Archive for August, 2010

Two Positives and a Negative

Previously, I’ve written about the ironclad grasp of family in Latino culture. Once again, I’m not arguing that Scandinavians and Belgians and Koreans don’t love their families. I’m just asserting that Hispanics often prioritize family to a level that majority-culture America may find extreme.

After all, the whole idea of sending grandma to the old folks’ home when she gets to be inconvenient is not a Latino tradition. Similarly, it wasn’t Hispanic politicians who hijacked the term “family values” to justify why they hated certain groups of people (although many Latinos were only too happy to adopt that definition after the fact; but that’s another post).

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Bad Behavior

Just to be clear, nobody should yell “Nazi” at people unless there are, you know, actual Nazis present.

I make this clarification not just because it’s the truth, but because so many people have had their sensibilities offended during the arduous debate over immigration.

Judging from reader comments to several of my posts, it is not illegal immigrants and their supporters who have been slandered. No, this coalition of liberals and minimum-wage workers — outnumbered by at least two to one in many opinion polls — are the aggressors.

Yes, the “Nazi” label has apparently been tossed at people who support laws such as SB 1070. Now, even if you’re in a privileged position of economic power and numerical supremacy, and the person yelling it is near society’s bottom rung, that’s got to sting (although it would be nice to acknowledge that dynamic).

For the sake of argument, let’s call it even, and forget about all the racial slurs and threatening vitriol aimed at illegal immigrants. We’ll also let it go that much of people’s defensiveness (“I am not a fascist!”) is just the attempt to counter-attack uncomfortable accusations of racism.

It’s impossible to measure how many individuals on each side are acting like lunatics and to what degree. So let’s just call it unsightly all around.

However, I would ask that if you send me hyperbolic emails detailing crazed behavior by illegal immigrants, as one person did, that you at least keep it timely.

You see, I recently received a forward about the Montebello flag-raising incident. If you don’t recall, some Latino teenagers in California got out of hand during a demonstration. They raised the Mexican flag, and hung the American flag beneath it, upside-down.

It’s certainly a striking image. Perhaps that’s why it’s still flying around the internet as proof of a Latino insurrection, despite the fact that it happened in 2006.

Now, it would seem to me that if nothing more egregious than raising a flag has happened in the last four years, then the Hispanic overthrow of our government is not quite the threat the right wing is presenting.

At the risk of becoming defensive myself, I’d like to bring up an image from a demonstration that resonated with me. Granted, the protest was about healthcare, not immigration, but it at least occurred within the last year or so.

You may have seen this gentleman, and others like him. They believed it was a good idea to carry assault rifles to venues where President Obama was speaking.

The response from conservatives was praise and the usual pontificating about Second Amendment rights.

So if we’re keeping track: A bunch of unruly teenagers come up with a tacky way to protest, and it becomes a horrifying sign of revolution. However, grown men show up with firearms in a clear attempt to terrify their political foes, and it is a sign of patriotism.

The kids were disciplined for their idiotic prank. The guys with guns, however, went about their lives just fine, with the biggest burden probably the hassle of digging through the fan mail they received.

I could also point out that many of those teens have been told, sometimes overtly, that they are subhumans who have no rights. This is contrast to the adults with guns, who tend to be at the top of the American pecking order. They should also be – and let me phrase this delicately – old enough to know better.

So by all means, if the emotional response of teenagers is more of a threat to you than the aggressive tactics of adults, make your case. The odds are, however, that you will lose that competition.


Big Talk

When I was a kid, my mom volunteered to get the ERA passed. She was disappointed (actually, quite pissed) when the Equal Rights Amendment ran out of gas near the finish line.

The ERA was fairly popular, but it couldn’t get past the high hurdle that proposed Constitutional amendments face: Two-thirds of both chambers of Congress must pass it, and then three-fourths of the states have to approve it. There’s an alternative method of approving amendments that involves a Constitutional convention, but that route is less common.

In recent months, we’ve heard that another change to the Constitution is imminent. Yes, conservatives have their hearts set on revoking Amendment 14. This pesky amendment, among other things, establishes that people born in the United States are full citizens.

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So Much for Racial Purity

I recently became engrossed in a writer’s account of the search for his ethnic roots. Joe Mozingo, a white man, chronicled the reverse “Roots” saga of discovering that his original ancestor in America was black.

Mozingo tracked down several extended relatives, few of whom he had ever met or had anything in common with, and noted their often torturous explanations of the family name and history. Most had no clue what their ethnicity was, and simply guessed “Italian” if the subject ever came up (which was rare).

Of course, it’s funny to read about the contemporary Southern redneck who, far from being an emblem of racial purity, is actually the descendent of a Bantu immigrant. Wait, it’s not just funny – it’s fucking hilarious.

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A Couple of Kooks

Baseball season is winding down, and my hometown team continues to flounder (no, I don’t want to talk about it, thank you).

But one bright spot in this dismal year is the perpetually colorful Ozzie Guillen. The manager of the Chicago White Sox often makes comments that range from bizarre to offensive, and one never knows if he’s going to let loose with a maniacal observation, incoherent insight, or slanderous attack. Not many people can go from egotistical rant to self-loathing diatribe in the same interview, but Guillen manages it.

Recently, Guillen made news by claiming that Major League Baseball treats Asian players better than it does Latin American players. He pointed out that, among other things, Asian players are assigned translators, while Latin American players are left to fend for themselves.

Guillen added that “We bring a Japanese player and they are very good and they bring all these privileges to them. We bring a Dominican kid … go to the minor leagues, good luck.”

OK, his syntax is garbled (it’s part of his charm). But Guillen’s point — that Latin American players are treated as less important and more disposable — is a valid one.

One could argue that it’s simple economics. MLB probably assumes that the many players from the Dominican Republic and Cuba and so on will look out for each other. Maybe they feel that they have to coddle a kid from Taiwan. I don’t know.

But I appreciate that Guillen, in his own undeniably idiosyncratic way, has once again gotten people to think about an issue bigger than baseball.

The other outrageous comment that caught my attention recently came from an unlikely source.

Yes, Rupert Murdoch, Mr. Fox News himself, recently called for immigration reform that would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented residents. This is the infamous “amnesty” provision.

Murdoch said that we’re missing a chance for reform because we’re bashing illegal immigrants too much. He added that Americans need to deal with the fact that more residents are speaking Spanish, saying that such changes have “been going on in this country for hundreds of years. You’ve got to adjust.”

Coming from a guy who signs Bill O’Reilly’s paychecks, his comments are clearly more shocking than anything Ozzie Guillen could say.


Oh, and Another Thing

Hey, I’ve got a great idea. Let’s bring up that whole “What is racism?” discussion again. That’s always good for a few laughs. And nobody ever gets riled up to fight.

Yes, one of my recent posts brought in more critical comments and hate mail than usual. In it, I expressed my opinion that racism requires bigotry plus power. As such, in America, white people can be racist, while ethnic minorities don’t have the cultural potency to express pure racism.

Of course, I didn’t come up with this definition. It’s been around for years, and millions of people agree with it. In all likelihood, millions more disagree with it.

When I wrote the post, this definition of racism wasn’t even my main point, nor did I think it would garner more than a few derisive comments. As such, I was surprised when so many people lashed out, repeatedly. It was a rare moment of naivety on my part.

I addressed the fallout in this post, but I have to add a couple of points.

First, we have to acknowledge our different perspectives. As I’ve written before, calling a white person a racist is about the worst insult that can be leveled at them.

For this reason, it is in the white person’s interest to believe that this derogatory term is not reserved solely for them. It lessens the sting if anybody can be racist. Conversely, it’s in the ethnic minority’s interest to say, “You’re not pinning yet another horrible label on me; that one is all about you.”

Second, and on a more personal level, I still believe that most of the people who disagreed with me have sincere and principled arguments. However, it was impossible to miss a creepy subtext within a tiny minority of attack missives.

Clearly, some individuals were not used to having their opinions questioned, and grew quite irritated at my refusal to say, “OK, you win.” I can only assume that they have some degree of cultural power, and they need others to acknowledge that.

I can only ponder why that is.


Dead Horse

“If you really want racism to disappear, don’t mention it!”

Comment on CNN message board

I recently read an article on a mainstream news site that addressed the messy racial overtones of a certain political situation. I expected the reader comments to be a maelstrom of partisan rhetoric and crazed theories. They did not disappoint.

However, one reader took a different approach. The commentator railed against the site for running the article in the first place. The comment was, more or less, “Stop playing the race card. All it does is divide us.”

I couldn’t help but think of a recent comment I received on one of my posts. I had written about some recent shenanigans aimed at Latinos. A reader didn’t dispute my analysis of the event. Instead, he or she stated that I was beating a dead horse and that looking at racial issues was “getting old.”

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Blast From the Past

When President Lyndon Johnson signed civil rights legislation in the 1960s, he famously remarked that Democrats had lost the South for a generation. Of course, he was an optimist. It’s two generations, and counting, since white Southerners have become synonymous with the Republican Party.

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Touchy, Touchy

I recently spoke to my old friend the Bitca. At one point, we talked about my writing.

She said, “Your blog doesn’t need a button that says, ‘Like.’ You need a button that says, ‘You really fucking did it now.’ I would have clicked that button.”

Then she laughed.

She was talking about one of my recent posts, which irked more than a few people over on the Change.org site.

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You Can’t Kill Optimism

With hope, this is the last post I will write about the Great Recession. Like every American, I cannot say goodbye and good riddance quickly enough to this horrific period of economic malaise.

By the way, is the word “malaise” ever used in any context other than economic? But I digress.

The past few years have been, to use sophisticated analytical terms, a total financial clusterfuck. And yes, Latinos were hit harder than most.

I’ve written before about the sky-high unemployment rate among Hispanics and plummeting rates of remittances to Latin America and general economic depression in the Hispanic community. To put a capstone on these stats, the National Hispana Leadership Institute released a study showing how sucky it is to be Latino right now, particularly if you’re older. The study was undertaken with AARP, so it looked at Latinos age forty-five or older.

What they found was that Hispanics in this age group were twice as likely to lose their jobs as the general population was. Latinos were also more likely to suffer a decrease in earnings. In addition, almost half of Hispanics had trouble paying for the bare essentials, and over one-third cut back on basic medications. Finally, about twenty percent lost their health insurance (I’m sure the rates are much lower among Tea Baggers).

With stats like that, it would be understandable if we Hispanics curled up in a corner, sucking our thumbs and trying vainly to think happy thoughts. But we’re talking about people who routinely ditch old lives for a shot at a better future.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Latinos have shown resiliency during this nightmarish time. The report points out that Hispanics were more likely than the general population to look for new jobs, to seek advanced training, and to work toward keeping their skills up to date.

Most interestingly, Hispanics were twice as likely as the general population to start their own businesses. Yes, even in a disastrous era, Latinos were among the first to take a chance on making things better.

I can’t say that happy endings are in store for all those Hispanics who got through this mess. But again, I hope that I never have to return to the topic of how terrible things once were.


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