Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama


Mi Casa Es Su Casa… Until the Bank Forecloses on Mi Casa

My wise old grandmother used to invoke the Spanish phrase, “When money is tight, a nickel isn’t worth a dime.”

Actually, that’s not a phrase in Spanish (I think it’s Yogi Berra). And my grandmother has never passed along anything resembling sage-like insight. She’s much more likely to complain that young people don’t wear enough clothes.

The point is that we Latinos don’t have any special wisdom for dealing with this economic disaster, which has become (say it with me) the worst crisis since the Great Depression. In fact, the statistics indicate that Hispanics are ill-suited to weather this financial maelstrom.

Looking at one specific economic indicator, the almost laughably bad housing market, we see that Latinos have the highest foreclosure rate of any ethnic group in the country, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. In addition, Latinos tend to spend more of their income on housing than other demographics do, and we are more likely to have firsthand experience with the horrific phrase “subprime mortgage,” which has supplanted “Bush-Cheney administration” as the scariest word combo in America.

The Pew Hispanic Center goes on to say that over a third of all Hispanic homeowners are worried that their house may go into foreclosure, and that over half of foreign-born Latino homeowners share this fear. The Wall Street Journal adds that “In U.S. counties where Hispanics account for more than 25% of the population, banks have taken back 6.7 homes per 1,000 residents since Jan. 1, 2006, compared with 4.6 per 1,000 residents in all counties.”

Of course, the collapse of the housing market has become the prominent symbol, main indicator, and root cause/boogyman for the financial shitstorm raining down upon the nation. As a Latino who bought a house near the peak of the boom (my first house, thank you very much), I was surprised to learn that my home has dropped little in value since I signed on the dotted line. Nevertheless, at this point, I’m calling for a cyber show of hands from all those who miss their old apartments.

In any case, besides carrying the brunt of the economic blowback, Hispanics also have the burden of getting blamed for this mess. That same Wall Street Journal article points out that “in 2005 alone, mortgages to Hispanics jumped by 29%, with expensive nonprime mortgages soaring 169%.” The article goes on to present statistical and anecdotal evidence that Latinos, more than other groups, got in way over their heads with houses they had no hopes of affording. They then apparently dragged down the market in several regions by indulging in their pesky habit of getting foreclosed on.

To its credit, the Wall Street Journal does not explicitly claim that too many Latinos buying too many houses caused the market to collapse. After all, doing so would be both morally dubious and an extremely shaky economic hypothesis. But some obvious questions arise.

Who was soliciting all those optimistic dreamers, who were often less educated individuals or recent immigrants unclear on the concepts of their new country’s system? Who thrust documents at people who had been fed the American Dream, telling them that despite their rational hesitations, everything was going to be fine because trained professionals said that they could afford the house? More specifically, who marketed housing materials in Spanish, then performed the closing in English?

The answer ranges from sixth-generation Americans with a lot of money to Latino politicians trying to score some cheap points. Of course, some flat-out greedy Hispanic homeowners share the blame. But the bottom line is that Hispanics, as a group, are more likely to be kicked to the curb (possibly in a literal sense) because of system-wide epic stupidity engineered by people who should have known better.

The details of the Obama plan to help homeowners are still being worked out, so it remains to be seen if more Latinos can hold on to their houses. The only thing we know for certain is that once this plunge bottoms out – and it will eventually – many Hispanics will hesitate before applying for mortgages. They will wonder if they once again being lied to, and they may decide that the ideal of owning a home is some absurd fantasy that they would be better off ignoring.

How can that possibly be good for them, or for America?


A New Start?

At this point, Barack Obama has been president for about nine hours. Surprisingly, everything is not all better just yet.

That’s because regardless of one’s political leanings, religious beliefs, or philosophical affiliations, only a deluded optimist would insist that Obama has inherited a good situation. The last eight years have been a nonstop, unending, it-can’t-get-any-worse-but-it-has cavalcade of disaster.

I don’t mean that the Bush years were just bad for Hispanics. It’s true that, in the last decade, Latinos have become the top victims of hate crimes based on ethnicity. It’s also true that the economic wipeout has affected the lower classes more, of which Hispanics make up a disproportionate percentage. And it’s ultimately true that Latinos are currently being blamed for everything from the increase in petty crime to the housing crisis to the country’s apparent moral collapse (this latter disaster seems to happen every few years).

But we do not hold a monopoly on the suffering.

The past decade has been catastrophic for whites, blacks, people of Middle Eastern descent, intellectuals, scientists, union laborers, New Orleans residents, civil libertarians, gays, moderate conservatives, atheists, middle-class office managers, stay-at-home moms, rugged farmers, diabetic stock brokers, one-eyed dentists, and “Battlestar Galactica” freaks – in short, just about everybody in America.

As I say goodbye to President Bush, I’m trying to imagine any administration in history having even one of the following as its legacy:

  • Two botched wars (including the worst foreign-policy decision since Vietnam)
  • Two recessions (including the worst economic meltdown since the Great Depression)
  • The worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil in history (the mastermind behind it is still at large)
  • The most inept handling of a major natural disaster in U.S. history (we basically lost the city of New Orleans to mud and water moccasins)
  • An unprecedented, massive backsliding of civil rights (historians will be amazed that we put up with this fear-mongering)
  • Overt, criminal corruption at the Justice Department (at least in the same league as Watergate)
  • An incredibly tarnished image abroad (and yes, it does matter if we want to claim that we lead the free world).

 That’s just the big stuff. I know I’m forgetting a lot.

Any one of those top three items is sufficient to end discussion about Bush’s competence. Put them all together and pile on other major catastrophes and some lesser disasters and… well… really, I’m still trying to comprehend how all this happened under the watch of one guy. This much chaos usually gets spread around over a half-century or so.

Some commentators say that Bush’s reputation will be repaired as time goes on. I agree, in the sense that it can’t get any worse… then again, I’ve said that phrase many times over the last eight years.

Will Obama be a fresh start and the beginning of a bold new era of greatness and American strength? Or will he be our second dud in a row?

I’m optimistic that he will be a good president, even if I’ve never quite bought into the whole “Obama as Lincoln/Roosevelt/savior” thing. Hell, I’ll settle for basic competency at this point.

In any case, I join all Americans – Hispanic, white, black, Asian, and purple –  in wishing the new president well. Hopefully, we can get back on track.

It’s not like we’re due for some good news or anything.


The One Thing We Do Better Than Them (Besides Football)

As some commentators have noted, the election of Barack Obama has forced Europe to address one of its uncomfortable contradictions. This most progressive of continents has a reputation for being more enlightened than America. Indeed, their health-care policies, attitude toward gays, and work-life balance far exceed our stumbling, nineteenth-century approaches. In comparison to them, we look – and often feel – like beer-swilling cretins who fire shotguns at random while cursing out fancy book learnin’.

But there is one area where Europe can only gaze upon us in wonder. Believe it or not, we do a better job at integrating immigrants, promoting assimilation, and addressing racism than they do. Yes, even with all the screaming about Mexicans taking our jobs and Laotians refusing to learn English and Somalis creating their own ethnic enclaves and what have you, we’re far ahead of our European counterparts.

For starters, we have just elected a new leader who happens to be a biracial man whose father was an immigrant. I don’t see anything similar happening soon in Great Britain or Denmark. In fact, xenophobia is on the rise in Europe.

Or look at France’s National Assembly, which is the rough equivalent of our U.S. House of Representatives. Of its 577 members, only one is a minority. In contrast, of our 535 members of Congress, 75 are minorities (and 27 of those are Hispanics, thank you very much).

That’s just looking at the political breakdown of our leadership. There are other ways in which it is better to be a dark hue in America than it is in Austria, even though it’s clear that we have acres of room for improvement. Still, we’re farther along the path than many other nations are, and one factor for this headstart may be because of our view of immigration.

The writer Naomi Wolf points out several reasons why immigrants strive for a U.S. address, and why they tend to like it better here than in Europe.

First, Wolf points out that our national story is different. With the exception of Native Americans, we all came from somewhere else. To quote “Stripes” and the esteemed philosopher Bill Murray, our ancestors were “kicked out of every decent country in the world” (Ms. Wolf does not employ this reference).

Also, the values of immigration are admired – or at least the initiative and ambition of old-time Ellis Island immigrants are – while in Europe, immigrants are viewed with almost universal disdain. In addition, everyone gets to be hyphenated once he or she gets here (e.g., African American, Italian American, Asian American). See if you can find someone who considers himself a “Turkish German.”

Wolf also points that we emphasize values that everyone (in theory) can share, instead of focusing on a lineage of great kings or the specifics of a tiny geographical area, like they do in Europe. Finally, she stresses how the separation of church and state is vital to preventing a xenophobic culture, which is a point I’ve made several times in these posts.

Obviously, there are also geographical reasons why so many people from Latin America come here. There will never be an influx of Hondurans to, say, Belgium. But I imagine that if most of those Guatemalans who risk it all to emigrate could chose any nation on Earth, they would still look north first.

Despite the enormous obstacles that newcomers face here – some legal and necessary, others cultural and ugly – it’s better to be an immigrant in America than anywhere else. And it’s not just because we’re, you know, America – where everyone has nine iPods and drives hot cars and watches 188 channels of pornography and indulges in freedoms that terrorists apparently hate.

Really, you can have a good quality of life in Spain or Greece. But it would suck to start at the bottom in any of those countries, because that’s where you, your children, and probably your grandchildren will remain. That is often the case here, of course. But we at least offer the hope of progress, and as I can vouch from first-hand experience, one successful immigrant can create a situation where an entire family can thrive.

Is essence, perhaps the main reason America has always been a nation of immigrants is simple.

American is not race or an ethnicity. It is a nationality. More than that, it’s an idea.


Muy Fabuloso

First, let me thank Raul Ramos y Sanchez for his thought-provoking comment on my previous post.

Second, let me give you a warning. If you should ever walk down the street of a major American city with my wife, you should not (by her own admission) listen to her she asks the innocuous question, “What’s over there?” I speak from experience. Her curiosity about hidden doors and blinking marquees has mistakenly led us into shady dives from coast to coast (imagine my surprise at walking into an S&M bar in Hollywood).

One evening, “what’s over there” prompted us to enter a covert LA nightclub, where the doorman smiled and waived the cover charge. I had assumed he did so because it was Ladies Night. But when we walked in, I saw that he had not let us in for free because of my wife. It was because of me. It was a Latino gay bar, and the doorman assumed that I was a non-straight who had brought along my hipster female friend. To make things more interesting, a talent show for drag queens was just starting. What could I do but order a beer and watch the performances? My wife and I agreed that the Christina Aguilera was pretty close to the real thing.

I was not surprised that Hispanic gay men might establish a safe house off the beaten path. Loathing of gays shows hydra-headed persistence within Latino culture. We are the society, after all, that defined the word “macho.” The old-school standards for strong Hispanic males include getting into brawls, avoiding the kitchen, and womanizing at will. They do not include an affinity for techno music and an interest in Jennifer Lopez’s wardrobe.

As such, possibly the worst insult that one can lob at a Latino male is the dreaded M-word. To call someone a “maricon” is to take the nearest English equivalent (“faggot”), triple its intensity, add several layers of hatred and disgust, and square the result. In my generation at least, nobody jokes about this word or uses it lightly.

In contrast, American gay activists have adopted the words “queer” and “dyke” in an attempt to rob them of their degrading power, similar to the way in which many African Americans throw around the fabled N-word. It’s a subject of fierce debate whether these tactics work or are self-sabotaging, but in either case, I’m pretty sure nobody in Latin America is even trying that with “maricon.” In fact, being gay in Latin America ranges from affront to God (we’re talking about heavily Catholic countries) to active death warrant in the small villages of Central and South America.

I was talking with the Bitca about the level of homophobia in Hispanic culture. She said, “But you’re not homophobic” and added that this is one of my very few redeeming qualities. Then she said, “So I guess sometimes you’re an individual and not just a stereotype after all.” I thanked her for her high praise.

But she got me thinking.

The passage of Proposition 8 in California, which bans gay marriage, received ample support from Obama backers. Much of the coverage of this oxymoronic outcome has focused on the high percentage of black people who shouted, “free at last” when they voted for president and then muttered, “damn the homosexuals” as they revoked a basic civil right.

But California has a high number of Latinos (ask any right-wing demagogue for verification of this fact), and Obama was hugely popular with them (see my previous two posts on this). It is indeed a sad fact that a great many Latinos mimicked their African American brethren on Election Day.

To be specific, 53 percent of California Hispanics voted for the proposition. While this is not an overwhelming majority, it still tops the percentage of overall voters who approved of the ban (52 percent). It is also contradictory to their supposed enthusiasm for a liberal president.

Is it possible that my old boogeyman, the Catholic Church, is somewhat responsible for the invincible strain of homophobia in Latino culture? To the surprise of absolutely no one, the answer is yes. Hey, is the Pope homophobic… I mean, Catholic? Yes, that’s what I meant.

Statistics from Hispanic Business show that 64 percent of Latino Catholics voted for the proposition. Just 10 percent of non-religious Hispanics voted the same way.

So it’s not just burly macho hombres who hate gays that are tipping the vote. It’s quiet, polite Latina grandmothers who are willing to overlook Obama’s pro-choice tendencies, but can’t bring themselves to acknowledge that gay people have rights. Let’s be clear: When pundits talk about social conservatism among the otherwise Democratic-friendly Latino population, this is what they’re talking about.

However, despite the fact that homophobia is strong in Hispanic culture, Latino gays still find ways to burst out from underground. These manifestations range from the intellectualism of the great Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas to the pop-culture pabulum of Hank Azaria dancing around in “The Birdcage.” And what would a gay-pride parade be without at least one Carmen Miranda impersonator?

It’s a broad range of expression. Perhaps it’s hopeful, or maybe it’s pathetic. I can’t tell you, because I’m just a guy who walks obliviously into gay bars. 


Now What Happens?

Here at Fanatic worldwide headquarters, we all want to know what the Obama administration will mean to Latinos. My guess is that it will mean roughly the same thing that it means to everyone else (eg, change, hope, cries of “socialism!” etc), with an extra tint of pride beyond what most white people feel – but which still falls short of the absolute joy that African Americans feel.

The first detail to address is the makeup of his administration. We’re talking about a biracial liberal whose candidacy attracted voters of every conceivable race, creed, and demographic. He’s more or less promised to rehabilitate the term “diversity” and transform it, Cinderella style, into a beautiful princess, instead of leaving it to toil in the social conservatives’ kitchen.

Specifically, there is some talk (possibly scurrilous, because there’s nothing better than “scurrilous talk”) of Bill Richardson getting to call his Cabinet post. Besides being well-qualified for just about any administration gig, this high-profile Latino did help Obama score New Mexico. So a Richardson appointment would be both political payback and good for the country, and we know how rare that combination is after the abject cronyism of the Bush administration, where competence was a humorous afterthought compared to loyalty and ideology.

Next, we have to ponder those issues that resonate most with Hispanics. Conveniently, most of these issues are also big guns with the general population. After all, Latinos are not any more or less obsessed with jobs, health care, and education than white people are – it’s just that Hispanics have grown weary of receiving the poorest quality in all of these areas. Any Obama policies that move Latinos closer to the standards enjoyed by the general population will receive a resounding “Si, se puede!”

Already, Obama’s transition team has identified hundreds of executive orders that the new president will overturn, amend, or just bury in the White House backyard. In addition, Obama’s ideas on taxation – and his drive to reform the previously mentioned problem areas of education and health care – may have a direct impact on the Latino standard of living. Much depends on whether the minority party (an ironic moniker under the circumstances) decides to pick a fight over what constitutes “socialism.”

The most pressing topic that appeals specifically to Hispanics, of course, is immigration. This tends to be true regardless of whether one is illegal or a third-generation citizen. For Obama, this issue gets dicey, because Bush and McCain were actually at odds with their own party’s hard-line stance, meaning that the president-elect would have to be even more open about immigration to differentiate himself from his opponents.

So one has to ponder if guest-worker programs will move forward. Also, will there be a nationwide American Dream Act, or is this piece of equitable legislation fated to be battled over in state after state? And what will happen to those so-called amnesty provisions?

In all likelihood, the answer is that not much will come of the new president’s apparently sincere desire to make this country a better place for immigrants. There simply isn’t the bandwidth. Obama will be so swamped trying to dig the economy out of the toilet and dealing with two floundering wars that I doubt any serious movement on immigration will happen before, say, 2012.

And just think, at that point, all this fun starts again.


No Recounts Are Necessary

The dancing in the streets has subsided since Tuesday. Of course, I remain stunned that we had dancing in the streets at all. Seriously, does anyone remember this kind of orgiastic response over election results? Before this, the standard imagery was supporters in ballrooms laughing and waving signs, but now we see impromptu parades and ecstatic outbursts on street corners and strangers hugging each other in every city in the world. But maybe it just overwhelms in comparison with recent history, because the last two elections provoked either muffled wailing or smug insinuations that God had spoken.

Among last week’s celebrants were Hispanics. Anyone tuning in to more than twelve minutes of television coverage heard how the Latino vote was key to Obama’s win. We even got more air time and credit than the fabled youth vote.

The facts are that Hispanics favored Obama by more than two to one over McCain (67 percent to 31 percent, according to MSNBC). Looking at it another way, Latino voters accounted for 11 percent of Obama’s vote and 6 percent of McCain’s total.

In addition to crunching the raw numbers, MSNBC ran an analysis under the particularly ominous headline “What if there were no Latino voters?” (Indeed, many Republicans are probably muttering that exact phrase).

The analysis found that the Hispanic vote was the difference in New Mexico and Indiana, which means that in a Latino-free world, Obama would have still won the electoral vote but in less decisive fashion. However, being the swing group in two states is pretty cool, and Hispanics continue to exert their prominence in places such as California and Texas.

More interesting still is the fact that the biggest percentage increases in Latino voters happened in Colorado, New Mexico, and Nevada – all battleground states and all now freshly blue. As the GOP well knows, those states are getting more Hispanic, and those Hispanics are getting more Democratic, especially the younger generation.

Speaking of younger Latinos, they helped Florida become Obama country this year. Our new president won 57 percent of the Hispanic vote in that state, which is astonishing when one considers that the large Cuban American population there has been, in the past, so hardcore Republican that they make Rupert Murdoch look like a gay vegan folksinger in comparison.

Perhaps second- and third-generation Cuban Americans are tired of hearing how voting for the GOP is the only way to stick it to Fidel. They either don’t believe it (Castro is hanging on to power with his last, frenzied breaths and will only be removed through a natural death) or they simply have more pressing concerns, like job losses and collapsing education systems and shoddy health care and a thousand other American issues that have nothing to do with the unresolved, dusty battles of their grandparents.

One final bit of intriguing news comes courtesy of the Pew Hispanic Center. They found that 8 percent of this year’s voters were of the brown-skinned variety. Truthfully, this could have been better, considering that we make up about 14 percent of the population.

Regardless, it’s clear that Latinos, like just about every other demographic except for white evangelicals, were caught up in Obama frenzy this year. The long-term implications for Republicans look grim, as we get younger, more numerous, and more liberal.

And now that we have our first minority president, isn’t it just a matter of time before someone whose last name ends in Z takes the oath of office? It may be years away, but it’s coming.


Did I Miss Anything?

I’m back from NYC, where I had my usual great time hanging out with the freaks, weirdoes, and social deviants who make up that fine city. I hung out with some old friends, went to my greatest-hits bars and restaurants, caught a bad cold from one of the aforementioned freaks or weirdoes, soaked up the high energy of the city, and got groped on the subway (a first for me). By the way, the groper was some drunk girl who was trying to piss off her boyfriend, and the groping missed my key components, so to speak, which means that it could have turned out a lot worse for me – or better for me, depending on one’s desire to be groped.

It’s always a little weird returning to my home in the Midwest, however, because of the realization that I see more Hispanics walking down a given Manhattan block or in one subway car than I do in a month here.

It’s also an intense time because my wife and I got back just in time to vote. We endured a two-hour wait in line to cast our ballots for that one guy… you know, the president-elect.

In any case, I will have fresh posts soon, some of which will no doubt address the ramifications of the forthcoming Obama administration, especially in regards to the Latino population. Until then, I will try to recover from my cold and wonder what to do with all the time I had been spent obsessing about this election. I’m sure I’ll come up with something.

February 2020
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