Tag: Race

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.


The Future’s Uncertain

I recently waxed ecstatic about California, the state I live in. I do indeed love living here, but I never claimed that it was perfect.

For example, a recent report shows that when it comes to Latinos, my state has some issues. And those issues are reciprocal, in that as Latinos go, so goes California.

You see, the study has found that among all racial and ethnic groups in California, Hispanics have the lowest well-being score. What, exactly, does that mean?

Well, rather than just look at a group’s median income or rate of cancer or percentage of sunny dispositions or collective weight or any of the other statistics that offer us interesting but isolated insights into a demographic’s existence, these researchers created an overall well-being score.

The number is based on a group’s overall health, educational level, earnings, and other factors, all put together. Think of it as a GPA rather than an individual grade.

Well, measured on a 10-point scale, Latinos had a well-being score of 4.09. That’s bad.

thumbsdown
I mean, would you want to date someone who was barely a 4 out of 10? Now imagine an entire group struggling under that number.

For the sake of comparison, Asian Americans had the highest score at 7.39. Whites and blacks were in between but noticeably better than Hispanics.

Digging a little deeper, the researchers found that native-born Latinos fared better than immigrants did. But by any measure, California’s Hispanics are far from thriving.

That’s terrible news, of course. But it goes beyond dark days just for la raza.

Hispanics are poised to become the state’s largest ethnic group, and more than half of California’s children are Latino. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to see that the study’s results could be ominous for the state’s future. With such a large percentage of the population struggling, the whole state will be dragged down.

The study’s authors conclude that California needs to improve the well-being of Latinos if the state hopes to thrive.

Well… yeah.

But there is some good news. While Latinos have the lowest well-being score, they’ve made great strides since 2000, and they’re moving up more quickly than any other group.

So at least we have forward momentum on our side. With hope, that will be enough to keep Cali golden.

 


More to the Story

Recently, I wrote about the dismal publishing scene for Latino authors. Well, I was remiss in at least one aspect. I implied that Hispanic writers are limited only to pitching the big New York publishing houses or jumping into the self-publishing quagmire. There is another option.

 

Namely, it is the world of small presses. Now, in the past, the phrase “small press” invoked images of ink-stained loners cranking out bizarre manifestos. Well, you’ll be glad to know those guys have moved on to troll internet comment pages across the web.

troller

The small presses that exist today are often professionally run, highly principled organizations that focus on marginalized or experimental writers. And when it comes to Latino authors, we may be entering a golden age.

I’m talking about presses like Arte Publico, Floricanto, and Editorial Trance, all of which have been doing great work for years. And there is also Aignos Publishing, co-founded by Jonathan Marcantoni and Zachary Oliver.

 

Marcantoni says that Aignos, and other small presses that have a similar focus, look for writers who push boundaries and challenge readers to question their worldviews. Authors who embrace their distinct cultures — something Latino writers are well-known for doing — may find a home at Aignos or a similar small press.

“A small press gives authors the legitimacy of being affiliated with a company, one that is taken seriously by media and festivals and awards, in a way writers never get as self-published authors,” Marcantoni says. “Well-established small presses have marketing plans and publicists, plus the distribution channels are on par with what large presses use.”

Indeed, I can speak to this issue, as my own self-published novel, Barrio Imbroglio, is selling somewhere between hot cakes and lukewarm waffles.

It would certainly help to have an established marketing team behind me (my current marketing team consists of me and my cats).

Marcantoni says that when it comes to small presses, “the Latino author gets the best of both worlds: world-class distribution, a company backing their efforts, and creative freedom.”

That combo often leads to great books. For example, Aignos recently published Nuno, by Carlos Aleman. The novel is a lyrical love story set in pre-Castro Cuba and the aftermath of the revolution. Marcantoni says that Nuno doesn’t fit into mainstream expectations of Latino literature. As such, it lines up with Aignos’ mission of pushing writers to develop their views and skills instead of pressuring them to make the bestseller lists.

“No one should be a writer to be famous,” Marcantoni says. “It should come from a desire to express yourself and touch the lives of others.

So will we see more Hispanic authors telling their unique stories via small presses, touching the lives of more and more readers? Well, there’s ample reason to be optimistic about such a future.

“The Latino community can stand out as one of artists seeking to raise the bar of what storytelling can be,” Marcantoni says. “And there are publishers out there who will support you.”


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?

alienation

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.

 


Such a Princess

I hesitate to mention this, but I know way too much about Sofia the First.

You see, we have a two-year-old boy, and while we limit his TV time, he still catches the occasional Doc McStuffins or Jake and the Neverland Pirates. And Sofia is on right after Jake, so we’ve caught bits and pieces of the show (just enough to drive me mildly insane).

Now, it turns out that Sofia is going to be the launching pad for Disney’s first Latina princess, Elena of Avalor, who is inspired by “diverse Latin cultures and folklore,” according to the good people at Disney. She will receive her own TV show next year.

elena

Of course, the issue of diversity is a touchy one in Hollywood. Just ask Sean Penn about Hispanic representation in the film world… well, on second thought, don’t ask him anything.

In any case, Elena’s arrival shows that Hollywood is sensitive to its reputation as indifferent to ethnic minorities, and that the entertainment industry is trying to improve the representation of Hispanics in pop culture.

But everybody’s a critic. And those critics are saying it’s too little, too late.

First, there is the issue that Elena is going to originate as a sidekick, and worse, there are no plans for her to have her own movie, despite the fact that many Disney princesses of various ethnicities and races have received their own feature films. Hey, Mulan got a pair of movies over a decade ago, and Asians are even less represented in film than Hispanics. So, yeah — what gives?

The second irritation is that Elena’s exact nationality is being kept vague. By not being specific about her homeland, critics argue, Disney is failing to explore the diversity within Hispanic culture, and instead using one brown-eyed princess as an interchangeable stand-in for all Latinas.

This is where I can be of assistance. I can tell you that saying Elena is from Cuba or Bolivia or Puerto Rico would be more bizarre than anything. That’s because the setting for Sofia is a magical dreamland where unicorns run wild, and little kids take classes on how to cast spells, and cutesy-pie dragons burst into song for no reason. Yeah, it’s that annoying.

But while most of the characters speak in a whiny faux British accent, it’s not specifically European. It’s otherworldly. So if this princess from, say, Mexico, just shows up, the effect will be a little jarring.

I told you I knew too much about this damn show.

Regardless, Elena is a step in the right direction. And even if I hated the idea of a Latina princess, it wouldn’t matter, because I’m going to see her, one way or another.

Yes, at this point, I’m just looking forward to the day when my son is finally old enough for Phineas and Ferb.


Antibodies

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.

measles

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.

 


It’s About Branding

There I was, ready to enjoy some enchiladas suizas and a generous helping of tequila, when I saw them.

But first, let me be clear about the Mexican restaurant in which I was dining. Years ago, I saw Brad Pitt in the place. He wasn’t around on this night, so I don’t want to implicate him. The point is that this is a popular LA site that teeters on the edge of authenticity (good food in a simple setting) and hipster irony (the kid of place where Brad Pitt walks in to show off his bona fides).

So I shouldn’t have been too surprised to see a large table of yuppies (tangent: do yuppies still exist?) hooting and hollering nearby. It was a birthday party apparently, and they had their own wait staff.

Now, the waiters and waitresses for our area were dressed casually, in jeans and polo shirts. The wait staff for the private party, however, was dressed, well, more colorfully.

The waitresses had frilly dresses and Carmen Miranda-style headpieces, and the waiters were decked out in campesino attire, complete with huge sombreros.

Sombrero-mexicain-adulte_4

 

To continue reading this post, please click here.

 


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.

exclamation-246x196

 

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).

 


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