Tag: Florida

Look Back in Horror

I am the child of an immigrant. My mom is from El Salvador, so I grew up with the tastes and influences of a typical American teenager, all mixed with a strong awareness of Latino culture and history. I’m pretty grateful for the combo.

You know who else is the child of an immigrant? Omar Mateen, the psychopath who murdered 49 people in Orlando a few nights ago.

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Mateen and I clearly had different interpretations of the dichotomies that come with being members of the first generation to be born in America. For example, I blended a love of hamburgers with an appreciation for pupusas, and I gave the music of my mother’s homeland a fair listen before popping in a Soundgarden album. It was a bit of a mezcla.

But Omar Mateen wasn’t interested in mixing cultures. He found it easier to just embrace the problems, prejudices, and anger of his parents’ country. Mateen latched onto his father’s homophobia and the religious mania that is widespread in his family’s homeland. And in so doing, he set out to be more culturally authentic than his parents ever were.

This is not an issue of assimilation or integration, as so many people believe it to be. No, it is more of a cultural mindset.

It is a mindset that provokes young men, born and raised in America, to adopt the radical politics of their parents’ homelands. It is a mindset of fear and fury.

The massacre in Orlando — and the fact that so many of the victims were Latino — got me thinking about how this cultural perception forms one of the many roots of bigotry and violence.

Let’s ask, why are there no Latino terrorists, going on shooting sprees or strapping on bombs to avenge the pain and misery that the United States government has inflicted upon El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and other Latin American countries?

Indeed, there is ample reason for Hispanics to be more than a little pissed about our treatment and standing in the United States.

And yet, survey after survey shows that Latinos are more optimistic about the future and more positive about life in general than just about any other American demographic. We are pretty much the last people to use the injustices of the past to justify abhorrent behavior.

One reason for this is so obvious that it borders on the simplistic. But here it is: Latinos tend to look forward.

We pack up and move to new countries in search of better lives. We assume our kids will do better than us. We have faith that circumstances will improve.

And this forward-thinking mindset, this cultural tendency to dismiss the woes of the past, helps us to maintain optimism in the face of economic and political tribulations. It helps us to set aside our pain and disappointment, rather than hoist them upon our backs for all to see.

In contrast, angry and hate-filled people tend to look backward, toward some vague past, and then they threaten to make America, you know, “great again.”

And other people, like Omar Mateen, not only look backward — they glare at it with a white-hot obsession and rage. They believe that their culture’s best days are long behind them, that the present holds nothing more than humiliation and despair, and that someone — maybe American society or gays or left-handed dentists or whoever — is to blame.

Omar Mateen, in addition to being a pathetic and homicidal loser, was an unimaginative, scared person who had no faith in the future. And someone taught him that mindset, inculcating him with the belief that it was reality.

As for his victims — people with names like Almodovar and Guerrero and Rios and Flores — they most likely had great hopes for tomorrow and next year and the next decade. But that optimism and those dreams were cruelly taken from them by a furious man who could do nothing better with his life than stare backward into the distant past.

 


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.


Living in the Past

Right around Christmas, President Obama freaked everybody out by announcing that we are normalizing relations with Cuba. That’s right — Cuba, the home of this guy.

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It’s not like we’re going to be all buddy-buddy now. I mean, who does Cuba think it is? Our real friends are places like Vietnam, where we fought a long, bloody war that killed thousands of Americans for nothing. And then there is Saudi Arabia, which isn’t hostile or repressive or hosting tons of people who would love to slit our collective throats — nope, not our good allies.

It’s Cuba that has vexed multiple presidents, tantalized us with its proximity yet unapproachable nature, and provided the storyline for at least one X-men adventure. And now the United States will begin discussions with the nation to re-establish diplomatic relations. America plans to re-open an embassy in Havana, and the Obama administration will allow some travel and trade that had been banned under the decades-long embargo.

The move is hugely popular with Latinos. In fact, 75% of Hispanics support re-establishing diplomatic ties with Cuba, compared with 64% of Americans overall.

But some Latinos, especially Cuban exiles, are infuriated. These are the people who fled Castro’s regime and took enough cash with them to set up a staunchly conservative community in Florida. For as long as I’ve been alive, Cuban natives have been the one subgroup of Hispanics who vote Republican.

So when Obama announced his decision, the predictable protests erupted in Florida. Senator Rubio declared that we were coddling dictators, and to hear some people talk, we would all be legally required to wear those annoying, pretentious Che Guevara t-shirts six days a week.

However, there’s something funny about Florida’s Cuban American community. Yes, polls show that 53% of Cuban immigrants oppose Obama’s plan, which I think is actually low. But there is a clear generational split, because 64% of U.S.-born Cuban Americans support Obama’s policy. That means almost two-thirds of the Cuban Americans who were born here — and who have little or no direct experience with Cold War politics — are saying, “It’s been half a century, so give it a rest.”

Of course, the older generation is aghast at this. They had Castro on the ropes… in that he is ancient and will soon die peacefully in his bed. But still, we just needed to give the embargo a little more time! Another decade or two would do it.

Leave it to the younger Hispanics, the ones born and raised in America, who are willing and eager to change the failed policies of the past. If they hurry, they might make it to Cuba and see the authenticity of their homeland before Starbucks moves in.

Here’s hoping.


Black is the New Black

In my previous two posts, I wrote about Latinos who view themselves as white. Well, it may be coincidental, but I recently ran into a disturbing news item that illustrates how some Hispanics have adopted a traditionally white viewpoint about one topic.

And that viewpoint is a hatred of black people.

Now of course, the vast majority of white people in this country do not hate black people. Nor is bigotry toward black people an unknown concept in Latino society (just look at George Zimmerman for proof of this).

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Still, as we all know, only white people can be truly racist (ha, let’s start that debate again).

But some Latinos in Florida are doing their best to prove that, damn it, we can be racist too if we just try hard enough.

You see, the owners of a Miami apartment complex allegedly turned away prospective tenants who were black, saying that there were no units available. However, when Latino prospective tenants showed up (in some cases, mere hours later), they were quickly shown apartments.

It doesn’t get much more blatant, and the owners, who are Hispanic, are now being sued.

So why would Hispanics, no strangers to prejudice and racial animosity, be so overt about discriminating against black people?

Perhaps it is because ever since the colonization of Latin America, white skin has been portrayed as more desirable in Hispanic culture. Even today, there are Hispanics who, subconsciously or intentionally, see it as their duty to “mejorar la raza,” which means, “to improve the race.” This means “marrying whites only (including white Latinos) — and specifically staying away from indigenous, black, Asian, or mixed potential mates.”

By the way, I’m not saying that Hispanics who marry white people are self-loathing or bigoted against black people.

But it is clear that in some quarters, the message that Hispanics “are expected to internalize is that Latinos should literally become as white as possible over time.”

Such a goal is not only morally repugnant, it is foolhardy. After all, in the future, everybody is going to be so ethnically mixed that we’ll all be a pleasing shade of brown.

It will be enough to give a 22nd-century racist a conniption fit.

 


Shakin’ All Over

Last week, for the second time this month, we had a significant temblor give our house a shake. We live in Los Angeles, so this kind of thing is not unexpected. Our one-year-old son, native Californian that he is, even slept through the last one.

But I’ve noticed something more than a little off-putting about the nation’s reaction to California earthquakes. Message boards and internet commentary usually light with people proclaiming their earnest wish that all of us out here in California, well, just die horrible deaths.

Some of the comments I saw included, “Too bad it wasn’t the Big One,” and “Waiting for California to slide into the ocean. Goodbye, weirdoes!” and “If only earth would finish the job and slide that festering leftist infection into the depths of the Pacific.”

It doesn’t seem to work the other way. When tornadoes hit Missouri, I don’t see commentators wishing that the entire state be blown away. And when hurricanes hit Florida, there is often an outpouring of goodwill and wishes for those in the storm’s path.

But California? Well, I guess we deserve to get swallowed up by the Earth.

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Of course, a lot of the animosity is directed toward our state’s undocumented immigrants, which if you believe right-wing media, currently account for 90 percent of the population.

The rest of it seems to be a combination of petty jealousy over our good weather, disdain for Hollywood celebrities, and vitriol aimed at our state’s frequently liberal policies.

But regardless of your political viewpoint, I would add that if the thought of thousands, perhaps, millions of your fellow Americans meeting a sudden, violent death is something that fills you with glee or smug satisfaction, then there is very little difference between you and Al Quada.

In any case, we here in California are not pleading for you to stop picking on us. We would just like the haters to acknowledge their irrational anger and stop pretending to love America (while despising its largest state and wishing destruction upon all who live there).

And to be honest, we are concerned about the next big earthquake. We’re worried that all of you will drop off into the Atlantic.

 


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