Tag: racial discrimination

Keep Talking

For a culture steeped in Catholic fatalism — and with a history that includes everything from racial discrimination to economic injustice to death squads — Hispanics sure are an optimistic bunch. I’ve written before about this weird tendency to be positive in the face of disaster. But now I have scientific proof for it.

A recent study says that people who speak Spanish tend to express themselves in a more positive way than speakers of other languages do. The researchers found that “the selection of positive words was greatest among Spanish-speakers” and that those words tend to be “learned more easily, used more frequently and are considered more meaningful.” In addition, overall communication among Spanish-speakers tended to be more positive, and the emotional content of the Spanish language was the highest among the languages studied.

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Basically, a conversation in Spanish is more optimistic and heartfelt than it would be in English, even if the content is exactly the same. And you don’t even want to know how much more upbeat Spanish is in comparison to German or Arabic (the alpha and omega of harsh languages).

But it’s not all good news for Hispanics. And here I am part of the problem. I’ve been honest about my struggles with Spanish, and I consider myself passable at the language, at best.

Well, another study has shown that, sure enough, each successive generation of Latinos is less proficient in Spanish. While 92% of the second generation (children of immigrants, like me) speak English very well, only 82% are even conversational in Spanish. By the third generation, nearly 100% of Latinos speak English very well, but only 17% speak Spanish fluently.

So all that optimism will fade away if we don’t teach kids Spanish. Now that’s a pessimistic thought.

 


The Flip Side

Recently, I wrote about ethnic authenticity, and how Hispanics are more likely these days to stand tall and proud, and not deny their Latino roots.

Well, there are exceptions.

For example, you may have heard about José Zamora, a hard-working guy looking for a permanent gig. He spent months looking for work, often sending out 50 to 100 resumes a day, but he received few responses. Then he dropped one letter on his resume, making his first name “Joe,” and he received multiple offers for interviews.

He landed a job and then paid his employer the ultimate compliment in a colorblind society: “I don’t think they would have hired me as a José — they don’t want a José — they want a Joe.”

Yes, that is heartwarming. All the guy had to do to get a job was change his name, dismiss his ethnicity, and basically lie about who he was. It’s a good thing white privilege is dead.

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Zamora says his decision didn’t bother him, and he viewed it as a marketing ploy and an opportunity to reinvent himself. Well, I guess that’s one way to look at it.

But his little experiment shows that a traditional Latino name is an impediment, even with employers who say, “But we love multiculturalism!”

Zamora says that after his story came out, many Hispanics contacted him to say they were going to follow his example. “One guy, his name is Juan, and he said he’s going to go by John,” Zamora said. “A Pedro said he’s gonna be Pete.…You could work in a lot of places as Pete.”

Yes, I bet you could.

 


Flags of Our Fathers and Mothers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about ethnic authenticity and the struggle for self-identity in a post-multicultural world.

Actually, that not’s true. In reality, I’m more apt to be thinking about taking my car in for a tune-up, or the odds of the Packers winning their division, or what Kate Winslet is doing right now (probably something sexy).

But when stray thoughts about ethnic authenticity and… well, the rest of it, actually do enter my mind, I think about a recent news story that caught my eye.

Here in California, we had a brouhaha, an imbroglio if you will, when a woman posted a video of herself berating people for flying a Mexican flag in their front yard. The woman, who was running for political office, ultimately lost her day job when the video went viral.

The family with the Mexican flag explained that they were simply expressing ethnic pride and meant no disrespect to America.

amer flag

There are several things going on here. First is the fact that a jingoistic bigot thought she would impress people by posting a video of herself being a bully, and maybe win the xenophobic vote in the process. It’s a sign of progress that this backfired horribly.

Second, the incident shows that for many Latinos, maintaining ties to one’s homeland is crucial to the concept of self-identity. And this drive for ethnic authenticity can span generations.

You see, Hispanics aren’t cowering under the boot of assimilation, like they did so often in the past. Back in the day, Latinos hid evidence of their roots, or they outright disowned their ethnicity, or they did anything they could to try to bluff people into thinking they were descended from the swarthier pilgrims on the Mayflower.

But contemporary Latinos are less likely to be ashamed of who they are, and displays of ethnicity are assumed — correctly — to be a right that can’t be subjugated.

Basically, if some nut comes onto your private property and starts lecturing you on how to be a real American, you are well within your rights to tell them to fuck off.

Now that this is settled, let me get back to those thoughts of Kate Winslet…

 


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.”

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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.

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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.


Everybody Does It

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

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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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Sucking Up All the Oxygen

The biggest story in America right now — not the biggest Latino-themed story, but the most talked-about news item, period — is the humanitarian crisis at the border. As we all know, tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants — many of them children — are massed in overrun detention centers, awaiting their fate.

Meanwhile, whole towns of god-fearin’ Americans are making it clear that they don’t want no stinkin’ illegals in their neighborhood.

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Yes, this is the latest, most impressive imbroglio over immigration. And in the minds of many Americans, all immigrants are undocumented, all undocumented people are Hispanic, and all Hispanics are undocumented immigrants. It’s a nice little A=B=C theorem.

But the funny thing is that there are 11.7 undocumented migrants in the U.S. By comparison, the overall U.S. Hispanic population is 53 million. Although “immigration is the issue most associated with Latinos…it is not necessarily the most interesting issue to Latinos.” One could argue, in fact, that “most Latinos would probably love not to have to deal with it.”

Indeed, Pew Research says that the top issues for Hispanics are education, jobs and the economy, healthcare, the federal government debt, and (in fifth place) immigration. Even among Hispanic immigrants themselves, only one-third say immigration is an extremely important issue to them personally.

The discrepancy between immigration’s status in the media and its actual importance to the Hispanic community has provoked some Hispanic leaders to say that immigration “occupies almost all the Latino policy agenda, sucking up…all the oxygen on Latino issues.”

Latino leaders say that Hispanics “need to strike a better balance” and not allow immigration to stifle “the Latino agenda for the 21st century. We have to get to the point where we can walk and chew gum at the same time, and focus on other things like discrimination, education, and the infrastructures in our communities.”

It’s a fair point. But immigration is not going away as a media hot topic anytime soon. It’s been pointed out that whether “we are talking about health care or voting rights, there are those who keep inserting immigration into the mix, whether it pertains to a particular issue or not – and normally in a detrimental way.”

And let’s not forget that the media “tends to reduce our diversity down to one issue [and] treat us all as perpetual immigrants.” 

But just you wait, someday soon a national Latino leader will be invited to a Sunday morning news program, and he or she will be asked about the deficit or the Israeli-Palestinian problem or guns in schools or whether the president should be impeached for wearing white after Labor Day or whatever.

And nobody will mention immigration. And it will be pretty cool.

 


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.

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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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A Shining Moment

This past weekend, people all over America expressed patriotic fervor. After all, we live in a free country, full of natural beauty. And we strive for lofty goals of democracy and fairness, while extending a heartfelt welcome to immigrants of all types.

Ha-ha. Just kidding about that last part.

CALIFORNIA-FAMILIAS INMIGRANTES

You’ve heard, no doubt, about the demonstrations in Murrieta, California, where protesters blockaded busses carrying undocumented immigrants to a detention facility. The immigrants, “many of them unaccompanied children, were being brought from overcrowded Texas detention facilities for processing in California.”

The protestors waved American flags and chanted, “USA! USA!” They also indulged in some, shall we say, less-than-classy behavior (including the occasional slur). In any case, these uber-Americans forced the busses to turn around.

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Now to be fair, it must have been a bit shocking for the fine people of Murrieta to learn that 140 undocumented people would be dropped off on their doorstep. And the protesters were quick to claim that it wasn’t, you know, a racist thing. Of course not.

But the imagery is hard to downplay.

All I’m saying is that is that it is not exactly courageous to terrorize busloads of traumatized women and children. And heckling poverty-stricken people is not the stuff of patriotic legend.

However, for all those people in Murrieta who still think they were standing up for America, well, let’s put it in perspective.

The Founding Fathers won independence. Lincoln freed the slaves. The Greatest Generation defeated the Nazis.

But you held up a sign and screamed vulgarities at little kids.

Clearly, it was hero time.

 


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