Archive for March, 2010

31
Mar
10

It’s Not All About the Music

Recently, two-hit wonder and famed hip shaker Ricky Martin announced the least surprising celebrity news since we found out about Charlie Sheen and all those hookers. The man confirmed, of course, that he is gay.

Martin’s announcement, as anticlimactic as it was, still upset those Americans who believe that even whispering the word “homosexual” will cause their marriages to implode and their children to start cross-dressing. But most people accepted it with a shrug.

Even the Hispanic community, more or less, refrained from calling for Martin’s head. However, it seems to me that this has less to do with increased tolerance for gay Latinos than it does with the fact that Martin’s star has dimmed and, as I stated, we all kind of knew the guy’s status in the first place.

Just about every culture has a powerful strain of homophobia. Well, maybe the British don’t – in fact, I think a minimal amount of homosexual experimentation is actually required there. But just about everybody else has issues with gays.

Still, Latino culture, as I’ve written before, has a particularly virulent strain of hatred for homosexuality. It’s the double whammy of fervent Catholicism and traditional images of machismo.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, “maricon” was never said lightly. It meant somebody, either the taunter or the object of the accusation, was going to get his ass kicked.

You might say, “Hey Fanatic, that was a long time ago. Younger Latinos have dropped the homophobia that plagued you aging Gen Xers and sad Baby Boomers.”

It’s a valid point, and I agree that the older generation is more to blame for spewing hatred. As if to verify this, mere days before Martin publically waved the rainbow flag, the rancheras singer Paquita la del Barrio let us know that older Hispanics may never join the twenty-first century.

The singer, a Mexican woman in her sixties, said, “I’d rather see a kid die” than allow him to be adopted by gay parents. For emphasis, she added that it was better for a child to die alone in the streets than to be “adopted by them.”

Now, I admit that I had never heard of this woman. I’ll add that I believe ranchera music – along with polka and Celine Dion’s greatest hits – will be the tunes that blare over Satan’s Army as it materializes for Armageddon.

Regardless, it’s telling that Paquita la del Barrio (who has a large American fan base, by the way) felt not the slightest shame in making her statements. She doesn’t see her viewpoint as remotely unreasonable, and she knows that plenty of her fans will agree with her. It’s a sad commentary on older Latinos.

Perhaps Paquita la del Barrio will get her comeuppance via a public backlash or a karmic twist of fate. Or maybe there will be no fallout over her unrepentant homophobia. At the very least, however, the woman has completely blown her chance to sing a duet with Ricky Martin.

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27
Mar
10

A Trio of Sensitive Topics

Every now and then, I have to undertake a quick roundup on contemporary issues that befuddle, perplex, or amuse me. Considering that I have been in a nonproductive haze for the last week or so (it’s a long story, and you don’t want to hear it), this is a good time for me to tackle these mini controversies, these bite-sized morsels of interest that might not warrant a full, in-depth post but that should be addressed.

First, as befitting its status, we will start with the female breast. I think we’re all big fans, but this week, the news about breasts took a decidedly Hispanic turn.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Latina moms are more likely than any other group to breastfeed their babies. The study gave no reason for this, but I have to presume that the strong Hispanic emphasis on family (and therefore, upon babies and children) is one reason that Latina mothers are more willing to put up with sore nipples and occasional social awkwardness.

The researchers said that “breast-feeding benefits both mothers and their babies” but add that “the longer Hispanic immigrants are in the U.S., the more accepting they are of using baby formula. They also tend to adopt worse eating habits and lifestyles for themselves.” One researcher said, “Their health actually begins to decline.”

So for all those who say that Hispanic immigrants don’t assimilate, here is further proof that you’re wrong. Given enough time, Latinos from other countries quickly grow obese and sickly, just like the rest of us. God bless America!

Speaking of the American Dream, the favorite immigrant of Republicans, Arnold Schwarzenegger, issued yet another idiotic faux pas this week. My state’s governor said that Hispanics are naturally temperamental and “are all very hot. They have the, you know, part of the black blood in them and part of the Latino blood in them that together makes it.”

It’s an interesting theory of eugenics, but then again, it does come from a man who knows a thing or two about mixing races – or mingling circuitry with human flesh, same thing.

I’m not a huge fan of Schwarzenegger’s politics. For that matter, I’m not too crazy about a lot of his movies. So it’s not bias toward the governor when I say that his comments sound more like a moronic attempt to be funny than an outright slur. The target of his joke, a Latina state official, said as much. Therefore, I think we can let the guy off the hook, especially because he quickly apologized. But let’s watch it, Mr. Governator.

This brings me to my final item. It seems that I have fresh competition in the Latino blogosphere. This week, Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez announced that he’s starting his own blog. Chavez said, “I am going to dig my own trench on the Internet,” with the intention of spreading his revolution through cyberspace. I, for one, look forward to reading the insights of a touchy head of state who is, quite frankly, a bit of a lunatic. I’m sure it will not be boring.

In addition to these brief updates, let me thank, as always, everyone who has commented on my recent posts. Yes, I’m talking to you, Niall, Clairela, Pete, and Mary Lynn. And here’s a special shout out to Ankhesen, who posted a treasure trove of Hispanic humor in the comments section for my post “A Priest, a Rabbi…”

Take a look.

24
Mar
10

Hail Britannia

In a recent post, I expressed my admiration for the British accent. I said that it was pretty damn sexy, at least on women. I can’t judge if it’s sexy on guys (one of you ladies or gay men will have to inform me). But I will admit that British men sound more sophisticated and intelligent than we who have been afflicted with the flat American way of speaking.

And of course, anything witty sounds twice as funny with a crisp English accent.

I presume that many Americans share my belief in the inherent coolness of these island dwellers. But for a Latino, this fascination is an extra burden. It comes across as self-loathing or pathetic.

For the record, I’ve never been ashamed of being Hispanic. Nor have I ever wished that I could magically turn white or become black or pass for Asian (although many people assume that I’m Japanese, as I wrote here).

But I have to admit, part of me would like to do life all over as a British guy. Those cheeky bastards have a hold on me.

The chief cultural influence on my sense of humor is Monty Python. My favorite band is Led Zeppelin. I think the Union Jack is the greatest flag design ever.

My god, Great Britain is everywhere in my head.

Perhaps this explains my running jokes about having an unhealthy obsession with Kate Winslet (my sympathies on her recent divorce, but I can’t understand why she is still not returning my phone calls). And maybe this is why I’ve spent my professional life focusing on the English language. Hell, maybe this is why I’ve had so many problems with my teeth (I’m not at British level in that regard, however).

I’ve written before about feeling a kinship with Jews. That’s true. But if I were not a proud American Latino, I would adopt an English persona. And I’m sure that many of you – whether white, black, Asian, or a fellow Hispanic – agree that it would be most cool to issue snide asides with flair and take the tube to Piccadilly Circus and complain about the bloody weather and keep a stiff upper lip and all of that.

My wife and I travelled to London once. We still talk about ditching it all and moving there someday. This is usually after a few drinks and/or a Republican political victory. In any case, don’t hold your breath, because we both agree that we would miss America too much to adopt the expatriate life (by the way, would I be considered an expat or an immigrant?).

Still, before I glamorize the British even more than I have, I will bring these smart, sexy, clever people back down to earth:

Their food really sucks.

There, I said it. It’s a cheap shot, I know, but at the moment, it’s all I’ve got.

20
Mar
10

The Education of La Gente

In an earlier post, I wrote about my experiences as one of the few Latinos on my college campus, back in the day. At that time, the percentage of Hispanics at my alma mater was less than two percent.

In the years since, it has gone up, which is part of a larger, welcoming trend. Although Hispanics continue to be rare sight on American campuses, the number of young Latinos who are giving it the old college try is on the upswing. Some estimates say that about 12 percent of college students are Hispanic, which isn’t far off our proportion in the general population (currently at 15 percent and rising).

Furthermore, according to the U.S. Department of Education, 27 percent of Latinos ages 18 to 24 are enrolled in college. That’s apparently the highest the number has ever been, although it still pales in comparison to the percentage of young whites (43 percent) and blacks (33 percent). I don’t know the percentage of young Asian Americans in school, but let’s face it, I’m sure it’s impressive.

So more Hispanics are signing on for student debt and hitting on sorority girls and drinking too much on Thursday nights and living in shitty apartments with roommates who have loud sex with strangers in your bed… Sorry, I got a little nostalgic there.

One reason for the increase in Latino attendance is simple demographics. As Hispanics continue to assimilate into the general population (and assimilation is indeed underway, regardless of what you’ve heard on talk radio), they are more likely to adopt the cultural advantages of the majority. The chance to attend college, of course, is one of the biggest pluses of being American.

A lot of young Latinos see higher education as a natural extension, or as a clear benefit to their lives. Previous generations, including my own, were more likely to view going to a university as something for rich white kids, or as a laughable proposition that they were foolish for even considering.

When I was younger, several of my Latino peers even proclaimed that it was “selling out” to move past the twelfth grade. The implication was that choosing ignorance and poverty was a noble cause for La Raza. Today’s generation of young Latinos is far more likely to view this sad justification as the self-defeating prophesy that it is.

Another factor for increased Hispanic attendance is that major universities are more likely to actively recruit young Latinos. This is primarily because society has become more accepting of the idea that not everybody is white (well, most of America has, at least). But it’s also simple economics. A larger percentage of young people today are Latinos. As I’ve written many times before, Hispanics are the fastest-growing segment of the population. Therefore, if colleges want to continue to get students to fork over tuition, they must reach out to Latinos.

I’ll just mention that when I was eighteen and trying to pick a school, most universities’ minority outreach consisted of mailing out a pamphlet on the importance of diversity. And most of the time, all the pictures were of black people.

The fact that more Latinos are attending college offers one final interesting factoid. Hispanics who attend universities are now more likely to actually go away to college, as their white and black peers do, than they were in the past. According to the LA Times, “since 1975, the share of Latino freshmen at four-year colleges who choose schools more than fifty miles from home has risen to nearly 59% from about 46%.”

Of course, leaving one’s family provokes conflicting feelings within Latinos. Because many of us are first-generation, we can still access our parents’ immigrant roots. We can comprehend travelling great distances to start new lives.

However, the tight bonds of the traditional Hispanic family often clash with the individual’s need for fulfillment. At such times, will the biggest obstacle to a Latino going away to college be a guilt-tripping father or a perplexed abuela or a needy cousin?

It’s difficult to say. But I’m sure that for many of next year’s Latino college freshman, calling mom every day will be a top priority.

17
Mar
10

A Priest, a Rabbi, and Latino Walk Into a Bar

Here’s a quick shout out to Frankie, Ankhesen, Ulises, and Chris for their comments on my recent posts. Thank you all, and thanks to everyone who shares his or her thoughts here.

But now let me backtrack a little.

Recently, I used my cyber bully pulpit to disparage comedian George Lopez and, by extension, anyone who thinks that he’s funny. I’m not backing down on my criticism, but I need to qualify it.

You see, I’ve written much about the positive aspects of Latino culture, such as our strong familial ties and powerful work ethic and openness to share emotions and many other good and true characteristics.

But I’ve also written about some less uplifting traits. And to that list, I have to add one more item:

We’re not particularly funny people.

I realize this is a gross generalization. I’m sure that plenty of Latinos are hilarious. It’s just that I haven’t met them or seen them on television or watched their stand-up routines.

We have to be honest and say that no Hispanic has ever really made America laugh, except maybe Cheech Marin, and he put the low in low-brow.

Indeed, the first Hispanic sitcom, back in the 1980s, was “Aka Pablo,” starring Paul Rodriguez. It was such a monumental flop that Latinos have been rare on comedies ever since (by the way, my hatred for this short-lived show is so intense that it demands a full post sometime).

The first Hispanic comedian to receive any kind of mainstream success in America was Cantinflas, a star from the 1950s. You are forgiven if you don’t know who he is. The guy seems to be more of poor man’s Charlie Chaplin than anything else.

One could argue that Latino culture’s history of death, destruction, and poverty does not lend itself to big laughs. That may be true, but then what do we make of the fact that some of the most insightful and cutting comedians of the last few decades have been black? Think of the line from Richard Pryor to Chris Rock and beyond. African Americans, of course, have just as much, if not more, misery in their collective backgrounds. They have apparently been better able to mine this history to create cutting-edge observations.

As a result, black people have Dave Chappelle. We have Carlos Mencia. That contrast is just depressing.

Similarly, a look at Jewish comedy reveals such heavy hitters as Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld, Judd Apatow, and others too numerous to mention. We’re talking about decades of mainstream success across a wide range of styles. And of course, Jews have endured one or two negative developments over the course of their cultural history. It hasn’t stopped them from coming up with a witty line now and then.

So why aren’t we funnier? I haven’t the slightest idea. But with this blog, I’ve tried to avoid becoming a writer who is, in the words of the great humorist Spalding Gray, so very “earnest, earnest, earnest.” That seems to be the default setting for many Latinos (and many bloggers, while we’re at it). By the way, Spalding Gray was a white guy.

In any case, the situation for Latino humor is grim… hey, I guess that was a joke, given the subject matter.

Yes, as you can see, you don’t want me to accept the challenge to be the comedic Latino. I’m just not that funny.

13
Mar
10

Called out on Strikes

First, let me acknowledge Henna, Cold Spaghetti, Island Meri, and Steven for their recent comments. I appreciate your thoughts.

Second, let me segue from thanks to apologies. Specifically, I may owe one to Sammy Sosa.

In a recent post, I wrote about Sosa’s apparent use of a skin product designed to make him appear whiter. I wondered if the baseball great’s light skin was a capitulation to the colonizer mentality. This mindset holds that anything white is superior, and it has caused many black people to go to absurd lengths to seem whiter (both culturally and literally).

As we know, Hispanics can be of any race. Sosa, a Dominican, is obviously a dark-skinned Latino. Many people have wondered if he is trying to renounce his Hispanic and/or black status.

As it turns out, maybe Sosa isn’t to blame if he wants to be white. Apparently, some of the man’s fellow players think that he is not really black in the first place.

Specifically, Angels outfielder Torii Hunter, a great player and multiple All-Star, believes that black players from Latin America are “imposters.” Hunter said that he and his fellow African American players “have a theory that baseball can go get an imitator and pass them off as us. It’s like they had to get some kind of dark faces, so they go to the Dominican or Venezuela because you can get them cheaper. You can get a Dominican guy for a bag of chips.”

I must admit that I didn’t know the rates for Dominicans were so reasonable. Perhaps we should all get one.

Hunter goes on to pose the ultimate rhetorical question about a former MVP. Hunter asks, “Hey, what color is Vladimir Guerrero? Is he a black player? Come on, he’s Dominican. He’s not black.”

I have no idea if Guerrero considers himself black. Perhaps he answers, “Hispanic” or “Dominican” or “human” or “right-handed slugger” when asked about his status. But he’s certainly within his rights to say, “black” or “black Latino.”

In the picture below, Hunter is on the left. Guerrero is on the right. One of them is positively not black.

Perhaps Hunter meant that Guerrero and other players from Latin America are not African American. That’s a noncontroversial point. However, Hunter comes across as a cultural jingoist, reminiscent of people who said President Obama is not really black.

His comments bring up the whole messy topic of how we categorize race and ethnicity, and why. I’ve written before about this, and several readers have chastised me for (among other offenses) saying that Chicanos are Hispanic and Spaniards are not. I’d like to think, however, that I was a bit more diplomatic than Hunter.

Perhaps we are indeed all too hung up on race and who is one category and who is not. But to deny that these constructs – artificial as they are – actually exist is to deny their power. And that’s why, despite the earnest pleas of many Americans, we will go on talking about race and racial matters.

As for Hunter, he has claimed that his comments were taken out of context. If so, it lessens the creepiness of their content, but not the stupidity of their mere existence.

Hunter ended his racial-conspiracy rant by saying, “I’m telling you, it’s sad.”

Oh, it’s sad, alright. But not in the way that Hunter thinks. It’s sad that he said, “They’re not us” when referring to teammates like Guerrero.

As the baseball writer Craig Calcaterra points out, “the fact that more and more of baseball’s black players happen to come from a couple hundred miles south of an artificial political border doesn’t mean that there is no one around to receive the torch passed down from Jackie Robinson.”

In fact, many of those players who thrive under Robinson’s legacy are Hispanic. And yes, they may even be black too.

10
Mar
10

Expats vs. Immigrants

The waiter approached our table and recited the specials in a flowery French accent. Because I live in Los Angeles, I assume that every waiter is an actor, especially ones who are speaking with outrageous inflections.

But as it turned out, he was the real deal. Over the course of the dinner, he informed us that former Parisians constituted most of the restaurant’s staff. Evidently, the owner was from France, and he liked to help his fellow countrymen get started in this country.

“So you’re an expatriate,” I said.

“Oui,” he answered.

Now, I’m certainly not going to claim that the French are wildly popular with Americans. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that people in this country were ordering freedom fries.

Strangely enough, I don’t recall anybody asking for a freedom kiss. But I digress.

The point is we can all agree that Europeans, in general, receive kinder greetings here than do people from Latin America. In fact, it’s in the very terms we use.

The French waiter was an expat. It’s a word that evokes a daring and exotic nature, an upscale sensibility. It’s a positive term.

In contrast, we refer to Guatemalans and Colombians and Ecuadorians as immigrants. That word conjures up a lot of connotations, but most of them, alas, are not positive.

What is the reason for this dichotomy?

Certainly, legality has something to do with it. I presume that the French waiter has a work visa. The Mexican busboy, in contrast, may not. But as I’ve written before, the self-righteous screeching over the “illegal” part of the phrase “illegal immigrant” doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It’s a point, yes, but a minor one.

The differentiation, according to one unimpeachable source, “comes down to socioeconomic factors… skilled professionals working in another country are described as expatriates, whereas a manual laborer who has moved to another country to earn more money might be labeled an ‘immigrant.’ ”

It’s an arbitrary, even unfair, definition. But it’s accurate.

Still, that doesn’t explain the difference fully. For example, we would never call someone a Mexican expatriate, even if she were a successful businessperson like the owner of the French restaurant. She is forever an immigrant.

At its most basic level, the reason that we view Frenchman and German women and British people as expats, rather than as immigrants, is because we like them better. We respect them more.

It’s right there in the language.

It works the other way too. Any American adult who chooses to live abroad is an expatriate (with the possible exception of Peace Corps volunteers). It really doesn’t matter if you bum around Europe for years or head up the international office in Hong Kong. If you’re an American living in a foreign land, you’re an expat. You won’t be called an immigrant unless a native resents your presence, and even then, you’re more likely to be called “gringo,” “yanqui,” or “member of the invading imperialist army.”

There is, of course, a long history of Americans moving abroad to have their art better appreciated, or at least to sleep with people who have more interesting accents. It’s the Lost Generation of Hemingway, and the Beat Generation of Kerouac, and the Brooding Generation of Johnny Depp (he lives in France, you know).

So perhaps I will do my part and live out that dream I have about moving to London. It might be amusing to see the British try to figure out if I’m an American expatriate or a Latino immigrant.

Perhaps I would be both.




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