Archive for April, 2010

17
Apr
10

Separate, Unequal, the Whole Thing

I don’t want to forget to thank Ankhesen, Michele, and Steven for their recent comments on my posts.

And speaking of forgetting, let’s take a second to reacquaint ourselves with an overlooked part of Latino history – indeed, an ignored part of American history.

Most of us remember learning about Brown vs. Board of Education, the case that ended racial segregation in public schools. It is justifiably remembered as a mighty blow against legal discrimination.

Like many Americans, I thought that Brown was the alpha and omega of school desegregation in America. You can imagine my surprise, then, when I only recently found out about Mendez v. Westminster School District. Why this case doesn’t even merit a passing mention in history classes is beyond me.

Because I assume most of you are as in the dark as I was, let me recap Mendez for you. Basically, in 1945, a few uppity Chicanos sued a California school district because their children were forced to attend separate “schools for Mexicans,” rather than the nice schools where white kids went.

To the shock of establishment types everywhere, the parents won. The school board appealed, and the parents won again. The disturbing aspect, however, is that the appeal relied on a technicality, which was that Latino kids weren’t specifically mentioned in the segregation laws of the time. Instead, the laws pinpointed “children of Chinese, Japanese or Mongolian parentage” (yikes!).

But a win is a win, and the case seemed destined for the Supreme Court. However, California saw how this was going, got wise, and abolished the law, thus ending the practice of legal segregation in the state.

It wasn’t until seven years later that the rest of the country caught up, in the Brown decision. I will leave it to a lawyer to assess how important the Mendez precedent was to the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown. However, I think we can all agree that it certainly didn’t hurt.

In any case, the girl at the center of the Mendez case tells her story here. She may have been an unwilling pioneer, but future generations of Latinos can still thank her and her parents for standing up for civil rights.

And I would add that her place in history is secure, but unfortunately, that’s not the case.

14
Apr
10

Doesn’t Everybody Love LA?

I moved back to Los Angeles about six months ago. In the half year that I’ve been back, I’ve been most grateful to see old friends, to discover great places and events that sprung up in my absence, and to skip winter altogether.

But I’m also happy that my return to California has had a positive effect on this blog. In my previous hometown in the Midwest, Hispanics are still a fairly rare sight, so Latino-themed stories don’t pop up too often. But in LA, every other newsmaker has a name that ends in Z, or some debate gets going about clashing cultures, or there’s a new Hispanic-influenced restaurant, art form, or social movement taking hold.

For example, the Catholic Church recently named a new leader of the Los Angeles diocese, which has the largest concentration of Catholics in America. Archbishop Jose Gomez is now “in line to become the highest-ranking Latino in the American Catholic hierarchy and the first Latino cardinal in the U.S.”

His predecessor, Cardinal Roger Mahony, said he was “grateful to God for this gift of a Hispanic archbishop” and said he personally asked the pope to supply him with a Latino replacement. Los Angeles has five million Catholics, over 70 percent of whom are Hispanic, so Gomez’s appointment couldn’t have been too much of a shocker. Even so, Mahony’s sentiments – thanking God for a Latino and pressing to replaced by a Hispanic – are somewhat rare occurrences in the United States, as I’m sure you can imagine. But it happens here in California.

By the way, Gomez was a member of Opus Dei, which according to several conspiracy theorists and best-selling authors, is really just a front for power-hungry zealots, albino assassins, and killer dwarves. If true, it could make the line for communion very interesting.

Another only-in-LA moment came when I saw the poster for an upcoming Cinco de Mayo celebration. But this was not some bland, half-assed get-together with cheap tequila shooters, which you might find in other parts of the country. No, this party (called Cinco de Mayan), features “mucho sexo y violencia in the form of burlesque dancers, masked Mexican wrestlers, comedians, mariachi, Aztec dancers, and more.”

To be honest, I have no plans to attend this event. But just knowing that it exists here makes me smile.

Still, it’s not just traditionalist priests and masked wrestlers who get noticed in California. As the LA Times points out, Hispanic influence is part of an accelerating trend in this city, as “the power positions held by Latinos in the Los Angeles area are multiple and manifest. Besides the Mexico-born archbishop… there is the mayor. The speaker of the Assembly. The sheriff. A county supervisor. Several members of the City Council, of Congress, of the Legislature, of the Los Angeles school board…. All told, the taking of power has been stunning in its breadth.”

And that power can resonate beyond Latinos. This brings me to one more tidbit that made me happy to be in California. A UCLA professor, Don Nakanishi, is leading a movement to make East LA, which is 97% Latino, a separate city. I don’t agree with his position, but I have to respect his goals. I especially liked his comments about becoming politicized as a young man.

In college, Nakanishi “joined ten Latinos in forming a group called Los Hermanos, Spanish for ‘the brothers’.” He later formed an Asian American student group and said of the process, “We learned from the Chicanos.”

Yes, people learn from Latinos here.

10
Apr
10

The New Majority

Let me thank Sanguinity for commenting on my post “It’s Not All About the Music.” I’m grateful whenever someone provides an intellectual, well-researched point to one of my flippant asides. Thanks as well to Juhem, who stumbled upon the site and is inexplicably coming back for more. And here’s some more thanks to Ankhesen for her always great comments.

As a supplement to my previous post about the U.S. Census, I have yet another demographic factoid to amaze and impress you… or alarm and disgust you, depending upon your impression of Latinos.

According to MSNBC, this year could be “the ‘tipping point’ when the number of babies born to minorities outnumbers that of babies born to whites. The numbers are growing because immigration to the U.S. has boosted the number of Hispanic women in their prime childbearing years.”

That’s right: childbearing Latinas are the biggest threat to white supremacy. If demographers are correct, 2015 will be the first kindergarten class in which white kids are outnumbered by Hispanic, black, and Asian children.

Leading the charge will be Latino babies. Well, strictly speaking, they can’t charge. Come on, they can’t even walk. But you know what I’m saying.

As we all know, whites are projected to become the minority circa 2050. For that projection to hold, it stands to reason that minority babies will become more numerous right around… now… actually, now. Yes, it just happened.

Mark your calendars.

07
Apr
10

Stand Up and Be Counted… Or Not

I am not an overly paranoid person.

Why, have you heard otherwise? And who told you?

Never mind, I’ll just move on to my main point, which is that I have never understood the deep mistrust of the U.S. Census. I’ve written about this before.

Apparently, a noticeable segment of the population is terrified that filing out this form will allow the government to stick them in internment camps, Christopher Lambert style (and yes, displaying a clip from “Fortress” is officially the most obscure pop culture reference to date on this site):

In any case, it seems that right-wing nuts aren’t the only ones who believe the Census is all a plot… a slow-moving, bureaucratic, cumbersome, and tedious plot, but a dastardly scheme nonetheless.

According to the Pew Hispanic Center, just 57 percent of native-born Latinos believe that census participation is good for their community. This means a large number of Hispanics distrust, or at least dislike, the Constitutionally mandated exercise.

Strangely enough, it is foreign-born Latinos, many of whom may not even be citizens, who are more accepting of the process. The Pew Hispanic Center says 80 percent of them believe the Census is a good idea, adding that “the foreign born are also more likely to correctly say that the census cannot be used to determine who is in the country legally [and] more likely to trust the Census Bureau to keep their personal information confidential” than Latinos born in America.

Once again, this proves that assimilation is definitely taking place. Just as foreign-born Latinos tend to get obese and unhealthy the longer they live in the United States, so are their offspring more likely to turn into government-hating paranoids who can’t be bothered with facts. So to everyone who says Hispanics can’t assimilate – in your face!

But aside from the inherent hatred that the Census provokes, there is also the messy racial element on the form itself. As many people have pointed out, the form does not list Hispanics as a race. Instead, we are an ethnicity.

This is because, as I’ve stated before, Hispanics may be of any race. We can be light-skinned, brown-hued, or as dark as any African American (although Torii Hunter might say such individuals are imposters).

However, to say that we are not a separate race has adverse consequences. It’s very easy to find a Latino who is annoyed that he’s being forced to pick “white” or “black” for his race. This irritation is not unjustified.

Furthermore, with distrust of the Census so high, an unnecessary racial jab is not the way to increase Hispanic participation. It’s also an ineffective sidestep. For example, Time magazine reports that “more than 40 percent of Hispanics, when asked on the Census form in 2000 to register white or black as their race, wrote in ‘Other’ — and they represented 95 percent of the 15.3 million people in the U.S. who did so.”

I can personally back up this fact. Last week, when I filled out the Census for our household, I checked Hispanic for my ethnicity. But I was stumped over what to mark for race. Strictly speaking, white is my closest option. But I checked “Other” and then wrote in “Hispanic” in the space provided to explain this otherness. This wasn’t a political act. It just seemed to make the most sense at the time.

However, in retrospect, my answer was, at the very least, redundant. Why write in “Hispanic” when I had already checked it off on the ethnicity box? More interestingly, I was now insisting that “Hispanic” is a race and not just an ethnicity. Did I really mean to do that? Perhaps I should have thought it out better. But images of “Fortress” were playing through my head, and I panicked.

So maybe critics are right to say that we should do away with the whole sloppy system of assessing the racial makeup of this country. Even President Obama had to make a stand when confronted with the Census’ limited options. Witness all the tittering and twittering that accompanied his decision to checkmark the box that says “Black, African Am., or Negro.”

It’s clearly not so easy anymore to stick people into fixed racial categories. And it’s only going to get crazier as each generation becomes increasingly mixed and mingled.

I have to wonder what the options will be for the 2100 Census. Regardless, I’m sure plenty of Americans will fear and hate it.

03
Apr
10

Saint or Commie?

As I’ve written before, I dropped out of the Catholic Church when I was a teenager. I haven’t become an atheist, although I see nothing wrong with that philosophy. It’s just that I prefer to keep my distance from religion. However, I’ve also been upfront about my belief that one reason Latinos don’t make bigger social and economic gains is our overreliance on the Church.

So perhaps I should excuse myself from a debate taking place across the Hispanic community, Latin America, and the Catholic Church. The cause of this debate is that old rabblerouser himself, Archbishop Oscar Romero.

For those of you who don’t know, Romero was the head of the Church in El Salvador from 1977 to 1980. During this time, he spoke out against the brutality of the government and the oppression of the poor. For having such crazy ideas, he was assassinated, presumably by members of a right-wing death squad. Following his death, a civil war ripped the country apart and killed tens of thousands of civilians, including members of my mother’s family.

In the thirty years since his death, Romero has been lionized as a martyr for the cause of social justice, or criticized as a dupe for communist agitators, depending on whom you talk to. The Catholic Church has been considering him for sainthood for years, but weirdly enough, they can’t seem to go ahead and canonize the guy.

The debate over Romero goes to the heart of the Church’s standing in Latin America. Is it an institution that upholds the traditions of the culture, even if those traditions include exploitation and enforced poverty? Or is it a force for peace and compassion, which is what that famous hippie Jesus espoused?

The perception of the Church in Latin America has a direct impact upon U.S. Hispanics. Many of us who are first-generation, for example, saw an organization that gave lip service to helping the poor, but supported corrupt regimes in our parents’ home countries. Priests like Romero, far from being supported, often earned Rome’s disdain. The dichotomy (some would say hypocrisy) was not endearing.

But Romero’s legacy may finally be thwarting the establishment culture that shunned him during his life. In a truly surprising moment, my mother’s home country of El Salvador has finally gotten around to acknowledging its most famous citizen.

The LA Times reports that “For the first time, the Salvadoran state is publicly commemorating Romero. Through most of this month, marches, concerts and debates have honored the priest.”

Furthermore, the country’s president, Mauricio Funes, recently asked forgiveness on behalf of the state for Romero’s assassination. Funes said, “This is something that should have been done a long time ago” and added that his government would “end the decades of silence” that have been Romero’s official legacy.

If El Salvador can finally acknowledge that Romero was killed because of his strong drive for justice, maybe the Vatican can get around to saying that he was a pretty good guy.

By the way, and at the risk of taking a cheap shot, it seems like the Catholic Church’s current issues prove that it’s not the best judge of morality and saint-like behavior. But then again, what do I know? I’m just an ex-Catholic.




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