Tag: changing demographics

Straight Outta That One Place

I’m old enough to remember when hip-hop first broke through. I’m talking about artists like Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Slick Rick, and Run DMC. And what about Kid Frost, arguably the first Latino rapper?

Of course, I definitely remember the first time I heard NWA. Those guys were fucking terrifying.

 

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At the time, I had never been to Los Angeles. Now I live here — something I could not have predicted all those years ago. And yes, I have spent a little time in South Central.

Compton today is not the gangsta mecca that is was back in the day. The city still struggles with poverty and unemployment. But crime — especially homicide — has plummeted in recent years.

And for the place that symbolized African American disillusionment, there is some irony in the fact that Latinos now make up about two-thirds of the city.

Does this mean everything got better when Hispanics moved in? Well, that would be an interesting, even bigoted claim to make.

There are, of course, myriad reasons for Compton’s improvement over the decades, but it is undeniable that Hispanics have changed the city in many ways.

Naturally, culture clashes have occurred. It is human nature, unfortunately, for tribalism to kick in when “outsiders” show up. And that’s true whether it’s blacks moving in white neighborhoods, whites moving into Latino neighborhoods, Hispanics moving into black neighborhoods, and so on in every combination of cultural and ethnic diaspora possible.

But again, does the fact that this particular city is a lot more livable than it was thirty years ago mean that the album Straight Outta Compton is a period piece? Hardly — nor is the movie a look back at a distant past that is inconceivable to us.

Events in Ferguson and around the nation are enough to prove that.

The man himself, Ice Cube, says the only change in race relations is that cell phones now exist so that violent confrontations can be filmed.

Somehow, that doesn’t make us feel all warm and fuzzy.

 


Sick Days

Yes, I’m as guilty as any other white-collar worker of bitching about office politics, inane corporate policies, and clueless colleagues who walked straight out of Dilbert.

dilbert dogbert

But at least there is a pretty good likelihood that I will not get killed at my desk. Of course, my odds would be better if I weren’t Hispanic.

That’s because a recent study found that Latino workers are 18 percent more likely to be killed on the job than workers of any other racial/ethnic group.

So it’s bad enough we Latinos have a tougher time getting a job in the first place. Now it looks like once we are gainfully employed, we have to punch in next to the Grim Reaper.

 

Why is this? Well, the chief reason is because Hispanics are heavily represented in the construction and landscape industries. And those are dangerous gigs.

It’s even more lethal if you are an immigrant worker, who experience the highest risk of death on the job. Those would be the same immigrant workers who are, you know, destroying America by stealing jobs and launching crime sprees and raping people nonstop (at least in Donald Trump’s world).

In any case, the report is even more troubling because it shows that the number of people who die while working continues to decline each year… but not if they’re Hispanic.

It makes you wonder about a system that exploits undocumented workers, puts them at an increased risk of death, and then, quite literally, adds insult to injury by blaming them for every possible social ill (even though there is rarely any data that validates this viewpoint).

 

I would go on about this grotesquery, but I’m getting a little nervous about working at my computer, being Latino and all.

So if you need to talk to me, I’ll be cowering under my desk.

 


All Waffles Come With a Side of Hatred

I think we can all agree that stopping the growing Nazi scourge that is taking over pancake houses across America should be our nation’s top priority.

Wait… you don’t know what I’m taking about?

Then clearly you haven’t seen this video, in which a brave patriot stands up to a Latina who committed the grievous sin of speaking Spanish in public.

The woman, Norma Vazquez, was at an IHOP here in Los Angeles with her son, Carlos Steven. They were apparently letting all those trilled R’s and double L’s fly around the place during their private conversation. And hey, let’s face it, even whispering Spanish is a clear affront to God’s favorite language — English.

So a woman approached the Vazquezes, and in the spirit of neighborliness, promptly snapped, “We speak English in America.” She also offered the helpful suggestion that the mother and son should “go back to Spain,” even though Ms. Vasquez is from El Salvador.

Now, you might ask what all this has to do with Nazis. Well, that’s where things go from ignorant and hateful to completely weird.

The confrontational lady equated speaking English with freedom, telling the Vazquez family, “Do you want the Russians over here telling you what to do? Do you want the Nazis telling you what to do?”

Indeed, I’m sure all red-blooded Americans agree that saying anything in Spanish is the gateway to fascism. Perhaps the wrong combination of Spanish phrases — like el sombrero or la fiesta or sin verguenza — acts as some sort of incantation, causing Hitler and his minions to rise from the grave and feast upon the brains of English-speaking, freedom-loving Americans everywhere.

And yes, that does sound like a kick-ass sequel to Dead Snow.

dead snow

 

In any case, it turns out that Norma Vazquez does speak English, but her preferred language is Spanish. It also turns out that her son, Carlos Steven, knows how to use a camera phone. He videotaped the English-only lady and her bizarre tirade, and he posted it to Facebook, where it has since garnered 15 million views and almost 500,000 shares.

So what do we make of this situation? Well, it’s clear that the fear of foreign languages and hatred of bilingualism — which are concepts fairly unique to America — aren’t fading away soon. It’s also clear that individuals who really, really hate Spanish will continue to insist that it is their right, even their duty, to accost people and let ‘em have it if so much as an hola slips out.

Remember, just a few months ago, another upstanding patriot screamed, “USA, English only,” at terrified schoolchildren.

As for the English-only woman prowling around IHOPs, ready to pounce on Spanish speakers at the first sign of trouble, well, I’m tempted to call her a xenophobe.

But she would probably just say that’s a made-up word and to speak English, damn it.

 


A Bad Term

Marketing is everything.

For example, witness the well-documented phenomenon of many Americans despising Obamacare while still liking the Affordable Care Act (fyi: they are the same damn thing).

Or consider the worst branding decision of all time: “global warming.” As we all know, climate deniers just scoff and say, “Then why was it so cold this winter?” Such idiotic assertions are easier to dismiss with a new and improved term (i.e., “climate change”).

We are seeing the same pushback, the same dismissal of reality with the phrase “white privilege.” Now, for those who are unclear about this concept, white privilege refers to societal privileges that benefit white people beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people. We can nitpick this definition, but that would be a whole other article.

The problem with white privilege is that the concept is painfully easy to refute. I’m not talking about right-wingers who insist that racism is dead or that white people are actually the disadvantaged class in America. There’s just no reaching those people.

No, I’m referring to white individuals who hear the word “privilege” thrown at them and interpret it as an individual attack rather than as a societal fact. Their reply is frequently, “There’s nothing privileged about my life.”

Indeed, as the wealth gap increases, plenty of white people are being left behind. And many of those struggling individuals come from ethnicities that endured their own struggles in the past (and occasionally, in the present). Under such circumstances, it’s galling — even ludicrous — to be told that you are privileged.

And what have good liberals done when confronted with this response? We stammer that privileges are often invisible, or that white people are less likely to be harassed by the cops, or that we’re not implying white people have had everything handed to them on a silver platter.

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That’s all true of course. But it’s also true that if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

And that’s why we need to drop the whole thing — not the concept, mind you, which is crucial to our understanding of racial inequalities and American culture itself. We need to rebrand.

This has been pointed out before, but so far we have failed to come up with a good alternative.

So let’s begin the discussion in earnest. Let’s make it a real goal to replace the needlessly confrontational term “white privilege.”

I’ll get it started. How about “white advantage”? It’s still racially loaded, but the idea of “advantage” is much easier to accept than “privilege.”

Hey, just take it as a first draft. I’m sure working together, we can come up with something better.

Because we really need to.

 


The Distant Past

We are all descended from losers.

Take me, for instance. My family came from El Salvador, a charter member of the Third-World Nation Hall of Fame that is best known for crippling poverty, psychotic gangs, bloody civil wars, murdered priests, and raped nuns.

elsavadrowar

I’m also part Italian, which lends itself to stereotypes of Mafia hit men and the original unwashed horde of immigrants. In addition, Italy is currently on its 982nd post-WWII government (not exactly a source of pride).

And I’m a touch Irish as well. So here comes the drunken, brawling Irishman, everybody.

No, I’m not self-loathing. In truth, I’m grateful for my mélange of ancestry. I regularly sing the praises of Latino culture, and it’s not bad having a connection (however distant) to Da Vinci and James Joyce.

However, everyone’s culture has black spots, and our efforts to honor our ancestors should not extend to overt denial and large-scale myopia. But they regularly do.

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


Like a Burst Piñata

Say you open a small business. You run it for a few years, do pretty well, and always pay your debts (especially the rent) on time.

Then you arrive at work one morning to find a bulldozer parked in the pile of rubble that used to be your store.

pinata wreckage

You might get the impression that something was slightly amiss.

Well, recently, a piñata store in Austin was demolished, without the storeowners’ knowledge and with their possessions still inside. The storeowners, who are Latino, say that the greedy landlords bulldozed the store because they could get more money from the tech companies that are moving into the area.

The storeowners had a lease through 2017 and had just paid the rent for the upcoming month. When confronted about their reckless destruction of the store, one of the landlords (yes, a rich white guy) used the term “roaches” to describe the storeowners. Remember that the storeowners are Hispanic. Clearly, the term “roaches” was not an accident.

The incident shows how Latino neighborhoods are literally and figuratively being displaced for upscale residents. There have been numerous flare-ups in Austin over gentrification, with many Latino leaders claiming that rich newcomers are driving out long-time residents. And there have been similar disputes in New York, Los Angeles and other cities, often in Hispanic neighborhoods that are changing rapidly.

And here’s where it gets conspiratorial.

A recent study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified than African American neighborhoods.

Harvard researchers analyzed patterns across Chicago and found that gentrifying neighborhoods tended to be predominantly Latino or white working class, with fewer African Americans.

The study implied that Latino neighborhoods are more likely to be gentrified in the traditional sense (i.e., young white newcomers moving into the area). And they are also more likely to receive the theoretical benefits of gentrification (e.g., urban renewal and municipal investment). No word, however, on what happens to Hispanic residents when the bulldozers get revved up.

Keep in mind that the same study also implied that there is a tipping point, where the percentage of African Americans in a neighborhood either makes gentrification likely or unlikely.

Basically, too many black people keep the white people away.

Why are Latino neighborhoods more attractive to white gentrifiers? Well, there is no hard data on that, and it’s unlikely that a future study will include the question, “Why are you ok moving in next to brown people, but not black people?” Although the answers would be illuminating, to say the least.

The researchers said that in addition to their statistical proof, there is anecdotal evidence that Latino neighborhoods are viewed as more desirable to gentrifiers than African American areas.

For example, the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn — often pointed to as the prime example of gentrification — previously had a large Latino population. That’s not the case anymore, as the cliché of the young hipster inevitably features a white guy (usually with some bizarre nineteenth-century facial hair, but that’s another story).

In response to this dark side of gentrification, some Latino community leaders in Los Angeles launched the “gente-fication” movement (“gente” is Spanish for “people,” but you already knew that).

The idea is that upscale Latinos will stay — or in some cases, move into — Latino neighborhoods and revitalize the area themselves rather than rely on newcomers. The trend has slowly caught on in other cities, such as New York, Houston and Phoenix.

Although results are difficult to quantify, the LA neighborhood of Boyle Heights may be in the midst of a Latino renaissance, due in part to the gente-fication movement. And community activists are attempting to duplicate the neighborhood’s success in other Los Angeles areas.

But the movement has drawn fire for what some claim is an exclusionary, or even racist attitude. After all, if you’re saying that you want a specific racial or ethnic group to move in — whether it’s white, black, Latino, or other — things quickly get uncomfortable.

Where all this will lead is a mystery. Perhaps gentrification will wipe us all out. Or maybe we’ll achieve some kind of balance where newcomers enrich neighborhoods while long-time residents maintain the area’s culture.

In any case, hopefully no more piñata stores will get bulldozed.


How Very Droll

By now you’ve seen that infamous photo in a Florida high school’s yearbook. The shot pictured six students dressed in ponchos and sombreros and wearing fake mustaches, with one student wearing a shirt labeled, “border patrol.”

It’s offensive and idiotic, of course. But that’s not really the point.

Kids do dumb things, and rather than lambast the students in the photo, it would be better to point out to them that such behavior has no redeeming value. If that doesn’t convince them to be a little more aware of the culture in which they live, let them know that thanks to social media, such ill-conceived photos will haunt them for years to come.

No, the issue here is not the kids.

The problem is the adults. I’m taking about the parents who raised their kids to think it’s hilarious to embrace racial caricatures. And yes, I’m aware that some of the students in the photo are Latinos. If anything, that’s even worse.

And I’m talking about the yearbook advisors who saw nothing wrong with the photo. Hey, I was on my high school yearbook’s staff, and our advisor vetoed things left and right. I can’t imagine the teacher who looked at this and said, “Eh, a pointless and mean-spirited jab at Hispanics. Whatever.”

bored-professor

More than anything, I’m talking about the defenders of the picture, who are out in force on the internet. So let’s look at some of the adult excuses we’re hearing over what should be a pretty clear case of foolish, needlessly hurtful adolescent behavior. Here are some of my favorites:

It was only a joke. If you’ve ever said this to justify an insult, you have either never been on the receiving end of a verbal assault, or you are too dense to realize when someone was attacking you under the guise of humor. In either case, you were probably able to shrug it off because you are in a position of social power (racially, economically, etc). It’s a tribute to your lack of empathy that you figure everybody shares your charmed life.

Lighten up, it was funny. This is an amped-up version of the previous excuse. To any adult who actually thought the photo was hilarious, here are a few pointers about humor, before you really kill ‘em at your next stand-up routine. Humor tends to work when it’s directed at those in authority (rather than at a demonized underclass). It also works when it reveals profound truths or upends convention (rather than wallow in hackneyed, false stereotypes). In brief, the picture was about as witty as frat boys lighting their farts.

I’m German, and people have called me a kraut. I’m continually stunned that people believe all ethnic terms have the same resonance. No one hurls “kraut” as an insult in 2015 America. Now if you were bombarded with this term in, say, 1944, it might be different. In any case, terms that call out your European heritage bounce off a shield of cultural power, based on sheer numbers and societal influence. You can easily laugh them off. But don’t worry. In the future, when Hispanics are more than a quarter of the U.S. population, maybe we’ll smirk in smug condescension at “wetback.”

People are too sensitive. Yes, how great it was to live in the good old days, when offensive comments were met with forced laughs and seething hatred. Well, I have news for you. Society isn’t any more sensitive than it ever was. But people who gritted their teeth and let it go in the past are sick of your bullshit. So now you’re going to hear about it. And I can say—with a bit or irony—that if you don’t like it, tough.

Those kids shouldn’t apologize. It’s the illegal immigrants who should apologize. Hey, thanks for verifying that your issues with undocumented people have absolutely nothing to with race or ethnicity. Nope.

Soon we won’t be able to say anything out of fear of offending someone. If you mean that you can’t pull out tired racial stereotypes and rub them in people’s faces, well yes, I weep for your lost world.

Finally, there is the issue that the Latina student who called attention to the photograph, Jessica Morales, has been insulted, denigrated, and mocked for her decision to speak up about the picture. To the best of my knowledge, she didn’t scream that her fellow students were racists or demand a cash payment for pain and suffering or get all histrionic.

Her critics, however, are content to sit behind their keyboards and attack her, mostly under a cloak of anonymity of course.

Yes, kids being unintentionally offensive is bad. But adults being loudmouthed bullies is a hell of a lot worse.


The Future’s Uncertain

I recently waxed ecstatic about California, the state I live in. I do indeed love living here, but I never claimed that it was perfect.

For example, a recent report shows that when it comes to Latinos, my state has some issues. And those issues are reciprocal, in that as Latinos go, so goes California.

You see, the study has found that among all racial and ethnic groups in California, Hispanics have the lowest well-being score. What, exactly, does that mean?

Well, rather than just look at a group’s median income or rate of cancer or percentage of sunny dispositions or collective weight or any of the other statistics that offer us interesting but isolated insights into a demographic’s existence, these researchers created an overall well-being score.

The number is based on a group’s overall health, educational level, earnings, and other factors, all put together. Think of it as a GPA rather than an individual grade.

Well, measured on a 10-point scale, Latinos had a well-being score of 4.09. That’s bad.

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I mean, would you want to date someone who was barely a 4 out of 10? Now imagine an entire group struggling under that number.

For the sake of comparison, Asian Americans had the highest score at 7.39. Whites and blacks were in between but noticeably better than Hispanics.

Digging a little deeper, the researchers found that native-born Latinos fared better than immigrants did. But by any measure, California’s Hispanics are far from thriving.

That’s terrible news, of course. But it goes beyond dark days just for la raza.

Hispanics are poised to become the state’s largest ethnic group, and more than half of California’s children are Latino. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see that the study’s results could be ominous for the state’s future. With such a large percentage of the population struggling, the whole state will be dragged down.

The study’s authors conclude that California needs to improve the well-being of Latinos if the state hopes to thrive.

Well… yeah.

But there is some good news. While Latinos have the lowest well-being score, they’ve made great strides since 2000, and they’re moving up more quickly than any other group.

So at least we have forward momentum on our side. With hope, that will be enough to keep Cali golden.

 


Put It on My Tab

A friend of mine once cut up her credit cards and closed her accounts because, she said, “those pieces of plastic are evil.”

creditcards

I thought this was a bit overly dramatic (she was that type of person). I also thought it was convenient to blame her chronic debt on inanimate objects rather than, say, her nonexistent self-control and materialistic tendencies.

In any case, we all know people who live beyond their means, and it’s true that many individuals teeter on the edge of bankruptcy because of their shopping addictions or love of new shoes or willingness to fly first-class to Italy for the hell of it.

But a recent study has found that when it comes to Hispanics, living large is often not the reason for going into the red. The study found that almost half (43%) of Latinos who have credit card debt depend on the plastic to pay for basic living expenses. And a significant chunk of the rest are using credit cards for tiny splurges at best.

So if Latinos are not slapping down credit cards on impulse buys and charging luxury items, why are they in so much debt?

Well, Hispanics report that the main reason for their debt is the loss of a job, and they’re more likely than other groups to say that medical costs also contributed to their financial issues.

The researchers theorize that because Latinos lost so much of their wealth in the Great Recession, they’re having trouble restocking checking or savings accounts. So putting basic items or medical expenses on credit cards often seems to be the only option.

This, of course, sucks. But as is often the case, the survey also found that Latinos are more optimistic than the overall population. So they’re more confident about paying down their credit card debt quickly.

This optimism, which borders on delusion, leads to some interesting contradictions.

For example, another poll found that almost half of Latinos (49%) said they were worried that someone in their household might become unemployed soon. Yet the same survey found that almost three-quarters of Latinos (73%) are optimistic about their finances and future opportunities.

Frankly, that’s a bizarre balancing act of fear and hope.

But maybe these results just show that Latinos are still jumpy about their financial status, years after the economic meltdown. The Great Recession so ravaged Hispanic households that many Latinos are leery about declaring that the worst is over.

At the same time, Latinos tend to be more optimistic than other groups about their future. The main reason for this positivism seems to be the immigrant mindset. Many Hispanics remember struggling in their home countries, or they hear the harrowing tales of their parents. As such, these Latinos usually have more faith in the American system and a stronger belief that their financial situation will improve.

We should all really, really hope they’re right.

 


Publish or Perish

It may be apocryphal. But supposedly an unnamed New York publishing executive was once asked why there were so few books by Hispanic authors, or novels featuring Latino characters.

His response was a blasé “Hispanics don’t read.”

This is indeed bad news, as apparently none of you Hispanic readers are literate enough to even comprehend this article. And I’m not literate enough to write it, which is quite the paradox.

Escher-1024x963

In any case, that publishing exec was clearly not familiar with Latin America’s rich literary tradition, exemplified by the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the greatest writer of all time (let’s not debate this). He also didn’t know that one Latin American country, Cuba, has the highest literacy rate in the world.

But closer to home, why hadn’t this exec heard of the brilliant Junot Díaz or the groundbreaking Sandra Cisneros? Or did he believe only white people were reading those authors?

For whatever reason, our anonymous publishing executive refused to believe that the largest ethnic minority in America was interested in books. And in this refusal came justification for the continued blackballing of Latino authors.

“There are several factors contributing to the paucity of published books written by Latinos,” says Marcela Landres, an editorial consultant who publishes the award-winning e-zine Latinidad and co-founded the Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference.

“Primarily, we need more Latinos on the inside working in key positions, such as agents, publicists, sales reps, bookstore owners, and especially as acquisitions editors,” she says.

Landres adds that Hispanic culture itself is another barrier.

“Latinos immigrated to the U.S. so their kids could live the American Dream, which is defined by financial security,” Landres says. “Writing generally does not pay well, so our parents understandably pressure us to choose more sensible careers. In order to be successful as artists, Latinos need to respect our parents but perhaps not obey them.”

As any Hispanic can tell you, disobeying your parents is a tall order. But that is another story.

In any case, some Latino advocates believe that the big publishing houses have hoodwinked us into buying their mainstream books, giving them little impetus to change the formula.

Of course, one strategy to force change is to bypass the big publishing houses altogether. That’s what I did with my novel Barrio Imbroglio.

After some nibbles of interest from the majors, I got the picture that my black comedy tale — about a reluctant detective named Hernandez — didn’t fit in with the preconceived notions about Hispanic literature. Yes, I had the word “barrio” right there in the title, but where were all the undocumented immigrants and magic realism and metaphors using avocados? It was a little too different. So I’ve done what more and more authors — Latino and otherwise — are doing, and publishing directly to Amazon.

But this end run has its drawbacks.

“There are few Latino self-publishing success stories,” says Landres. “I have yet to see literary writers, and/or writers who take years to produce a single manuscript, whose self-published books have sold well. If you write genre and have a bunch of books ready to go, the odds are in your favor. If you’re a literary writer who spends years polishing a single manuscript, not so much.”

In addition to the self-publishing crapshoot, there is the unpleasant fact that — like it or not — the NYC houses still have the most influence on what people read. And they are not packing the midlist with Hispanic authors.

Now, this isn’t just a matter of fairness, nor is it even all about artistic integrity and the myth of meritocracy. A more fundamental reason becomes clear when one considers that “Latino children seldom see themselves in books.” Education experts say, “the lack of familiar images could be an obstacle as young readers work to build stamina and deepen their understanding of story elements like character motivation.”

Basically, there are only so many tales of brave and adventurous white people that Hispanic kids can read. At some point, they disconnect.

And if that is the future we want — a self-fulfilling prophecy where Hispanics truly don’t read — then we should just preserve the status quo.

 


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