Measuring Hispanic authenticity, and other quixotic assignments
The Reasonable Reporter has an uncle who entered the country by swimming across the Rio Grande, an illegal way in that conferred on several generations of Mexicans the racial slur wetback. Uncle Richard – not Ricardo – was an American student of Mexican descent, who, in the spirit of his generation, devoted a portion of his college years to exploring his ethnicity. For the border-crossing adventure, he emptied his wallet of identification, traveled into Mexico, and then reentered illegally with a group of Mexican men, in order to write about the experience.
Dangerous? You can call it a stunt, or perhaps an extreme sport of the period. It’s the sworn duty of every young man to cause his mother to fear for his safety. But Uncle Rich’s experiment, and others like it, were about the serious work of documenting the authentic ethnic experience. As it happens, many such earnest explorations provided street cred for many academic careers spent describing the benchmarks of ethnic authenticity. Uncle Rich became Ricardo, and worked his way to a distinguished post at a large university.
Dad, Uncle Rich, and their siblings were all born in the United States to parents who were more comfortable with Spanish than English. When the family got together, they spoke Spanish while we, the children, listened.
Notwithstanding that exposure, as adults we can do little more in Spanish than request salsa verde with a perfect accent when we go to the taqueria. We’re among many Mexican-Americans who don’t speak Spanish, even though we had able teachers available 24 hours a day. Blue-eyed mom and Mexican (now Hispanic) dad were thinking primarily of our future professional success when they decided it wasn’t important for us to speak Spanish. The times they changed before our very eyes, and thanks a whole lot, mom and dad.
A couple of decades later, when the Reasonable Reporter flamed out at an audition for a radio news service in San Francisco, the hiring manager rubbed salt in the wound by offering a shot at a different job that demanded less news experience, but required Spanish fluency. Indeed, Spanish-speaking radio reporters were so hard to come by that management was more flexible in evaluating talent, and – get this – paid triple what the English-speaking reporter would be offered. Alas, two career setbacks in a single day.
Who knew, entering kindergarten just a few years before our grandparents’ culture became a decades-long political science project, that talking like Grandma and her kids talked at the Thanksgiving table would be a resume enhancement if we wanted some day to become news reporters? Or run for office?
And so, it’s been uncomfortable to watch as Hispanic gubernatorial candidate Brian Sandoval is pelted with expectations that he should be a more robust ethnic trailblazer. It’s an apparent article of faith among professional campaign observers that Hispanic blood somehow obliges him to speak Spanish. He doesn’t. He’s been examined for evidence of a genuine connection to Hispanic voters — was he glowing with ethnic pride on the speaker’s platform, or was it just 95 degrees in the shade that day? He doesn’t know what it means to be Hispanic in this country, according to one Hispanic media outlet. What, exactly, does it mean? No elaboration was offered, and it would impossible to overstate the frivolity of the question.
We won’t dissect the politics of racial identity here. It’s been done, and perhaps that’s the point. It’s been done, and done, and done, until a rather significant segment of the population harbors the prejudice that a Hispanic political candidate must make Hispanic-ness a conspicuous feature of the campaign. This is nonsense, of course, and so is the gratuitous spotlight on the bilingual ability of the Caucasian opponent, who — no, the irony is not lost — knows how to hablar en espanol. Fluency in a second language is admirable, in the same way that any personal achievement is admirable, and speaking Spanish is a useful tool for a politician, but it’s no more and no less than that.
As for the idea that Hispanics have no business being Republicans. The GOP faithful have answered that recent remark from Harry Reid by arguing that the true aspirations of Hispanics could be better realized if they align with Republicans. All of these generalizations, uttered like so much species analysis in zoology class, might be appropriate if Hispanics were marsupials. But hey everyone — Hispanics are human beings with marvelous analytical capabilities.
Some Hispanics are Democrats, some are Republicans. Wow… what if some Hispanics were driven to reject both political parties, in part because of a persistent tendency among party leaders and advisors to speak about us as if we were not in the room. (See reference to decades-long political science project, above.)
Good God, people, it’s 2010, not 1975. It is most unseemly, and frankly quite brainless, to run around projecting onto anyone with a Hispanic surname the key ideas from your required three-credit college class in multi-cultural studies, or whatever they’re calling it these days. While Uncle Rich and his generation did some important work, which served positively to change the mainstream understanding of non-Caucasian Americans, it should not serve to freeze us in time, and it should not narrow the lens through which we view candidates, or voters.Explore posts in the same categories: Uncategorized