More on That White Thing

Recently, I wrote about the Pew Research Center’s finding that, over the last decade, 2.5 million Latinos changed their racial classification to white. Now this development has caused consternation, rejoicing, or befuddlement, depending upon your perspective.

It’s important to keep in mind, however, that the whole concept of race “is a construct. Its meaning throughout history has had no basis in biological reality but rather in social domination and political contention.”

As we all know, racial classifications have no anthropological basis. So the people who say there is only one race (the human race) are correct, strictly speaking.

one finger

However, for something so arbitrary and minor, race sure causes a lot of controversy. Exacerbating this issue is the fact that the U.S. Census Bureau has always perplexed people with its separation of race and ethnicity, particularly when it comes to Hispanics.

As such, many commentators have argued that a lot of those 2.5 Latinos who changed their race “may not consider themselves white. Many or even most might identify their race as ‘Hispanic’ if it were an explicit option.”

Indeed, we have to consider that “the confusion on the U.S. Census has little to do with evolving ideas about race among Latinos and a lot to do with the limited options available to Latinos.” As such, this is just “more evidence of Americans’ puzzlement about how the census asks separately about race and ethnicity.”

In essence, when it comes to the census, “Hispanics can be at once a race and not a race.”

It’s all very metaphysical, and possibly even a cool discussion if you’re high enough. But it also might say something very real about self-identity and cultural legacies.

You see, there is some debate over whether modern-day Hispanics are the sociological decedents of those huddled masses yearning to be free back in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

Keep in mind that when Ellis Island was an immigration hotspot, “all sorts of immigrants, including Irish, Jews, and Italians, were once considered irredeemably alien, even racially inferior to ‘white’ Americans.”

This sounds intensely similar to how Latinos are described today in many sections of the country. And yet, the longer a Latino family has been in America, the more likely its members are “to check the ‘white’ box.”

Yes, those Latinos who identify as white are more likely “to be second- and third-generation Hispanics than foreign-born and noncitizen Hispanics.”

This lines up with the experience of earlier immigrants. After all, when it comes to the Irish, Italians, and Jews, their fifth-generation descendants don’t hesitate “over how to fill out the census. They check ‘white’ — because that is how the rest of America now sees them.”

Again, that may say something very uplifting or truly disturbing about the direction in which Latino culture is headed. Or maybe it’s both — or neither.

See how tricky this gets?

But to end on an optimistic note, note that the recent census data has also supplied another “strong sign that fears of a unique ‘Hispanic challenge,’ where Hispanics immigrants might remain as a permanent Spanish-speaking underclass, are overblown.”

In fact, there is mounting evidence that “Hispanics are succeeding in American society at a pace similar to that of prior waves of European immigrants.”

And that will continue to be true — whether Latinos are white or not.

 


The Unbearable Whiteness

You may be surprised to know that Latinos can change their race at will. Oh sure, for most people, race is a fixed attribute that was determined at the moment of conception. But Hispanics, unlike mere normal humans, can just go snap, and presto we’ve changed our race.

It’s kind of like Mystique, except we’re not naked all the time.

mystique

The proof of this superpower is in a recent New York Times article, which stated that between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, 2.5 million Americans who said they were Hispanic and “some other race” changed their minds and declared themselves to be Hispanic and white.

This was the largest shift in racial classification among Americans, and it provides, according to the Times, “new evidence consistent with the theory that Hispanics may assimilate as white Americans, like the Italians or Irish, who were not universally considered to be white.”

The data, supplied by the Pew Research Center, is “particularly significant” because “the shift toward white identification withstood a decade of debate over immigration and the country’s exploding Hispanic population, which might have been expected to inculcate or reinforce a sense of Hispanic identity, or draw attention to divisions that remain between Hispanics and non-Hispanic white Americans.”

Basically, it implies that many Latinos are saying, “Enough with the la raza talk. Consider me white.”

Now, some commentators have called shenanigans on this whole story. Indeed, it is quite a leap to glance at some raw numbers and make the sociopolitical conclusion that America may not be “destined to become a so-called minority-majority nation, where whites represent a minority of the nation’s population.” That’s because those predictions “assume that Hispanics aren’t white, but if Hispanics ultimately identify as white Americans, then whites will remain the majority for the foreseeable future.”

Let’s assume for the sake of argument, however, that the numbers reveal something profound about American culture and its future. Namely, that Latinos face “pressure — and the growing opportunity — to blend into society and to identify with the majority.”

Of course, this is a familiar phenomenon. Since this country’s founding, white people have held the vast majority of the political, economic, and cultural power. As such, it makes sense that Americans today “go on unthinkingly treating whiteness as the ideal and social baseline of American life.”

Indeed, there are very real advantages to being white — even if you’re not traditionally white. For example, Hispanics who see themselves as white tend to have higher levels of education and income, and they are less likely to have experienced discrimination.

Now, as we all know, Latinos can be of any race. There are your traditional brown-skinned Hispanics, black Brazilians, blue-eyed blond Argentineans, and just about every hue and texture in between.

As such, it’s no surprise that Hispanics have forged “a cross-cutting identity that can feel like a racial category (shorthanded as ‘brown’) that is sometimes set beside the other major blocs of America’s racial color grid.”

With our place on this mystical grid so amorphous, Latinos are often free to move outside the boundaries, which other ethnicities have trouble doing. Of course, this “fluidity may suggest a lot of things, including a pattern of Hispanic assimilation into whiteness.” And, according to the Times, “white identification may be an indicator of assimilation,” which is a potentially alarming statement.

After all, doesn’t that imply that real Americans are white?

I’ll have more on this in a subsequent post, but I will leave you to ponder that inflammatory question for now.

 


Small Screen Quartet

I live in Los Angeles, so updates about the entertainment industry count as local news. As such, I couldn’t help but notice the following item:

In a “first in U.S. English-language television history,” four Latinas are headlining their own series. Cristela Alonzo stars in Cristela, Callie Hernandez is in The Club (both on ABC), Gina Rodriguez is in the CW’s Jane the Virgin, and NBC’s Shades of Blue stars our old friend Jennifer Lopez.

Jennifer+Lopez1

Now, I have no idea what these shows are about, or if any of them are remotely good. For all I know, they will all be cancelled a month into the season.

Regardless of their fate or pedigree, however, it is unquestionably a positive development that Hispanics are getting more representation on television, and even better, that starring roles are becoming more plentiful. And yes, that’s true even if JLo is involved (just kidding, Ms, Lopez; you know we all love you).

I’ll try to check out these shows when they come on. In the meantime, I will continue pitching my own idea for a show, which is about a gritty, truth-seeking Latino blogger who is smart, sexy, and devilishly handsome.

What can I say? The idea just popped into my head.


TNG

A year ago (actually, 16 months ago), I became a father.

I have purposely avoided writing too much about my son because that gets into, shall we say, less modest territory (the kid is awesome!).

In addition to my desire to avoid being a braggart, I also presumed that the last thing people want to read is another blogger ranting about how his/her kid is a supergenuis who will cure cancer and solve climate change before hitting kindergarten. Basically, it doesn’t make for good posts.

Also, there’s something a little creepy about putting your kid’s personal life out there on the internet, no matter how innocuous or anonymous.

So for all those reasons, you have not heard much about the little guy. Still, I will mention that my wife and I recently took him back to the Midwest to meet his extended family.

At one point, Cousin #3, ace photographer, took a picture of my son, my mom, my grandma, and me. The shot captured four generations, which I imagine is a pretty rare image.

The photo also captured the direct line from a tiny village in El Salvador to a bustling metropolis in America. And it will serve as reminder to my son that no matter what he accomplishes, and no matter how comfortable his life is, he should remember that he is descended from people who walked dirt roads barefoot, and who still have ties to a poor country that, except for a little bit of luck, could have been his home.

With hope, this will serve as a lesson in humbleness for him.

dirt road

But of course, he doesn’t really need it, because the kid is awesome.


The Big D

I once took a diversity assessment, which sought to gauge how I related to people of different ethnicities and creeds.

The assessment’s feedback stated that I had spent very little time with people who didn’t share my racial background. I found that hilarious, because by virtue of growing up Latino in the Midwest, and then working professional jobs around America, I’ve spent more time with white people than I have with my fellow Hispanics. The assessment, therefore, was very, very wrong.

And that is a big problem with measuring diversity. In essence, how do you do it?

statistics

The problem has stumped social scientists, educators, and government officials. Everybody wants more diversity, but as a recent study concluded, “no matter how you look at the numbers, it’s difficult to get a full picture of diversity.” In fact, we can’t even agree what diversity means, much less how to measure it.

After all, is diversity “a measure of equal representation among racial and ethnic groups? Is it a measure of how closely … racial makeup represents society writ large? Or is it something else entirely?”

Perhaps most intriguingly, there is a movement to use “qualitative research methods to try to measure diversity—or the level of inclusion or exclusion of minority groups.”

In other words, maybe we shouldn’t just count how many Latinos are in the city, or at the company, or enrolled on the campus. We should look at how well they fit into that given community. Are they really part of the culture? Or are they just window dressing that allows people to say, “Look at how damn diverse we are!”?

We will most likely never have a perfect level of diversity, but it is even less likely that we will ever have a perfect measurement of it.

But that doesn’t mean the concept isn’t worth chasing.

 


Born in the US of A

Not so long ago, life was easy for xenophobes. They could slander Latinos and immigrants simultaneously, because they were thought of as one and the same. Also, there weren’t that many Hispanics around, so one could spew within the comfort of an imposing majority.

Well, the Pew Research Center just made everything more difficult for the narrow-minded among us. The organization recently announced that the U.S.-born Latino population is growing at a faster rate than the immigrant population. This means that Hispanics are now more likely to be born and raised in America, as full-blooded American citizens.

This also means bigots will have to supplement their rants about undocumented immigrants with plain old racist tirades, thus doubling their effort.

At the very least, when told to “go back where you came from,” Latinos are likely to deflate the assertion with something like, “You mean, go back to Wisconsin?”

bucky-badger-wallpaper

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


On the Road

When I was in college, my roomies and I road tripped to New Orleans, where we had the standard debauched adventures that young men are required to have. It was a great time.

open-road

But now that I’m older, I’m gunning to be the object of the road trip. Specifically, I see that Al Madrigal (otherwise known as the senior Latino correspondent on the Daily Show) is travelling across America to “capture a unique portrait of the many facets of Hispanic culture and life in the U.S.” for an hour-long TV special. Madrigal “will be joined by special guests along the way.”

And that’s where I come in. I’m willing to be one these cryptic “special guests” who comment on Latino culture. I mean, why not? At the very least, I can take Madrigal to a bitchin’ pupuseria right here in my neighborhood. What other qualifications do I need?

I’ll let you know if Al returns my phone call.

 


The Soft Sell

As we all know, Latinos are about as likely to vote Republican as they are to sprout feathers and fly.

The conservative reaction to Latinos’ tendency to vote Democratic is usually disbelief and the continued insistence (despite all evidence to the contrary) that Hispanics are really Republicans but just don’t know it. Even this misguided, paternalistic response is preferable, however, to the other common reaction from conservatives, which is overt hostility to Latinos and the claim that Republicans don’t need nothin’ from those illegal alien sumbitches.

Well, give credit to the big kahunas of the conservative movement, the Koch brothers, who have realized two things:

They need Latinos to win elections. And insulting and denigrating Hispanics doesn’t win them to your side.

As such, “one Koch-backed group is using a softer touch to try to win over part of the nation’s booming Hispanic population.” The group, the Libre Initiative, “is sponsoring English classes, driver’s license workshops, and other social programs to try to build relationships with Hispanic voters.”

As one leader of the Libre Initiative explained, the group is striving to build trust, with the hope that if Hispanics like the organization, “they may seek our opinion on something else.”

It’s unclear what this ominous “something else” is, but it apparently includes the idea that real Latinas “respect authority” and the acknowledgement that the rich are America’s “only productive class.”

For further edification, the speeches at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) may offer a clue. At this who’s-who of the conservative movement, that grand old crazy lady of the right wing, Ann Coulter, was met with applause when she called for the formation of death squads to take out any politician who supported immigration reform.

guat death squad

Now, if there’s one thing that many Latino immigrants know, it’s what a death squad looks like. So it’s clear that conservatives are finally speaking our language.

 


Many Years Later, as He Stood Before the Firing Squad…

The greatest writer of all time has died.

200px-Gabriel_Garcia_Marquez

It is of course impossible to summarize the career of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or to assess his influence on Latin America, the land, he said, of “poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality.”

My favorite Garcia Marquez line doesn’t come from one of his novels, not even the majestic One Hundred Years of Solitude (the greatest novel of all time). No, I like how he stated in an essay the simple truth that “Puritanism is insatiable and feeds upon its own excrement.” It’s one of many brilliant observations, poetically rendered, that he left to the world.

He has no successor.

 


X Marks the Bigot

I’ve never taken Ecstasy. My understanding is that it makes you breathe heavily and feel like having sex with whoever is dancing next to you.

ravers_baby

However, according to a recent study, “there might be a darker side” to the so-called cuddling chemical. Researchers have found that taking the oxytocin hormone “motivates in-group favoritism” and the “derogation of outsiders.” Scientists say that oxytocin has “a role in the emergence of intergroup conflict and violence.”

Basically, dropping E makes it more likely that you will behave like a racist jerk.

The researchers’ study had Dutch males choose imaginary people to join them in a lifeboat. Guys on Ecstasy discriminated against those “with Muslim or German-sounding names,” but “the men who were given a placebo didn’t pay attention to the origin of the names.”

Apparently, Dutch guys have some issues with both Muslims and Germans.

Now, I doubt that Ecstasy suddenly made these guys more racist, in the same way that alcohol does not inexplicably turn people into raging bigots. All these drugs do is lower inhibitions.

Drunk or stoned or otherwise altered individuals lack the capacity to think, “I better say or do what is socially acceptable.” As a result, they go with their gut instinct or true emotions, which are often prejudicial as hell.

Still, if I ever had a desire to go clubbing and pop pills with teenagers, this study has killed that flickering drive. I don’t want some woman dressed in neon colors and sporting day-glo bracelets to start shouting epithets at me over the drone of house music.

That would be the ultimate buzz kill.

 


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