Tag: ethnicity

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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Encroachment in the Neutral Zone

Accusations of “selling out” are often flung around when Hispanics clash over controversial topics, like immigration reform or Obamacare or whether Jennifer Lopez has ever recorded a decent song. It’s an easy way to discredit your opponent while bolstering your own bona fides,

But usually, it’s all just talk. I have to admit, however, that the selling-out label may actually fit in one particular debate. And it’s over the dry concept of net neutrality.

Bonlie-Net-Neutrality-Cartoon

As we know, net neutrality is the concept that everybody should have equal access and priority on the Internet. It seems obvious enough that this is a good idea.

But telecommunications companies see an opportunity to make extra bucks by charging for access. So they’ve enlisted organizations like the Hispanic Technology and Telecommunications Partnership, which says that net neutrality policies could inhibit investment and leave disenfranchised communities farther behind. 

This is absurd, of course. And anyone who supports the telecoms must be getting paid off (i.e., selling out).

Sane parties, such as Latinos for Internet Freedom, point out that an open Internet means more job opportunities and better educational opportunities for Latinos. The group says, “creating new hierarchies of faster and slower websites means a new variation on the ancient theme of discrimination.”

The fight is getting personal. The Latino advocacy group Presente.org has started a petition titled, “They Don’t Speak for Us,” which harshly criticizes those Latino organizations that support the telecoms.

One way or another, the outcome will greatly affect Latino consumers’ access to the Internet. And it will provide a perfect example of what selling out really means.


Quick on the Draw

Recently, I wrote how everyone (except for you and me) is prone to furious outbursts of racist invective at the slightest provocation.

That got me thinking about a related issue.

Namely, why are conservatives so quick to defend someone who spews racist, homophobic, or otherwise hateful speech?

After all, it wasn’t liberals who said, “Hey, that’s cool, Mr. Oldman. Tell us more about your sophisticated sociopolitical outlook.”

bram-stokers-dracula-gary-oldman1

Nope, it’s primarily conservatives who say it’s no big deal, or that the First Amendment protects such language, or that it’s time to take a bold stand against the insidious forces of political correctness.

Now, I’ve written entire posts about how pulling out the First Amendment or bashing PC is a loser’s lament, so I’m not going to repeat those points here. And to be clear, there are plenty of conservative libertarians who support the right to free speech. Just as there are plenty of liberals who would like to see Bill O’Reilly legally forced to shut up. However, these perspectives are not so closely aligned with the general philosophy of right wing and left wing.

What I’m talking about here is your basic social conservative, particularly when it comes to hate speech. It is a bit disturbing how swiftly these individuals rush to defend — or even praise — idiotic, racist bullshit.

I would like to think conservatives are earnest lovers of the concept of free expression. However, in many cases, these are the same people who threaten legal action if someone says, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” And remember back during the Iraq War, when up to 40 percent of conservatives believed that protests against the conflict should not be allowed (and that was constitutionally protected free speech, no less).

In fact, there is some evidence that this issue pops up in the ultimate justice-is-blind venue: the US Supreme Court. A recent study found that “liberal justices are (overall) more supportive of free speech claims than conservative justices,” and that “conservatives on the court are far more inclined to bias than their more liberal colleagues.”

Conservatives have historically shown little love for the idea of allowing people to speak their mind, and in truth, live and let live is not traditionally associated with the conservative movement. Whether it is gays getting married, or a mosque being built down the block, or some anarchist burning an American flag, there are usually conservatives there denouncing and demanding and denigrating. Rarely do you hear a Fox news anchor defend such actions.

But if some washed-up action star says that Mexicans are wetbacks, then conservatives abruptly clutch the flag to their chests and say, “It’s his right, damn it.”

But once again, we have to ask, why is this?

Well, maybe it’s because defending morons gives conservatives the perfect opportunity to appear principled and astute. Or maybe it’s because so many of their heroes are actually, well, racists. Or maybe it’s because these comments reveal what so many of them are really thinking.

Damn, I hope it’s not that last one.

 


White Heat

The intersection of race and privilege is an ominous crossroads.

It pops up whenever a white person says something like, “People have made jokes about my Irish ancestry, and I never get offended. So what’s with all these Latinos getting upset about wetback jokes?”

If you’ve said something like this and fail to see the problem, I’m not sure I can help you. But let me just point out that the inability — indeed, the outright refusal — to see the world though anyone else’s eyes is a hallmark of privilege.

white-privilege

In America, the concept of privilege is closely related to race. White privilege is even its own catchphrase and subset of cultural angst.

Recently, my friend Hector Luis Alamo wrote a piece for Latino Rebels in which he stated that “resentment towards whites runs deep in Latino communities.” He went on to list the reasons for this resentment, including the fact that “Latinos in America aren’t granted nearly as many tools and opportunities as whites.”

This is all true, of course, but it doesn’t stop there.

Over at Huffington Post, César Vargas stated that white privilege seeps into the Latino community itself. He implied that Latinos who are lighter in skin (like me) receive benefits that darker-skinned Hispanics do not. Vargas wrote that the “Latino representation in the States seems to be a microcosm of the racial and social disparity in Latin America” and that “white Hispanics [are] ill-equipped to speak for the rest of us.”

About this time, we all start getting a bit uncomfortable with these ideas.

After all, we’re not talking about some Klan member shouting that whites are the master race. We’re referring to good, sincere white people — and even light-skinned Latinos — who enjoy an easier life by virtue of their skin tone, and who are repulsed at the very idea of bigotry.

But white privilege is a powerful and quite real thing. It sneaks up on its recipients in ways that they may not even recognize.

For example, many studies have shown that people are more likely to help individuals who resemble them. Ergo, whites in positions of power are more likely to mentor and guide their fellow whites, regardless of their actual talents or abilities.

And of course, if you’re a white cop who shoots an unarmed black kid under the most suspicious of circumstances, literally hundreds of thousands of people will rush to your defense. And they will most likely be white.

What does all this mean? Well, at the very least, it should mean that if you’ve benefitted from white privilege, give thanks for your lucky genes, and strive to make America a place where such randomness doesn’t prop up our entire social structure.

And if someone makes a joke about you being Irish, don’t think it lets you off the hook.

 


Parallel Lines

I have not written about the Ferguson situation to this point. It’s not because I am indifferent. It’s because I didn’t think I had much to add on the topic.

ferguson_day_6_picture_44

I mean, so many people have addressed the black-white racial divide, our flawed justice system, the increasing militarization of the police, the obliviousness of white conservatives regarding racial injustice, and the fact that an unarmed minority teenager is more likely to be demonized than a white teen who actually murders people.

That covers a lot of ground.

So let me just point out what few people have mentioned, which is that Latino teens have more in common with Michael Brown than a lot of Hispanic parents would like to admit.

You see, “the deaths of Hispanics at the hands of law enforcement officers literally stretch across the country — from California to Oklahoma to New York City.”

Yes, a majority of Latinos agree “that Brown’s killing raised important racial issues, [but] only 18% of Latinos said that they were following the Ferguson news closely.”

Perhaps Hispanics just find the parallels too disturbing to think about. Or maybe Latinos are exhausted from fighting for basic rights all the time, and want to let our African American brethren handle this issue, under the assumption that it’s more of their problem anyway.

But of course, it’s everyone’s problem.

As we all know, “being Latino in some places is enough to be pulled over under the guise of a minor traffic stop and be asked to prove American citizenship.”

And that should be enough — along with the appeal of basic human decency — to pay more attention to the turmoil in Missouri.


The Big Picture

As I am fond of mentioning, I live in beautiful Southern California, where I frequently soak up the sun, hike in the hills, hit the beach, and hobnob with celebrities.

Well, in truth, I have rarely hobnobbed in general, and even fewer times with anyone who could remotely be called a celebrity. But we LA residents do see A-listers out and about on occasion.

Very few of those stars are Hispanic, as I’ve pointed out before. But now we have statistical evidence that Latinos are not getting their shot at the silver screen.

A new study shows that over the last six years, there has been “no meaningful difference in the representation of characters from underrepresented backgrounds.”

Since 2008, the number of Hispanics onscreen rose from 3.3 percent to 4.9 percent. Latinos are about 17% of the American population, so Hispanic representation in film would have to triple to even be close to reflecting reality.

In fact, another study found that there are actually “fewer Latino lead actors in the entertainment industry today than there were seventy years ago.” Ouch…

Now is a good time to point out that Hispanics (including me) are avid fans of the cinema. In fact, Latinos bought more than one-quarter of the tickets to movies last year. And we don’t even want to get into how much we support certain genres (e.g., horror movies) more than most people.

But there was one positive note in the report. Surprisingly, Hispanic females were more likely to be featured in popular films than were white females or Asian females.

Still, even that comes with a caveat. You see, “Hispanic females were also more likely to be shown either partially or totally nude onscreen than any other race [and] seem to be more hypersexualized than their female counterparts from other groups.”

Yes, when it comes to American movies, Latinas are both underrepresented and underdressed.

Of course, the idea that the entertainment industry would objectify a Latina is ludicrous.

sofia

Yup, just plain crazy.

 


Everybody Does It

Think about the many times a celebrity has been caught muttering — or in some cases, shouting — racist comments.

mad_gibson

Or ponder how often somebody in the public eye has issued a bigoted tweet or did something else that made his or her fans say, “Give them a break. They didn’t mean it. They’re not really prejudiced.”

The list of excuses always the following accusation: People who object to such behavior are hypocrites because, after all, “everybody has used those words.”

But is this even remotely true?

 

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We’re Number One! Oh… Wait

For as long as I’ve been writing about Latino culture, I’ve referred to us as the nation’s fastest growing minority. It’s a handy little phrase when one doesn’t want to use the more cumbersome descriptor for Hispanics, which is “sexiest people on the face of the planet.”

Well, you can imagine my surprise — nay, my disappointment — when I ran into this item online:

“Contrary to perception in some parts, Hispanics were not the fastest-growing race or ethnic group in the US last year.”

What? This is madness! We’ve been number one for so long that it is our collective birthright. So who are these usurpers to the throne?

It turns out that Asians are now the nation’s fastest-growing race or ethnic group. Their population rose by almost 2.9 percent to 19.4 million, an increase of about 554,000.

Of course, Hispanics still are the second-largest ethnic group in the United States, making up 17.1 percent of the total population. And we grew at a very respectable rate of 2.1 percent, to more than 54 million.

But somehow, this comes as small consolation.

second-place-ribbon

What’s most intriguing about these numbers is that “more than 60 percent of this growth in the Asian population came from international migration.”

In contrast, Latino population growth “was fueled primarily by natural increase (births minus deaths), which accounted for 76 percent of Hispanic population change.”

In essence, Latino immigration is way down, no matter what you’ve heard. So the immigrants who do get in are more likely than before to be Asian.

So congratulations to our Asian brothers and sisters. If you keep growing at this pace, it won’t be long before you have your own equivalent of the Puerto Rican Day Parade in NYC, when you turn the nation’s largest city into a swirling party that engulfs everyone nearby whether they want to be part of it or not.

It’s something to shoot for.

 


Lasagna and Tortillas

I’ve mentioned before that I am part Italian. My paternal grandmother came off the boat from Naples as a teenage girl in the 1920s. She settled in New York City, like many Italian immigrants did, and lived in a tiny apartment in Greenwich Village for fifty years.

greenwich

In her old age, she developed a reputation as a cantankerous character who snapped at people for littering the sidewalk, often unleashing a string of Italian vulgarities and insults at them.

But that is another story.

The point is that many of my Italian grandmother’s descendents, including me, have achieved a much higher standard of living then she did. This is despite the fact that my grandmother was basically a high school dropout who spoke no English. As an Italian immigrant, she represented the fears of the established Americans, who were not terrible pleased at the new swarthy arrivals.

Yes, that sentiment sounds terribly familiar.

So it is most interesting that “a wealth of data suggests that Latinos, who make up fully half of the immigration wave of the past century, are already following the classic pattern for American immigrants.”

And that pattern is that immigrants arrive “in this country in great numbers, most of them poor, ill educated and, in important respects, different from native-born Americans. The children of immigrants, however, become richer and better educated than their parents and overwhelmingly speak English.”

From both Italian and Hispanic perspectives, this is true of me. And it is also true of my son, because “the grandchildren look ever more American.”

Of course, there is no magical guarantee that the descendants of Latino immigrants will completely close the gaps in education and income that separate Hispanics from other ethnic groups.

But it is certainly moving in that direction. For example, in the last decade the number of Latinos graduating from college has doubled. And second-generation Latino households are much closer in median income to other groups than their immigrant parents were.

The researchers conclude that the so-called Hispanic challenge is a real phenomenon. But rather than being an unprecedented cultural crisis, it is analogous to the Italian challenge, Chinese challenge, or Jewish challenge of the past.

Indeed, “over time, the specific challenges — legal, cultural and educational — have changed. Yet the core parts of the story have not, including its trajectory.”

 


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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