Political Beat & Latino Kaleidoscope

Excerpts from the Best of Carlos D. Conde ...

Whereas Watch Your Step Latinos Immigration reform advocates might not realize it, but Republican Gov. Jan Brewer might have done them a big favor when she signed immigration bill SB 1070, considered onerous by Latinos because it allows law enforcement in Arizona
to challenge any suspicious character on his legal status.

If you can’t prove you’re legitimate, you’ll be arrested and might wind up in Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s jail.

For years, presidents, senators, congressmen, lobbyists and Latino defenders have been trying, usually half-heartedly, to devise a comprehensive immigration policy to alleviate the alien problems.

With this bill, Brewer is daring the federal government to keep ignoring them and risk bigger confrontations between undocumented people, their supporters and local enforcement 
agencies and their partisans.

“We in Arizona have been more than patient waiting for Washington to act,” Brewer said. “But decades of inaction and misguided policy have created a dangerous and unacceptable situation.”

The bill allows local law officers in Arizona “to demand proof of legal residency from any person with whom they have made any lawful contact and about whom they have ‘reasonable
suspicion’ that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the U.S.”

America’s Tea Party and Its Political Darling, Mark Rubio

If Cuban-American Marco Rubio is elected U.S. senator from Florida [he was] – and it’s highly probable – look for a rising political star, even if at times he seems too far right to please some mainstream Republicans and comes from the wrong side of the tracks for many Latinos.

Rubio is 38, drop-dead handsome, ambitious and saying all the things that make Democrats wince and Republicans gleeful.

The son of immigrants, he was elected speaker of the Florida House in 2006, the youngest and
first Hispanic in that role. One drawback, his detractors snipe, is his embrace by the freshly 
minted “American Tea Party,” which Democrats and the Washington media crowd dismiss
as a bunch of right-wing prairie kooks – think Sarah Palin.

So does Rubio loom as the next Latino political superstar, albeit conservative possibly to the extreme?

Rubio would have to confront an enduring fundamental of American politics, which is that Latinos are Democrats born and bred. Rubio alleges to not want to be anything for now but a senator from Florida. They say the cream rises always to the top, and Latinos might be quick to notice this, even if Rubio looks less the senator and more the 5 o’clock TV news anchor. 

God and Glenn Beck 

God convened a political meeting in Washington recently. He sent Glenn Beck to deliver the message, called “Restoring Honor.” As with God’s previous messenger, Beck was scorned
and ridiculed, but not by the faithful gathered at the Lincoln Memorial.

On the other side of town, another of God’s messengers, the Rev. Al Sharpton, rebuked Beck for daring to hold what he termed a dubious spiritual rally at the very site and date of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” civil rights rally 47 years ago.

Beck said his gathering wasn’t about politics but about America getting right with God. You won’t convince many people this wasn’t about politics. This is Washington, after all, where
everyone and everything – including God – is about politics.

“This is a day that we can start the heart of America again,” Beck exhorted. “It has nothing to do with politics. It has everything to do with God. Everything with turning our face back to the values and the principles that made us great.”

Sharpton dismissed Beck as a shill for the Tea Party, which the NAACP says is a party of racists and bigots, and dumb to boot.

The Challenges of Being “Politically Correct”

In my early days in Texas, I was having lunch with a group of Black civil rights leaders when one gently reminded me, “Now, Carlos, remember to roll your R’s.”

Years later, I was at a Civil Rights Commission meeting when its chairman, Theodore Hesburgh, said, “It’s time to call a spade a spade.”

The room, filled with African- Americans, fell silent. Executive Director John Buggs gingerly broke in, “Father Hesburgh, I wonder if, for the minutes, we could substitute another word.”
Hesburgh, realizing his faux pas, replied, “Oh yes, yes, let me rephrase it.”

Nowadays proper civil discourse is called being “politically correct,” a treacherous universe
where the slightest slip in public conversation can be career-ending.

It happened to Latino media star Rick Sánchez, host of CNN’s Rick’s List, when he uttered some discriminating words about Daily Show host Jon Stewart.

Stewart and another Sánchez baiter, Stephen Colbert of The Colbert Report, made a punching
bag out of Sánchez with comic references to gaffes they suggested were due to his supposedly low IQ.

Sánchez finally had enough and on a radio show called Stewart “a bigot,” made unflattering remarks about Stewart’s Jewish heritage and about Sánchez’s employer, CNN, which he claimed was prejudiced against Latino talent.

The next day, CNN made a terse announcement, “Rick Sánchez is no longer with CNN.”

Hugo Chávez, Our Latter-Day Nero?

At times, there are hints of Nero, the Roman Emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned,” in the public persona of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Nero supposedly started the fire to raze part of Rome to build a palatial complex, but the fire got out of hand. Nero blamed the Christians and sent a sampling to meet their maker.

Chávez, half-Indian and half-Black, rules Venezuela with an iron fist. Woe unto anyone, particularly Venezuela’s White oligarchy, who crosses him.

The White power structure tries endlessly to destabilize him, but Chávez perseveres, driving the oligarchy mad and into exile.

Chávez at times shows some Nero-like behavior, like his recent exhumation of his idol, Simón
Bolívar, entombed in Caracas’ National Pantheon.

Bolívar died at 47 of tuberculosis almost 200 years ago. Chávez theorizes Bolívar was murdered and ordered a DNA test.

“Our father [Bolívar] who is in the earth, the water and the air ... You awake every hundred years when the people awaken,” Chávez said. “It’s not a skeleton. It’s the great Bolívar who had returned.” It sounds a bit loony, but not to Chávez.

The Glass Ceiling

In 1968, I wrote a five-part series for the Houston Chronicle on the evolving Mexican-American minority, primarily centered around Houston and environs, titled “The Hyphenated American.”
It told about the problems, frustrations and aspirations of a minority group and its struggle toward acceptance and equality in American society.

It was a Pulitzer Prize entry. I didn’t win but am still proud that the recognition, albeit modest, was about something close to my heart – almost personal, you might say.

Mexican-Americans, I wrote, were of two states of mind, Mexican and American – a social schizophrenia that time and maturity would someday alleviate and maybe obliterate.

Unlike the Black community, we considered ourselves White Americans.

Black Americans, I wrote, may be Americans, but they would always hit that “glass ceiling” because of their color and racial background.

Mexican-Americans and other Latinos didn’t have to face such a brutal “glass ceiling.” For us, the sky was the limit if we could handle a few obstacles and some racist mindsets.

President Obama has certainly given Black Americans a boost, and you can see the empirical effects more and more each day.

Cubans and other Latinos groups could make similar arguments, although they have never had to contend with a strangers-in-our-land syndrome as Mexican-Americans have, since many came here as refugees.

Latinos in the Age of Martin Luther King

Work is finally underway to cast the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. in stone at Washington’s National Mall, in testimony to his civil rights leadership.

He is in august company, with the likes of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.

I applaud the Rev. King’s recognition yet wonder why Latinos, the largest minority group in the U.S., with similar socioeconomic disparities and aspirations, have been unable to produce their own model.

We may have been the originals but not the trailblazers in civil affairs.

We fell short in creating a movement, and certainly a paladin like Martin Luther King.

Maybe Henry B. González was right. The late San Antonio congressman once told me that while the journey might have the same destination, the Latino and Black movements traveled
on different tracks because ours is a pluralistic society that most times does not mesh well with the advocacy. 

Even though we might speak the same language and claim a kindred past, we are distinct in ethnic origin, cultural forms and traditions.

Henry B. was a champion for Mexican-Americans, but he didn’t like being pigeonholed on “Chicano” issues, nor did he seek or desire a national Latino following.

A Wise and Tragic Latina

Life in some ways hasn’t changed much for young Latinos from the barrios. If you get 
through high school, you get a job at the local fast-food emporium or local supermarket or you can go to college but probably won’t because you don’t have the grades or the money.

Or join the Army as PFC Adriana Alvarez did. Some die as she did, and in a tragic, twisted sense, you achieved the kind of success that young people from this socioeconomic stratum seek.

Alvarez came home forever in February, killed in Baghdad, Iraq, earlier that month. The Army honored her as a fallen comrade who died in the military tradition of duty, honor and country.

The 20-year-old soldier was from my hometown in Texas. I was there when she was buried with full military honors in the local cemetery.

Several things struck me about the death of this comely Latina at an age when life for someone like her should be in early bloom, not withering in a casket.

Alvarez succeeded in her ambitions to join the Army, learn a vocation and reach financial independence. It’s too bad she had to be killed to achieve it.

American Tolerance Paid in Deaths

An obscure Florida preacher, Terry Jones, rattled the world when he threatened to start a public bonfire with the Muslims’ sacred bible, the Quran, if plans continued to build a humongous mosque near New York’s ground zero.

It desecrated the site, Jones said, where jihad fanatics on Sept. 11, 2001, crashed two airliners into New York’s Twin Towers, killing more than 3,000 people, mostly Americans.

President Obama and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg condemned Jones’ threats and supported the Muslims’ plan.

Political writer Mark Helprin, in The New York Times, perhaps summed up Americans’ feelings best: 

“Mosques have commemoratively been established upon the ruins or in the shells of the sacred buildings of other religions – most notably but not exclusively in Cordoba, Jerusalem, Istanbul and India.

“... They are monuments to victory ... (and) building close to Ground Zero disregards the passions, grief and preferences not only of most of the families of September 11 but, because we are all the families of September 11th, those of the American people as well.

“And that is what the controversy is about; decency and indecency, not the freedom to worship, which no one denies.”