Archive Page 2

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.

06
Mar
10

The Power Duo of Lopez & Gonzalez

My wife and I were driving down the Sunset Strip when we were taken aback by one of the area’s numerous gargantuan billboards. To our horror, leering over us was the mugging face of comedian George Lopez. The enormous ad promoted his talk show or an upcoming movie or something else low-class that he’s involved in.

My wife looked at the billboard and said, “I don’t know if anyone has ever been so successful with such little talent.”

I was going to nominate Madonna for that distinct honor, but we have agreed to disagree about her. Still, my wife had a point about Lopez.

He is not particularly funny. Yes, I’ve seen worse attempts at humor: Pauly Shore, late-era Chevy Chase, and the movie “Revenge of the Nerds II” spring to mind. But the appeal of this Mexican American comic has always mystified me.

As if to compound my low opinion of his abilities, the very next day, I read this disturbing fact: New Line is planning a live-action/CG feature film of Speedy Gonzalez. The fleet-footed rodent will be voiced by none other than George Lopez.

Lopez and his wife, Ann, are producing the movie, which indicates that this misguided project isn’t just a work-for-hire but some kind of twisted labor of love.

I’ve written before about the love-hate relationship that Hispanics have with Speedy Gonzalez. Among other things, the fact that he is quick and clever is outweighed by the inescapable symbolism that he is a thieving rat.

Ann Lopez acknowledges Speedy’s problematic image. She says the movie will be modernized so that the character is “not the Speedy of the 1950s – the racist Speedy.” She further adds that the film will have “the Latino seal of approval.”

For some reason, I’m not filled with confidence by her assertions. But perhaps we should just give the filmmakers the benefit of the doubt. Maybe the movie will be charming and funny and poignant. Perhaps it will provide an insightful look at Hispanic culture. Hell, let’s just predict that it will be brilliant and win twenty-seven Oscars.

After all, how can it go wrong with the guy who voiced “Beverly Hills Chihuahua” onboard?

02
Mar
10

The Problem with a Faulty Spam Filter

I have a racist in-law. But then again, who doesn’t?

I don’t see a lot of this guy, because my wife only begrudgingly let him back into her life after a decade of exile. She has not exactly done cartwheels over the decision, but we’re stuck with him now.

Clearly, this man is not particularly close to his relative, my wife, or else he would have noticed that she disgraced the master race by marrying a Latino. My guess is that he thinks I just spend a lot of time in the tanning booth.

It’s important to note that my in-law is not overt about his bigotry. He either isn’t as virulent as, say, 1950s Strom Thurmond, or more likely, he doesn’t have the cojones to be upfront about it.

Of course, this brings up the uncomfortable truth that we now have degrees of racism. In the old days, a person was either a hate-filled redneck with a noose in one hand, or he was a progressive, love-thy-neighbor type who was incapable of seeing race, much less discriminating against someone.

But a more nuanced view has come into play in recent years. This viewpoint holds that everyone has some level of unconscious prejudice. At its lowest level, it may be the white woman who grips her purse a little tighter when a black man passes her on the street. From there, we ratchet up the intensity until we reach Klan level.

My in-law is somewhere between those poles. His dancing around the issue makes his prejudice less obnoxious in person and, on occasion, even unintentionally hilarious.

Recently, he sent us a forwarded email that slammed Obama’s immigration-reform plan. Perhaps I should have pointed out to him that there is no Obama immigration-reform plan, per se, but that would have prevented me from savoring the deeply astute political viewpoints that the email expressed.

  • There was a lot about English being under attack.
  • There was something about immigrants breeding out of control.
  • There were a few lines about Mexicans stealing our jobs.

Yes, I learned a lot from my quick glance at the missive. Most interestingly, the email detoured into how Anglo-Saxon culture was the only basis for American values. The email gave white people credit for ending slavery in America (neglecting the obvious fact that white people were responsible for slavery in the first place). I must admit that this was an interpretation of history that I had never considered.

The forward ended, rather ominously, with the declaration that white people can, at any point, take back everything they have generously given the rest of America.

I wasn’t sure what response my in-law wanted. Like I said, I barely know the guy.

Is it more proper to call him on his bullshit? Or would that just be a waste of time that does nothing but jack up everyone’s blood pressure? Is it standing up for oneself and La Raza to go on the counteroffensive? Or is it more dignified to dismiss idiocy with the split-second contempt that it deserves? Like many things in life, dealing with racists offers valid arguments for contradictory courses of action.

In the end, I just deleted the man’s rant and made a mental note to do the same whenever he sends us another email.

He’s since forwarded numerous other manifestos, but I’ve deleted them automatically, declining the opportunity to learn how Obama is a socialist who wasn’t even born in this country and wants to give all my money to gay, flag-burning immigrants.

All that can wait until my next face-to-face discussion with my in-law, whenever that is. I’m sure he’ll start the conversation with “I’m not racist, but…”

Yes, good times are coming.




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