Culture

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.


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…

 


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.

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A Matter of Life and Death

I became a father last year. In between the debates about proper discipline, bed times, and circumcision pros and cons, my wife and I agreed on one thing: Our son will learn how to swim, and soon.

It amazes me how parents who will take the time to teach a kid how to ride a bike or throw a football will not insist on swim lessons. You see, it is highly unlikely that one’s life will depend upon the ability to fly a kite or bake a perfect cookie or any of the other skills that parents often deem essential.

But knowing how to stay afloat is crucial. For grim evidence, I refer to a recent story out of Oregon. Four members of a Latino family — representing three generations — drowned in a single accident. None of the family members knew how to swim.

While extreme in its heartbreaking intensity, the tragedy is not an isolated incident. Many Hispanics do not have access to water-safety classes, equipment, and other resources that will keep them safe in the water. And too many Latino parents view swimming as a luxury, or as unimportant to daily living, or as something that white kids in suburbs do.

But keep this in mind: Children, in particular those who cannot swim, face a higher risk of drowning. And only about 40 percent of Latino children can swim, compared to about 60 percent of white children.

Many of my family members cannot swim and/or are actively terrified of the water. I taught myself how to swim when I was a kid, because I loved jumping into lakes so much (it was a phase). But let’s face it, taking swimming lessons is better.

life-time-swim-03

In the Oregon town where the tragedy occurred, local officials are reaching out to the Latino community to emphasize the importance of water safety. And a nearby facility will host family swim lessons, offering financial assistance for those who need it.

So when summer comes around again, do yourself and your kids a favor. Hit the water and dog-paddle for all you are worth.

 


Shakin’ All Over

Last week, for the second time this month, we had a significant temblor give our house a shake. We live in Los Angeles, so this kind of thing is not unexpected. Our one-year-old son, native Californian that he is, even slept through the last one.

But I’ve noticed something more than a little off-putting about the nation’s reaction to California earthquakes. Message boards and internet commentary usually light with people proclaiming their earnest wish that all of us out here in California, well, just die horrible deaths.

Some of the comments I saw included, “Too bad it wasn’t the Big One,” and “Waiting for California to slide into the ocean. Goodbye, weirdoes!” and “If only earth would finish the job and slide that festering leftist infection into the depths of the Pacific.”

It doesn’t seem to work the other way. When tornadoes hit Missouri, I don’t see commentators wishing that the entire state be blown away. And when hurricanes hit Florida, there is often an outpouring of goodwill and wishes for those in the storm’s path.

But California? Well, I guess we deserve to get swallowed up by the Earth.

earthquake-gallery-9

Of course, a lot of the animosity is directed toward our state’s undocumented immigrants, which if you believe right-wing media, currently account for 90 percent of the population.

The rest of it seems to be a combination of petty jealousy over our good weather, disdain for Hollywood celebrities, and vitriol aimed at our state’s frequently liberal policies.

But regardless of your political viewpoint, I would add that if the thought of thousands, perhaps, millions of your fellow Americans meeting a sudden, violent death is something that fills you with glee or smug satisfaction, then there is very little difference between you and Al Quada.

In any case, we here in California are not pleading for you to stop picking on us. We would just like the haters to acknowledge their irrational anger and stop pretending to love America (while despising its largest state and wishing destruction upon all who live there).

And to be honest, we are concerned about the next big earthquake. We’re worried that all of you will drop off into the Atlantic.

 


All You Need Is…

I’ve written before about the mythical Hispanic Health Paradox. Basically, despite the fact that Latinos “are less likely to have health insurance, go to doctors less often, and receive less in the way of hospitalization or high-level care when they are sick, they have lower rates of heart disease, cancer and stroke.”

Now, a new study shows that Hispanics “throughout the U.S. outlive people of all other races.” That’s right — having a bit of Latino in you means that you will probably live almost three years longer than white Americans, “and in some states, nearly eight years longer than African-Americans. The effect is more pronounced in immigrants but also applies to Hispanics born in the U.S.”

The reason the word “paradox” is attached to this phenomenon is because Latinos face “higher rates of poverty and lower rates of education and employment,” which implies that we will die off faster, not live longer. “But after nearly 30 years and hundreds of studies looking at the health behaviors, migration patterns, and characteristics of Hispanics, scientists still haven’t found the answer” to why we stick around for years past our white and black brethren.

Well, the latest conjecture for why this happens is a little awkward, scientifically speaking. Some experts have theorized that the reason is, “in essence, love.”

hearts

Yes, the infamous Latino fixation on family apparently provides Hispanics with strong emotional support and social interaction, both of which are important in fighting off disease and recovering from illness. Other cultures in America do not have the same bedrock foundation, and this may be why they kick the bucket sooner.

The report concludes that “the importance of family is more pronounced among Hispanics,” which has to be the least shocking announcement ever. But the fact that those same families help us to keep chugging along is an insight that researchers hope “has the potential to help us all live longer.”

So once again, you’re welcome, America.

 


The Beaten Generation

Yes, I’m a proud member of Gen X, in all it’s cynical, world-weary, Nevermind glory.

nevermind

However, Gen X is being pushed off the stage by those pesky Millennials. And what do these interlopers look like (particularly the Hispanic ones)?

Well, Latinos age 18 to 34 are focusing on getting themselves educated. However, they are not so interested in setting up their own homes.

These insights come from a recent study that found Millennial Hispanics “are almost 20% more likely than non-Hispanic whites in the same age group to reside in a multigenerational household.” That means more young Latinos are stuck living with mom and dad. They’re also getting married later. About a third of “Hispanic young adults today are married — down 17% since 2008.”

But they are going to college. Almost half (49%) of Hispanics 18-24 are enrolled in college, and this is “a higher enrollment rate than non-Hispanic whites (47%).”

So if Gen X Hispanics must make way for Millennial Latinos, at least we know they will be well educated. Now if they could just get out of their parents’ basements.

 


Between the Lines

Perhaps it’s no surprise in a culture that has produced such literary geniuses as Garcia Marquez and Vargas Llosa. But the news that reading is a vital part of young Hispanics’ lives is heartening nevertheless.

lastbookstore

According to a recent study, Hispanic children read for more than an hour a day (68 minutes on average), or an average of 14 minutes more per day than white children do.

Still, it’s not all literary highlights. The study also found that Latino kids average about a half-hour a day more TV time than their white counterparts (127 minutes verses 98 minutes).

That’s over three hours a day that Hispanic kids are either glued to the tube or have their noses in books.

Apparently, we really, really like a good story.

 


Who?

Another Hispanic Heritage Month has ended. Yes, there were lots of mentions of Cesar Chavez, as well as a few other well-known Latinos. But I’m always amazed that one influential Latina is never brought up. I’m talking about La Malinche (1502–1527).

Malinche_Digital

Now, in Mexico, the story of La Malinche is a big deal. The woman’s reputation “has been altered over the years according to changing social and political perspectives,” and Mexicans think of her as everything from an “evil or scheming temptress” to “the embodiment of treachery, the quintessential victim, or simply as the symbolic mother of the new Mexican people.”

But here in America, you are to be forgiven if you’ve never heard of her. I only encountered her story a few years ago myself. So who was she?

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Scary

Our babysitter is a recent immigrant (from Africa). She was confused about the concept of Halloween, so she asked me to explain it to her.

Halfway through mentioning the various aspects — ghosts and goblins, people watching horror movies, children going door to door for candy, adults getting drunk, women dressing trashy — she asked, “I don’t understand how that is all one holiday, and what do pumpkins have to do with anything?” She’s right. This is one seriously schizophrenic party.

And I didn’t even get into the roots of the holiday, which are in the pagan celebration of Samhain. And of course, I was remiss in not mentioning the Latin American custom of Dia de los Muertos, which has established more of a presence in the United States over the last few years, largely because of the booming Hispanic population (you’re welcome).

But regardless of how you celebrate today, be sure to maintain the spirit of the holiday. You know, like the kids do.

skeleton mom


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