All Issues Mailed Flat

When I was a kid, I had a tower (and I mean that literally) of my favorite comic books. They leaned against the wall and were braced on either side by sturdy objects — milk crates or chairs or something like that. I seem to recall that the tower reached the ceiling, but I’m sure that’s not possible. It was most likely a few feet high and just seemed imposing to a six-year-old.

In any case, the tower is long gone, but I still have a few of those prized comics, issues of the X-Men and Conan the Barbarian and House of Secrets and the like. Like a lot of Gen Xers, I used comic books as a gateway drug to novels.

But even back in the day, when my love for comic books could not be quantified, I noticed something. It’s the same thing that Javier Hernandez, creator of the El Muerto comic book, noticed.

Hernandez says, “There is one thing I didn’t see in those books. I didn’t see me in there. I didn’t see us, Latinos.”

Nope, there were very few Hispanic characters or stories presented. However, a new generation of writers is looking to Latino culture for inspiration. It’s a full-fledged trend, illustrated by the fact that the Latino Comics Expo was held recently to spotlight Hispanic creators like Hernandez. His creation is a Hispanic hero based on a combination of Aztec mythology and Mexican folklore. I mean, how cool is that?

el muerto

Now, as we all know, comic books often feature thematic elements that appeal to teenagers and/or geeky middle-aged men. These include stories of heroes like the Jonah Hex and Spider-Man, who were outsiders to mainstream culture. It’s not much a stretch to say that Latinos have long appreciated the theme of being a misunderstood minority.

And now that metaphorical subtext is a little more concrete. Comic books from Hispanic authors range from traditional superhero formats to experimental stories to reality-based tales, such as the life of a Latino punk fan growing up in California.

Personally, I’m waiting for a Hispanic version of Wolverine. Now that would be something.


Finally

By now, you’ve heard about President Obama’s executive action on immigration. The plan could help as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants avoid deportation. It marks a major development in the ongoing debate over immigration, and millions of Latino families could see their entire lives changed because of the decision.

Republicans, of course, are apocalyptic. It’s amnesty, or an impeachable offense, or the downfall of America, or some combination of all those things.

No, they really don’t like it.

republicans_fiscal_cliff_disarray

Already, we’ve heard the GOP say how Hispanics are now going to overrun America and start ethnic cleansing. I’m not exaggerating. This GOP guy thinks it’s a possibility.

Now, I’ve addressed the countless myths, untruths, and slurs that have been hurled at undocumented people over the years. So I’m not going to get into it all over again.

Suffice to say, nobody really knows what effect this decision will have. But it is, as the kids say, a game changer. And it will have very real effects on myriad Latino households.

Of course, if we do start ethnic cleansing, just say that you’re a regular reader of mine. I’ll put in a good word for you.

 


Keep Talking

For a culture steeped in Catholic fatalism — and with a history that includes everything from racial discrimination to economic injustice to death squads — Hispanics sure are an optimistic bunch. I’ve written before about this weird tendency to be positive in the face of disaster. But now I have scientific proof for it.

A recent study says that people who speak Spanish tend to express themselves in a more positive way than speakers of other languages do. The researchers found that “the selection of positive words was greatest among Spanish-speakers” and that those words tend to be “learned more easily, used more frequently and are considered more meaningful.” In addition, overall communication among Spanish-speakers tended to be more positive, and the emotional content of the Spanish language was the highest among the languages studied.

talking

Basically, a conversation in Spanish is more optimistic and heartfelt than it would be in English, even if the content is exactly the same. And you don’t even want to know how much more upbeat Spanish is in comparison to German or Arabic (the alpha and omega of harsh languages).

But it’s not all good news for Hispanics. And here I am part of the problem. I’ve been honest about my struggles with Spanish, and I consider myself passable at the language, at best.

Well, another study has shown that, sure enough, each successive generation of Latinos is less proficient in Spanish. While 92% of the second generation (children of immigrants, like me) speak English very well, only 82% are even conversational in Spanish. By the third generation, nearly 100% of Latinos speak English very well, but only 17% speak Spanish fluently.

So all that optimism will fade away if we don’t teach kids Spanish. Now that’s a pessimistic thought.

 


Dropping Back In

Whenever some data point or statistic about Latinos in America gets published, it is most likely grim. Whether you’re talking about household income, unemployment rate, educational status, media representation, or some other indicator of societal pull, it probably is bad news for Hispanics.

Well, there is some good news for once. In a sign of hope, the nation had its lowest high school dropout numbers last year, and in large part this was because of a steep decline in the dropout rate among Latino students.

graduation

The Latino dropout rate reached a record low of 14% in 2013. As recently as 2000, it was 32%. For you non-mathematically inclined, this means that just over a decade ago, about one out of every three Hispanic kids didn’t graduate. That is beyond abysmal. It is pandemic.

So while the dropout rate for Latinos is still double the overall rate of 7%, this is a positive development. And the surge is even more significant since the number of Hispanic students has increased steadily over the years. Yes, in terms of pure numbers, more Latinos than ever are graduating from high school and enrolling in college.

So don’t tell me I never have something positive to tell you.

 


The Flip Side

Recently, I wrote about ethnic authenticity, and how Hispanics are more likely these days to stand tall and proud, and not deny their Latino roots.

Well, there are exceptions.

For example, you may have heard about José Zamora, a hard-working guy looking for a permanent gig. He spent months looking for work, often sending out 50 to 100 resumes a day, but he received few responses. Then he dropped one letter on his resume, making his first name “Joe,” and he received multiple offers for interviews.

He landed a job and then paid his employer the ultimate compliment in a colorblind society: “I don’t think they would have hired me as a José — they don’t want a José — they want a Joe.”

Yes, that is heartwarming. All the guy had to do to get a job was change his name, dismiss his ethnicity, and basically lie about who he was. It’s a good thing white privilege is dead.

oreilly_stewart2

Zamora says his decision didn’t bother him, and he viewed it as a marketing ploy and an opportunity to reinvent himself. Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it.

But his little experiment shows that a traditional Latino name is an impediment, even with employers who say, “But we love multiculturalism!”

Zamora says that after his story came out, many Hispanics contacted him to say they were going to follow his example. “One guy, his name is Juan, and he said he’s going to go by John,” Zamora said. “A Pedro said he’s gonna be Pete.…You could work in a lot of places as Pete.”

Yes, I bet you could.

 


Flags of Our Fathers and Mothers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ethnic authenticity and the struggle for self-identity in a post-multicultural world.

Actually, that not’s true. In reality, I’m more apt to be thinking about taking my car in for a tune-up, or the odds of the Packers winning their division, or what Kate Winslet is doing right now (probably something sexy).

But when stray thoughts about ethnic authenticity and… well, the rest of it, actually do enter my mind, I think about a recent news story that caught my eye.

Here in California, we had a brouhaha, an imbroglio if you will, when a woman posted a video of herself berating people for flying a Mexican flag in their front yard. The woman, who was running for political office, ultimately lost her day job when the video went viral.

The family with the Mexican flag explained that they were simply expressing ethnic pride and meant no disrespect to America.

amer flag

There are several things going on here. First is the fact that a jingoistic bigot thought she would impress people by posting a video of herself being a bully, and maybe win the xenophobic vote in the process. It’s a sign of progress that this backfired horribly.

Second, the incident shows that for many Latinos, maintaining ties to one’s homeland is crucial to the concept of self-identity. And this drive for ethnic authenticity can span generations.

You see, Hispanics aren’t cowering under the boot of assimilation, like they did so often in the past. Back in the day, Latinos hid evidence of their roots, or they outright disowned their ethnicity, or they did anything they could to try to bluff people into thinking they were descended from the swarthier pilgrims on the Mayflower.

But contemporary Latinos are less likely to be ashamed of who they are, and displays of ethnicity are assumed — correctly — to be a right that can’t be subjugated.

Basically, if some nut comes onto your private property and starts lecturing you on how to be a real American, you are well within your rights to tell them to fuck off.

Now that this is settled, let me get back to those thoughts of Kate Winslet…

 


More Than Skin Deep

What Latino doesn’t love President Obama? Well, what Latino who hasn’t had a family member deported?

But I kid.

In the last presidential election, Hispanics overwhelmingly supported Barack Obama, and their affiliation with the Democratic Party is well-established. Now, it didn’t help much yesterday, when Democrats were trounced by a political party whose leaders include a hog-castrating nutjob.

But maybe some Latinos are jumping on the GOP bandwagon after all. You see, a new study implies that there is a “relationship between skin color and partisan preferences among Latinos.”

black to white
The research found that Latinos with the darkest skin showed a 98% chance of voting Democrat, while those with the lightest skin showed just a 43% chance. Put another way, “lighter-skinned Latinos are more likely than darker-skinned Latinos to identify as Republican and to vote for Republicans.”

So apparently, the lighter skinned you are, the more likely you are to believe that climate change is a myth created by gay socialists who are trying to force everyone to have abortions. And that’s true even if your last name is Rodriguez.

 


Movin’ On Up?

Sometimes you take good news where you can.

So here’s your positive tidbit for the day: The nation’s poverty rate dropped significantly last year for the first time since 2006.

celebrate

Yes, well, hip-hip hooray and all that.

The overall rate dipped from 15% to 14.5% (still pretty damn high).

That rate was pushed down primarily thanks to the efforts of Hispanics, who showed the most improvement. The rate for Latinos fell from 25.6% to 23.5%.

So instead of “over one-quarter of Hispanics live in poverty,” we can now say, “just under one-quarter of Hispanics live in poverty.”

Hey, I warned you that the good news was limited.

Among the reasons for the decline in Latinos’ poverty rate are the improved job market and the fact that more U.S.-born Latinos are entering the workforce. And remember that U.S.-born Latinos “tend to have more education [and] tend to be English-speaking,” which often leads to higher earnings.

Latinos were the only ethnic group to see a noticeable change in their poverty rate last year, but even with that, the percentage of destitute Hispanics is still substantially higher than it is for whites or Asians.

And while Latinos make up 17% of the American population, they constitute 28.1% of poor people.

Do you still feel like celebrating?

 


Not Quite Halloween

Back in the 1960s, the great essayist Joseph Mitchell wrote about his awe at seeing murals depicting “animated skeletons mimicking living human beings engaged in many kinds of human activities, mimicking them and mocking them… I was astonished by these pictures.”

He was describing, of course, the imagery of Día De Los Muertos. In Mitchell’s era, the Latin American holiday was exotic and largely unknown to US readers, and he was performing his writerly duty of passing along intriguing cultural information to his audience.

Today, we all are familiar with Día De Los Muertos — the white face paint on celebrants, the ubiquitous illustrations of grinning skulls, the small panoramas of skeleton musicians and dancers.

diadelosmertos

However, there is still great confusion in America about what this holiday actually signifies. Although it takes place at the same time of year as Halloween and shares the theme of ghostly visitors, there are fundamental differences.

To continue reading this post, please click here.


The Spirit Moves You

Congratulations to Chase, JT, and Guillermo, all of whom won passes to see Ouija, the new horror movie coming out next week.

I didn’t want to mention this before, but Ouija sounds suspiciously like the 1980s classic Witchboard. That movie starred Tawny Kitaen, so you know it was good.

witchboard1

Clearly, we should all be on the lookout for any future movies that address the problem of demonic mass-produced board games.


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