Posts Tagged ‘California


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.


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.


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.


More About That Aforementioned Mindset

In my last post, I wrote about my move to California. I wondered if my tendency to take off for new adventures has anything to do with my family’s recent history as immigrants.

Now, I’ve spent some time in the corporate world, and as such, I despise phrases like “paradigm shift” or “new dynamic.” Still, it seems clear that something is up.

Americans are moving less than ever before, a result of the cataclysm we jokingly call our economy. It’s been almost half a century since so few of us changed addresses. Just over one percent of us moved to a new state, which as the New York Times points out, “suggests that Americans were unable or unwilling to follow any job opportunities that may have existed around the country, as they have in the past. And the lack of movement… could have an impact on the economy, reducing the economic activity generated by moves.”

I’ve done my part by selling my house (yes, in this market) packing up, and road-tripping two thousand miles. Granted, my previous employer’s decision to downsize me made this choice easier (thanks for the catalyst, guys!). However, it seemed clear to my wife and me that that we needed to shake things up. So we moved.


You’ll have to ask me in a few years whether this was the right call or not. But I’m optimistic.

Many Americans are not similarly upbeat, of course, or they lack the resources to hit the road. Still, many of us who could move – and in some cases, should move – are staying put. According to the Times, this shows that “the U.S. population, often thought of as the most mobile in the developed world, seems to have been stopped dead in its tracks due a confluence of constraints posed by a tough economic spell.”

I don’t want to extol Thomas Friedman as some kind of wise soothsayer (I’ve got some issues with the guy), but much of his “world is flat” thesis sounds like the simple acknowledgement that Americans whose families go back generations still have to be willing to adapt, because everyone else – whether Mexican immigrants, first-generation Indians, or some other demographic – is willing to do so.

It’s true that immigration is at its lowest point in a decade, another sign of economic meltdown. Still, immigrants (by their very nature) are more willing to ditch their old life and tackle the newest challenge, and they will be the first ones to do it again when the economy picks up.

Meanwhile, we may be exiting the period of history when Americans had the luxury of saying, “This is where I grew up, and this is where my family is, so I’m not budging.” That will no longer be the intrinsic justification it once was.

Americans obviously have the capability to change. People rolled west in the Great Depression. And California didn’t become the most populous state just because of Mexican immigrants (although in the right-wing mind, that’s the sole reason the state has any problems whatsoever).

Even if we stay put, however, we have to accept that our hometowns are inevitably changing in front of us, proving once more that we live in not only a place but a time. Acknowledging this fact makes it less scary to consider going where the jobs and experiences and challenges are.

One thing I love about moving to California is that – despite the crowded cities and governmental bankruptcy and earthquakes and shallowness – the place represents change. But I had to come here to discover that.


See You Out West

I am hitting to road to California this week, so the computer is getting packed up. This means that it may be a little while before my next post. Trust that it’s coming, however.

In the meantime, here’s a picture that my good friend, the infamous Nichole, sent to me. Maybe it’s Photoshopped, but I’d like to think that it’s authentic. It should keep you entertained until I get back.

are country


California Dreaming

Ever since I stared this blog, about a year and half ago, I have chronicled the Latino experience, with an emphasis on what it means to be Hispanic in the American heartland. Well, there’s going to be a slight change soon.

My wife and I are moving back to California in a few weeks. This means that I will go from being somewhat unique – brown skin in a sea of white – to being pretty damn common… at least in appearance.

The Latino population of the state I currently live in is less than 200,000 (about 5 percent). In California, it is 13 million (about 36 percent). That is, I suppose, a somewhat noticeable difference.

When I lived in Los Angeles, many people assumed that I had been born there or recently immigrated. I’m sure this will happen again, causing me to reflexively defend my Midwestern roots.

Still, on the plus side, once in California, I may be exposed to more interesting stories about Latino culture through daily interaction. Currently, the only times I hear about local Hispanics are if one of us has committed a grisly crime or via a feature article titled something like “Immigrants Bring Change to South Side.”

One of the negative aspects of moving, however, is that my blog updates may become more sporadic, at least in the short term. This is due to the complexities of selling a house (in a down market no less) packing up all our meager possessions, and driving across the country with a perplexed dog and an agitated cat. You try being insightful twice a week under such conditions… sorry, I’m getting a little defensive in advance.

In any case, I will miss the Midwest. But I’m happy to be returning to the West Coast.

And rest assured, once I’m there, I’ll begin looking for investors who want in on “Hispanic Fanatic: The Movie.” I see Gael Garcia Bernal in the lead role.



We’re Number Juan

Even here in America, much has been made of the fact that Muhammad ranks second only to Jack as the most popular name for British newborn boys. According to many commentators on both sides of the Atlantic, Muslim immigrants are taking over England and will soon replace the Union Jack with a crescent symbol.

The U.S. version of this paranoid fantasy is that two of our largest states, California and Texas, have a high percentage of infants with Hispanic first names. The thinking is that these states are becoming excessively Latinoized – meaning that Hispanics are (say it with me…) taking over the place.

What do the actual numbers say about this apparent cultural sea change? Well, in California, the most recent stats (for 2007) show that among the top ten names for newborn boys, three are definitely Hispanic in origin. These are Angel (number three), Jose (number nine), and Diego (number ten).

Texas also has three Latino names cracking the top ten, including the number-one name (Jose). The other popular monikers are Angel (number five) and Juan (number nine).

In any case, none of these Hispanic names ranks in the top twenty for the United States as a whole, indicating that California and Texas are indeed a bit loaded with babies saddled with vowel-heavy first names.

“Ah-ha!” says the jingoist. “I told you these states were being overrun!”

Let’s assume that the data backs up this contention. We’ll even go farther and say that California and Texas will eventually be so loaded with Hispanics that mariachi bands spontaneously flower on every street corner.

The question then becomes… so what?

Some will say that the fear of Hispanics becoming a majority is an understandable reaction to illegal immigration. The problem with this argument is that if little Jose is born in California, he is a U.S. citizen. One presumes he will grow up to be a proud American. That is, unless one assumes a proud American cannot also be a Latino (now there’s an interesting topic for discussion…). These newborns are Americans – not illegals, even if their parents are – so that issue becomes irrelevant.

Is it because as California and Texas become more Hispanic, the residents will clamor to become part of Mexico or independent countries? I have already pointed out the reasons this is just not going to happen, so this far-fetched scenario can be dismissed at once.

So this isn’t concern about the influx of immigrants straining our social services, which is at least a debatable point, or anger that San Diego will become the capital of North Mexico.

Rather, this is the sweaty-palmed, lip-biting, eyebrow-furrowed fear of many whites that they may not be dominant cultural force anymore. And you know what? That may be true within just a few decades.

If that bothers people, they may need to examine why it’s so hair-raising. I’d be interested in hearing a rational reason.

Ultimately, we may need to reconsider exactly what an “American name” is. Most of our traditional names are originally Jewish. Apparently, biblical names are acceptable American monikers. So Jews can rest easy. They can be counted as real Americans. I’ll look forward to the day when Hispanics get the same luxury.

August 2019
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