT TO THEM

A mentoring partnership works well when the mentor and mentee agree on the goals to be achieved and how your mentor can help support you. It is critical to not only tell your mentor, but show your mentor that you are taking steps to achieving your goals. Your mentor can then help outline the tasks you need to complete to achieve these goals and how your progress would be tracked. It is also good to agree on how you would communicate- whether it’s through in-person meetings, phone calls, or email-and how often. The mentor and mentee may discuss and choose a date for when the partnership ends, but if you are in an informal mentorship or have goals that can’t be boxed into deadlines, keeping your mentor updated on when your goals are reached ensures that you continue communication, whether or not you are working closely or starting to go your separate ways in the most positive sense. The commitment to your goals will reveal your growth regardless of how long your mentorship relationship lasts. This establishes credibility in your work ethic, your intentions, and your character.

2. SEEK HONEST CONNECTIONS

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Often times, we tend to create relationships based off of work, and that may be a good start, but it is not the glue that holds relationships together. As simple as it may seem, it’s important to be yourself. Working through the assignments that your mentor sets for you and executing them well may demonstrate your reliability but sharing your struggles, victories, and asking about theirs allows for a deeper connection. Mistakes, failures, and insecurities are part of your journey to success and sharing those challenges with your mentor will strengthen that relationship.

3. BE FLEXIBLE

A mentoring partnership opens up different ways of learning. Observe the mentor’s behavior in different situations. This can provide valuable clues about their success. Ask questions and be prepared to follow up. Listen to understand and apply new concepts to your career goals. Try new things and use the constructive criticism to analyze your strong and weak points. Treat each mistake you make as a learning experience.  If your mentor is unable to meet in person and can only talk during that event you’ve been looking forward to, set aside 15 minutes where you can step out to catch up with your mentor. If it means cutting a recreational activity short or having to wake up 30 minutes earlier to get the gym out of the way, it’s worth it. These doable sacrifices will have to be made, but it will establish consistency and keep you engaged with your mentor. Make sure to have a good attitude about the nights of hard work and the days where things don’t go as planned. When faced with change, flexibility is imperative and your attitude determines how pleasant or unpleasant those life shifts will be.

4. BE ACCOUNTABLE

Each time you display a willingness to accept a responsibility and see it through to completion, you are showing that you are accountable for your actions. This includes check-ins, updates, and prompt responses. Time is precious and people don’t have a lot of it. Through your actions, your mentor will see that you are respectful of their time. Accountability also involves being frank and knowing if you have the time to take on a new goal with the vigor and dedication it requires. Whether you get the chance take on a new task or are unable to present something with the rigor and quality it deserves, communicating this is part of being accountable. Although saying yes to multiple projects can be exciting and a great platform to show your abilities, you do not want to spread yourself thin. Remember that this is your mentor and although you want to show your best work, you do not want to risk a product or end result that is below your standard quality of work. This type of communication is key to practicing accountability with your mentor. It creates trust and gives you value. It is a trait that can take you far in your career and life.

5. BE GRATEFUL

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A mentoring partnership becomes possible through reciprocity and mutual respect. Gratefulness is a state of mind that needs to be tapped into. For many, gratefulness is a habit and must be practiced daily to get the best possible results from the journey. Just like any other kind of relationship, mentorship relationships take time and patience. Be grateful that this opportunity has paired you with someone who genuinely wants to help see you succeed. If it feels overwhelming, take a step back and look for all the positives in this relationship. A thank you card, phone call, e-mail, or text goes a long way! Practicing self-care and reflection is also part of being grateful. While there is no substitute for putting in the work to show your gratitude, gratefulness is a practice that can make your mentorship experience a life-changing one.

Mentoring partnerships work well in an environment of mutual trust and understanding. Ultimately, the best way a mentee can repay the mentor is by giving back to society. Make a promise to yourself that you would pay it forward, and that someday you too will reach out to help someone to handle responsibilities with confidence and determination.

Copyright July 24, 2017 by Nicole Bastos. Contact for usage license.

Follow Nicole on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Millennial Women: How to Approach Mentorship

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Los AngelesWritten by Nicole Bastos, Staff Writer AAEAAQAAAAAAAAqBAAAAJDA3MWExOTAwLWJmOWQtNDAzMC1iNWRmLWE5ZTMxOTFmZTkzMw

If you’re looking to launch or grow your professional career, it’s only a matter of time before someone suggests that you find a mentor. Almost seven out ten women consider formal mentorship a critical component to their success, according to a study by DDI World. Unfortunately, the vast majority of them – over 80% – have never benefited from this potentially life-changing relationship.

Mentoring provides opportunities to gain a broader perspective of the professional world, as well as to network and build social capital in their chosen industry. This is especially important for millennial women who often have difficulty penetrating the male-dominated environment of referrals and networking. If the relationship works, it can build leadership skills, value and character, and be a great boost to your reputation.

Know What You’re Up Against

If you are just starting your career, exploring different paths, or switching careers, hard work is required to reach your goals, but it is no secret that success is based on how you utilize your network. Understanding how others may perceive millennials is key to how millennial women approach mentorship.

Unfortunately, there is an apparent disconnect with millennial women and their would-be mentors. Many millennial women look up to an older generation. With this comes the stigma tied to millennial work ethic. Lazy, entitled, and self-absorbed are typical words used to describe millennials by other generations without keeping in mind that millennials face challenges other generations may not fully grasp. Recognizing this generational gap and knowing how to maneuver around this bias can help you gain an advantage to find the right mentor.

New Challenges and Perspectives

While women share similar experiences in regards to childcare issues, confidence issues or other gender-related challenges, these main barriers to growth may not necessarily unite them across generations. Social media constantly targets women and their bodies with images and messaging telling them how they should look, feel and behave. Consequently, these unrealistic physical standards of beauty are used to determine their worth. Plastic surgery is now more common than ever and the need for immediate reward combined with a need for social acceptance facilitated through technology creates a unique, unprecedented environment. Additionally, more millennial women have gone through higher education than men and have massive student loan debt, yet have not seen the rewards in their salaries, promotions, or job opportunities. They are settling down later and many choose not to have kids in order to focus on their careers. Rather than seeking work and life balance, their life is their work and their “sense of purpose is a key factor in their job satisfaction” as noted in the Harvard Business Review article, “Mentoring Millennials” by Jeanne C. Meiser and Kerie Willyerd. While every generation faced their own challenges, we cannot ignore what millennials face today, especially since “millennials will make up 75% of the workforce by 2025” according to the Fusion Hill article, “Millennial Women: Facing Old Challenges in New Ways.” Understanding this shift in perspective will help make your mentorship journey one that increases your awareness as a millennial woman.

Finding a Mentor

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The best place to start is with your own network. Asking someone you’ve met or know of is a great way to find a mentor if you’re just starting out. If your network does not turn up any candidates, you could sign up for a women-focused networking event. Or you could participate on one of the online forums created specifically for women in your industry.

Use technology to help you with an initial connection, but do not rely on it to make the connection for you. While tools such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Slack channels may help get the conversation started, they are no match for face-to-face time and genuine connection, which is an interaction closely associated with older generations.

When you’ve identified someone you think might be a good candidate, it is wise to tread gently. Begin the conversation with an invitation to coffee and make sure you ask questions about the person’s experience and ethos to get a better idea of how you might work together. Avoid jumping in too hastily. Finding a good mentor is a process and you might have to talk to a lot of people before you find the right fit.

What to Look for in a Mentor

The person you approach should have the right qualities and industry experience to guide you on your journey. Ideally, you should choose someone you look up to; someone who has accomplished the same goals that you wish to achieve. Be clear about your goals with them and make sure to follow through.

The next step is to figure out whether you will be able to work well with this person. A good mentor will:

·     Listen

·     Help you to explore ideas

·     Suggest options and game plans

·     Encourage you to do things for yourself

·     Give you a reality check when necessary

·     Inspire you to achieve more than you could on your own

Be Flexible

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Many mentorship relationships are not defined at first. A potential mentor may or may not have the time for scheduled sit-downs or be open to a fixed schedule. Test the waters first. Seek mentoring moments by asking for help on one task or challenge at a time.  This is a great way to show dependability, willingness to learn, and passion. Being patient during this process is important because it is critical in building that rapport with a potential mentor. They are opportunities to demonstrate that you are coachable and considerate of their time. As this connection develops and deepens, you enter a space where it is safer to ask for formal mentorship, although it may not be necessary especially if you are accessing the information and opportunities you hoped to obtain. Showing hard work and the ability to actively seek solutions counters the millennial stigma and also sets a good example for other millennial women these potential mentors will likely encounter.

As millennial women make their mark in the workforce, mentorship remains a definitive way to open doors of opportunity for the leaders of tomorrow. While standards for working women change from generation to generation and technology’s influence re-shapes how we operate in the professional world, mentorship remains a solid avenue for millennial women to become successful professionals.

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Copyright June 21, 2019 by Nicole Bastos. Contact for usage license.

Follow Nicole on LinkedIn or Twitter.

28th St YMCA Apartments welcomed Mayor Eric Garcetti as it sets the standard for affordable housing in Los Angeles

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Los Angeles–written by James Rodriguez Daza. Affordable housing and the effort to reduce homelessness in Southern California received the spotlight recently when Los Angeles county residents voted last year, to pass two key bond measures–Measures H and HHH. Measure H authorized the county to take a quarter of the revenues from the county sales tax to fund social services directed toward the homeless population and residents who are at risk of becoming homeless. Measure HHH authorized $1.2 billion in bonds to be allocated toward funding housing for them. Included in the measure is providing facilities that would offer mental healthcare and addiction treatment services as well as other social services requiring the purchase, building and/or remodeling of said facilities from which residents could access them. Approximately 10,000 units are expected to be provided due to the measure in LA County where an estimated 47,000 residents are listed as homeless according to the LA County Housing Authority. Before the latest bond measures were approved though, existing permanent housing projects that were designed to cater to this specific population were already on the books but awaiting city approval. Coming off the release of a 2016 county-wide initiative that addressed specific strategies toward reducing homelessness for Los Angeles, county officials, non-profit developers and community organizations had collaborated to modernize existing buildings targeted to greatly benefit sections in the county where large homeless populations have been identified.

Among the numerous actors involved in the melee, Mayor Eric Garcetti had helped lead the charge sticking to his campaign promise of addressing and reducing the homeless situation in Los Angeles. During his State of the City address on April 20, 2017, he reiterated his commitment and announced that $176 million from his proposed budget for the new fiscal year would go to funding housing projects for the homeless as well as pushing a city council proposal to create an Affordable Housing Linkage fee from which an estimated $100 million would be raised every year in addition to funds allocated for affordable housing that would raise an additional yearly $300 million to the monies expected to be provided through the recently approved measures. Construction projects like the East Hollywood PATH Metro Villas are already well under way setting, what some would hope, a new standard for how housing the homeless population should proceed. New construction for it broke ground on that same day with the mayor making the ceremonial gesture of shoveling the area where construction will eventually begin. This among other development projects are receiving new attention as a result of the recent approvals for Measures H and HHH reopening the discussion of LA’s growing affordable housing issues and its homeless crisis.

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Riding on the laurels of the successful vote on the measures, Mayor Garcetti had been touring several affordable housing projects throughout Los Angeles to see the progress the city has made in meeting the challenge of helping the disenfranchised acquire permanent housing and needed social services in order to stay off the streets. During the weekend following his State of the City address, he had recently visited the 28th St YMCA Apartments where Clifford Beers Housing had worked tirelessly to upgrade the “historic-cultural” monument in order to provide the chronically homeless with permanent housing. Greeting members from 40 different neighborhood councils from all over Los Angeles who were also present at the 28th St Apartment complex, Mayor Garcetti took a private tour of the 5-year old facility marveling at the 50-unit complex while congratulating staff for their hard work and commitment to serving the community’s homeless. The tour took him to a common room where pictures of African American architect, Paul Revere Williams, were displayed honoring his contributions to the industry of architecture including his original design for the YMCA building from which Clifford Beers had redeveloped. A small entourage of both his staff and Clifford Beers accompanied him as rooms were surveyed on a couple of floors while basking in the sun from the open patio area overlooking Downtown LA. Mayor Garcetti, pleasantly enjoying his visit, met with one of the apartment’s residents, Kajohnae Cannon, who was present during the ribbon-cutting ceremony of 28th St when the doors officially opened to receive residents. Ms. Cannon was one of many who first moved in during the complex’s inaugural months in 2012. Friendly exchanges were made between the two and the young 27-year old even showed the mayor her apartment as her pet white Maltese energetically played with her new guests. After a brief conversation, they parted ways allowing the mayor to complete his tour. Before leaving 28th St Apartments, Mayor Garcetti gave the visiting neighborhood council members, whom he had invited to attend the complex, a warm and congratulatory talk about the work that has been accomplished so far and their significance in it.

He encouraged them to continue to be a part of this collaborative process. For example, he was reminiscing of when he used to play basketball at this very same YMCA not so long ago and how he remembered what it looked like then. He was pleased that Clifford Beers still retained the building’s historic design while enhancing other features. “…the new part of this building is a bridge to the past and the future,” he commented. “In many ways that’s what we’re asking you to do and to be today. That aspiration of [bringing together] the past, present and future.“ Many in the room nodded affirming their understanding of his message. He continued to give Clifford Beers accolades for its continued efforts to help the homeless secure permanent housing. “Clifford Beers is one of the most outstanding organizations in putting together youth outreach programs and working together in housing and piecing together this historic YMCA that was designed by architects who are a part of LA history… [We] have a Work Source center and outreach programs here. It’s a place to help find jobs and housing. It’s an inspiration. Thank you for opening your doors to us.” His most poignant message to visitors however was the work that remains to help Los Angeles significantly reduce homelessness:

“…I’m going to meet with 25 mayors this weekend from around the country as part of a fellowship with the Aspen Institute where we take off our ties and get in a room like this, close the doors, no press, and get to talk about how we’re tapping into resources to discuss how to tackle this issue of homelessness….This is the defining moral issue of our time….We have a city with so much momentum right now. It’s undeniable. I asked myself, ‘What sense did I get from the State of the City?’ It’s undeniably strong. Record jobs. Record training. Record investment. Record visitors. Recording housing started all of this. But I said to myself, economic success isn’t a measure of a city. It’s who is the most vulnerable and how do we help them….I don’t feel we’re completely strong until we have a city with no encampments. A city with less traffic. A city with good schools. Those things that it’s nice to say ‘I’m doing better’, but if somebody else isn’t, we’re not alright.”

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According to Clifford Beers Housing’s Marketing and Public Relations director, Claire Okeke, the 28th St Apartment complex took 4 years to acquire the necessary funding (a typical length of time for affordable housing) to modernize the YMCA building installing sustainable, eco-friendly measures and an additional 17 months to complete the work on it. Funding sources for the project came from the Mental Services Act capital loan, a predevelopment loan from the Corporation of Supportive Housing, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, the Los Angeles Housing Department, the Mental Health Services Act operating subsidy, the Community Development Block Grant/Los Angeles Community College District (LACCD), the Community Redevelopment Agency of the City of Los Angeles, and the Affordable Housing Program. Permanent funding sources also included a trust fund from the Los Angeles Housing and Community Investment Department Trust Fund, and the federal 9% tax credit also provides additional permanent financing—an estimated $19,700,000 of permanent funding. Overall, the total cost of development amounted to approximately $24,300,000.

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Despite the relatively low-cost on the work Clifford Beers had invested in it, the quality of the construction is so well done that visitors would assume the costs would’ve been much higher, which is a testament to the quality of the construction performed. Partnering with the Coalition for Responsible Community Development, Clifford Beers had contracted Koning Eizenberg Architecture, a Santa Monica-based architecture firm renowned for its work on “adaptive reuse of historic buildings, education facilities and community housing,” to modernize the famed YMCA facility building on Paul William’s historic design. In fact, Brian Lane of Koning Eizenberg was present during the day of the mayor’s tour to talk with the neighborhood council members about the design of the complex’s modernization and answer any questions they may have. The real challenge for the developers, according to Mrs. Okeke, was to preserve the history and culture of the community which the building originally had reflected while keeping the building up to code. Initially, the units were 85-110 sqft with a shared bathroom on each floor including a cafeteria on the second floor. Currently, Los Angeles building standards no longer allow for those conditions. Both city and county laws require that each unit have its own bathroom. As such, the development team and Koning Eizenberg converted the 50-unit apartments into 24 apartments with their own bathrooms and kitchenettes, and an addition was constructed to the rear of the complex to include the remaining 26 apartments. The size of each studio-style apartment now ranges from 300-800 sqft with a ground floor space of 8,000 sqft to accommodate on-site 24/7 social services. A single, studio apartment is now available for the property manager. The John Stewart Company handles the property management for the building itself. Solar photovoltaic panels and solar thermal heating were added. Other energy-efficient features like energy and water efficient fixtures, green roofs, erosion control, local drought-tolerant landscape, and bike parking adjacent to local public transit were included earning the building a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED ) Gold rating. In addition, 28th St Apartments had also won a multitude of other awards that include:

A+ Jury’s Choice Award for Architecture and Preservation” by Architizer (2016)
National Honor Award for Architecture” by AIA National (2015)
Preservation Award” by Los Angeles Conservancy (2013)
Award of Excellence” in the Mutli-Family Housing category from the Los Angeles Business Council (2013)
Westside Prize Multi Unit Housing HONOR Award” by Westside Urban Forum (2013)
Historic Preservation Award” by City of Los Angeles (2013)
Preservation Design Award” in the Rehabilitation category by California Preservation Foundation (2013)
Merit Award” in the Architecture category by AIA California Council (2013)
Housing Award” at the World Architecture Festival in Singapore (2013)
Honor Award” for Excellence in Architectural Design by AIA Los Angeles (2013)
Special Needs Project of the Year Award” by SCANPH (2013)

“They did an amazing job on 28th St and they’re able to make it look beautiful and functional and make it great. It’s extremely well-designed and seemed like it cost a lot more than it did but on a very tight budget. So, we’re thankful to them for being able to do that. They have a really big heart to be willing to do this because it’s important and meaningful to do the type of work that’s not just about the bottom-line,” said Mrs. Okeke.

Residency is limited primarily to serve the chronically homeless with mental health conditions, but some flexibility has been made available to serve certain low-income applicants too. Many applicants are referred by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. Approximately, thirty apartments specifically house such referrals. The remaining units, designated “general affordable apartments,” have been reserved to house low-income applicants. Applicants in this pool are not required to have a mental health condition. Instead, they must show that their income is at or less than 50% of the area median income (the household median income of a region as calculated by the US Department of Housing and Urban Development for each metropolitan region in the country). With respect to Los Angeles, the area median income for a household of 4 is at $62,300.

The public response to the apartment complex so far had been positive and well-received. In fact, the mayor had invited the members of the neighborhood councils to attend the facility and encouraged them to take a tour in order to see what a beautifully constructed, fully-functioning, successful affordable housing complex looks like. Essentially, he wanted to display 28th St Apartments as a beacon, a model for what his vision of affordable permanent housing would be to help the chronically homeless in Los Angeles, and he wanted to empower the same neighborhood councils to open up to his vision in order to invite similar projects in their neighborhoods like Clifford Beer’s King 1101 Apartments, which is currently under development on the corner of Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd and Vermont. Ultimately, the mayor and partnering non-profit developers like Clifford Beers Housing are working to do away with the public misconception of what an affordable housing facility really is and how it does not negatively affect the surrounding communities in which it resides. According to Mrs. Okeke, a negative connotation accompanies the concept of “The Projects”. It depicts the idea that crime, drugs, unsavory characters, and poorly maintained, unattractive buildings are the fundamental characteristics that normally follow an affordable housing development which hinders the community and contributes to lowering property values. She emphasized that the prevailing misconception is not an accurate picture; on the contrary, the inverse (especially in the case of Clifford Beers Housing projects) is actually a truer representation of what is meant by an affordable housing apartment complex. “For us, we make sure to hire really high quality on-site 24/7 property management as well as service providers who work there at the building who help the residents remind them of their roles and keep the place looking nice and help the residents make good decisions for themselves. We also focus on good design. The building starts out beautiful and stays beautiful. The residents also help contribute to the community and the wider neighborhoods. Our research shows that property values continue to increase in the neighborhoods that have affordable housing.”

Empirical evidence on the subject of the impact affordable housing has on neighboring property values does indeed support her claim. One recent 2015 Stanford study, for example, by Rebecca Diamond and Timothy James McQuade, examined the effects of a neighboring spillover of property developments financed by the Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC). Results showed that the surrounding property values had increased by 6.5% inviting more economically diverse and cosmopolitan homeowners while seeing the local crime rates decrease (https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/working-papers/who-wants-affordable-housing-their-backyard-equilibrium-analysis-low) . Another study in 2014 conducted by the privately owned Maxfield Research Company and commissioned by the non-profit, Family Housing Fund, looked at the property values and sales in the Twin Cities in Minnesota and their impact by the development of affordable housing. Data also showed no negative effects on them. Instead, “home sales displayed similar or stronger performance in the period after affordable rental housing was built compared to a control group (Family Housing Fund Public Education Initiative May 2014).”

Despite the prevailing evidence, the tumultuous housing crisis plaguing both Los Angeles and the country as a whole does see communities struggling to keep their homes as the cost of living continues to increase, and gentrification seeps into cities pushing local residents out of their homes. In a recent article by the Los Angeles Times, a record number of 1,000 Section 8 vouchers have been on a waiting list for a little over a decade due to the homeless situation in Los Angeles (http://laist.com/2017/04/04/section_8_waiting_list.php) . In a 2016 UCLA study on development around transit areas and gentrification, data suggested that much of the gentrification has currently centered on or near areas where subway and light-rail transit stops are located pushing residents further away as a new, younger demographic took occupancy attracting new investors and private developers (http://la.curbed.com/2016/8/30/12712942/gentrification-map-los-angeles-county) . As a result, affected residents worry about their futures and whether they’ll still have a home the next day. In light of this eventuality, communities had banded together forming neighborhood councils to add another, personal voice to the current discussion on the homelessness issue affecting Los Angeles. As such, members from some of those neighborhood councils accepted the mayor’s invitation and attended 28th St Apartments as he toured the facility. They took this opportunity to voice their concerns to Clifford Beers staff asking questions concerning the allocation of affordable housing funds and what other options are available to improve the housing situation near them.

Staff carefully explained to them the process and the challenges that developers generally encounter, especially non-profit organizations, like Clifford Beers Housing. While on the tour, visitors kept drilling the staff on what options were examined before making the final decisions on 28th St Apartments resulting in a surprising discussion on some basic development issues. For example, visitors learned that the parking issue is one of the biggest challenges to overcome especially in DTLA where a single parking stall can cost at least $50,000 per tenant prompting staff to figure out a viable solution. When asked how gentrification has impacted Los Angeles, Mrs. Okeke replied,

“Gentrification is happening. What we would want to be the goal would be sustainable development that really lifts all people. Housing is getting more expensive. What we would ideally want is that the number of jobs and the pay scale per working people also increase with the housing costs so that people could continue to afford the housing. We don’t want the gap between the wealthy and the poor to continue to expand because then you’re getting like the Bay area. You have million dollar homes, million dollar incomes of just 5 or 1% of people. Then you have the people working at the gas stations in San Francisco who have to live 2 blocks away or have to live with their cousin because there is absolutely no possible way to afford to live in the area where you work.”

Affordable housing is plagued by bureaucracy, red tape, and funding at all levels of government. Funding for development alone is a labyrinth prompting developers to jump through various hoops just to gather enough capital to get the proverbial ball rolling. Much of the funding is done through tax credits which are prone to investment fluctuations. Money may be available one year but then unavailable the next. Non-profits, as a result, have to advocate and innovate ways of gathering the necessary funds to maintain certain projects which entails an interesting cat and mouse game of lobbying.

“We’re always advocating for more attention to be paid to funding at the state level. Last year, our staff and a lot of our residents went to Sacramento to talk to CA senators to ask for more money for affordable housing. That resulted in the state passing a bill called No Place Like Home, which is several billion dollars for affordable housing. So, that was good. We’re always trying to advocate for more money and attention for affordable housing on all levels from the federal to state to county to city levels…We really try to be as innovative as possible in the way we come up with new ways to fund housing. So, we don’t and we can’t only rely on tax credits because they’re so inconsistent, and you can’t always expect that money to be available. We have to make sure that we can sustain and continue to build more affordable housing even if that money isn’t available (Claire Okeke, Director of Marketing Public Relations, and Grants).”

With the recent votes approving Measures H and HHH, organizations like Clifford Beers Housing hope to increase more opportunities to better secure funds for continued projects on affordable housing and solicit additional government assistance to green light new projects. The key however is to keep the neighboring communities engaged and to not only empower them to help such projects succeed, but to also support new endeavors to cover the greater Los Angeles area.

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According to Cristian Ahumada, Clifford Beers Housing Executive Director, who spoke to visitors during Mayor Garcetti’s visit,

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“We’re seeking to improve the city and have that level of engagement [from the neighborhood councils] and have the discussion [on the topic of homelessness] as the mayor had discussed today. What we’re seeking is the creation of a model that is a successful model. So, when you look at the 28th St Apartments, you’re outside and you can see that it’s this beautiful building that has been restored and has provided homage to a wonderful African-American architect. And what is the greatest respect that we can provide to that individual than to have preserved those common spaces as housing spaces and housing for the most vulnerable in the community. And in so doing that, we have a beautiful building that has been well-maintained and serve as a model wherein the very near future, when we access HHH and replicate these [projects] again and again throughout the city in various models.“

The issue of homelessness in the US is a very complicated topic intertwined in a web of political chess and wrangling in order to educate key stakeholders and advocate for the truly vulnerable populations of this nation. Los Angeles in particular has a very potent dilemma as space is severely limited and existing structures that could provide potential locales to house the city’s most impoverished are stymied by zoning, building codifications, bureaucratic red tape, prevailing societal misconceptions, and political, legal hurdles. Organizations like Clifford Beers Housing strive to overcome such challenges in order to meet its goal of providing permanent housing coupled with the provision of quality social services to the county’s chronically homeless and families who run the risk of ending up on the street. Mayor Eric Garcetti is a key partner for such non-profit organizations whose political capital and clout can help tip the balance in favor of the city’s disenfranchised. As more families are affected by the current housing situation in California and, subsequently, the rest of the nation, continued outreach and advocacy are encouraged to better gain additional support from other key stakeholders who too can help tip the scales to help affected communities. For more information on Clifford Beers Housing, readers can visit http://cbhousing.org. Both the Mayor’s Office and the LA Housing Authority can be reached at https://www.lamayor.org and http://www.hacola.org .

The quest for the Holy Grail: An examination of the international community’s effort to establish international peace and security in light of the elusive nature of terrorism and 9/11

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Los Angeles–written by James Rodriguez Daza (Sept 2003).

In the wake of September 11, 2001, both the United States of America and the whole international body realized that the new threat facing the 21st century is terrorism and its affects on both security and international law. On a domestic level, the U.S. had to weigh the importance of preserving its constitutional ideals and internal security. Questions concerning methods of reducing terrorism and prosecuting terrorists have arisen inspiring multi-lateral cooperation among the member states of the United Nations while considering new innovative legal and law enforcement strategies. However, tackling this problem effectively and legally has spurred debate among scholars and law enforcement professionals. Nevertheless, all do agree on one important point, in an effort to truly fight terrorism, a multi-lateral approach is necessary employing both domestic and international resources upon which domestic and international laws are adhered. Although, inter-governmental agency cooperation are presented with both legal and logistical problems that may stiffen any effort to combat terrorism effectively. Therefore, an examination of both these efforts and obstacles are required in order to propose possible solutions.

Before any such analysis can begin, terrorism must first be described and assessed as to the degree it can affect a society. Unfortunately, defining terrorism is as easy as decoding the human genome. Currently, consensus as to what is terrorism still eludes legislators and scholars alike (Taylor 2002, Weiss 2002, Sucharitkul 2002, Glennon 2002, Smith 2001, Mueller & Mueller 2000, Sheptycki 1995, and Austin 1991). Austin (1991) used Jack Gibbs’s 1989 definition to create his theoretical propositions concerning terrorism’s impact on a Philippine community. He defined it as pertaining “to illegal interpersonal violence, including threatened violence, associated with political (or political-religious) extremism and subversion (p.34).” Weiss (2002) provided two characteristic principles defining terrorism even further. “It is intended to inflict death or seriously bodily harm upon civilians or other persons (presumably military personnel) not taking part in hostilities and its purpose is to intimidate a population or persuade a government or international organization to adopt a certain policy (p.2).” The 1937 Convention on the Suppression of International Terrorism defined it as a set of “criminal acts directed against a state and intended or calculated to create a state of terror in the minds of particular persons or a group of persons or the general public (Sucharitkul 2002:3).” Mueller and Mueller (2000) simply perceived it as a set of pathetic actions perpetrated by weak and desperate persons.

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So, one can see a certain range of descriptions that span from political motivations to desperate acts that slowly widens the net of potential terrorist activity. However, why have there been such discrepancies in describing terrorism? Conflicting political interests are partly to blame. Several states (particularly Arab nations) want to insure that persons, who are considered freedom fighters by their own people are not targeted, persecuted, nor have their movements confused with criminal campaigns by the rest of the world. Such a label might inadvertently hurt their cause (Taylor 2002 & Smith 2001). The other reason is more of a legal concern. Since terrorism is considered an international problem, some states who have fallen victim to terrorist acts of violence would like to try them in their own countries, yet the accused may have foreign origins complicating the situation by intruding on a nation’s legal jurisdiction.

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In fact, the issue of extradition has caused some countries to choose between previous treaties and current ones obligating them to cooperate in the “war on terrorism” (Greenwood 2002, Taylor 2002, Turk 2002, Keramidas 2002, and Zubel 1999). For example, European states would not be able to extradite accused terrorists to the U.S. if their fates involve capital punishment because they are parties to the European Convention on Human Rights (1950), and some are bound to Protocol VI. These agreements forbid any signatories from extraditing anyone in their custody to another state where the death penalty would be applied since they have held that capital punishment is inhumane and in violation of human rights (Greenwood 2002). Taylor (2002) described another example of extradition complications in Australia. Australian legislators had to decipher the difference between an act of terrorism and an ordinary crime in order to classify the offense under both refugee and extradition law. Under refugee law, the Australian government cannot return a refugee to his country of origin for persecution. Under extradition law, “a fugitive criminal is extradited to face prosecution (Taylor 2002:130).” As a result, legislators must weigh the consequences of both persecution and prosecution when dealing with a refugee suspected of terrorist affiliations and perpetration. So, they created the term, “serious non-political crime” in order to resolve the discrepancy between both laws (p.130). Now, if the offense is considered solely politically motivated, extradition is implemented regardless of refugee standing.

Such conflicting international obligations explain why many international treaties and anti-terrorism conventions have rarely been successful at arriving on an international consensus on terrorism. The definition itself will determine where a state’s political allegiance will reside. Only two recent conventions have been able to ascribe working descriptions (the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings and the 1999 International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism). However, they are limited to the acts themselves since consensus is still lacking on the term. Actually, describing acts of terrorism in lieu of defining it has become a temporary solution for most international legislation (Weiss 2002 & Turk 2002). Smith (2001) has even ascribed 15 U.N. conventions and 2 draft conventions naming offenses like hijacking, piracy, or assassinations as acts of terrorism; while, Weiss (2002) referred to a U.N. website listing two protocols in addition to 8 U.N. conventions spanning 23 years. The list of offenses are as varied as “hijacking, attacks on diplomatic agents and other internationally protected persons, hostage taking, theft of nuclear material and unlawful acts against maritime navigation and fixed platforms located on the continental shelf (p.2).” So, the debate continues despite international efforts to properly define terrorism.

Still, regardless of the difficulty in defining terrorism, its effects on a society are not as hard to conceptualize. Two case studies of the very impact of terrorism were observed in which theoretical propositions were presented and an examination of the degree it can take on a society were observed. Although both studies spanned a decade apart, their relevance continues to resonate on current events. Austin’s (1991) study of a Philippine province, Lanao del Norte, used an interesting conceptual scheme similar to that used to study the social and psychological effects that followed a natural disaster. His conceptual choice may imply that he may have viewed terrorism as a natural phenomenon that may have a catastrophic effect on a society. When looking at Bibes’s (2001) study of Colombia’s struggle against terrorism, Austin (1991) may have been correct in his choice. In Colombia, the state has lost so much internal stability that legislators are too afraid to pass any level of anti-terrorist or criminal laws because guerilla forces (who also have some drug trafficking connections) may wind up assassinating them. Subsequently, such violence only adds to the increasing crime rate experienced in most of the metropolitan areas (Bibes 2001).

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When observing Austin’s (1991) theoretical propositions, they can still be compared to the reality of Colombia’s current situation. For example, Austin’s (1991) sixth proposition states that “[n]ormative changes resulting from on-going terrorism generate feelings of anger and resentment among the citizenry (p.40).” In Colombia, paramilitary groups were formed by rural peasants to protect themselves from and (in most cases) to hunt down leftist guerrillas whereby adding to the violence and increased human rights violations plaguing the country (Bibes 2001). In another example, Bibes (2001) described the amount of territorial control some guerrilla forces have in the country partly due to their connections to the drug cartels and due to some government concessions that afforded almost 40% of the country’s land to them. This obviously affects travel and tourism for both citizens and tourists since they could be killed or kidnapped while exploring some of these controlled areas. According to Proposition 9 from Austin’s (1991) theoretical conceptualization, terrorism may affect tourism and business investment ventures as well as travel and education.

Of most importance, though, is the point Austin (1991) made about social controls determining the extent terrorist operations can flourish. According to his observations, terrorism seemed to flourish more in urban centers (cities) where the government is mandated to care and protect the citizenry. It is least prevalent in areas where “informal” social controls dominate. This would make sense since a major characteristic of terrorism involves building on a community’s distrust or disdain for their government (Austin 1991). Interestingly, he also noted that local anti-terrorist groups are more likely to arise in rural areas where social ties are strongest. Bibes’s (2001) study reinforced Austin’s (1991) propositions by noting that most guerrilla activity occurred in urban areas where rebel factions not only attack targets but interact with the populace; whereas, in very rural areas, more paramilitary group activity flourished. This is sensible since both paramilitaries and guerrilla forces are trying to kill each other. Given the complexity of this problem and the very real potential results that may occur if it is left unchecked, efforts to stop terrorism carry an even greater responsibility.

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As a result, both domestic and international efforts have been made to combat and reduce terrorist activities. In a way, this growing need to coordinate various international law enforcement agencies exemplifies Sheptycki’s (1995) thesis on post-modernization of the police force. According to him, transnational policing is a natural progression from a time when policing a state was only restricted within its borders. Never before was there a need to work beyond them. To him, the “police agency” represented an administrative tool that kept the state in check by controlling the social operation that kept the market going and maintained relative “industrial” order. However, as communication technologies improved and global markets became more constricted, the more opportunities existed for cross-border crimes igniting a global response.

The U.S., for example, has taken steps to bridge the gap between its federal agencies and other foreign police forces. The Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), following a strategic 5-year plan between 1998 and 2003, had developed five support agencies that would assist it in dealing with terrorist and criminal acts abroad that threatened national security. One in particular, the FBI’s International Training and Assistance Unit (ITAU) allows the agency to exchange law enforcement “training, assistance, and liaison cooperation with foreign law enforcement (King & Ray 2000: 387).” In addition, the U.S. Congress established the Law Enforcement Interagency Working Group in order to make recommendations regarding training and assistance given to Eastern Europe, Russia, and the Newly Independent States of the Former Soviet Union (NIS). The FBI also offers international need assessments for inviting host countries relating to law enforcement needs whereby recommendations are then provided as to how the agency can assist them. Also, numerous training seminars are offered for foreign agencies by the FBI in which investigative techniques and administrative tools are refined (King & Ray 2000). The Practical Case Training Initiative is a good example. Through it, the FBI invites

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foreign law enforcement officers to participate in actual investigation of mutual concern. On-the-job training, under the purview of the Criminal Investigative Division, stresses the importance of sharing case information and investigative techniques to combat criminal elements. Under the auspices of the PCT, agents also travel to foreign countries to work joint investigations there (King & Ray 2000: 341).

Though the United States’ commitment to enhance international cooperation to battle terrorism has advanced, domestic efforts have also shown improvement in the past that has led to the aforementioned evolution of the federal agencies. Before the 1980s, the federal government had made it virtually impossible to investigate American citizens suspected of domestic or international terrorism due to the political nature of such crimes and legal complications they might provide if suspects went to court. After 1983, investigative rules changed allowing thorough investigations of domestic cases. In fact, separate guidelines for investigating international terrorists were created (Turk 2002).

Local law enforcement had also evolved to deal with domestic, although less extreme, terrorism. The formation of the Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams occurred because police department resources were insufficient to deal with a crisis and maintain regular police supervision concurrently in the communities. Over time, SWAT teams had refined their tactics (particularly pertaining to hostage crisis) to a point where the situation would be dealt with slowly through negotiations and non-lethal means. Unfortunately, the nature of certain crimes such as mass high school shootings taught SWAT professionals that time is not always a luxury for negotiations to be conducted especially if the suspect cannot be dissuaded from murder. Therefore, “active shooter” training for police officers had been developed in order to resolve the situation quickly (Klinger & Grossman 2002).

International law enforcement efforts also have adapted to meet the threat of terrorism. A prime example is the creation of Interpol. Created as the International Criminal Police organization in 1956, after its predecessor (the International Commission of Criminal Police) was reactivated following World War II and its constitution modified, Interpol functions as a communications network for international law enforcement agencies.

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This organization (founded by a group of police officers working independently of their respective governments) originally handled ordinary crimes and excluded investigating offenses of a political, military, or racial nature. It was not until 1983 did the U.S. entitled it as a Public International Organization, and many key Interpol positions occupied by U.S. personnel spawned new efforts to investigate terrorist-related offenses that were considered political and militaristic (Sheptycki 1995 & Bossard 1988). Other international agencies surfaced afterward to deal more specifically with international terrorism—TREVI, the Police Working Group (PWGOT), the Mutual Assistance Group (MAG), and the Comite Europeen pour la Lutte Anti-Drogue (CELAD) (Sheptycki 1995). A major player is the Schengen Agreement. “[It] provides one of the key intergovernmental fora for police co-operation in Europe…The primary objective…has been to ‘harden’ the external borders of the European Community (now Union) and thus make it possible to dissolve the internal ones (Sheptycki 1995: 622).” Another player is Europol. It is designed to act as a law enforcement entity similar to the FBI in the U.S. Unlike Interpol, it does have law enforcement powers (Sheptycki 1995).

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Given the amount of international coordination, conflicts and organizational problems are inevitable. One issue relates to the coordination of international training. If not careful, coordinating countries, like the U.S., may design a training program that addresses a single, specific country’s needs while minimizing others. This could develop animosity between participating states and most likely weaken ties the agencies have worked so hard to establish (King & Ray 2000). Another issue is the overlapping of law enforcement agencies domestically and internationally that must cooperate with each other in order to solve transnational crimes. The overlap may lead to a divisive, competitive working relationship that may make networking difficult (if not) impossible (Sheptycki 1995). Also, the sharing of criminal intelligence between nations has caused some problems. According to Sheptycki (1995), advancing telecommunications and management information systems are key indicators of growth in transnational policing. When there is a continued resistance to computer information networking between states, more barriers are being built toward police co-operation. Part of the problem, he thought, originated from current political and legal institutions keeping the formation of a unified information system from occurring. Apparently there are certain legal barriers that involve data protection that have led to their resistance demonstrating the legal obstacles with which domestic and international law enforcement agencies must deal (Sheptycki 1995).

Nevertheless, in order for domestic and international agencies to effectively reduce terrorist activity, they must deal with both domestic and international laws. As a result, an examination of the legal responses that terrorism has inspired should be observed and assess the issues that have arisen in light of recent events specifically pertaining to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Domestically, the United States’ legal policies toward terrorism has been conflicting and in some cases contradictory particularly after 9/11. Traditionally, the manner in which the courts prosecuted accused terrorists are divided under two categories—domestic and international terrorism. Domestic cases were treated as terrorism cases if specified targets had been attacked and the political motives were present, yet the courts had minimized those motives (Turk 2002). The reasoning behind it lies on the fact that previous prosecutions were not successful; instead, they became more politicized by the defendants who were always charged with seditious conspiracy, and the “juries were reluctant to convict persons already in prison for crimes related to the conspiracy (Turk 2002: 346).” As a result, the U.S. Congress added a chapter on “terrorism” in the Federal Criminal Code whereby the offense was defined by its specified targets allowing prosecutors to dismiss political motivations from the offense. Thus, juries would be able to convict the accused more easily (Turk 2002).

Although, juries were more likely to convict if the evidence linking defendants was strong and the severity of the offense was high (Smith & Damphousse 1998). According to the “liberation hypothesis” (first proposed by Kalvin and Zeisel in 1996 in response to their study on jury behavior) and a study testing it on two comparison groups—terrorist and non-terrorist—results demonstrated that jurors would exercise broader discretion in finding defendants guilty when the evidence was weak and the crimes were less severe (Smith & Damphousse 1998). So, it would not had mattered if the political motivation would have been excluded if the crime produced a sufficient amount of intensity, a conviction would have been highly likely. Interestingly, domestic cases of terrorism were prosecuted more often under racketeering and RICO statutes in order to secure convictions; whereas, international cases classified by the courts as “terrorism” were convicted less frequently than their domestic counterparts. This is due to the fact that the U.S. government is understandably more reluctant to reveal intelligence for them and because defendants consistently pleaded not guilty forcing to take the cases to trial where proving guilt is more politically difficult than plea-bargaining (Turk 2002). In fact, Smith and Damphousse (1998) noted that terrorist defendants rarely, if ever, plea guilty explaining why cases that do get convictions show a positive relationship with sentence length. Therefore, the U.S. government was faced with a problem. If it follows the criminal law and procedures to the letter, accused terrorists are less likely to receive convictions. If military tribunals are used, the fact that some due process rights (which are usually afforded in criminal courts) will be lacking will receive public condemnation. It is a violation of human and civil rights. If defendants are handed over to foreign courts, there is no guarantee that their punishments will fit their crimes nor reach trial for that matter (Turk 2002). So, a solution was needed.

In a way, the events of September 11, 2001 resolved some but few issues. Instead, more questions arose, and the international response was both supportive and critical. On September 12, 2001, the U.N. Security Council adopted U.N. Resolution 1368 that condemned the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and expressed an international determination to fight terrorism. Resolution 1368 also identified terrorism as a threat to international peace and security. On September 28, 2001, U.N. Resolution 1373 was adopted reiterating 1368’s characterization, but it also called for all states to fight terrorism and those that support and assist in its activities (Greenwood 2002). Keramidas (2002) explained further that Resolution 1373 not only called for a multi-lateral effort but it also “imposes very strict responsibilities on all member states (p.149).” It required that they coordinate both information and investigative efforts in order to become signatories to both bilateral and multi-lateral legal agreements (Keramidas 2002). The fact that the U.N. responded to 9/11 is not surprising; it is that it not only denounced the attacks, but it demanded member states to act against similar attacks that threaten international peace. The U.N. had made previous resolutions describing terrorism as a threat to international peace, but it never demanded any action to be taken. For example, the U.N. passed Resolution 748 (1992) describing Libya’s failure to show that it had broken terrorist ties, but it did not state the consequences of its non-compliance; instead, it passed Resolution 883 reaffirming 748. The U.S. embassy attacks in Dar-es-Salaam and Nairobi are other examples (Greenwood 2002).

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Consequently, member states had to modify their own policies in order to adhere to Resolution 1373. The United Kingdom, for instance, had implemented the Proceeds of Crime Bill 2001 giving police extra powers to seize property at the beginning of an investigation before any change is made relating to terrorist financing and/or activities. International cooperation and assistance is also a condition of the bill adding to two previous measures the U.K. had initiated—the Anti-terrorism, Crime, and Security Act 2001 and the Terrorism Act of 2000. In the U.S., Congress passed the Patriot Act so that terrorist activities can be tracked within its borders investigating offenses related to money laundering, financing, and planning (Keramidas 2002). In Australia, the Migration Act and the Refugees Protocol had been modified altering immigration, visa applications, and asylum laws and practices (Taylor 2002). Section 46A(1) under the Migration Act, for example, stated that a visa application can be invalidated to an “offshore entry person” if he is considered by the Australian government as an “unlawful non-citizen” (Taylor 2002: 127).

Although with all the international support the U.S. had received since the events of 9/11, it was the subsequent attack on Afghanistan that divided the world and raised questions regarding a state’s right to defend itself under Article 51 of Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter. In addition, it also addressed how the exercise of that right applied to both state-sponsored terrorism and non-state terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. On October 6, 2001, the U.S. attacked Afghanistan bombing areas the de facto ruling regime, the Taliban, had controlled. According to Smith (2001), the U.S. did a good job building its case against the Taliban connecting them with Osma Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network. Beard (2002), Greenwood (2002), and Byers (2003) agreed that the connection was undeniable. The Taliban had harbored Bin Laden and allowed his terrorist network to operate from their territory. Despite U.N. demands to surrender Bin Laden to the U.S. after being indicted for the East Africa U.S. embassy bombings in 1998, the regime refused to adhere the international organization’s demands. Even after two official U.N. resolutions (1267 and 1333) condemning and calling to sever ties to the terrorist network (not to mention various economic and diplomatic sanctions), the Taliban again refused to surrender Bin Laden (Beard 2002). After 9/11, the Taliban continually refused to hand him to the U.S. Thus, the U.S. attacked the desert region. On October 7, 2001, the U.S. sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council announcing its right to exercise Article 51’s provision regarding a member state’s right to defend itself against an armed attack.

This stirred debate among scholars over the appropriate use of Article 51 with respect to the attack on Afghanistan (Byers 2003, Greenwood 2002, Smith 2002, Sucharitkul 2002, and Smith 2001). Byers (2003), for example, did not think the U.S. needed it since there was enough evidence to support a military campaign. Sucharitkul (2002) would have disagreed citing that the attacks were conducted in order to prevent possible future ones motivating preemptive measures to secure the nation. Glennon (2002) would disagree about the effectiveness of the article noting inconsistencies in the language and the reality of state behavior, which restrains the U.S. from properly defending itself. Smith (2002), on the other hand, believed Article 51 had given the U.S. enough freedom to act on the Taliban regime and Al Qaeda. While, Weiss (2002) believed that the Bush administration misinterpreted the article’s provisions so that they could justify their already U.N. sanctionless military strikes.

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Although, the United States’ use of the article justifying military retaliation against another state under the blanket of self-defense is not a new practice. According to Beard (2002), the U.S. used it when it bombed Libya in 1986 in response to a bombing of a German nightclub where an American was killed. Apparently, the U.S. claimed that the bombing was one of many planned attacks on Americans by Libyan-based terrorists. Zubel (1999) corroborated by citing the Pan Am flight 103 bombing over Lockerbie, Scotland as among the many terrorist attacks planned by Libyan terrorists. In both instances, the U.S. demanded the extradition of the suspected culprits and was denied by the Libyan government. So, the U.S. launched attacks against Libya. Another example involved the 1993 cruise missile attack on Iraq in response to a failed assassination attempt on U.S. President George Bush, Sr. The day following the strikes, the U.S. claimed that it acted in self-defense under Article 51. In another incident, the U.S. attacked Afghanistan in 1998 in response to the U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. Again, the U.S. claimed self-defense under the article (Beard 2002).
However, the exact meaning in the words of the article is still debated. Article 51 of the U.N. Charter states:

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Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defense if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defense shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security (Beard 2002: 569).

According to Greenwood (2002) and Glennon (2002), the concept of “armed attack” generally referred to the use of military force by states limiting the scope of who can be targeted. Since Afghanistan did not send any of its troops on the 9/11 suicide attacks or used arms against U.S. citizens on them, Glennon (2002) would agree that the U.S. acted outside the article’s provisions. Greenwood (2002) believed that such a restraint should not be imposed on this matter since the recent U.N. resolutions (1368 and 1373) recognized the U.S. right to self-defense and therefore implied that the 9/11 attacks constituted an “armed attack” under the article. Beard (2002) agreed citing Article 2(4) of the same U.N. charter that specifically states that “every State has a duty to refrain from organizing, instigating, assisting or participating in terrorist acts in another State or acquiescing in organized activities within its territory directed toward the commission of such acts, when such acts involve a threat or use of force (p.566).” For Beard (2002), Article 2(4) is basically holding states accountable for any state-sponsored act of terrorism. Interestingly, both Article 2(4) and 51contradict each other making U.N. response to any “armed Attack” difficult to ascertain when faced with terrorism (Glennon 2002).

Another issue related to the U.S. right to use the self-defense provision under Article 51 to justify U.S. military strikes on Afghanistan is the level of need and proportionality of such strikes. Although a state may be acting in accordance with its legal right to self-defense, the use of force must be limited to a degree necessary to defend against the attack, and it must be proportional to it (Beard 2002).

In addition, the right to use force in self-defense can be preempted when the Security Council takes measures necessary to maintain peace and security. A final condition is that a state which has not itself been the victim of an armed attack may use force by way of collective self-defense only if a state which is the victim of such an attack invites it to do so (Greenwood 2002: 311).

Two problems are noted that challenges the U.S. position on self-defense. First, according to a classic definition of a state’s right to self-defense under international law—the Caroline Formula—the requirement for the necessity condition must be immediacy. Meaning, the threat in question is immediate such that there is no room or time for any form of deliberation to prevent an attack. The time gap between the 9/11 attacks and the military response by the U.S. on October 6 was such that the need to repel the attack was absent. Instead, the U.S. attack on Afghanistan would be seen more as a reprisal or retaliatory act in the eyes of the international community. In fact, the U.N. Charter and customary international law forbids any armed retaliation against another state (Beard 2002 & Greenwood 2002). Although. Greenwood (2002) did argue that since the “Caroline Formula” is a classic argument for self-defense, it did not rely on the fact that the attack was not by a state or that it matters. In addition, it made no distinction as if the formula applied to armed attacks by non-state actors. Therefore, it may not be applicable to the current situation in question.

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The second problem facing the U.S. position on the Afghanistan operation is culpability. The 9/11 attacks were committed by Al Qaeda, yet the military response occurred in Afghanistan without the consent of the Taliban. Although, the Taliban were also targeted, and it was not recognized as an official government by most states. However, the U.S. did not accuse Afghanistan of participating or planning the 9/11 attacks. Therefore, as some would argue (Byers 2003, Weiss 2002, and Smith 2001), the U.S. should not have targeted Afghanistan (Greenwood 2002). Greenwood (2002), nevertheless, disagreed with this criticism. The Taliban had violated international law by allowing Al Qaeda to operate in the region. The Taliban is a de facto government that controlled the country, and, thus, their actions can be classified as state actions. The Taliban were in U.N. violation by refusing to extradite Bin Laden under two U.N. resolutions. Finally, they had harbored Al Qaeda after 9/11 thus permitting the U.S. to respond in accordance with the “Caroline Formula” describing a state’s right to defend itself (Greenwood 2002).

As for the issue of proportionality, if in the process of a state defending itself responds in a degree that is disproportionate to the threat it is designed to meet and not by what occurred in the past, than it can no longer claim that it is acting in self-defense (Greenwood 2002). Greenwood (2002) believed that the amount of force applied on Afghanistan by the U.S. was proportionate enough to oust the Taliban regime. Smith (2001) disagreed citing that a worldwide consensus may see the U.S. acting out on the people of Afghanistan for the events of 9/11. If that were so, then they would be at a diplomatic disadvantage because the people were not culpable. Any military operation would then be considered as bullying and might generate sympathy and support for the terrorists by the populace thus creating more enemies (Turk 2002).

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Considering the complexity of terrorism and its regulation, some recommendations are offered in order to help alleviate the problem if only slightly reducing its potency. Weiss (2002) suggested that the U.S. (for its own part) should try to pursue a more sensible foreign policy that addresses issues such as the environment, poverty, racism, gender inequality, or nuclear weapons that all have some impact on terrorism. Mueller and Mueller (2000) suggested that the U.N. should reconsider imposing economic sanctions on difficult states as a punitive measure because its results are as destructive as any weapon of mass destruction that could unforeseeably promote further terrorism. According to Turk (2002), terrorism rises out of a people’s hopelessness and injustice that makes it more (if not) inevitably appealing. An alternative might be an “export control process” that could control a difficult state’s ability to import certain types of goods (Mueller & Mueller 2000: 178).

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Aside from that, the establishment of an International Criminal Court may be needed to resolve extradition issues concerning apprehended terrorists (Greenwood 2002, Turk 2002, and Smith 2001). Currently no such court exists. The only ones that may resemble one that are active are restricted to Yugoslavia and Rwanda, and even then, they are limited to trying certain crimes. The International Court of Justice could have been a nice substitute, but it does not have any criminal jurisdiction (Greenwood 2002). Interestingly, an International Criminal Court would have been active if it had gathered the necessary 60-state ratification, but it did not (Greenwood 2002). Some scholars blamed the U.S. for refusing to ratify it and influencing other states to do the same (Turk 2002 & Smith 2001). Although, an International Criminal Court would not have been able to try the accused co-conspirators of the 9/11 attacks despite receiving ratification; it would have been established after that horrific date thus prohibiting it from trying it retroactively (Greenwood 2002). In the case of 9/11, the only way the international community could try the co-conspirators would be if the Security Council had created an International Criminal Tribunal for that specific purpose.

Another avenue scholars recommend is the initiation of a form of judicial review for U.N. resolutions. Currently, the U.N. Charter does not give the International Court of Justice the authority to review the legal actions of the Security Council. Although, Article 96 of the U.N. Charter does give the Security Council and the General Assembly the authority to seek legal advice from the International Court of Justice (Zubel 1999). However, it is not the same especially when U.N. resolutions become contradictory to other past resolutions affecting the state of the issue in question. According to Glennon (2002), the International Court of Justice has not taken an active role in settling disputes between states. Why? Zubel (1999) might say that a standardized system of determining precedent does not currently exist.

Thus, upon examination of the issues facing the “war on terrorism,” a legal and humanitarian approach may be seen as the most sensible and effective way to reduce terrorism, yet that does not mean that law enforcement should be marginalized in retrospect since it is needed to find the culprits responsible for perpetrating terrorist activities. Most importantly, an international consensus must exist on defining the word, “terrorism,” and describing its many subcategories. Otherwise, any effort to reduce it will be wasted. If there is a lesson to be learned from September 11, 2001, it is that terrorism affects everyone in the international community. Therefore, an international, multi-lateral, joint effort is demanded. No. It is imperative and thus crucial for establishing and maintaining international peace and security.

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References

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Byers, M. (2003). Letting the exception prove the rule. Ethics & International Affairs, 17 (1), 9-17.
Glennon, M.J. (2002). The fog of law: Self-defense, inherence, and incoherence in Article 51 of the United Nations Charter. Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, 25 (2), 539-559.
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Amidst the Hustle & Bustle of DTLA, Blue J Bar and Lounge’s Tuesday Latin Salsa Nights offers the Downtown Arts District a New Trendy Weeknight Hot Spot

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LOS ANGELES–By James Rodriguez Daza, for GYPSET Magazine.

Traversing into the tunnels leading into the Los Angeles metropolitan jungle of Downtown, the streets can be seen filled with the usual rush hour traffic and noise that normally describes a modern cosmopolitan urban center. Pedestrians of professionals, students, merchants, and local inhabitants make their way home as the workday reaches an end while the shadows of skyscrapers and scaffolding cover the urban landscape. As the night descend, a new breed of animal stepped out, the youthful, millennial trendsetters, night owls, and hipsters, to engage the DTLA nightlife. Not long ago, was DTLA dismissed as a commercial hub of one of the largest cities in the US. In fact, Downtown was declining in commerce and residency until a new influx of redevelopment projects was initiated in order to attract new investors and subsequently a new clientele. Now, it has become a leading destination for dining, retail, and entertainment. Among the many new attractive destinations to bless the city, Blue J Bar and Lounge had opened its doors late last year to offer patrons a comfortable, friendly atmosphere where they can enjoy a good drink while listening to Top 40s Hip Hop and House music. In an effort to expand its reach and offer something fresh and exciting, it had recently debut its Tuesday Latin Salsa Nights earlier this March offering salsa dance classes and an evening of sensual, exhilarating Latin music and social dancing.

The Venue
Working as a part of a larger network of restaurants that span from San Jose to San Clemente, which include chains like Backhouse-Yakatori, Blue J Bar and Lounge is located in the heart of Little Tokyo by the famous Little Tokyo Marketplace neighboring the Downtown Arts District. Owner Lee Kahn and partner, Michael Kwon, attracted the attention of private investors particularly from the East who wanted to invest in lucrative restaurants around the Los Angeles area. Kahn and Kwon work as a part of a restaurant design group who specialize in designing a variety of concepts that invite investors to help see these concepts materialize. Blue J was one of such prospects capitalizing on the youthful energy of the Arts District. So far, weekends have proven quite successful when Fridays and Saturdays opened up to DJ Top 40s Hip Hop and House music while Sundays were devoted to catering to members of the entertainment industry brandishing quality, health-inspired food and popular drinks. The venue itself has also opened up to other fan-fare like “open mic” nights, talent shows, birthday parties, and even fundraisers. In fact, Blue J was host to the LAPD’s Pre-Party to their annual Bakersfield-Vegas Race which helped raise $6,500.00.

“It was a great and successful event. We’re looking forward to do more things with law enforcement. We appreciate everything they do for us in DTLA. They provide a safe haven and environment for those who live or come to Downtown,” said Kahn.

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Engaging the community, targeting its desires and giving back interestingly has been one of the establishment’s tent pole strategies since opening its doors in September 2016.

“I come from a company that I retired from that was very big at giving back to the community. If there’s any focus going forward, it’s ‘What are we going to do to do more and offer in that respect?’ Support local charities whether it’s YMCA or helping raise money for the homeless. Personally, I want to make a difference and maybe contribute to eliminating homelessness here. It’s my backyard. They’re my neighbors. Whatever I can do to achieve that, we’ll do it…We offer great service, friendly hospitality, good pricing, and value to our customers. We want everybody to feel that they can afford to have a nice and good time. We accommodate. We’re not pretentious. We just want to invite everybody to come out and have a good time and not have any limitations or restrictions. That’s why there’s no cover at the door, and the dress code isn’t pretty strict.”

There’s a certain synergy as Kahn described that helps connect Blue J with the neighboring community that works well with his design group’s network of concepts, and there are many. To name a few, they include EMC Seafood Bar, Spear Steak and Seafood House, Bunker Hill Bar and Grill in the Financial District, 3rd Generation Socket Bar on Century and Flower, and the Chicken Factory near USC. According to Blue J’s Marketing and Public Relations director, Kevin Tren, they’re trying to broaden their reach in the hospitality food industry from many different angles expanding on their varied brands while building new ones. Blue J is a prime example targeting the community catering to its specific needs. Since its location is in the Arts District, as an example, Kevin asked rhetorically, “What better form of marketing your product can you have than targeting the local artists in the area?” So, in a brilliant move, they invited them to display their artwork at the venue which helped develop its unique art décor showcasing the talents of artists like Ace and Jason Lee (aka The Master Artist). If you pay attention as you walk into the bar, you can actually see Ace’s winged mural hanging on the left wall by the entrance inspiring a dream-catcher sensibility. Kevin elaborated,
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“We had Daryl Kerry. He’s a photographer and illustrator who regularly display his work. We’ve had a collection of notable artists from the community involved. The series of pieces on the far side of the bar are Mr. Jason Lee’s. We try to feature at least one artist. Give them a couple of months, and then we change it up.”

All of it adds to an ambiance, a vibe that helps bolster the mood setting the right tone to engage patrons and make them feel at home. Aside from the pieces of art and photographs adorning the lounge, dimly-lit Moroccan lamps are added surrounding the whole place while the center bar is lit just right to give it its own distinct stamp in the venue. Similar to La Descarga’s vibe, Blue J is designed to give visitors a taste of exclusivity where only they are in on the “big secret” giving them a sense of feeling vested in the location.

Tuesday Latin Salsa Nights

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Now, Kahn wants to expand by including other attractions during the week to attract new customers while retaining the regulars prompting him to not only add live music but also a Latin night in order to spice things up and appeal to many Latin guests who had initially suggested to setup a night exclusively for Latin music. Considering that there are many “hipsters” in the Arts District and most are pretty well-to-do financially yet were craving something extraordinary, Kahn utilized his connections to setup a Tuesday Latin Night run by local Westside dancers, Nicole Gil and Charlie Antillon. An aggressive marketing campaign soon followed to help get the word out utilizing flyer drops, social media invites, email campaigns, and tapping into their own restaurant network databases and neighborhood connections. Their efforts paid off as opening night was welcomed with a packed house filled with local patrons who arrived to take the salsa classes and stayed to witness seasoned salsa and bachata dancers tear up the dance floor with amazing and flashy moves inspiring novices to join in the fun. Dancers had a fun time as well absorbing the space and energy from the guests. A couple of dancers like “Angelo” and “Marvin” commented on how appealing the whole vibe was and how much they enjoyed the space. In fact, Kahn introduced himself to them as they inquired on who ran the establishment spurring a welcome, friendly exchange of complements and positive feedback. One dance student in particular, Nick Thomas, sees a lot of potential in the venue:

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“Blue J, besides being a very elegant jewel in the middle of DTLA, it’s also beautiful. It is unique because it’s very close to all the high rises. A lot of professionals work here. They can come in a mid-week instead of getting stuck in traffic. There’s an all-night happy hour atmosphere. It’s a good way of spending your evening. You do not have to stay until 2 am. You can come in for a couple of classes. Do a little of social dancing and enjoy yourself. May be get a bite to eat and go home. You don’t have to wait for the weekend to have a good time. You can have a good time mid-week and really made it enjoyable for yourself.”

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The Dance Instructors: Nicole Gil and Charlie Antillon

The music alone, sadly, won’t keep the crowds from coming back. It’s also the good-natured chemistry of the dance instructors and the DJs who keep guests on the dance floor and interact with each other. With a devotion to their students and the music itself, the dance instructors responsible for the Tuesday night activities worked hard to setup a weekly Latin evening spreading the word through their various social networks while tailoring the lesson plans for each class. Each brings something to the table that helps guests feel welcome and encourage return visits. Collectively, they’ve taught all over Los Angeles having performed at private parties and shows. Their most recent performance together was for a promotional clip on Telemundo for the Ben Affleck film, Live by Night. They now bring their special brand of Latin dancing to the hum drum of DTLA. Amidst the joyful spectacle of their debut Latin Salsa evening, the duo was able to provide insight on the new weekly event and give their audience insight into their outlook on Latin dance and the social benefits from engaging in it.

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Can you guys tell us about Latin nights at Blue J’s and what can people expect from this kind of evening?
Nicole Gil: We’ll be here at 6 pm every Tuesday. So, everybody who works or lives near DTLA and wants to come take a class and keep them out of traffic are welcome to come to take the 8:30 pm beginner class. We plan to be here every single Tuesday and reliably and regularly bring you great [salsa and bachata] music and great instruction.
Charlie Antillon: With Nicole, we have worked on more than delivering a lesson and a night for dancing. To create a bond that feels like family and feels and speak what we experience in salsa and bachata. So, we’ve done that successfully independently. And we’ve done that successfully as a team in the Santa Monica area for quite some time. The opportunity now to work in DTLA is a bit overwhelming but because it’s so large; it’s so powerful, and many things are happening here, we are very happy that we can deliver this experience to DTLA. We’re both from extensive dancing backgrounds. I am teaching and DJing. But what I love about this site is that I consider myself a dancer. So, we’re bringing an experience for a dancer and that’s what we love because we love community, and we love salsa and bachata music.
How did you guys come about establishing a weekly dance night here?
NG: They had a night available here at beautiful Blue J Lounge. It’s a nice big space with ample parking, and the owner happens to have an interest in salsa dancing. He’s done some salsa dancing in the past. He had approached me asking if I’d be interested in hosting a salsa night there because he knew I had a following. I’m glad I am now able to reach out to the DTLA community, but not only to the dance community, but to introduce it to new people that are looking for something fun to do on a Tuesday night that doesn’t exclusively involve drinking shots at the bar but also do an activity to participate in and add an instant ice breaker so you can meet new people.
Now, what is it about this location that makes the venue particularly inviting for Latin dance nights?
CA: I would say that the migration always happens out of necessity. Then, we choose where to go but sometimes the place chooses us. I believe that we would never have come this way if we didn’t have a need not just a desire. We were looking for things far away from here, and this opportunity opened up. When we started to get to know the place, we fell in love with it. So, we were sure the community whether it’s part of the salsa community or for people who are new to the salsa community were going to love it because we loved it first. We love what it has to offer as a building and also as an atmosphere. I think that not only we’re bringing what has been successful in other places, good music, good teaching, a welcoming environment for people, but also a great place where people can have fun in so many different ways. Blue J Lounge is not just a place for a salsa dancing spot. It’s a place where people can hang out and enjoy the dancing without dancing. You know, it’s simply to enjoy the music that they love and having a drink and meeting new people, and apparently, we have smoking patios which is a rare commodity in our venue.
What is it about this particular location that you love so much?
CA: I would say they are putting together a beautiful place at an unlikely location. That’s what I think is the most attractive thing for me. When I heard of Fourth St and Alameda, I think of warehouses, people working, downtown traffic, but this is more of an oasis in the middle of everything because it’s such a beautiful place that offers so much for a night of enjoyment—which is probably different from all the craziness in DTLA.
Would you say that you’re the only venue in the metro area that has an exclusive, Latin night?
NG: We’re the only one that offers the experience that we’re delivering. There are others salsa venues but we gear it towards people that are looking to have good clean fun and really learn how to salsa dance. That comes in many forms, but in LA, we have a very distinct style and we’re able to share that with everybody that is here.
Do you expect to have additional Latin nights here?
CA: We believe everything has a start. Tonight we’re having a very promising night so far and it’s very early. I think that if the community is responsive to this experiment, it will definitely open up more doors to do it on another night. Tuesday nights is considered by some as an odd night. I think any night of the week is great to go dancing, but if we make it on a Tuesday, definitely, we’ll be looking forward to deliver the experience on another night in the week as places open.
Can you please tell us about the crowds that usually attend such evenings? Do you initially have to have a dance background to enjoy a night of dance or can anyone attend?
NG: No. We’re looking to share the experience with anybody looking for or having an interest in salsa dancing. So, we offer this beginner class to anyone and everyone as an introduction to dance so that they can use those moves and enjoy them throughout the night. We encourage local residents and professionals that work nearby to come to the 6:30 pm class and try salsa dancing for the first time. It’s there as an ice breaker as the first step to their salsa journey.
Can you tell us a little about yourselves? What are your dance backgrounds?
NG: I’ve done all kinds of dance in my entire life. From folk to jazz to hip hop, but I really fell in love with salsa when I was in college. I’ve been dancing salsa every day for the last 9 years. I’ve performed in every club in LA as well as Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco. But my true passion is teaching. So, I’m so happy I’ll be able to reach a new group of people here in DTLA and share my love for dance.

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CA: (sighs & chuckles while dancing in his seat) Aye Sa—lao!…The way I teach dancing, I tell everybody, that it’s part of our nature. A lot of people tell me that they have two left feet, but they want private lessons, or they don’t have rhythm. And I say, “Look. It doesn’t matter what you believe, where you come from. If you want to come from a miracle or you want to come from an explosion, whatever way you believe, the reality is that as a human being the first thing is the rhythm . It’s two selves making one, making rhythm, and it’s the rhythm where we have a heartbeat. Then, that heartbeat has a rhythm onto the day we pass. So, everything in our body is a rhythm. Our dreams, our blinking, our breathing, our walking has a rhythm. Our bloodstream is a rhythm—you know—our heart. Everything is a rhythm. Our nervous systems have a rhythm. So, we have a rhythm. Now, externalizing it to our feet is the problem. We have to listen to the music. Look at a beautiful lady or a handsome guy while feeling and putting some moves together. So, I would say I know the challenges of it because I also learned. I learned when I came to California, and I lead. For me, it’s been so much fun, and that’s what I try to deliver to different people. Now, I have a Latin background as a musician and a sound engineer. So, becoming a DJ, although it was a new and amazing experience, there were elements that were already there that makes my job much easier. When it comes to dancing, I guess I’ve always enjoyed music in a way, and now I enjoy it moving to the rhythm and enjoy it with a partner.
What is it about the music that hits home for you?
NG: My father is from Colombia. So, we’ve always listened to cumbias and salsas at family parties. So, that was an instant in. I really love the movement and the way it complements the music. So, being able to pair a beautiful and elegant, sexy dance with fun, energetic music is the perfect combo.
CA: For me, it’s the rhythm. I love the rhythm. A rock band has one drummer, bass, piano, guitar, and a singer. A salsa band has three percussionists; the piano does percussion patterns; the bass does percussion patterns; the singer plays some sort of percussion. So, it’s very rhythmic-oriented, and that hits home for me because it moves me. I cannot listen to one of my salsa songs and just stay there. I have to move. I have to clap. I have to sing. I have to move my hands. I have to look for a partner and dance.
Charlie, what got you started dancing?
CA: Well, what got me started in salsa dancing was when I moved to California. My friend invited me to a concert by Jose Alberto, “El Canario”. He had front row center seats. By the second song, they moved all the chairs and tables. I was in front of the stage. Everybody started dancing, and there was a beautiful lady staring at me like we do! Like with a smile. Saying with a smile, are you going to dance with me or what? But I didn’t know what the smile meant because I didn’t even know how to dance. So, I stayed there petrified and then she moved away kind of upset. Bottom line, when that happens, I went to my friend, and I said, “Papi, I need to learn this because this is not going to happen to me ever again.” So, what happened in that little club, in my opinion, one of the best teachers we‘ve had, Laura Canellas, who was teaching. I learned my basics with her. Then, I started absorbing the energy from all the beautiful dancers you see on the dance floor and the inspiration for me was always Francisco Vasquez, Rogelio Moreno, and the DJs that were here already. You know. DJ Frank, DJ Robby, DJ Freddy Picoso, Martin Travieso. Then, young people that started dancing at the same time that I was starting to admire like Cristian Oviendo and people that came later. It’s a continuous thing that makes you want to do more, learn more because you always see beautiful people getting into this beautiful world.
Nicole, what was the experience like starting out as a professional dancer?
NG: It takes time to gain a student body and gain people’s trust. Just because you’re the new face on the block, it doesn’t mean anybody isn’t going to give you a chance. You have to prove yourself many times over before the community starts to take you seriously as a teacher, but I also keep in mind that a big role that I have is being a resource for people to find salsa dancing, other venues, or where to take classes. What kind of music they should be listening to and to be their friend.

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Can you describe your teaching styles? How do you complement each other?
NG: Charlie loves to give long, detailed descriptions, and I am straight to the point. So, together we balance each other out perfectly because when he starts floating away with his very detailed descriptions, I rein him back in and make sure that everybody keeps dancing the whole hour.
CA: I think we have a great chemistry as friends that we have translated to the dance floor and now taking to teaching. The funny thing is that in my personal life, I am very structured and kind of stiff, almost OCD. When I teach with Nicole, she’s so structured to teach, I take the fun part. She does all the structure, and I do all the jokes, and people seem to like that (chuckles).

Charlie, I know you’ve been DJing in a lot of locations, what do you see in general from your experience that has been the challenge of setting up a salsa night and maintaining the turnout?
CA: I would say consistency. The places that I’ve had that have been successful is because they offer a consistent product, consistent hours, consistent good music, and a decent place to dance. Not every place has a perfect dance floor or the perfect sound system, or a perfect facility, but what is delivered is acceptable and consistent. My first gig as a DJ was a place that I played from 10 pm to 2 am and sometimes at 1:30 am three people are at the bar drinking that probably didn’t understand the kind of music I was playing, but I was still playing till 2 am every night because I was delivering the experience for 1 or for 1,000. Eventually, people were starting to get there and seeing no matter what I will be playing until 2 am. So, people would come early for a class at 8 pm and people would come by late for dancing at 10 pm. Some people would come at 1 am knowing that they can still have 1 hour of dancing. So, consistency has been what I believe the element when you deliver something that is consistent. People know what to expect and they keep coming back for more. Of course, the number one complaint about clubs is the crowd attendance; it’s the number one complaint. It’s either there were too little or there were too many. For me, as a dancer, I’d rather it be when there are too many rather than too little. So, we love packed places, and I think a good crowd is always good to have.

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Sure enough, the crowd did come and continues to grow every week especially as local salsa bands are signed up to play live for guests. Grupo Invasion Latina, for example, is scheduled to play March 28 bringing infectious beats and exciting sounds to keep the entire Arts District dancing all night. Blue J Bar and Lounge is located at 333 S Alameda St #115, Los Angeles, CA. 90013. Parking is available both on the streets and at the neighboring parking structure next door. The lounge does validate for the first 2 hours, but if one stays after midnight, parking at the structure is free. Meter street parking enforcement also ends after 8 pm and the surrounding local parking lots have an average $5 parking rate. There is a $10 cover charge for the Tuesday Latin Nights, but it includes the two salsa classes and happy hour is available all night. To contact either Nicole Gil or Charlie Antillon for group and private lessons, they can be reached on Facebook and Twitter. Charlie DJs and plays MC in the following locations: Fridays: the Warehouse in Marina Del Rey, Sundays: Chinaland in Oxnard, on the 1st Saturday of every month: 3rd St dance Studio for Leslie Pereda, on the 2nd Saturday of every month: Studio Maesto in Santa Monica, on the 1st Wednesday of every month: Bogies Latin Nights in Westlake Village, and Tuesdays, Blue J Bar and Lounge in DTLA. Nicole offers classes at SoHo Dance LA in Santa Monica throughout the week; Registration is available at http://www.MoversandShakersDance.com and you can also keep up to date on her other page http://www.nightsofdance.com for additional information on classes and events.

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To stay updated with upcoming events at Blue J, patrons can visit http://bluejlounge.com and contact staff if there are any questions or to book private parties or events. Blue J Bar and Lounge is also available on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.