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Interview With U.S. Ambassador To NATO Julianne Smith; Interview With "Rogue Justice" Author And Former Democratic Candidate For Georgia Governor Stacey Abrams; Interview With "Our Migrant Souls" Author Hector Tobar, Interview With Musician Peter One. Aired 1-2p ET
Aired May 30, 2023 - 13:00:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BIANNA GOLODRYGA, CNN INTERNATIONAL HOST: Hello everyone, and welcome to AMANPOUR. Here is what's coming up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This morning, the key regime carried out a terrorist attack in the Moscow area.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Ukraine denies it's behind the drone strike on the Russian capital. I ask U.S. NATO ambassador, Julianne Smith, if the attack risks
escalating the conflict.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
STACEY ABRAMS, AUTHOR "ROGUE JUSTICE" AND FORMER DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA GOVERNOR: My mantra is, I want to be curious, I want to solve
problems, and I want to do good.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- the never-ending work of Stacey Abrams. We bring you Christiane's conversation with the author and activists who changed the
conversation on voting rights in America.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
HECTOR TOBAR, AUTHOR, "OUR MIGRANT SOULS": We're part of the family, and we're -- we deserved to be seen and understood as much as anybody else in
this country, which I don't think is the truth right now. That's my dream.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- what it means to be Latino, Hector Tobar; author of "Our Migrant Souls," dives into the tricky questions of identity with Michel
And finally --
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: -- from a musician, to a nurse, and back again to music. The inspiring comeback of singer Peter One.
Welcome to the program, everyone. I'm Bianna Golodryga in New York sitting in for Christiane Amanpour.
A strike of fear in the heart of Russia, drones attacked the Moscow region today, a dramatic escalation that makes clear Putin's war is coming closer
to home. Now, putting Russian civilians at risk. The drones were intercepted, but two people were injured, and residential buildings were
damaged. The Kremlin is squarely placing the blame on Kyiv.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRESIDENT (through translator): Kyiv chose the path of intimidation of Russian citizens and attacks on residential buildings.
It is a clear sign of terrorist activity. The Moscow air defense system worked satisfactorily, however, there are still work to be done to make it
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: Ukraine denies any direct involvement in the attacks. Now, all of this as Russia continues to pound Kyiv. And President Zelenskyy
announced that he now has a date for when his highly anticipated counteroffensive will begin.
So much to discuss at this pivotal time in the war. Let's turn now to U.S. ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith. Ambassador, welcome to the program from
Let's start with this attack --
JULIANNE SMITH, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO NATO: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: -- this rare attack inside Moscow, on a residential area there. As we heard, Vladimir Putin say, this is a clear sign of terrorist
activity, notwithstanding what he has been doing inside of Ukraine for over a year, this is a significant escalation, and I would like to get you to
respond to what took place today with these drone attacks.
Is this something that the U.S. supports and do the -- does the U.S. view this as an effective way for Ukraine to continue to fight for its
SMITH: Well, the United States' position has been very clear in terms of our security assistance that we've been providing to Ukraine. We do not
support any attacks on Russian territory and we are focused, first and foremost, on ensuring that Ukrainians have what they need to defend their
territory from these ongoing Russian attacks that we have seen for 15 months now. But also, to ensure that they can retake territory, so that
remains the focus for us.
We don't have any information right now on who's responsible for the attacks in Russia. But again, U.S. policy is focused, first and foremost,
on helping Ukrainians retake territory.
GOLODRYGA: So, Ukraine has denied direct involvement, interesting choice of words there, in this drone attack today. And there are those who are in the
know, who watch this space very closely, who are suggesting, perhaps, that these attacks, because this isn't the first drone attack that has been
launched on Moscow, just a few weeks ago, we saw one launched at the Kremlin and U.S. intelligence even suggested that it had been done at the
hands of Ukrainians, not by President Zelenskyy and his authorization. But perhaps some say Ukrainian intelligence, the GUR.
Do you have any more insight on that theory, and would you happen to know whether that would even be allowed to happen without a sign off from
SMITH: Well, we don't have any details at this moment exactly on how those strikes actually occurred or the drone attacks. But I think it's important,
as you noted at the top, to remember that Russia is the country that has been attacking Ukrainian civilians for quite some time now.
I would note that just this month, in the month of May, we have seen 17 rounds of attacks in Kyiv. Now, these attacks are designed primarily to go
after civilians. We have seen the Russians attack civilian infrastructure throughout the winter. We've seen them go over residential buildings,
schools, and hospitals. And so, this is a tactic that the Russians are increasingly relying on, they have not halted, or stopped their attacks on
And this is our focus, we want Putin, the guy who started this war 15 months ago, to end it. He could end it today if he so desired. And most
importantly, we want those civilians inside Ukraine to be safe.
GOLODRYGA: And Ukraine has been able to successfully repel most of these attacks, largely given the western assistance, in air defense systems.
There is concern, however, that if this scale of attacks continues whether Ukraine will be able to successfully continue to defend itself. Where does
NATO stand and the U.S. specifically in terms of continuing to provide Ukraine with the air defense that it so desperately needs?
SMITH: Well, you're right, air defense has been a big focus for all of the countries that have been contributing security assistance to Ukraine in
recent months. Really ever since the end of last year, we have spent most of 2023 collectively, over 50 countries, ensuring that the Ukrainians had
not only the adequate level of air defense to repel these attacks, but we focused quite heavily on ammunition and artillery as well.
They now have Patriots, as you well know, in addition to other air defense systems. We continue to have the UDCG, the Ukraine Defense Contact Group,
or sometimes referred to as the Ramstein Group, meet on a monthly basis so that we can sit down and assess the requirements that the Ukrainians have.
I have no doubt my mind that air defense will continue to be at the top of the Ukrainian's list of needed capabilities. And I am confident that the
NATO allies here and the other countries that are providing security assistance will continue to seek ways to address those requirements so that
the Ukrainians can be successful in defending themselves against these attacks on civilians.
GOLODRYGA: You mentioned earlier that the U.S. does not support any Ukrainian attacks inside Russian territory itself. Just a few weeks ago, a
few days ago actually, Russian -- anti-Russian soldiers and fighters had gone into Russian territory in Belgorod and sent in missiles as well and
attacked -- there are casualties, as have been reported. There are also reports that U.S. equipment was used in that attack.
How does the U.S. feel, given that U.S. equipment was used in a way that the United States has explicitly said it wouldn't support?
SMITH: Well, in broad terms, I will say that anytime the United States provides any form of military equipment to another country or a group, in
this case, the Ukrainian military commanders that are seeking this assistance, there are very specific and user agreements that we look at. We
have ways in which we can monitor the equipment that goes into a country. We are focused on accountability measures, so that we can track how the
equipment is being used and to ensure that it doesn't get into the wrong hands.
This is something that the administration has focused on from day one, not just in recent weeks or months. This was a focus for us, the minute Russia
went into Ukraine, remains a focus, and we feel quite confident that Ukrainians are taking those responsibilities very seriously. But we will
continue to monitor developments on the ground.
GOLODRYGA: Will this have any consequence or impacts on the use of -- in the West providing jets, western jets to Ukraine? Obviously, we know that
President Biden has greenlit training for those jets. Does the fact that perhaps U.S. equipment was used inside Russia proper change the timing that
those jets could be provided for Ukraine?
SMITH: Well, the F-16 situation is one where a group of countries is coming together, right now in real-time, and looking at ways in which they can
immediately begin training Ukrainian pilots on fourth generation aircraft, which include the F-16s. We're very enthusiastic about the fact that two
European allies have come forward to lead such an effort, and we salute those countries that are interested in starting up the training
Just last week, Secretary Austin convened the UDCG where they were able to focus on the F-16 training, and this will be a medium-term commitment.
Right now, we are focused on the training. We'll have to shift to a situation where we'll have to determine which countries are able and
willing to actually provide the aircraft. But that is not something that will happen in the short-term, this is something that a collection of
Transatlantic partners, including the U.S. and our European allies, are looking at over the medium-term.
But I don't anticipate that changing. I've seen no evidence that countries are second guessing the decision on the training of the F-16 pilots, and we
do hope and expect that to get underway in the not-so-distant future.
GOLODRYGA: Quickly, just a few seconds that I have left with you. Secretary of State Blinken is in Sweden right now, obviously Sweden has aspirations
to join NATO following Finland. There had been some protests, there continues to be protests, Turkey in particular, given the recent elections
over the weekend, we heard from Jen Stoltenberg, the secretary general of NATO, saying the decision could be made as soon as the July summit.
Any word on whether we will finally get a greenlight from Turkey imminently?
SMITH: Well, NATO foreign ministers will be meeting in Oslo tomorrow and the day after, Wednesday and Thursday, we will have a NATO ministerial,
that's part of the reason why Secretary Blinken is in the neighborhood, up there in Sweden, Finland and Norway this week.
And at that ministerial, I suspect the ministers will come together and talk about the importance of completing Sweden's ratification process. It
is our view that Sweden is ready for membership. It is an incredibly capable ally that shares our values. They have taken the concerns that
Turkey has raised very seriously, addressed those concerns, and we believe that there is the possibility that Sweden becomes a full-fledged member of
the alliance the 32nd member of NATO by the summit this summer in July.
GOLODRYGA: Ambassador Julianne Smith, thank you so much for your time. We appreciate it.
SMITH: Thank you.
GOLODRYGA: Well, as Ukraine battles to protect its democracy, Activist Stacey Abrams is continuing her quest to make democracy stronger here in
the U.S. Most Americans are only just now turning their attention to the 2024 election, but for Abrams, she's been laser focused on it, and all
elections. And her mission to make voting more free and more fair. Abrams is clearly passionate about voting right. Her big 2020 push in Georgia
famously paid off big for the Democrats.
But what you may not know is that she's also a prolific fiction author. She's written more than a dozen books, including romance novels. Her latest
book is called "Rogue Justice." And Abrams sat down with Christiane late last week here in New York.
(BEGIN VIDEO TAPE)
CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL ANCHOR: Stacey Abrams, welcome back to our program.
STACEY ABRAMS, AUTHOR, "ROGUE JUSTICE" AND FORMER DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATE FOR GEORGIA GOVERNOR: Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: You know and I'm sure many people have asked you, but you are one busy woman as a public servant for so, so long. How do you get time to
ABRAMS: Writing, for me, is just as important as anything I do. I try to balance my life so that I am tackling the issues I care about for multiple
perspectives, and writing is one of those ways I get to think about issues, investigate them, kill off people I don't like. Lots of fun.
AMANPOUR: Do you have sort of political visions when you're killing off the people and things that you don't like?
ABRAMS: I would say it's more vaguely cathartic than anything. But the point, for me, is there are questions, there are issues that are out there,
and through writing, I get to spend time investigating, I've got an excuse to go down rabbit holes and learn about topics that may not be salient to
my day job, but are important to who I am as a citizen and who I am as a thinker. But it's also an opportunity to really investigate the outer
reaches of possibility.
AMANPOUR: And essentially, sort of, I don't know, critique or, as you say, investigate policy through what you write even in fiction?
ABRAMS: Absolutely. I began with writing romantic suspense. I've written nonfiction. I've written children's books. I've written legal thrillers.
But my mantra is, I want to be curious, I want to solve problems, and I want to do good. And writing helps me think about all of those pieces,
especially areas of interest that don't naturally occur.
You know, in state politics, you're not often thinking about the FISA Court. You're not deeply concerned with cyber threats abroad, but it does
implicate what happens in the State of Georgia, it implicates what happens to democracy if we are not thinking about these issues. The conversation
about the Supreme Court is always relevant.
AMANPOUR: Right now, you're not an elected office, but you have just been appointed an endowed chair for race and black politics at Howard University
in Washington, D.C. And in announcing this, you said, we are at an inflection point for American and international democracy. How do you
ABRAMS: Democracy is incredibly resilient, but we ignore the fact that it is also deeply fragile. If you look at the decimation of democracy at the
hands of autocrats, if you look at what's happened in Hungary, and in Poland, if you look at the questions that are pervading conversations about
elections that are ongoing now. We know that democracy only exist as a construct, and we have to fight to keep it.
The challenge is, we can become so jaded about its existence or its inability to be perfect that we forget that we have to protect it. And for
me, the conversation that we have to have right now is, how do we grow the next generation of defenders of democracy? How do we arm them, not only to
defend it here in the United States, but how do we have a broader conversation about the international status of democracy?
As you know, we have seen a decline in democratic states worldwide. I was recently privileged to observe the elections in Nigeria. There were deep
issues there but there was also such a deep passion to hold on to democracy, which is fairly new. And we have to sustain the democracies we
have, we've got to shore up those that are weak, and we've got to reclaim them where we've lost them.
AMANPOUR: What should young people, the younger generation, learn from what you did? First of all, having lost those two major, you know, government --
gubernatorial races and yet, putting your energy into the same passion and the process at a time when, even in the United States, the democratic
process is being incredibly infringed.
ABRAMS: Voter suppression is not new, and it is not done. And so, part of my responsibility is to articulate both what the problem is but also
demonstrate the solutions. I did stand for office twice, and it's important, I think, to try to secure the jobs that have the greatest
impact. But not getting the job does not exempt you from doing the work. And the work of protecting democracy, the work of expanding democracy
belongs to all of us.
As a young student at Spelman College years ago, I signed up people to vote. Now, I'm trying to protect that very right. And for me, these are of
a piece. I can be a candidate for office, but I am always a citizen of not only the United States, but a citizen of a global democracy that requires
And when I think about the young people I'm going to get to work with, my job is to show them that, yes you may lose something, you may not get the
thing you seek, but that does not exempt you from doing the work that needs to be done. And even more, it creates opportunities that you didn't see.
When I didn't win the 2018, I did not imagine the full consequences, but I knew I had the responsibility to keep acting, to keep pushing. And so, I
was able to scaffold organizations that have helped defend democracy and build our census and do work to secure good public policy.
AMANPOUR: And for you, what were the full consequences?
ABRAMS: Not winning --
ABRAMS: -- means a lot. It meant that my -- that the governor was able to pass even more voter suppression legislation. He was able to ignore the
needs of our citizens. But the larger construct was that we were also able to elect two U.S. senators who had the ability to help secure judgeships
and secure leadership that guided us through what could have been a tumultuous consequence to our previous president.
We were able to secure Electoral College votes, that changed the leadership of this country, and that, I would say, has had international impact. As we
address what's happening in Ukraine, I shudder to think what would have been had we not had President Joe Biden in office.
And so, there have been both domestic and global consequences to being able to stand up and defend the right to vote, and more importantly, turn out
AMANPOUR: Staying in the global arena, it is said that had Donald Trump won a second term, he's own people say this, he might have pulled the United
States out of NATO, like he did out of the Iran deal, out of climate, et cetera. What do you think that would have done for the United States and
for the world, given what you've just talked about, the existential war over Ukraine?
ABRAMS: I cannot engage in what ifs, but I will say this, the U.S.'s presence in NATO has been vital to the defense of Ukraine. But it is also,
I think, part of a larger narrative of watching the European states that are a part of NATO come together. Watching countries that, for years, we're
a bit standoffish about NATO. Decide that they did need to protect themselves and protect their counterparts.
But we've also seen a rallying around the necessity of democracy and the reviling of autocracy. And I think those were all absolutely essential, and
would not have been possible had we not elected Joe Biden as the president in 2020.
AMANPOUR: We were just talking about the importance of securing voter rights under threat, as they are. Right now, it's being said and is being
said that the right-wing or however you want to describe them, the Republicans, whatever it is, are trying a second round and this time, a
stealth round of even further trying to restrict voting rights. Is that something that enough people are aware of? Is it stealth? Will they be
ABRAMS: They're doing it in plain sight but because it doesn't look identical to what we've seen before, we discount its effectiveness. The
earlier iterations of voter suppression sought to stop the votes of entire classes of people.
The last few elections that we've had in the United States have been elected on -- people have been elected on the margins based on the
Electoral College. Hillary Clinton lost her election by roughly 78,000 votes across a number of states. Joe Biden won by 42,000 plus votes across
about four states. The margins are what matter.
And where Republicans have been incredibly intentional -- I wouldn't say stealth, I would just say they've been surgical, is that they have reduced
the likelihood for so many of those communities that showed up in 2020 and 2022 to show up again in '24. And so, we should be clamoring to stop the
130 bills that have been moving through state legislatures because voter suppression is not still on the move and it is very effective.
AMANPOUR: I want to get back to your book and I want to get you to read a passage.
AMANPOUR: If you could read a passage, attack during the election.
ABRAMS: Yes. Who's the disgruntled American? Avery asked. Unknown, but he is connected with the private defense industry overseas. Armies for hire.
Have militia, will travel. The word is out that he intends to attack during the election, hoping to inflict maximum carnage when our country is at its
most polarized. A brilliant plan. I've used similar techniques for regime change.
Avery felt a bit nauseated by his easy admission. You shouldn't brag about overthrowing governments, Major. You're not a child, Ms. Keene, the world
doesn't organize itself. Power players do.
AMANPOUR: So, it's kind of like what we're seeing on the battlefield right now.
AMANPOUR: The warlord, you know, Yevgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group, Erik Prince of Blackwater. What are you trying to instill in people with
this passage? Because it is, obviously, about trying to interfere with elections again.
ABRAMS: Again, we have a very antiquated and sometimes healthian (ph) view of the way the world works. But today, private armies make decisions.
Militias are waging war in Ukraine. And we have to understand the decentralized nature of power, but we also have to understand how much
power has now been vested in those who have no obligation to answer to anyone, and that's what democracy.
Democracy creates responsibility, it creates authority, but it also creates consequences. And what Avery is really understanding in this passage and in
this conversation is that she has a responsibility too. She may simply be a law clerk, but she is understanding who is actually moving the pieces, the
chess pieces, of power, and she's got to figure out how she can take one of those pieces off the board.
AMANPOUR: What would Avery do about the current crisis? I mean, we've heard the chief justice, John Roberts, who's had to come out publicly and
persuade the American people that they can trust the ethical moral compass of the Supreme Court, as you've got these allegations and investigations
into Clarence Thomas, who is accused of having been remunerated by pretty rich backers. What should happen?
ABRAMS: So, Avery works for a Supreme Court justice who very much held true the notion of ethical obligation. He found a very labyrinthine (ph) way to
work around it because he believed in the moral court.
What I think Avery will do as a private citizen, not through her job as a clerk, is demand that Congress take action. We cannot expect people to do
right simply because they should, the reason we have laws is to enforce our ethos and to demand better. And I think Congress needs to take action and
actually put in place ethical standards that we could hold every justice to so that Americans can trust our courts.
AMANPOUR: And back to the real world, in 2020, there were a lot of Trump approved, nominated, judges and a lot of Republican state election
officials who stood up and did the right thing. Georgia had, obviously, you know, a case study. There's a telephone call in which the president is
asking the state representative to find him X number of votes. And there's a law -- you know, a legal case coming against that. How do you think that
is going to play out?
ABRAMS: I believe that the determination of Republican voters who are likely to cast their ballots for Trump will not necessarily be -- it won't
be adjusted based on the outcome of this case unless there is an actual criminal indictment that has a consequence by election time.
But taking a step back from that, I think it's important that while we are pleased that no one committed a crime on the side of state leaders, not
committing treason is an insufficient ground to celebrate. That should be our expectation. And what I worry about is that the previous administration
so lowered our standards that we celebrate basic decency.
We should be pleased that people do their jobs, but we shouldn't be celebrating and venerating folks simply because they didn't commit a crime.
I didn't commit a crime every day. You didn't. And it's important for us to reset our standards so that our expectations of greatness is that you
actually affirmatively do good, not that you don't flexibly do wrong.
AMANPOUR: What do you make of the current -- certainly it appears that the two elderly gentlemen representing each of the main parties, the GOP,
Donald Trump, President Biden for the Democrats, are the candidates again? Obviously, the president is running for reelection. But these are pretty
elderly gentlemen going at it again. And I just wonder what you make of the culture wars, certainly, that the right side of the -- you know, like
DeSantis and others are trying to ride those coattails to the White House and whether you think, on the other hand, they're probably not equal, but
the far-left, the progressives on the left want to try to move Biden into their corner as well?
ABRAMS: I think it's important, the asymmetry you described. It is very different to have activists who use their capacity as citizens to call for
action versus governors who through authoritarian behavior impose belief systems that demonize and undermine fundamental parts of who we are as a
nation. And so, I believe the asymmetry in power --
AMANPOUR: Including women's rights?
ABRAMS: Exactly. So, I think asymmetry of power is very important, and this false equivalence must stop. That said, I am proud of the candidates that
we have on our side. I'm proud of President Biden and the work that he has done. I think it is highly likely that we will see a reducs of 2020, and I
will do my part to ensure we had the outcome of what we had in 2020.
AMANPOUR: The African-American community like they were mobilized in 2020 similarly mobilize, do you think?
ABRAMS: I think we will see turnout that is sufficient to when, but we have to work at it. Every election is about reminding people the consequences
not only of inaction but of the actions of the other side. And I believe that African Americans, like every community, that is affected by
leadership, wants what's best for our community and for our people and for our children and our futures.
And I think we have to have conversations across the board, across racial divides, across political divides. Because the issue is, who will be the
better leader for our nation moving forward? And I think the leader we have today is the leader we need tomorrow.
AMANPOUR: And so, what about Stacey Abrams? Are there more books? Is there yet another sequel? I know you're on the road trip for this one, but is
there more about Avery coming out?
ABRAMS: Yes. Avery will have a third novel. She is not done yet. And I am very excited to continue to write her stories. I have written a few
children's books that are going to be -- continue to come out. And I'm going to keep doing what I can. I will always --
AMANPOUR: Running for office?
ABRAMS: I will always be involved in politics. It's not my focus for now. And I said earlier, my mantra is, be curious, do good and solve problems.
And so, I'm going to look for ways to do all those things.
AMANPOUR: And reminding, of course, that your mother was a librarian.
AMANPOUR: What was her mantra to you growing up? I mean, is it she and the libraries that energized you as a novelist and a writer?
ABRAMS: So, my mom was absolutely adamant that we read as much as we could. My father, who was dyslexic and didn't learn to read until he was in his
30s, used to tell us stories. And so, my parents helped me really learn to love both the writing of stories, the reading of stories, but also using
fiction to investigate the world around me.
AMANPOUR: Fantastic. Stacey Abrams, thank you so much indeed.
ABRAMS: Christiane, it has been an honor. Thank you for having me.
AMANPOUR: Thank you.
(END VIDEO TAPE)
GOLODRYGA: Really interesting conversation there. Well, next, breaking racial stereotypes in the United States. As the son of Guatemalan
immigrants, Pulitzer Prize-winning author and professor Hector Tobar, is drawing from his own experiences to shine a light on what he describes as
the pain, confusion, and pride of being Latino. He details these complexities in his new book, "Our Migrant Souls." And here he is talking
to Michel Martin about it.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
MICHEL MARTIN, CONTRIBUTOR: Thanks, Bianna. Hector Tobar, thank you so much for talking with us.
HECTOR TOBAR, AUTHOR, "OUR MIGRANT SOULS": Thanks so much for having me.
MARTIN: You know, I read a lot of books. It won't surprise you. I had a hard time describing this one. How do you describe it?
TOBAR: You know, it's my attempt to make sense of what people call me. You know, I'm called Latino. And the more I think about that term, the more I
just see a whole bunch of stories, I see a whole bunch of history, and a whole bunch of thinking that we as Latino people have to do to understand
who we are and why we've been given this name, Latino or Hispanic, for Latinx.
So, it's a little bit of a memoir. It has a lot of storytelling in it, a lot of reporting. People that I talked to and met along the road of driving
through the United States and going back to Guatemala, my parents' home country. So, it's a little bit of everything. It's meant to be a journey
into this idea of what Latino is.
MARTIN: And it's also, I think, kind of a beautiful love letter to the many students whom you've taught and encountered over the years. And I just
wondered if I could ask you to read a little bit, maybe just the beginning of it. It's the prologue to the book. Would you mind?
TOBAR: No, absolutely, thank you for asking. You write words for me to read, a string of memories that place me inside the eyes of the child you
were. A daughter of Honduras, of Mexico and of Puerto Rico, and of the Central Valley of California, with its flat, dry plains covered with crops
and cows, and filled with paisas and their chickens. You sit in my office and begin to weep as you tell me the story of your undocumented boyfriend
and the demons that haunted him, and it is clear to me that you should break up with him, even though I cannot say this.
You tell me about your best friend, a white girl and about the African American family who lived next door. In your stories, I see a suburb of
rectangular lawns and a rancho in the rural United States, where the neighbors heard your mother and father yelling at each other and where you
took solace in the natural beauty of your surroundings in the crisp desert wind and the muddy yellow outline of mountain ranges.
You write, I am having a nervous breakdown. But your prose belies this, controlled and precise, it tells the story of a violation and of a survival
you endured when you were a kindergartener.
MARTIN: And it goes on in that beautiful poetic vein. Did you have someone in mind when you wrote this book?
TOBAR: Well, I had somebody standing over my shoulder, and that was James Baldwin. You know, during the pandemic, I read "The Fire Next Time," and I
watched that really beautiful documentary about Raoul Peck, "I Am Not Your Negro," and I had James Baldwin's voice in my head, and I thought about,
who would I write to? And I heard the voices of my students.
And, you know, just having this wonderful experience of being at a public university where there are students from all over the State of California,
many of them Latino students, many of them of Mexican immigrant heritage or Guatemalan or South American heritage, and just their pain and their
confusion and their pride in who they are. So many different emotions.
MARTIN: But I'm still curious about why now? Because there have been so many inflection points along the way where the experience of being Latino,
as we put it, and we're going to talk more about that, like what does that actually really mean, but the experience has been so fraught. And I'm just
curious, was there some particular inflection point? Was there some particular episode, incident or event or person that led you to want to say
this right now?
TOBAR: Well, you know, I started writing also, you know, the George -- during the George Floyd spring. This moment of reflection. The entire
country is reflecting on racism, on the history of race hatred, discrimination in this country.
And so, that moment of reflection, however, didn't really extend to our relationship with people of Latin American descent, right? There hasn't
been a national reckoning, right? We don't have that presence in the media, right? So, you -- instead, you have these images of chaos on the border,
the image in the media, the most common image if Latino people in the media is of the maid or of the cartel member. And besides that, there's this
erasure from a lot of intellectual discussion from, you know, media punditry and everything. We're just not seen and we're not heard.
MARTIN: Well, the subtitle of the book is "A Meditation on Race and the Meanings and the Myths of Latino." And here's one phrase in the book that
really brought me up short where you said, truth be told, those of us who can call ourselves Latino feel ridiculous. Half the time, we use the term.
Why is that?
TOBAR: Well, because if you ask your average person, what are you? Your average brown person who is of Hispanic descent, they will say something
like, I'm Mexican or I'm Mexican American, or I'm from South Central Los Angeles or my father's Ecuadorian and my mother is Puerto Rican. Latino
isn't the first term that comes to our minds, right?
Latino, in many ways, feels like a marketing category. Hispanic, the other term that's often used, you know, to talk about us is a term invented by
the census bureau. It's what you mark on the form. Latino isn't that you mark on the form. So, there's this whole aspect of marketing, right, in
which we're all grouped together as this supposedly one people, when in fact, you know, we might be Afro-Latino, we might be Jewish and Latino, we
might be Asian and be Latino. Or very light skinned, you know, and be white passing.
So, Latino is such a huge term, and it has this veneer of marketing to it. And so, it can feel a little bit ridiculous. Although, it's also a term of
solidarity, right? My kids are Guatemalan, Mexican, Angeleno Americans, but it's much easier for them to say, oh, I'm Latino.
MARTIN: Part of your work as a professor is helping students view their family histories in the context of empire. Why do you think that that's so
TOBAR: I think that a lot of Latino kids have this idea that their families are messed up. And that they are somehow flawed. Because they have these
stories of somebody fleeing a town or running, you know, away from home, starting a family at 18 or 19 in Los Angeles or 20. And when you start a
family when you're 20, it's really hard for it to be a stable family. So, they have all these ideas of how messed up they are.
And part of the message of my classes is that we aren't messed up. We are the products of a system that is messed up, right? It's imperialism that's
messed up, right? Our people suffer from a lack of power. You look at our histories, there are deliberate policies in Central American, Guatemala
especially, to make us dumb.
You know, there are democratic governments that were overthrown, reformist, forward-looking, governments overthrown by lackeys of the United States,
you know, and deliver policies to make us dumb and to make us powerless. And so, we have to understand this as part of the equation of what makes
us, right? That's my message. That's -- you know, we have to study the United States as an empire to understand our own histories.
MARTIN: You write about the American tradition of giving nonwhite people legal categories. Certainly, where, you know, people of African descent are
concerned, it has had specific legal consequences. I think indigenous people for sure, right, has had specific legal consequences. But would you
just talk a little bit about that whole -- that reality of needing these categories to differentiate people from white and what has that meant.
TOBAR: Yes. First of all, no human being is white. No human being is completely black. I mean, we're all sort of different shades of brown. So,
white and black are social constructs, right? They describe a relationship or a state of mind, right? So, white and black are invented when black
slaves are brought in to keep the colonial economy going, right? And so, this describes a relationship, you're either white or you're black.
The same with Asian and, you know, Chinese. The Chinese are brought over to construct the railroads and do other work in the West, and then a few years
later, we decide there's too many of them, they're affecting the look of the United States. We passed the Chinese Exclusion Act. Eventually, we
brought over so many Italians and Jews and, you know, Germans that we decided we didn't want any more people from those countries. So, in the
1920s, they created the, you know, new immigration law that limited, restricted immigration from Southern Europe and Eastern Europe especially,
And so, now we live in this time when Latino people do this work. You know, we are synonymous with service labor of this country. Most of the crops in
this country are picked by Latino laborers. And so, the country is dependent on these immigrant workers, on people who have a border crossing
in their past.
So, we, as a country, have invented this idea that they are a race of people, that they share these qualities in common that make them want to
work in the fields or make them want to work in service jobs. And we've created these legal categories, different immigrant status. There's
literally dozens of immigration statuses that you can have if you are a person of Latino descent, right? This idea of Latino identity being
equivalent to like an alien status, and that, in fact, is a legal term, right, to be an alien is a legal category that exists, you know, in
MARTIN: You know, there are people of Latino descent who -- can I just say this, present as white and can if they want to?
MARTIN: I mean, some of our like famous actors and actresses were of Latino descent and who change their names and you wouldn't know unless they told
you or wanted to tell you --
MARTIN: -- you know, later on. And I'm just wondering, does that feel like a shared experience?
TOBAR: Yes. For a lot of people, Latino is like a suit of clothes. You can put it on or you can take it off. You know, there is definitely this
colorism in our community, many of us are white passing. 40 percent of Latino people marked themselves down as white for race on the census. We
have a very strange, very long relationship with whiteness. Absolutely. Right.
MARTIN: Tell me why it's strange.
TOBAR: Traditionally, the very old mindset, is to think that lighter is prettier, right? Lighter is smarter. There's that. A lot of our relatives
do things to lose their accents, change the color of their hair, changed the way they speak to embrace this idea of whiteness.
I say in my book that our relationship to whiteness is the comedy and tragedy of us, right? At the same time, I think there is increasingly now
this sense of that we should embrace our Africanness (ph), to embrace our indigeneity, which is the biggest erasure.
You know, I have Mayan -- I know that I have my Mayan ancestors but my grandparents never told me exactly who they were, right, because there was
this shame in Guatemala associated with being indigenous.
MARTIN: I just can't -- I'm thinking about -- for example, I'm thinking about like George Zimmerman, right, who killed Trayvon Martin. When he was
trying to sort of justify his conduct, he and his family were, you know, their argument was, well, he can't be racist because his mom's Peruvian,
you know. And I just -- how do you understand something like that?
TOBAR: Well, I think that every Latino family is big enough has at least one racist relative, you know. So, being Latino doesn't automatically make
you a non-racist.
MARTIN: But how do you understand these guys who were, for example, people who identifies Latino or at least who are identified as Latino, who are
then part of the Proud Boys, for example? How do you understand it when so many of these extremist groups are tied up explicitly in anti-immigration
ideologies and white supremacist ideologies?
TOBAR: I just think it's sort of a liberal naivete to think that, because you are a member of a group called people of color, means that you can't
have diverse views or that you're all born with this saintly manner and you're all enlightened, you know. That just isn't the way life works, you
know. There are people who have shed any idea of pride in this immigrant story and instead, embraced the idea of erasure. That's what white is.
Latinos were always supposed to become the next white group, right? We were supposed to be like the next Italians or the next to Jews, and that hasn't
happened because of what immigration represents in this country. It represents to many people this threat, right, to our culture. This threat
to our government, to our prosperity. And so, Latino, as an idea, has been racialized.
MARTIN: Is that one of the myths that you set out to explode in this book?
MARTIN: This myth that there's organic solidarity that just somehow happens?
TOBAR: Well, more than that. Just -- I mean, for me, it's just the simplification of Latino life. You know, we're either these, you know,
barbarous criminals or we're just, you know, victims and we're the -- you know, the dominant image in the American media, in the American liberal
media even of the immigrant is of this poor person, you know, in a caravan, you know, not very educated, very passive. And so, to me, the dominant myth
in the United States is one of Latino passivity.
MARTIN: That bothers you more than the sort of myth of criminality that was so much a part of, for example, like the 2016 election?
TOBAR: They both bother me. They are both awful. I mean, the idea that the number one job that a Latino male actor is going to get is as a cartel
operative, that bothers me. That's the terrible message we send to millions of young Latino people about who you can become and who you are, how you
are seen. That's terrible.
But, yes, the myth of passivity is one that we have in our brains. We have in our brains this sense that we're faded to suffer. We're faded to be the
victims of this hatred. People migrate because their lives are complicated. There is some family dysfunction involved, and all of that is erased. We're
made out to be this simple people with very simple motives, and to me, that is -- that's maddening.
MARTIN: Well, what's your dream?
TOBAR: My dream is of a generation that begins to create these works of art that start to flourish on the airwaves. You know, we have a Latino Harold
Pinter, Arthur Miller, waiting to be born. You know, we have our own, you know, grapes of wrath waiting to be told. And have that history be part of
the American knowledge of itself.
The United States is in part a Latino country. So many people have married into Latino families, worked alongside Latino people, right? They've begun
to sort of do things that they might not have done before. I think the pinata is almost universal, right, in American birthdays now.
I think that when the United States wakes up to the fact that we're part of the family and we deserve to be seen and understood as much as anybody else
in this country, which I don't think is the truth right now. That's my dream.
MARTIN: For people who do not identify as Latino, who do not see that this as part of their heritage, can you offer an invitation to people who were
not of this heritage --
MARTIN: -- about what it -- how this include them? Does it include them?
TOBAR: Yes. I would say, first of all, that the story of being Latino in this country has so many parallels with the stories of being black or Asian
or being Italian, being white, right? All these different identities that we construct. I think that these labels are constructed to make us think
that we are all different, and it's true. We have differences. But in fact, the things that we share in common, this incredible story called the United
States history, is such a powerful thing. It makes into a family.
So, what my book is trying to do is to tell a story of a member of your family who you might not have listened to as much before. You know, the
quiet guy in the back, you know, who -- the cousin you kind of sort of know. I'm trying to tell one more story of the American family, and that
story is an important one because it really teaches us a lot about what it means to be an American.
MARTIN: Hector Tobar, it's been a pleasure. Thank you so much for talking with us.
TOBAR: Thank you for having me.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And finally, another story of the American family unlike any you've heard before. Singer-songwriter Peter One has the world's most
unlikely comeback story, and it's fantastic.
In the 1980s, he was an African music star with his songs played across the globe. Then he left all that behind and came to America to work as a nurse.
But you can't keep a good artist down. When Peter One's album from the '80s was re-released in the U.S. he popped back onto the radar. And now, he has
a new record called "Come Back to Me." Here's a clip from a song called "Birds Go Die Out of Sight."
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
(END VIDEO CLIP)
GOLODRYGA: And, Peter One, welcome to the program. It is such an honor to have you here with us. And what a fantastic story. You've come to the
United States after making it big in the Ivory Coast. You come back here, you're given political and economic unrest there in 1995. You work your way
back up. You spent decades working as a nurse. And here you are, once again, with a new album that is destined to be a success. Talk about what
this experience and what this moment feels like for you.
PETER ONE, MUSICIAN: Well, thank you, Bianna, for having me. It's a wonderful experience. An experience that's making me young again. I feel
like I'm still in my 30s. And experience that opens new doors for me, for my dream to come true, my dream as a musician, as a creator, and it all
makes me so happy and rejuvenated right now.
GOLODRYGA: Well, this dream stayed with you for so many decades. It brought you to Nashville. We mentioned you worked as a nurse there. And on April
14th, you made your debut at the legendary Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
I know you were inspired by country music song, "The Boxer" by Simon and Garfunkel, inspired you decades ago. Talk about the inspiration that so
many different genre genres of music have had on your career.
ONE: Yes, that's true. That's true. I grew up in an environment where we have all kinds of music, you know, through the radio, because the radio was
the first source of, you know, music to me. And we grew up listening to all kinds of music. And the environment was dominated by, you know, American
music, French music and all kinds of African music also.
But within all of that, among all of that, the day I heard "The Boxer" through the radio it touched me right there, and ever since I've been
really, you know, attracted to that music. Maybe because before that I was also listening a lot -- listening to African musician like Juju Vike (ph),
like Edward Lutin (ph), were doing this kind of music with just a guitar and vocals. And I did loved those music until I came across "The Boxer,"
and it resonated with me right there.
Ever since, I decided to -- you know, when I started playing guitar, I decided to -- you know, to go through that music as my preference.
GOLODRYGA: It just was another example of how unifying music is around the world. It really touched me when I read about your experience with "The
Boxer." And obviously, you have been touching so many people in unassuming ways as a nurse, and you never told them about your -- the earlier part of
your life, the celebrity that you were, the influence that you had on so many people. Why did you keep that sort of under the radar?
ONE: I kept that just because I was -- I knew I was coming to the U.S. to start from scratch. So, to me, I can tell about my past, about my music to
people who really can help me go, you know, into my music, but not to other people who just listen to it.
And first of all -- second, I need to be able to get my music out, to make a surprise. So, when they see me, when they hear my music, they're kind of
surprised. They say to themselves, oh, we didn't know he was a musician. He's doing great things. We didn't know. Just being humble and, you know,
make people find out what you are by listening or by seeing what you do, you know, judge you by what you do but what you are performing, you know,
not by what you are saying. That's always, you know, my philosophy.
GOLODRYGA: It's part of the secret of your success. And I hope some patients of yours will be watching this and say, I know that man. He not
only did he help save me, but now I'm going to become a huge fan of his music as well. Before you play one of your songs on your latest album, how
has Nashville embraced you?
ONE: Oh, Nashville has been like my home. Ever since I've been here, from day one, when I first came from my nursing job in view (ph), I landed here.
I had the, you know, feeling of music already in here. The vibration of music was in me. And when I moved -- because when I first came, I was in
(INAUDIBLE) Borough, half an hour drive from Nashville. The next year, I was in Nashville. And I met a lot of musician.
Ever since I've been in love with Nashville. It's a music city. That's the real name. And -- it's true. It's true. I love it. I love music in
GOLODRYGA: Well, listen, I firmly believe, as an immigrant myself, that sometimes immigrants know this country and feel it in ways that those that
have been born here and have generations back and their ties here don't. And I'm sure that is what you are feeling and what you are delivering in
your music and the inspiration you have for so many people. Tell us about the song that you're going to play, and please start playing it for us.
ONE: Oh, this song is called "Kavudu." I sing it in my African language, my maternal language. And also, a bit of -- a little bit in French.
GOLODRYGA: All right.
ONE: This is about reconciliation, bringing people together. No war.
GOLODRYGA: Well, let's listen.