Archive For August 1, 2021

History Professor Calls For U.S. Inclusion Of Mexico Studies

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History Professor Calls For U.S. Inclusion Of Mexico Studies

NPR’s Kelsey Snell speaks with Harvard history professor Gabriela Soto Laveaga about her recent op-ed titled, “Every American needs to take a history of Mexico class.”


While today’s referendum in Mexico casts a spotlight on the past three decades of the country’s history, our next guest would like all of us to reach much further back in our understanding of Mexican history. Gabriela Soto Laveaga is a history professor at Harvard. And she recently wrote an op-ed for The Washington Post titled “Every American Needs To Take A History Of Mexico Class.” She joins us now from California, where she’s visiting family.

Professor Soto Laveaga, welcome.

GABRIELA SOTO LAVEAGA: Thank you so much for having me.

SNELL: First of all, why do you think it’s so important for all Americans to study the history of Mexico? What would be the benefit, in your view?

SOTO LAVEAGA: I have been teaching a version of a Mexican history class for the last 20 years. And invariably, students, especially those who are coming from border states, would say, why didn’t I learn this in high school? It would have completely changed my view or even how I perceive or vote. And after two decades of listening to this, I finally sat down to write what I had been saying all along, that much of who we claim to be as a nation, so much of it is linked to the Mexican-American War. How we define ourselves as Americans and the values that that we put forth in our society have links, strong links to the mid-19th century.

SNELL: And thinking about those links and that shared history that you talk about, can you tell me about one specific event in Mexican history that you wish Americans understood better and should be studying?

SOTO LAVEAGA: Absolutely. I think for me, one of the most important ones and one that I mentioned in the op-ed is the St. Patrick’s Battalion. When the U.S. and Mexico go to war, the U.S. asks for volunteers, as many as 50,000 volunteers to go fight in Mexico. And among the many volunteers who join up are recently arrived refugees from Ireland, who are coming because of famine. And at the time, the Irish were not seen as good citizens in U.S. society. They were seen as dirty, uneducated, prone to criminality. They lived in ethnic ghettos. So they weren’t perceived as being wholesome citizens or those who are wanted.

But Irish join these – this call – or answer the call as volunteers in large part because they want to be included in American society. But when they go off to fight in Mexico and once they cross the border and they’re fighting and – they realize that this is an unjust war. And the Irish flip sides. And, they join the Mexican side. They formed the Irish Battalion, composed not simply of Irish but predominantly Irish. They – ultimately, when the U.S. wins the Mexican-American War, they’re tried for treason and are executed. But in Mexico, they are seen as heroes because it was unwanted immigrants who rose up and had a clear opinion about what was happening on the ground.

SNELL: You know, in your essay, you mention the fact that Mexico lost more than 50% of its territory to the United States at the end of the Mexican-American War in 1848. That includes all of what is now California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah. How big a role does that context play in the respective national identities of the United States and Mexico?

SOTO LAVEAGA: This is huge. I think if we take – just for the case of Mexico, it will take the nation decades to recover this national psyche of having lost a war but also having lost so much of its territory. And let’s not forget, literally one month after the signing of the treaty that would end the war and – the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo – gold is discovered in California. At the time, Mexico was bankrupt. If it had been in control of Californian gold, potentially, its financial problems would have been different, and it could have had a very different national path.

But for the United States, it really shaped us as a country when you think of how many thousands of East Coast-based Americans and families headed west in search of the gold of California or headed west and gave us our identity as frontiersmen and -women. But in addition – and this is really interesting – we framed our identity as Americans in a way against what we weren’t. And what we weren’t, we weren’t Mexican. So you had to create this image of a Mexican who was different than us. So it was a lawless Mexican. The term greaser comes into use at this time and a criminal element – also from this time. And that’s not who we were. A lazy Mexican, that’s not who we were. So this idea of who we are as a nation had to have this back and forth with this play of what we weren’t. And it – a lot of it had to do with disenfranchising Mexicans who were already on the ground and who were becoming second-class citizens.

SNELL: History is written from a specific viewpoint, and there are often differences in perspective and interpretation. How would you answer those who might say that teaching American students about the Mexican perspective of history could be divisive?

SOTO LAVEAGA: I don’t think factual history can be divisive. Rather, I think that if we examine historical truths and historical facts, we gain the tools to ask critical questions, not just of our past but of our current situation, our present state so we can move away from myths. And I’m not saying that we don’t need myths. Every nation is built on histories and stories and myths about who we are. That’s how we learn to become who we are as a nation – through these stories that we tell. What I’m asking is that we learn to teach analytical ways of thinking about our past.

SNELL: Your op-ed title says every American needs to take a history of Mexico class. If I’m taking that literally, is one class enough to better understand something as complex as Mexican history? Or should this be part of history education more broadly?

SOTO LAVEAGA: That is a fantastic question. I think it should be part of how we reframe how we teach history, U.S. history here in the United States. It should include multiple perspectives, including different groups within our society but also different perspectives from other nations – how they saw these events, how they were responding or how they were questioning these events at the time. What we need to do is not teach a class but rather to incorporate multiple views into what we’re already teaching, to make it a much more complex, a much richer way of thinking of our past.

SNELL: That was Professor Gabriela Soto Laveaga. She is the Antonio Madero professor for the Study of Mexico at Harvard University. Professor, thank you so much for speaking with us today.

SOTO LAVEAGA: Thank you so much, Kelsey. Have a great day.


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NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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Belarusian Olympian Says She Was Forcibly Taken To Airport After Criticizing Coaches

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Belarusian Olympian Says She Was Forcibly Taken To Airport After Criticizing Coaches

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya of Belarus competes in a heat of the women’s 60 meters race at the European Athletics Indoor Championships at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow, Scotland, Saturday, March 2, 2019.

Alastair Grant/AP

Alastair Grant/AP

A Belarusian sprinter who spoke out publicly about the “negligence” of her Olympic coaches says she was allegedly taken against her wishes to the Tokyo airport for a flight back to Belarus.

Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, 24, told Reuters in an interview Sunday that she was pleading for help from Japanese police at the airport and “will not return to Belarus.”

Tsimanouskaya was scheduled to compete in the women’s 200-meter race on Monday, but said coaches came to her room Sunday and told her to pack immediately. She said she’d been placed in the 4×400 relay despite never racing the event before or being trained for it.

The coaching staff took Tsimanouskaya to the airport after she spoke on her Instagram about the negligence of her coaches, she said in an interview with Reuters.

In a statement to Reuters, the Belarusian Olympic Committee said coaches had chosen to withdraw Tsimanouskaya on doctors’ advice about her “emotional, psychological state.”

Belarusian athlete was forcibly taken to the airport by the Belarusian delegation members & is now pressured to leave the #Olimpics. Christina Tsimanouskaya is being departed from #Tokyo, she is now at the airport. Athlete says she will seek refuge in the #EU.

— Franak Viačorka (@franakviacorka) August 1, 2021

She Sought Protection From Japanese Police

Tsimanouskaya sought the protection of Japanese police at Tokyo’s Haneda airport so she would not have to board the flight back home.

In a video circulating across social media, Tsimanouskaya said she was “put under pressure” by team officials and asked the International Olympic Committee for help.

“I have been pressured and they are trying to take me out of the country without my consent, so I am asking the IOC to intervene,” she said. “I will not return to Belarus.”

In a tweet, the International Olympic Committee said it had seen reports in the media about Tsimanouskaya’s situation and was ” looking into the situation.” The IOC said it was asking the National Olympic Committee of Belarus for “clarification.”

In the video posted to her Instagram, Tsimanouskaya criticized Belarusian Olympic officials for allegedly telling her once she was already in Tokyo that she must run the 4×400-meter relay after other members of the team were found ineligible because due to not completing the proper doping testing.

Dissent Can Be Dangerous In Belarus

She did not criticize Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko or the government in the video.

Lukashenko has cracked down on the opposition in the autocratic Eastern European country, arresting and jailing those who criticize the government.

Back in May, Belarus forced the landing of a Ryanair flight and arrested opposition journalist Roman Protasevich on board.

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Billie Eilish Can’t Wait To See The Future

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Billie Eilish Can’t Wait To See The Future

Billie Eilish’s second album, Happier than Ever, is out now.

Courtesy of the artist

Courtesy of the artist

Billie Eilish has a message for the world: “I’m not your friend / Or anything, damn / You think that you’re the man / I think, therefore, I am.” Still just 19, the pop supernova has spent the past few years living a very public life. She’s won seven Grammys over two consecutive years, run circles around her peers on the Billboard Hot 100 and become a figure of discussion and scrutiny, some of it perhaps a little too familiar.

Her second full-length album, Happier than Ever, is out now. Like its predecessor, When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do We Go?, it’s a collaboration with her brother and producer, Finneas O’Connell. But after a career debut like few others, Eilish’s style is evolving: new sounds (including a detour into bossa nova-inspired grooves), a new visual toolkit and lyrics shaped by experiences as a very young woman on a worldwide stage.

Eilish spoke with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about where Happier than Ever finds her and her outlook on life, fame and performance. Hear the radio version at the audio link, and read on for an edited transcript.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro: You had huge success with your first album, and there’s always a lot of pressure for a second album after something like that. Did you feel that way?

What’s funny is, for the making of the album, I felt no pressure. I wasn’t worried; I was super confident. I really felt that I did the best that I possibly could have done with a second album: I didn’t stay exactly doing the same thing, but I also didn’t change into something else, I grew. I thought that that was really good. It was when I started releasing music from the album, putting out singles, that suddenly I was like, “Wait.”

[Laughs] “People are going to listen to this?”

Yeah! “People are going to listen and tell me how they feel now? No!” But, it’s OK. It’s really just about me liking it, and the real fans liking it. That’s all I care about.

This album is called Happier than Ever. So, how are you: Are you happier than ever? Why did you call it that?

I mainly wanted a title for my album to be, like, un-mispronounceable. I feel that was a strong, easy to pronounce, easy to say, can’t-get-it-wrong title. [But the song it’s named after] is one of my favorite songs on the album. It’s one of my most important songs I’ve ever written.

Tell me why. What is it about this song?

Do you ever want to say something to somebody for a really long time? You don’t really know what you want to say or how to say it — and then maybe you have a conversation with somebody else, or you think a little bit about it, and you figure out what it is you’ve been trying to say for this entire period of time? That’s how it felt: That was the entire writing process, that was the recording process. Everything involved in this song felt like how it feels when you finally find the words for something.

Is it about a particular person, or just more about that feeling when you actually understand something about a relationship that you’ve had?

I mean, obviously it’s about somebody, but it’s also really about a feeling, and kind of a realization. I just mainly hope that people listen to this and go, “Oh, yeah — that’s what I’m trying to say.”


You are now 19, and you’ve been in the public eye for a while. Tell me about the song “OverHeated.”

You can kind of understand it by just listening, I would say. I think it was just a moment of being really pissed off as a young woman in the public eye: You know, it’s infuriating. It’s hard enough to be a young woman not in the public eye, and just have lots of public eyes looking at you … let alone being famous and having a million people look at you constantly. I think it’s just thoughts coming from a place of fury and unfairness and just feeling angry at the world and society, I guess.

What have you learned about coping with that glare, though? I mean, what do you do to remain you?

I honestly don’t know. I think that there’s not much you can do. … It’s like, if you’re at the dentist getting your wisdom teeth done, and they give you anesthesia and then you say to yourself, ‘I’m not going to fall asleep, I’m not going to fall asleep,’ you can’t not fall asleep. … I think that you just have to keep going and not not be scared of living, I guess. And I wish I would take my own advice in that realm of just like, it doesn’t matter. You can change, and you can change your mind, which I think the internet forgets.

And I mean, you are changing: You’ve changed your look recently, you are experimenting with different types of music on this album. I want to ask about your aesthetic, how you see clothes and appearance playing into your art — and if you see that as part of the music, and how you interact with people who love your music.

With aesthetics and eras of a musician or an artist, it’s all just for the eye. It’s not really real. I guess that you can change your look to try to change yourself, for sure. But in terms of album promo, and the photo shoots being a certain style — that doesn’t change you. It’s just a choice for something that you wanted to accomplish visually, you know? I did the same thing for my first album: I chose to have a look and an aesthetic and a style for that album specifically, and all of the shoots and stuff involved in the videos, I wanted that to be kind of creepy, more like horror and dark and in the theme of monsters under your bed.

For this one, I wanted the theme of old Hollywood and beautiful and classy. It’s just funny that people see new photo shoots and immediately think that you’re a different person. I see people call me Blonde Billie — like, “Blonde Billie said this, but Green Billie didn’t say this.” And I’m like, what the hell? I’m not a category of a person. I’m the same person, for my whole life. I like this thing this time, and I like this thing that time.

To that point, the song “Not My Responsibility” is saying something similar with its title — which is, whatever you see is about you, not me. Am I right in understanding it that way?

Yeah, for sure. And that goes for so many different things. It goes for all women who wear what they want and a man says, “Oh, don’t expect me to not harass you if you’re wearing that.” It’s like, no — that’s your responsibility to not harass me. It’s nobody’s responsibility to cover themself or restrict or restrain themself for somebody else’s, like, weak willpower. It’s not our job.

There’s a lot about womanhood in this album and exactly what you’re talking about, the ways in which it can be twisted, the ways it can be taken advantage of. When the song “Your Power” was released, I sent it to a bunch of my female friends and relatives, because I think it speaks to something that a lot of girls and women have dealt with. When did you start to realize that every girl, every woman, has a story where they were sort of taken advantage of?

I don’t even know when I realized it. The song is kind of from the perspective, like … this wasn’t an actual situation of my life, but I thought it would be interesting to write it as if it was me talking to somebody that I was friends with or in my family, or somebody that I knew, and they were abusing their power. And I was having a like, heart-to-heart with them, trying to tell them not to.

It’s about many, many different situations that I’ve witnessed. Some lines are about my life, some lines are about things that I’ve seen, some lines are just general things that I’ve noticed about women being taken advantage of. And it’s a crazy thing and I wish that when I was younger I had a song like this to listen to.


We should say, there are also happy songs here — about love, the good part of connecting, the sort of empowering part of being with someone. I want to actually go to Billie Bossa Nova because I used to live in Brazil, so I was real happy to hear this. Have you been to Brazil?

No, I haven’t!

Oh, you gotta go.

It’s like the main place that I should go. The first fan account I ever had was Billie Eilish Brazil. For real.

Oh, wow.

I have a very special place in my heart for Brazil. I wanted to pay respect to bossa nova and Brazil and just the entire culture around it cause I love it so much. I don’t know, I just love a little feel-good, you know, move around feeling, sexy little song.

And you’ve just made a lot of people in Brazil happy, I can tell you right now … The last thing I want to talk about is “My Future.” In this song, there’s a line that says, “I’m in love with my future / Can’t wait to meet her.” I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it; it’s a really interesting line. Why did you write it?

Thank you. I love that line, too. I think it means a lot of things. I think that the most straightforward meaning is the future me, the future person that I’m going to be — but also the future world that I’m going to live in and the future friends I’m going to have and the future people that I’m going to surround myself with. It’s really about not wishing away the present and the past and wishing you were in the future, but just being hopeful and content with the idea of change. And I can’t wait to see what it holds.

Well, what do you want now? I mean, you kind of conquered the world in every possible way. When you look at that, what do you want?

Good question. I want joy and content with myself. I want to feel better about myself, and more, I guess, proud of who I am. I don’t know what my future holds, but I really want to do shows — that’s the main thing that I hope and see for myself.

What does that do for you, when you’re out performing?

There is no feeling like the feeling on stage in front of people that just truly adore you and that you adore, just looking at you and you looking back at them. … I don’t ever feel like I’m above anyone when I’m on stage: I feel like one with them, and I feel like I want to impress them and just have fun with them. I never want to spend this much time away from doing shows ever again, thank you very much.


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Out-And-Proud Raven ‘Hulk’ Saunders Takes Silver In Women’s Shot Put

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Out-And-Proud Raven ‘Hulk’ Saunders Takes Silver In Women’s Shot Put

U.S. shot putter Raven Saunders competes in the final at the Summer Olympics on Sunday in Tokyo.

Matthias Schrader/AP

Matthias Schrader/AP

When U.S. shot putter Raven Saunders is competing, she calls herself the “Hulk.” It’s the alter ego that bursts onto the field to fight for championships.

Saunders — with the help of her “Hulk” persona — took silver in the women’s shot put final at the Tokyo Summer Olympics. She hurled the heavy ball 19.79 meters, or nearly 65 feet. It’s the third medal ever for the U.S. in the women’s event and it’s Saunders’ first.

“I remember my first Olympics, being able to watch Michelle Carter come out here and, you know, get it done,” she said, referring to the U.S. female gold medalist in shot put at the 2016 Games. “I made sure that when I came out from 2016, constantly fighting and constantly pushing through everything, I made sure I walked away with a medal.”

China’s Gong Lijiao took gold and Valerie Adams, of New Zealand, won bronze.

It was a long journey to Tokyo for Saunders, after years of openly struggling with depression following the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro and then leaving the world stage to return to normal life. She was hospitalized, she suffered through injuries and then got a second chance to compete on the world stage.

Saunders said she’s been so open about her mental health struggles so others don’t feel alone. It’s also why she wears her identities so proudly as a gay Black woman.

“Being able to walk away with a medal and be able to go out here and really inspire so many people in the LGBTQ community, so many people who have been dealing with mental health issues,” she said. “So many people in the African-American community, so many people who are Black all around the world. I really just hope that I can continue to inspire and motivate.”

In Tokyo, she’s taken the social media world by storm with her colorful looks and larger-than-life persona. After winning her medal, she vogued with the American Flag on the field, then walked off singing, “Celebrate good times, come on!”

Raven Saunders celebrates after her second place finish in the final of the women’s shot put.

David J. Phillip/AP

David J. Phillip/AP

During competition, she was decked out in shades of green: green and white Air Jordan 13s, green and purple hair, and her signature Hulk mask that puts her in the mode to “smash.” Her comic book alter ego is fun, but it’s also a way to separate Raven the competitor and Raven the person.

“I had a tough time differentiating between the two,” she said after her competition. “But through my journey, especially dealing with mental health and things like that, I learned how to compartmentalize the same way Bruce Banner learned how to control the Hulk… a sign of mental peace when he wasn’t the Hulk.” In the comic books, scientist Bruce Banner must find ways to harness his super-strong, out-of-control alter ego.

The Charleston, S.C. native loves the attention she’s gotten for her look and for her sport. But eventually, she says, the attention will die down.

“I kind of learned my value outside of the sport,” she said. “I know that the medal, it’s cool. It’s a bonus. It’s a plus. But really, the thing that I’m most excited about is constantly, you know, inspiring and pushing people and really still being an advocate for my community.”

She pauses.

“I’m part of a lot of communities, God dang.”

She laughs. She wants to represent them all.

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Simone Biles Withdraws From Floor, Still Might Compete In Balance Beam

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Simone Biles Withdraws From Floor, Still Might Compete In Balance Beam

Simone Biles embraces teammate Jordan Chiles after she exited the team final at the Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Gregory Bull/AP

Gregory Bull/AP

U.S. superstar gymnast Simone Biles has pulled out of the individual final in the floor exercise, leaving one event in which she might still compete at the Tokyo Olympics.

“Simone has withdrawn from the event final for floor and will make a decision on beam later this week,” USA Gymnastics said. “Either way, we’re all behind you, Simone.”

Biles suddenly pulled out of the team final earlier this week after a difficult first vault, and later said that she didn’t feel that she was there mentally and was dealing with a phenomenon called the twisties. She also pulled out of the individual all-around final and the individual competitions in vault and uneven bars.

Since Biles withdrew, she’s been actively supporting and cheering on her teammates.

USA Gymnastics has not said whether another U.S. gymnast will take her place in the floor final. Jade Carey qualified for floor along with Biles, and their teammate Jordan Chiles had the next-highest score for a U.S. athlete.

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