Tag: ethnic identity

Nice Try

So for two years in a row, the top individual prize in the entertainment pantheon — the Oscar for best director — has gone to a Latino.

birdman

That’s great. And Mexican auteur Alejandro González Iñárritu took time in his speech to give a shout out to immigrants, which was classy.

But of course, much of González Iñárritu’s triumph was overshadowed by a truly tone-deaf chiste from that master of humor, Sean Penn (as an aside, is there any artist who is more respected but less liked than this guy?).

Now, González Iñárritu has pointed out that Penn’s comment was an inside joke between friends. We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt, then, and say that Penn isn’t a straight-up racist.

But perhaps inside jokes aren’t a very good idea when millions of people across the planet are watching. And maybe tossing racial jabs isn’t very bright when you’re representing an organization that is hypersensitive about its horrible record on diversity.

All Penn’s joke did was make every white liberal in the audience uncomfortable, confirm the bias that many ethnic minorities believe lurks within the system, and “underscore the problem the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has been trying desperately to disprove.” Namely, that the Academy has a racial issue.

The stunning lack of diversity in the entertainment industry is a well-known facet of American culture, and I’ve written about it more than once.

And it is not, as many right-wingers seem to think, just blacks and Latinos clamoring for jobs they haven’t earned. It’s about equal access and opportunity. One could argue this is all that any fight over civil rights is, at its core.

But when it comes to the entertainment industry, specifically, it is about something more. As González Iñárritu has proved, different perspectives lead to new ideas and new stories. It is essential for any art form that, to remain relevant, it continue to grow.

And to be blunt, there are only so many more movies that we can take about an upper-class white family gathering together for a funeral/wedding, or a white guy’s attempt to bond with his elderly and uncommunicative dad, or the adventures of white prep-school kids coming of age.

We want something else.

 


Name of the Game

I have a traditionally Hispanic first name. Of course, it’s also traditionally European, which has its cultural advantages. Yes, having a Latino first name can be an impediment, and if you don’t believe me, just ask this guy.

It wasn’t that long ago when Latino parents would name their children John and Mary rather than Jose and Maria. It was an attempt to fit in with mainstream America.

But as we know, contemporary Hispanic parents are less likely to be cowed, and they frequently insist on calling their kids Juan and Maribel and so on. The twist, however, is that white parents are now increasingly choosing traditionally Latino names for their children.

I bet you didn’t see that one coming.

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A survey by a baby-naming website found that many white parents are eschewing Dylan in favor of Diego, and skipping Madison for Esmeralda.

The reasons for the decision vary. Some white parents believe that if their children have Latino names, they will better fit in with their future Hispanic buddies and their multicultural peers. This is strange logic, as a Latino is unlikely to say, “I’m only friends with Ramon Anderson because of his first name.” But it’s a harmless enough reason, I guess.

Yet other white parents simply like the sound of Latino names. Well, that’s a matter of personal taste, of course. When it came time for my wife and I to name our son, I have to admit that very few Latino male names made the first cut, based purely on aesthetics. We ultimately went with something Hebrew that we both loved.

The final reason that white parents give for naming their kids Guillermo instead of William is that most hoary and bizarre of myths: That Latinos receive unspecified “benefits,” and they want their kids to be perceived as Hispanic.

If the cold, hard facts of how difficult Latinos have it in this country aren’t enough to destroy the idea that Hispanics get all the good scholarships and great jobs — stealing them from better-qualified white people, no less — than I don’t know what to tell you. This idea is a pernicious lie that makes white people who have been stiffed by the system feel better about themselves and their rich overlords. And apparently, it is strong enough to persuade some people to deny their cultural heritage, which is just sad.

But let’s say that the mere presence of Latino name is enough to get your kid into an Ivy League school today (which it isn’t). Doesn’t it seem obvious that twenty years from now, when universities are swamped with Hispanics both real and fake, putting the name Esteban on the application isn’t going to matter at all?

Damn, maybe those parents should have went with their first choice (Mason and/or Liam).

 


Kind of Like a Doogie Howser Episode

The state of Latino health is grim — grim, grim, grim. We have higher rates of diabetes, obesity, hypertension, you name it.

Hispanics are also doing pretty sucky when it comes to education and employment. If only there was a way to combine all these issues…

Well, a California job-training program is trying to peg multiple issues with just one stone. Medical Pathways trains high schoolers in the Latino community for health care occupations. The goal is to provide real-world experience to disadvantaged kids while improving the overall health of the community.

The program guides students — primarily Hispanic — through four years of medically focused science classes, such as anatomy and physiology. The students run community health fairs, where visitors — again, primarily Hispanic — get information about different health issues and receive free services, such as getting weighed or having their blood pressure taken.

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Many students put in enough hours for a medical assistant certificate, which gives them a head-start on snagging better-paying health care jobs. Other students are inspired to become doctors or nurses.

No, it’s not an ideal solution. But it’s certainly creative and effective. And that’s a start.

 


Different, Not the Same, Totally Unalike

If I haven’t mentioned it in the last twenty minutes, I love living in California.

It’s not just the sunshine and great food and vibrant nightlife and pop-culture happenings and B-list celebrity sightings (although those are all entertaining). It’s that California is one of the most laidback and liberal states, and that tends to align with my personal philosophy — or at least those components of my personal philosophy that are not cribbed from a mishmash of Yoda quotes and baseball-as-life metaphors.

Now, through a weird and comical accident of geography, California shares a border with Arizona, which is not liberal or laidback or anything remotely West Coast cool. It is, of course, home to more than its fair share of right-wing nutjobs and xenophobic lunatics.

Both states have large Hispanic populations. And one recent development illustrates how different these neighboring states really are, and how they view their respective Latinos.

In California, a new law allows undocumented immigrants to apply for special driver’s licenses. Some Californians have griped about it, but for the most part, the law’s implementation has gone smoothly. And in a sign of forward thinking, car dealers are actively marketing to the new license holders. Many dealers report increased foot traffic on their lots, and they’re hoping for a sales boom due to the new law.

car-dealership

 

But in Arizona, a similar law hasn’t been as, shall we say, well received. In fact, it took a US Supreme Court decision to force Arizona to offer driver’s licenses to young immigrants, the Dreamers, who entered the country illegally as children. And while many Dreamers are happy to have the option, many others remain nervous about applying. Some Dreamers have seen family members deported after getting pulled over for routine traffic stops, and they’re having trouble letting go of their fear.

So in California, a law that passed with little controversy is poised to make a positive economic impact and make life easier for many people. Meanwhile, in Arizona, a similar law had to be argued all the way to the highest court in the land, at taxpayer expense, before going forward, only to encounter resistance from the people it was designed to help because they are terrorfied of the place they live in.

Yes, I think I chose my state wisely.

 

 


The New Standard Response

When I started this blog, this website, this little outpost of sanity in the vast crazy wilderness of the internet, I posted articles about the latest slurs and offenses aimed at Latinos. I still do that, of course, but for the most part it has to be something truly egregious, preferably by someone in a position of authority and/or cultural power (eg., a senator, a high-profile CEO, the winner of Celebrity Apprentice, etc).

So when our friends at Latino Rebels posted this story, I was initially intrigued. Apparently, a bored rich woman has tried her hand at satire by populating a website with images of something she calls, “Illegal Immigrant Barbie,” which I’m not even going to show here. Instead, just gaze upon a standard-issue Barbie, and use your imagination.

barbie1

 

 

Now, it’s undeniably racist. Worse, it’s lazy and unfunny.

But we already know the woman’s excuses. We’ve heard them all before. Pick one of the following:

1. “I’m not prejudiced. I’m just telling the truth.”

2. “Well, excuse me for not being politically correct. Clearly, you can’t handle it.”

3. “Hey, I have Latino friends, and they thought it was hilarious. OK, my maid gave me a nervous laugh, but close enough.”

So I’m skipping the anger and substituting a sad shaking of the head and a lugubrious eye-roll. This woman’s pathetic affront deserves no more.

In fact, I only mention it at all because I intend to cut/paste my reaction to future instances of bored rich people mocking poor people, which never seems to go out of style with them.

On to the next outrage.

 


Um… thanks?

On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much of a Latino connection to the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Oh of course, civilized people everywhere — regardless of color, creed, ethnicity or religion — are horrified and outraged.

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And as a writer who has received hate mail (but thankfully no death threats), I’m in solidarity with those who were targeted for expressing their opinions, even if those opinions were occasionally loathsome.

But again, I didn’t see a clear relationship to Hispanics — at least until I caught this nugget on an internet message board from a commentator who inexplicably wished to remain anonymous:

“I never thought I would be grateful for our illegal immigrants. But at least the Mexicans sneaking across our border are Catholics, not Muslims. And they only steal jobs and welfare. They don’t blow shit up.”

That’s high praise indeed. I’m sure we can look forward to more thoughtful analysis like this in the future.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to helping Mexicans steal jobs and welfare. But remember, we don’t blow shit up.

 


I’ve Seen All Good People

This is a response, of sorts, to Brit Bennett’s article “I Don’t Know What to do with Good White People.”

But it will not be a full-fledged attack of the type that made the internet infamous. That’s because in her article, Bennett makes some insightful points about white privilege.

She explains that “sometimes I think I’d prefer racist trolling to this grade of self-aggrandizement,” adding that there are many “good white people [who] expect to be rewarded for their decency.”

Yes, she pissed off a few readers, and made others uncomfortable, with her mocking of liberal condescension. Bennett points out that many white people practically shout, “See how enlightened and aware we are? See how we are good?”

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That’s all true of course. And the comfort level of white liberals is not high on the list of national priorities.

Despite this, however, we need good white people. For starters, every social movement needs as much assistance — as much cultural firepower — as it can get.

But more important is the fact that white privilege will continue to be a problem as long as people (primarily whites) deny it even exists. So we need white people to criticize their own privilege, and many will not do this if their efforts get thrown back into their faces.

For example, the recent CrimingWhileWhite hashtag came under fire for co-opting the pain and rage of the black community and redirecting it toward the white perspective. It’s a fair criticism.

Still, it seems to me that the point of the Ferguson/Gardner/ et al protests was to indict systematic racism in our nation’s police force. An effective way to do this is to draw contrasts with how white people interact with the cops. CrimingWhileWhite nailed this.

In essence, to dismiss good white people is to alienate one’s allies. And it’s clear that blacks and Latinos need all the help we can get.

 


Slaves

I’ve lived in Los Angeles, on and off, for about ten years now. I love it here, and I believe it’s one of the greatest cities in the world.

la moon

 

But like any metro, it has its problems. Many of those can be summed up in the work “traffic,” but of course there are deeper issues as well.

The always-insightful Chris Rock recently addressed one of those problems when he wrote the following:

“There’s a slave state in LA. There’s this acceptance that Mexicans are going to take care of white people in LA that doesn’t exist anywhere else.”

I can vouch for the fact that multitudes of Hispanics (not just Mexicans) are constantly serving white people in LA. This issue crisscrosses some of our favorite topics — race, ethnicity, class, wage disparity, egalitarianism, free will, and so on — and it will not be resolved anytime soon.

But while Rock’s slave quote got a lot of attention, I thought his more salient point was the following:

“You’re telling me no Mexicans are qualified to do anything at a studio? Really? Nothing but mop up? What are the odds that that’s true? There’s probably a Mexican David Geffen mopping up for somebody’s company right now. The odds are that there’s probably a Mexican who’s that smart who’s never going to be given a shot.”

Yes, it’s not just that Latinos are a perpetual underclass in LA (and indeed, in much of America). It is that even the best and brightest do not have the same resources and access that most white people — even the no-talents and the mediocre — take for granted.

In essence, it’s tough to stop being a slave. But as history has shown us, not only can it be done, but it will be accomplished, eventually.

 


A Revealing Anecdote

I recently wrote about the Ferguson/Gardner cases, and I mentioned that cops often treat ethnic minorities differently than they treat white people.

Well, I thought I would add my own personal observation to the #CrimingWhileWhite trend, but mine is in the third-person because, well, I’m Latino.

Anyway, years ago, when I still went to raucous house parties, the cops were called out to break up a fiesta I was attending. Yes, we were a little loud, and the neighbors were within their rights to call the police.

house_party

 

In any case, the cops showed up and knocked on the door. My group of friends and I decided now was a good time to leave, so we exited out the back. My girlfriend at the time, who happened to be white, opened the door. A cop was waving a flashlight around the darkened backyard, and he shined it directly into her face.

She was understandably pissed. And all of us were flummoxed about why a cop would be prowling around in the dark with a flashlight. What was he trying to find?

Regardless, when the light hit my girlfriend’s eyes, she shouted, “Get that fucking light out of my face, you asshole.”

The cop complied, and we all left, without further incident.

Now, if I had shouted this statement — or a tall, black male had yelled it — I’m pretty sure there would have been a very different outcome.

 


Pinpoint Accuracy

I’ve been asked by many white people if I have ever experienced discrimination. Their amazement when I say, “Yes,” is matched by my own surprise that they would even ask the question. Hey, ask just about any ethnic minority, and he will supply a time and place when he was slurred, dissed, or eyeballed funny because of his race and/or ethnicity.

The fact that so many white people believe this never happens is a constant stunner to me. But perhaps it shouldn’t be, because we have so many pundits proclaiming that bigotry is dead, and that there is more cholera in America than there is racism.

Cholera_395_1

 

Well, if you don’t believe my personal experiences, just look at the results of a recent survey of Hispanics, who were asked if they had ever suffered discrimination. A full 99% said yes, and “most respondents were able to name a location where discrimination occurred.” Personally, I’m curious about the 1% of Latinos who said “there was no discrimination against them.” They either live very charmed lives or are unbelievably dense.

In any case, the number-one choice for racist acts was disturbingly specific: “Arizona was the top answer for Latino discrimination with 21%.” To put that into perspective, “a collection of other U.S. states garnered 8%.” Yes, our friends in Arizona apparently discriminate at almost triple the rate of all the other states combined. Now that’s impressive.

By the way, 18% of Hispanics said they had been discriminated against at work. And 5% of Latinos are in a dystopian hell, in that they believe “discrimination has occurred everywhere.”

So from now on, whenever I am asked this naïve question, I will simply quote the results of this survey. That should end the discussion quickly.

 


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