At Year’s End, the Enduring HispanicLatino Story

So the year ends and so does this blog on a regular three-times-per-week basis.  In the year that begins tomorrow, change and events will continue to rock our world.  Sadly, television too soon will break into our lives with news of another mass shooting.  The possibility that Israel will launch its already-planned attack on Iran’s nuclear installations becomes probability as each day passes.  By the end of the spring, the fragile economy might have been harassed back into recession by obdurate House Republicans whose political near-sightedness obscures the electoral razor atop their noses.  Still, despite the immediacy of these events, the most transcendental if not outright existential story for the country remains how HispanicLatinos develop socially, economically and politically.  And so from time to time a thought or two on the subject will appear in this same space.

The beginnings of the HispanicLatino storyline appear old already.  The drumbeat of demographic change has become monotony.  Yet the story is just beginning.  The objective of this blog, which began in the late summer of 2011, intended to advance foundational thought and reflection beyond the routine talking point of a Hispanic/Latino population remaking the country.  HispanicLatinos, after all, will prove more important than the next mass shooting or the combined competitive evolution in the near future of the Brazilian, Chinese, Indian and Mexican economies.  HispanicLatinos must succeed for America to survive.

The HispanicLatino phenomenon, though, is not easily captured.  It seems an apparition in slow-motion, though it is not.  Millions of HispanicLatinos are making millions of individual decisions in their lives daily – from diet to debt – that in the long run will be more important than whether the European Union survives.  The composite meaning of those decisions escapes the attention it deserves for many reasons, not the least of which is the slow, drawn-out understanding by HispanicLatinos of their importance to the country.  The failure of the majority of HispanicLatinos to not understand the historic proportion of their existence relative to the rest of the population threatens the country.  It is, in fact, a matter of national security.

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Spell my name correctly, willya?

What is the deal with accents?  Some news organizations and networks noticeably have begun to accent the names of individuals, places and things that carry a Spanish spelling.  Some don’t.  ESPN is almost meticulous about it.  PBS not so much.  The New York Times does it; other newspapers – of all news organizations that should – do not.  How Spanish names and words began to lose their accents has itself been lost in time.  Most of the loss, of course, has to do with the disrespect for the language fueled by anti-Spanish sentiment leading up to and after the U.S.-Mexican and U.S.-Spanish wars.  As important was the market of the time.

Now, amid the new demography of the country, seeing a Spanish name in print or on a television screen with an accent stands out as much as seeing the same name the very next day without one.

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Manzano So Much More than Navarrette

Where and how does one begin to make sense of what Ruben Navarrette wrote for CNN about Leo Manzano and, by extension, Hispanics/Latinos, be they recent immigrants or descendants from founders of some of the oldest cities in the nation?  To start off, the column Navarrette wrote lambasting the young Olympic runner for raising a Mexican and a U.S. flag to celebrate his silver medal in the 1500-meter race was not about Manzano.  It was about Navarrette.  The object of Navarrette’s anger was not Manzano’s alleged act of disloyalty but something about Navarrette that is not yet settled within his own self.

Navarrette admits as much in the column, which in a way is the most important he has ever written:  “Most Mexican-Americans I know would need a whole team of therapists to sort out their views on culture, national identity, ethnic pride and their relationship with Mother Mexico,” the 55-year-old Navarrette wrote.  And that is the problem.  The problem is not Manzano, who knows who he is and knows what he thinks and who is not going to back down from someone like Navarrette who has not figured himself out at his age and remains incomplete – like many Mexican-Americans and other HispanicLatinos.

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The Modern HispanicLatino: Not Sexist, Racist or Homophobic

So Hispanics/Latinos have grown into a significant and ultimately critical part of the national population. But what do the times demand of the modern Hispanic or Latino? I write of the HispanicLatino, not the HispanicLatina, for I would not begin to presume on the female consciousness. I am, after all, not a Catholic bishop. So who does the world need the HispanicLatino to be? Who does he need to be for himself?

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Court on Arizona: Maintains and raises race as central theme of nation’s future

The essence of the American experience throughout its history has been race.  From the country’s very beginning when the founders sidestepped slavery, through the Civil War and through the civil rights movement, racial identity – and the meaning of Americanhood – has been a focal point in the events of our time.  The Supreme Court’s affirmative decision on Arizona’s anti-HispanicLatino law maintains – and in fact raises – race as a central theme of the nation’s destiny.  Not only can any HispanicLatino be stopped by local enforcement officials but also blacks, Asian Americans and any dark-skinned person thought to be from anywhere else.  In that sense, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer was correct in claiming that the “heart” of her state’s racist law that permits racial profiling was confirmed. 

But Brewer also said that local enforcement authorities will be held “accountable” if they engage in racial profiling.  From my days covering police departments as a reporter years ago and then later when I worked as a speechwriter for the commissioner of the old Immigration and Naturalization Service, I know the power and discretion that local officers have.  And some, no doubt, will go overboard.  And therein Brewer has no idea how accountable local governments will be held, for the moment that any citizen or any other person in the country legally has his or her rights violated by overzealous officers, they must sue the local governments that officer represents. 

Only a cascade of lawsuits that will hurt local governments financially can push back the wave of discrimination that will soon be visited upon unsuspecting HispanicLatinos and other individuals of color.  County and city and school districts that engage in any kind of discrimination must be taken into account – immediately.  HispanicLatino attorneys must be the first line of attack on the Court’s tragic decision.  In the smaller towns and cities and marginal localities in which HispanicLatinos are at the most risk, properly timed lawsuits against these local governments can bankrupt many of them. The Court left open the possibility that the most odious part of the decision could be challenged almost immediately.  Let those legal assaults begin in earnest on all fronts.  HispanicLatino attorneys literally must invade local courthouses with lawsuits.  Local and state governments should pause before moving forward on ill-fated, ill-advised efforts that will prove counterproductive in the end.

A pivotal implication of the Court’s decision, then, is the slow movement of history pushing HispanicLatinos to the lead of the civil rights struggles of the future through the legal system.  The Court put in high relief the lead role that HispanicLatinos – the principal force changing the country’s demographics – are going to play in its future.

In more ways than most people can appreciate, this is a pivotal moment in the nation’s history.  The Court did nothing to advance the notion that the nation one day will get over the question of the color of one’s skin.  And in deciding infamously on Bush v. Gore, women’s wages, campaign finance reform and, probably, health care and, certainly, on Arizona, the Court is on the wrong side of history.  HispanicLatinos can advance their history-altering responsibilities by making sure that the Court – its decisions and its composition – become an election-year issue.

If HispanicLatinos in fact are destined to change the country, let them start by remaking the Court by helping re-elect a President who might yet have the opportunity to appoint another justice or two.

Marco Rubio: Laugh or Cry?

I am one of those HispanicLatinos who wants to like Marco Rubio.  Anyone who knows and understands how fast HispanicLatinos need to rise within high leadership circles to affect the challenges the country faces should cut a wide swath around individuals like Rubio, especially those gifted with the kind of presence, charm and personality that some people equate to that possessed by John F. Kennedy.  In today’s media-driven world, Rubio possesses all the traits that lead to success.

Except that Rubio is so wrong on so many fronts.

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A Generational Responsibility: Understanding Oneself

In its storied history, America has had to rely on specific generations to make enormous personal sacrifices for the country’s sake.  One generation fought to create the country; another generation struggled to keep it whole and not let it disappear into disunion; another generation beat back fascism; others outlasted communism; and another now fights international terrorism.   HispanicLatinos are no different.  They are a new generation of Americans being asked to save and to hold their country for a far greater purpose than the vast majority of HispanicLatinos might have ever considered – except that many of them start behind the social, economic and political curve.  And the dimensions of the responsibility they bear are daunting.  How to help save a country that seems in decline internally is no small task.

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Reworking the Networks at Last: Breaking the News

There are many tough executive-level jobs in corporate America today.  The nation’s economy is being buffeted on all sides by foreign competition, skilled workers are at a premium and the nation’s infrastructure each day falls behind the rest of the world — among other issues. Few of those jobs are more challenging than leading a television network today (or a film production or advertising company for that matter).

Whether heading up an English-language or a Spanish-language operation – all are caught in some way by changing demographics; the evident and growing power of social media and new platforms; and an audience comprised of submarkets and subgroups hard to unify into a national market.  It is nothing short of mayhem – and confused mayhem at that – exacerbated by business models that probably need to be revamped or scratched.  Not surprisingly, rumors abound about the future of the current Spanish-language networks, the advent of news ones and the creation of new hybrids for English-dominant HispanicLatinos. ABC and Univision this week affirmed their intention to bring to life next year a new cable news channel that appeals to English-dominant HispanicLatinos.

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Dream Act Leaders Now Have Tough Decisions to Make

Criticized by supporters for passing a weak civil rights bill in 1957, even though it was the first civil rights legislation in almost a century, the powerful Democratic Senate Majority Leader Lyndon B. Johnson responded by saying that it was but a first step to larger gains ahead.  Eight years later, a far more comprehensive civil rights package indeed became law.  The story of those years — retold in part in Robert Caro’s new book on Johnson, The Passage of Power – holds implications for those contemplating a watered-down version of the Dream Act.  The courageous leaders of the Dream Act movement, perhaps unknowingly, hold in their hands much of how HispanicLatinos are redefining themselves.  The other part of that redefinition is being accomplished through the courtesy of states like Arizona, Alabama and Georgia and, soon enough, most likely, the Supreme Court.

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‘Diversity’ Doesn’t Cut It Anymore for HispanicLatinos

Diversity is no longer an operative word for knowledgeable and informed HispanicLatinos conversing and thinking seriously about the future.  Unity is by far more suitable for the times.  It speaks to the strategic importance of a population that has gained critical geographic and demographic mass.  A microcosm of the kind of collaboration that geography and demography will extract naturally from HispanicLatinos is the daily operations of the country’s Spanish-language television networks.  Every day of the year, HispanicLatino professionals from all corners of the HispanicLatino world produce programming developed and managed by staffs whose primary language of interest might be Spanish derived from different countries of origin but whose language in the control room is likely English.

Aided by a new demography and a resilient geography while Spanish-language television and radio networks expand in more markets while English media distribute both positive and negative messages that bolster its identity, a HispanicLatino population that is allegedly a loose conglomeration of groups competing against each other is unlikely to succumb to expansive division over the long term.

While only an example, the English-Spanish paradigm evident in television production will continue to extend to many more sectors of the economy, calling, of course, on HispanicLatinos to maintain, improve or acquire both Spanish and English to an effective level.

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