Tag: death squads

Keep Talking

For a culture steeped in Catholic fatalism — and with a history that includes everything from racial discrimination to economic injustice to death squads — Hispanics sure are an optimistic bunch. I’ve written before about this weird tendency to be positive in the face of disaster. But now I have scientific proof for it.

A recent study says that people who speak Spanish tend to express themselves in a more positive way than speakers of other languages do. The researchers found that “the selection of positive words was greatest among Spanish-speakers” and that those words tend to be “learned more easily, used more frequently and are considered more meaningful.” In addition, overall communication among Spanish-speakers tended to be more positive, and the emotional content of the Spanish language was the highest among the languages studied.

talking

Basically, a conversation in Spanish is more optimistic and heartfelt than it would be in English, even if the content is exactly the same. And you don’t even want to know how much more upbeat Spanish is in comparison to German or Arabic (the alpha and omega of harsh languages).

But it’s not all good news for Hispanics. And here I am part of the problem. I’ve been honest about my struggles with Spanish, and I consider myself passable at the language, at best.

Well, another study has shown that, sure enough, each successive generation of Latinos is less proficient in Spanish. While 92% of the second generation (children of immigrants, like me) speak English very well, only 82% are even conversational in Spanish. By the third generation, nearly 100% of Latinos speak English very well, but only 17% speak Spanish fluently.

So all that optimism will fade away if we don’t teach kids Spanish. Now that’s a pessimistic thought.

 


Instant Karma

Although I was raised Catholic, I’m not a religious person. I’m more of a quasi-secular humanist, borderline atheist with Buddhist tendencies and Judeo-Christian influences (I mean, as long as we’re labeling here).

About the only supernatural concept I believe in is the idea of karma. Even that comes with a qualifier, because I think karma is more the result of our human decisions, good or bad, and less of a vague, mystical force.

yingyng

I’ve been thinking a lot about karma since reading Susanne Ramirez de Arellano’s article on the Murrieta protests. She covered the war in El Salvador in the 1980s, and she theorizes that the legacy of that war “is sitting on buses in Murrieta. The violent street gangs that now plague Central America, especially El Salvador, were conceived during this dark period.”

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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.

 


Uncle #1

I’m continuing with profiles of my family (Hispanics, one and all) by moving on to my mother’s brother, henceforth known as Uncle #1.

It’s important to note that I never met Uncle #1. He died almost thirty years ago, while he was still a young man.

He was a teacher in my family’s homeland of El Salvador. Uncle #1 was married with three kids (Cousins #2, #4, #6 – whom I will write about in future posts), and he existed comfortably in a war-torn land – an anomaly of course.

He established such a stellar reputation as a passionate, intelligent educator that he was named Teacher of the Year for the entire country. The black-and-white photo of him shaking the Salvadoran president’s hand maintains a place of honor in my mother’s home to this day.

Despite his prestige and status, he was vocal about his discontent with the Salvadoran government. Most people in his situation would have kept their mouths shut and refrained from dark asides about social injustice or rants about economic exploitation.

But Uncle #1 had the crazy notion that people should know what was going on. His insistence on educating poor people attracted the attention of El Salvador’s death squads.

These militia groups had figured out that the biggest danger to their campaign was the leftist virus of literacy. They realized that if campesinos learned how to read, they would get their hands on degenerate books that claimed they had rights or that the landowners exploited them or some other outlandish idea.

So they encouraged Uncle #1 to stop educating the poor. This encouragement took the form of a savage beating.

However, he didn’t back down in the face of threats, and as opposed to almost everyone who ever lived, he risked his life for what he believed was right –- the kind of person who gets holidays named after him or whose name is etched in rocks and said in reverent whispers. At this point, he encroached on hero status. He was the tenacious man who could not be bullied or bossed.

Still, the line between martyred idol and anonymous victim is thin in places like El Salvador. And his fierce ideals and refusal to bow down meant little to the men who abducted him in the middle of the night and shot him multiple times. The death squad then mutilated his body as a graphic warning to others.

Some members of my family wonder if he died in vain. My viewpoint is that it is impossible for people to die in vain if they have lived their principles, and if those principles improved the lives of others. Both of these are true of Uncle #1.

After Uncle #1’s murder, my cousins moved to America. His oldest son, Cousin #2, says that he still feels his father’s presence at times.

Cousin #2 was a small child when his father died, and he has said that his final memory of the man is riding on his shoulders as they cut through a field. I was not there, obviously, but I can picture Uncle #1, striding forward with his laughing child on his back and the sun shining.

He is unafraid, and he believes in the future.


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