Tag: illegal immigration


Recently, the good people at Simmons College asked me to take part in their blog carnival.


Well, how could I say no to anything with the word “carnival” in it? Will there be rides? Will there be virtual cotton candy? Can I get my picture taken next to the bearded lady? (Note: it is no longer socially acceptable to make fun of women with facial hair, so please mentally delete that last sentence).

In any case, it turns out that the blog carnival is part of the #MoreThanALabel campaign to shine a positive light on immigrant communities, defy labels, and combat the stigmas of being an immigrant.

Now, I am not an immigrant. I was born in New York City, which many conservatives will tell you is not part of the “real America,” but alas for them, it technically counts as the USA.

As I’ve stated many times, being born here is not an accomplishment. It is pure luck.

However, my mother is an immigrant. She came here from El Salvador in the late 1960s, and she has now been an American citizen for longer than she was a resident of her native land.

Many of my cousins are immigrants. They came here as kids and have become citizens, started careers, and raised their own children.

One of my cousins has done multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, really, how patriotic can you get?

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how successful the immigrants in my family have been. Nor does it matter that immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans. And it doesn’t even count that immigrants pay plenty of taxes and have a net positive impact on the economy.

That’s because a huge percentage of Americans are convinced that their lives suck because of all those people who were born south of Texas. And those Americans cannot be reasoned with.

So while it’s great that the #MoreThanALabel campaign is working to improve the image of immigrant communities, I’m just too cynical to contribute much of an uplifting narrative.

You see, I’m through with trying to convince xenophobes that immigrants belong in America. That is backward logic. It is the racists who represent the worst of the USA, and they always have.

And before everybody gets crazy, let me issue an obvious disclaimer: I’m not saying that everyone who has issues with immigration reform or is a conservative is a racist. Again, I’m not saying that. It would be absurd.

But the racial element is there, winding around the debate. It makes movements like #MoreThanALabel a necessity. No other group has to take such great efforts to convince a segment of the American population that they are human beings.

Still, the good news is that immigrants will persevere. Each new generation of arrivals struggles to its feet and establishes itself as part of American culture. It is an inevitable process, and it will go on and on.

So, if you need me, I’ll be hitting this blog carnival’s Tilt-a-Whirl. See you there.


Wishing and Waiting

I’ve edited over 100 books, from thriller novels to dense histories to self-help diatribes. Only a few of those books have lodged in my memory.

Among them was a manual written by a prepper. If you don’t know this term, it refers to someone who makes active plans to survive a catastrophic disaster, typically by stockpiling food, ammunition, and other supplies, and/or by creating some kind of well-protected shelter.

Preppers anticipate calamities ranging from a worldwide economic collapse to a military coup d’état to a Katrina-style cataclysm to, well, just about anything big and scary.

The book was well-written, and the author was intelligent and polite. And even if I found his worldview to be a bit, shall we say, paranoid, it would be incorrect to write him and his peers off as lunatics.

After all, if there’s ever an extinction-level asteroid impact or a zombie attack, then preppers will have the last laugh.



But what struck me about the author’s mindset wasn’t his fear-based attention to detail and insistence that sooner or later, all the shit will hit all the fans.

No, it was my realization that at a certain point, he was no longer preparing for a worst-case disaster. He was actively hoping for it.

You see, if his doomsday predictions never materialize, he has wasted a great deal of time, money, and effort for absolutely nothing. Indeed, he will have squandered a solid chunk of his life, while pinning his very self-identity on nonsense.

So a lot of preppers aren’t just waiting for end times. They are counting on catastrophe to justify their life’s work, even if this wish is subconscious.

How does this relate to the current political climate?

Well, look no further than the renewed demonization of immigrants and, by extension, all Latinos.

We have major political candidates (who shall not be named) who imply hordes of Hispanics are swarming into this country for the express purpose of raping and murdering Americans — that is, when they’re not pumping out “anchor babies” and stealing jobs.

Of course, fear-based campaigning — especially among conservatives — has a long and effective history.


And it’s tempting to dismiss GOP shrieking as a side effect of the party’s reliance on religious fervor and apocalyptic thinking. Keep in mind that about 20 percent of Republicans honestly believe that Obama is the antichrist.

But while building upon those ignoble foundations, this new conservative mindset amounts to something else.

You see, those on the right wing who despise Latinos (and there are many) aren’t just motivated by personal gain. They are true believers, who sincerely think America is doomed if Hispanics continue to increase their political, cultural, and demographic influence. To this contingent, the “browning” of America is the beginning of its end.


But what if this never happens? What if recent Latino immigrants become an integral and beneficial part of American society, just as so many other immigrant classes have?


In that case, a lot of conservative leaders have wasted a great deal of energy on nothing. Their predictions have failed to come true. And all that screaming and ranting and raving added up to nada.

Nobody wants to see his or her life’s work rendered irrelevant, or worse, dismissed as histrionic, wrong-headed idiocy.

To prevent that, many conservatives have morphed into extreme preppers, warning everyone of the coming Armageddon, while secretly hoping that it will arrive right on time to prove them correct.

The good news for right-wing preppers is that they have an inexplicable degree of influence in this country. So instead of working to prevent the coming apocalypse, they can help to usher it in, via self-fulfilling prophecies and overt policy decisions.

For example, Latinos have lower graduation rates than other ethnicities, so rather than improve public education, right-wing preppers try to gut it.


Hispanics have higher rates of poverty, so rather than balance the playing field, right-wing preppers reinforce an economic system that is rigged for the upper classes.


Latinos have limited socioeconomic power, so rather then look at institutional barriers, right-wing preppers deny that racism even exists.

Yes, there’s lots of ways to ensure that we get the America that some conservatives envision — the future that they supposedly fear but are weirdly attracted to at the same time.

Fortunately for me, I’ve made back-up plans. You see, I’ve recently built this secret bunker stocked with guns and water, and when the time comes…

Never mind, I’ve said too much.

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.”


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.

Maybe He Had It Coming

So if I haven’t mentioned it lately, I’ve published a mystery novel featuring a Latino detective.

Although there are plenty of book series with Hispanic sleuths, none of them have really broken through to the mainstream (so you gotta love my odds of being the first).

In any case, I read a lot of mystery novels, the better to study and learn about the genre.


Recently, I was reading a bestseller from a few years ago, by an author I don’t want to mention, because I might, you know, need a blurb someday. The detective in the book is white, of course, and oh so very angsty and tortured.

About halfway through the novel, the detective is doing something shady and illegal, but as is often the case with flawed anti-heroes, it is in the service of uncovering a sinister truth, so as readers, we let it slide.

However, in the process of committing this ethically dubious act, the hero is stopped by a Latino (the first one to appear in the book). So what happens?

Well, our main character insults and threatens the Hispanic guy, demanding that he get the hell out of the way. Then threats are made to call immigration and get him deported. When this fails to dissuade the Latino character — who, it is important to remember, is actually trying to do the right, legal thing — the hero pistol-whips him.

I’m not kidding. The sole Hispanic in the book… trying to be good and pure… gets degraded and physically assaulted by the white hero.

It’s not hard to read the subtext in this one.

I’ll also mention that in the next chapter, the hero narrates how that illegal action saved the life of a pretty white girl and how this proves the detective isn’t such a bad person after all.

No mention of the Latino who got his meddling ass pistol-whipped.


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.


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.


All You Need Is… Wait, You Need More Than That

In the realm of simplistic nonsense, few ideas are more insidious than the claim that you don’t need money if you just, well, love each other a whole lot.


This sentiment has lived on despite the well-documented fact that the number-one cause of marital tension is money. It also ignores the overwhelming financial stresses that clobber poor people every day.

And as for how poverty affects children, well, the data is just too depressing to mention.

And now a study has verified what we all suspected, which is that a family’s income level is a better indicator of the overall well-being of children than other factors. The research “cuts against the grain of oft-stated public opinions on traditional family composition,” which is a nice way of saying that being married doesn’t matter much when it comes to raising kids. Having bucks is vastly more important.

For example, the study found that just 9% of children from the lowest income bracket go on to earn college diplomas. But 77% of children raised in the top quarter of income eventually graduate college.

Take a look again at those numbers. They basically say that if you come from a poor family, you almost certainly won’t go past high school. But if your parents are somewhat well-to-do, you have a great shot at snagging at least a BA.

The researchers believe that richer parents — whether they are married, divorced, or single — can afford to provide their kids with certain advantages, like the best pre-schools, trips abroad, and extracurricular activities.

Hispanic parents often do not have the financial ability to offer their children such resources. So while our strong familial bonds help kids develop into responsible adults, it is no match for the dollars that rich people can spend on their offspring, who will almost inevitably do better in life.

Of course, a rugged individualist is bound to say, “Tell those lazy Latinos to work harder and get out of poverty.”

And this brings us back to simplistic nonsense.

You see, another study says that roughly two-thirds of low-income Latino children have at least one foreign-born parent. This isn’t surprising, as recent immigrants are often poor. But what’s interesting is that low-income Hispanic children are also more likely to have at least one employed parent, compared to other low-income children. This means Latino immigrant parents are more likely to fall into the category of the working poor.

So Hispanics, especially immigrants, are already working harder than many poor people. And yet they are still broke.

The study points out that poverty hits Latinos disproportionally. In addition, poverty often plays out differently in Hispanic households, in that the influence of extended family and community is stronger, which can be an asset.

However, it can also be a hindrance, in that low-income Latino homes often have different structures than the general population. For example, low-income Hispanics may have to set aside money for elderly parents or for remittances back home, which can cut into funds for childcare.

The study also found that among Latino children with a foreign-born parent, just 36% live with parents who are married. But of course, that doesn’t matter much, does it?


Teen Angst

It’s not easy being a teenager. The zits, the hormones, the awkward encounters with the opposite (or same) sex — it’s all stressful. And you can’t even buy even buy a damn beer, at least not legally, until your teen years are long over.

But if it sucks to be an adolescent, it sucks more to be an immigrant teenager in a new country. Take all the angst that faces every teen, then add language barriers, cultural confusion, discrimination, and general discombobulation. It’s not pretty, is it?

However, in a surprising conclusion, a recent study says racist acts may affect the mental health of US-born Latino teens more than teens born in Latin America. The study, by the Society for Research in Child Development, showed that US-born Latinos who faced discrimination had higher levels of anxiety and depression.

How can this be? Wouldn’t it stand to reason that immigrant teens who face bigotry would feel more alone and alienated than a kid born here?


Well, the researchers said foreign-born teens might have stronger attachments to their Latino heritage, and thus may feel less stress when discriminated against. But native-born Hispanics, who are still trying to figure out how to balance their heritage and their American tastes, are more likely to feel ostracized and betrayed by the culture in which they grew up.

The researchers point out that discrimination has damaging effects on mental health, and stress has long-term health implications for Latino teens. In this way, it supports other findings that show second-generation Hispanics often perform worse than immigrants in a number of lifestyle areas, including mental health.

So is there any good news in this depressing study? Well, the research also implies that Latino immigrants, even children, often demonstrate high levels of psychological strength and resiliency.

Basically, you can’t shut ‘em down.



Two facts you probably know about me: I live California, and I am the parent of a toddler.

Those two seemingly unrelated items mingled recently when a measles outbreak hit our state, and much of the blame was placed on New Age hippie Californians who didn’t vaccinate their kids.


Now, I believe in science and have little patience for religious nutjobs who fear the modern world. Also, I am not down with uber-libertarians who think it’s their right to infect other people’s kids because of, you know, personal freedom and shit.

So yes, our son is vaccinated.

Of course, as upsetting and infuriating and generally bizarre as the measles outbreak was, there was still room for right-wingers to up the craziness.

And that’s how we got Republican politicians and conservative blowhards who blamed the outbreak on undocumented immigrants from Latin America.

To these paranoid minds, it is all those undocumented kids who flooded the border last summer, who were then “just sent out across the country. Many of them had measles.”

In fact, none of them had measles. More disturbingly, “in this latest outbreak, measles has actually spread from the United States to Mexico.”

Ouch — that’s not pretty.

In sum, there is no evidence that undocumented kids are poisoning America. There is, however, plenty of proof that immigrants, particularly Hispanics, continue to be the scapegoat for America’s issues.

If only we had a vaccine against xenophobia.


Cogito Ergo Sum

You may remember the big news that the winner of the last month’s Powerball lottery was a resident of Puerto Rico. When I found out, I glanced at my watch and said, “Offensive tweets starting… now!”

Yes, social media got a little more absurd, and a lot more bigoted, when patriotic Americans found out that a Latino had won the huge prize. We got the usual “I thought this was America!” and outrage that “an illegal” had won the lottery and just plain racist insults directed at the winner. Many of these thoughtful individuals were incised that some swarthy person in a foreign country — who doesn’t even pay taxes! — nabbed all those randomly chosen dollars.

But of course, as we all know, Puerto Rico is part of America. Residents are American citizens, and Puerto Ricans pay federal taxes including Social Security, payroll, import/export taxes, and Medicare.

However, those little facts are no match for ignorance, prejudice, and self-rightous rage.

Still, the idiocy displayed over the Puerto Rican Powerball winner was no match for an even more head-snapping display of stupidity, which occurred around the same time.

You see, the state of Vermont is considering adopting a Latin state motto. Plenty of states have one, and Latin flows freely through all kinds of US institutions.

oregon motto
But when the story broke, one news station was swamped with angry emails and comments from god-fearin’ Vermonters who “were mad not because of the change in motto, but because they believed that Latin was the language of Latinos.”

One truly doesn’t know where to begin.

Should we point out that Latin is not Spanish, but is actually the dead language spoken by the Romans? Or that English derives much of its vocabulary from Latin? Or that, despite their insistence, English is not our official language? Or that the motto “E pluribus unum” is…  oh, never mind, it’s all too overwhelming.

Linguistics, general knowledge, and common sense aside, the main point is that many Americans are prejudiced toward Hispanics to the point of absurdity. And they are more than willing to put that hatred and stupidity on display.

Well, I have one thing to say to this people: “Res ipsa loquitur.”

Basically, it speaks for itself.


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.



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.



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