Archive for January, 2011

Long Distance

I recently completed the final profile of my family’s members. The anecdotes will keep coming, of course, but I won’t be focusing on a single member at this point.

I’ve written before of how Latino families tend to be close, and indeed, my cousins and I were raised more like siblings than distant relatives.

Still, I don’t know if it’s ironic, coincidental, or completely logical that people who grew up in a tight bunch are now so scattered around the Western Hemisphere.

Perhaps it’s the confidence that we will always remain in touch that has allowed us to branch out. Or maybe it’s just our immigrant roots that propel us onward.

I spoke to many of them last month, on various long-distance phone calls and/or email exchanges around Christmas. I’ve written before about how Hispanics tend to treat Christmas as a true fiesta and not a somber obligation.

Decades ago, shortly after my cousins from El Salvador came to America, we had our first mongo-huge event. What I remember most was Cousins #4 and #5, speaking to each other in fast overlapping English and Spanish. Half of their communication consisted of attempts to get their points across. The barrier would frustrate most adults, but to the girls, it was a hilarious game that never got old. Their pantomime and mangled words amused them so much that they often forgot what they were trying to say and just laughed in harmony. Their medium truly was their message.

At one of our last get-togethers, some of the cousins were holed up in a bedroom, talking about the pressures and stresses of the holidays. Of course, one by one, we all wandered into the room, until we had to stop bitching about the burdens of family because we were all pretty much crowded in there, which negated our insistence that we spent too much time together.

We see each less these days, of course. New bonds have formed over the years. For example, one of Cousin #2’s children shares my name. I presume that this connects us, although he is a toddler and doesn’t seem to recognize the significance.

When I was introduced to him, his mother referred to me as his uncle. Someone else in the family said that we were cousins, twice removed or something like that. I honestly don’t know what our precise connection is, and like him, I won’t give it a lot of thought.

It’s enough that we’re family.

Another Winner

Congratulations to Jules, who won the latest Hispanic Fanatic contest. She won copies of Raul Ramos y Sanchez’s latest novel, House Divided, as well as his earlier book, America Libre.

And all Jules had to do was comment on one of my many long-winded posts. What a deal…

Thanks to everybody who entered. We had a much better turnout to this contest than to the initial giveaway. This implies either that most of you are high-falutin’ literary types, or you just really don’t care for Nicolas Cage that much.

But now that we’re on a roll — two contests in one month — maybe I’ll throw another giveaway in there soon.

Until then, stay tuned for more rants.

And by the way, now you can catch some of my posts on the Being Latino site.

Click here to check out some of the other writers for this great project.

Marketing 101

Many thanks to everyone who has recently commented on my posts. You’re all in the running for copies of Raul Ramos y Sanchez’s novels as part of my latest giveaway.

I have to admit, however, that Emmasota’s comment about the Dream Act’s demise conjured up an unpleasant memory for me.

You see, last year I worked with a nonprofit to advocate for the passage of the Dream Act. I knew the odds were long, and of course, the legislation ultimately didn’t pass.

But I would feel better today about fighting the good fight if I hadn’t known, at the time, that our approach was doomed. I had a queasy sensation early on, when I saw one of the video packages that the nonprofit put together (I wasn’t involved with that stage of the campaign).

The video featured kids who would directly benefit from the Dream Act’s passage. Much of it was good, with heart-tugging stories from all-American, clean-cut teens.

But then the bottom fell out. The voiceover threw around terms like “fairness” and “justice.” And one of the teens stated that he “deserved” the rights that the Dream Act would confer.

I knew it was over as soon as the kid said that word.

Americans don’t want to hear that anybody deserves anything. Hell, many citizens will lose their minds if one implies that they deserve basic healthcare (and that’s in their own self-interest!). They certainly don’t want to hear that some whiny kid who wasn’t even born in this country “deserves” his rights.

Sending a video to media outlets and political leaders that featured this tone-deaf tactic just stunned me. Clearly, many advocates of immigration reform haven’t learned the importance of basic marketing.

They continue to push the compassion angle, or back up their assertions with facts that impress no one.

But if the Bush years taught us anything, it’s that sympathy is for suckers. More important, we learned that the truth is irrelevant. Or it’s at least a distant second to proper messaging.

How else do you think conservatives got an overwhelming majority of Americans to embrace a war that made absolutely no sense?

Other progressive movements have learned this tactic.

For example, gay rights are also issue of fairness and basic justice. Yet, advocates of repealing the DADT Policy went easy on this essential truth. Instead, they successfully presented the issue as one that was necessary to America’s well-being.

The message was, basically, “We need all the help we can get establishing a strong military and intelligence network. This will keep America safe, so drop your prejudice in favor of simple self-preservation.”

It worked. DADT is history.

Immigration-reform advocates need to adopt this strategy. Instead of pointing out about how unfair or irrational our policies are — which is true but a loser’s lament — hit people in the wallet by making it clear that a massive-deportation philosophy will cost them money. Or hammer home the idea that policies such as the Dream Act will improve the economy and strengthen the military.

In other words, let’s see more about how immigration reform will benefit current citizens, instead of pleading that civil rights be extended to strangers.

It may not be pretty, or even that principled. But it has to be more effective than what we’ve accomplished so far.

Just Words?

Earlier this week, the United States celebrated MLK Day. For the last quarter-century, we’ve marked this occasion with tributes and speeches that restate ideals that shouldn’t need to be restated. I’m talking about the basics: shunning bigotry, treating individuals of different backgrounds with respect, judging people by the content of their character, and so on. We really should have these concepts down by now, but we don’t.

In any case, Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy is framed within the context of civil rights. Indeed, the phrase “civil rights movement” is practically trademarked to refer to the quest of African Americans in the 1960s to gain the privileges promised to them in the U.S. Constitution.

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What? Another Contest?

OK, so Season of the Witch is apparently not a runaway blockbuster. That doesn’t mean I’ve soured on giving out freebies to you, as thanks for reading my posts.

As such, I’m happy to announce a new contest. And this one is much more Latino-relevant.

The gifted writer Raul Ramos y Sanchez has a new novel coming out. It’s called House Divided, and it’s an epic about a Latino family.

Readers who comment on any my posts will be entered for a chance to win a copy of both House Divided and his earlier novel, America Libre.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez is an amazing writer and, I’m pleased to report, an occasional commentator on my posts. So I’m thrilled to promote his work and get more people to read him.

And as opposed to my last giveaway, this contest is open to everyone, not just lucky individuals in select cities. I don’t even have to like your comment; just post a response to any of my articles, and you’re entered in the drawing.

I will announce the winner of both books during the week of January 24. So let’s get those comments going, and good luck.

American Tragedy

For the past year or so, I’ve been critical of Arizona, and with reason. But now is not the time for rehashing SB 1070 or the state’s attempts to whitewash its culture.

Instead, all of us are sending positive thoughts, good karma, and, yes even prayers to Tucson.

The assassination attempt on Rep. Gabrielle Giffords left six people dead and a dozen wounded.

We have no idea if the gunman was, as many pundits presume, motivated by right-wing vitriol or Sarah Palin’s crosshairs or some other conservative fear-mongering tactic.

However, it would be the ultimate elephant-in-the-room moment to avoid bringing up the unsavory connections.

After all, we’re talking about a psycho in a red state who took advantage of lax gun-control laws to carry out an attack on a Democrat. The guy spouted conspiracy theories that are close to right-wing talking points, and he expressed hatred for the government. Let’s face it: It’s unlikely that he’s an Obama man.

Still, we don’t know what this domestic terrorist’s agenda or motives are, and we’ll set aside the hyper-defensiveness of right-wingers who are tripping over themselves to shout, “It wasn’t us, so don’t you dare even bring it up!”

Instead, what interests me is the story of Daniel Hernandez, the young intern who is credited with saving Giffords’ life. Five days into his job, he wound up running toward gunfire, taking action to prevent his boss from choking to death on her own blood in a Safeway parking lot.

The irony, clearly, is that in Arizona, a lunatic can obtain a Glock without question, while a hero named Hernandez may be stopped by cops and asked to present citizenship papers.

It should also be noted that the maniac in question is a native-born American. I mean, I thought undocumented immigrants were causing all our crime. But here this suburban thug raised in comfort has caused more death and destruction than whole neighborhoods of illegal immigrants ever have.

It’s all very depressing, of course. But even this most grotesque of events has its black-comedy moments. For example, the gunman was apparently obsessed with grammar, and he believed that the government controlled people through the manipulation of the English language.

Who knows; maybe he would have been less crazy if he just spoke Spanish.

You Can’t Win ‘Em All

Thanks to Lucifurry and Ankhesen Mie for their recent comments on my posts.

Perhaps they were as surprised as I was to find out that, in 2011, gay soldiers are less controversial than undocumented immigrants.

Yes, in a final burst of lame-duck progressivism, the U.S. Congress rightfully eliminated the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy at the end of 2010. As happy as I am for gay-rights activists, I feel a twinge of jealousy that about five minutes before the Senate decided to give the homophobia a break, these same people said, “But those brown-skinned kids still have to go.

Even though they were willing to deal with President Obama on just about every other piece of last-minute legislation, Republicans squashed the Dream Act as if it were a pesky mosquito.

Clearly, getting tough on illegals is still a resonant theme for the GOP. This is despite the fact that it is long-term political suicide to piss off the fastest-growing demographic in America.

The approach also ignores the fact that “Americans are more inclined to support than oppose legislation similar to the Dream Act.”

So even popular appeal is not enough to pass this most modest of reforms, which “was originally designed to be the first in a sequence of measures to resolve the status of the nation’s illegal immigrants.”

Rather than a starting point, however, the Dream Act became a flash point, proving that “in the age of stalemate, immigration may have a special place in the firmament.”

Indeed, could anyone have predicted, a decade ago, that Republicans would be more willing to say nice things about homosexuals than they are to pass immigration reform that’s actually beneficial to their big-business overlords?

And the miniscule progress that has been made will soon be wiped out, because “when Republican lawmakers take over the House and gain strength in the Senate … a decade-long drive to overhaul the immigration system and legalize some of the estimated 11 million undocumented migrants seems all but certain to come to a halt.”

The optimists among us insist that change is still possible. In fact, President Obama recently told Congressional Hispanic Caucus members that “he’ll renew his push for comprehensive immigration reform in 2011 — even though such an effort would face even longer odds in a Congress where Republicans control the House.”

But quixotic efforts aside, no one expects the issue to be resolved in time for, say, the 2012 elections. That means it will once again be open season on the undocumented (and by extension, Latinos) during the presidential campaign.

If only we were as popular and universally beloved as gay people are… yes that’s sarcasm.

The Numbers Are In

Let’s start this New Year with some quick facts, courtesy of the 2010 U.S. Census:

  • The resident population of the United States is now 308,745,558, a 9.7 percent increase over 2000
  • Latino population growth for the decade was around 29 percent
  • Non-Latino population growth was about 4 percent
  • The fastest-growing states were generally states with large Latino populations

At the great risk of pointing out the obvious, it’s clear that Hispanics are a big reason that this country is growing at all. Keep in mind that immigration, both legal and illegal, has been declining ever since the Great Recession began, which means that Latino population growth would be even greater if not for the quirky anomaly of a total economic collapse.

So Latinos are driving America’s growth. Depending on your perspective, this is either a positive development for multiculturalism or the final stage of the dreaded Brown Invasion.

One thing that it indisputably means, however, is that Hispanic influence — on everything from political movements to pop culture events — will only increase in the new decade.

It may also mean the death of a particularly pernicious tactic: Scapegoating Hispanics for America’s ills.

But hatred is a strong and insatiable monster, and as Angelo Falcon, president of the National Institute for Latino Policy, has stated, “Turning our population numbers into political and economic power is not an automatic or simple thing to accomplish.”

So expect the fear-mongering to go on for a while, even as Latinos become more numerous, and we segue from exotic pioneers to next-door neighbors.

By the way, the U.S. population grew at its lowest rate since the Great Depression. So without Hispanics, the United States would be in danger of becoming one of those teetering industrial nations, like Japan or Italy, where stagnant growth is causing widespread concern about the future. That’s not really the case here.

You’re welcome, America.

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