In many respects the two words above exemplify the reason for creating this blog. After reading countless newspaper articles, listening to hundreds of talk radio programs, and watching an apparently endless number of so-called balanced news accounts, I have grown anxious almost to the point of desperation at the vile, shameless, and inaccurate depiction of Latinas and Latinos in this country. What is almost as offensive is how these horrific and often racist statements go largely unchallenged. Frankly, I couldn’t recall a time when I heard a counterpoint or a rebuttal. I would wait and wait, but none was forthcoming. While there are civil rights organizations like MALDEF and Latino Justice that address civil rights abuses against the Latino and Latina community, in the United States and elsewhere, it seems like these groups were waging a war against overwhelming forces.
Then this past year at a conference of leading Latino and Latina legal scholars and activists, a panel on Latin public intellectuals both challenged and inspired me. The group addressed the nature of the public narrative levied against the Spanish-speaking communities, but somewhat struggled and perhaps even disagreed on the membership of Latino and Latina public intellectuals. Writers, poets, politicians, and even revolutionaries were mentioned, but a question seemed to arise concerning the place of legal academics in this laudable group of civil rights advocates and social justice champions. After some debate, a junior faculty member challenged many in the room and argued that many of the individuals that eventually would join this group—Voces Latina – were indeed public intellectuals. While those overly generous comments inspired me, and I am grateful to be included in such a list, I reflected and questioned whether my efforts at advocacy had any consequence. Despite perhaps being considered productive, possessing a resume that boasts numerous articles, books, and even a book series, I seriously questioned whether my efforts had any impact other than on the relatively few scholars that write on similar issues or happen to find one or two of my pieces. Was that enough?
I think not!
Then I, along with a group of accomplishend scholars, decided to create this blog in order to reach a broader a audience. In our organizational meeting at this year’s AALS conference, many of us wondered why we had not started this project earlier. We told stories that inspired us to undertake an engagement that would invariably take considerable time and perhaps cause criticism. I smiled and envisioned my daughter and many beautiful young Latinas and Latinos that would likely appreciate academics challenging hateful portrayals through a medium the younger generation might actually follow.
Perhaps it would be useful to mention a few examples of typical portrayals of Latinos in this country that is acceptable because they are purportedly address legitimate debates such as immigration. For instance, following increased isolationist sentiments after September 11, 2001, media, political, academic, and would-be academic figures used virulent attacks aimed against the Latino and Latina immigrant groups crossing the Mexican border. FBI reports on domestic hate crimes after 2001 indicate that such crimes against Latinas and Latinos surged from 2003 to 2006.
Media figures such as Fox Channel talk show host Bill O’Reilly proclaimed “the supporters [of immigration reform] hate America and want to flood the country with foreign nationals to change the complexion of our society.” Lou Dobbs, a CNN anchor and popular pundit, repeatedly warns against an “illegal alien invasion.” Some of Dobbs’ choices for expert opinion on the issues even include reports from the Council of Conservative Citizens, a national white supremacist organization. Dobbs is also known for blaming undocumented immigrants for a leprosy explosion of 7,000 cases over the last three years, while the actual leprosy figure is actually 250 cases over that period, and is not directly attributed to the immigrant population. Others engage in similar forms of hyperbole to promote a solution to the inevitable population overthrow, while also stoking the flames of fear. For instance, John Gibson implored viewers to “do your duty. Make more babies…half of the kids in this country under five are minorities and by far the greatest number are Hispanic. What does that mean? Twenty-five years from now, the majority of the population is Hispanic.” While Mr. Gibson was evidently a poor math student, and despite his flaw in addition and logic, the fact that the Latina and Latino population will only amount to twenty-five percent of the population in fifty years matters little to listening audience. Neal Boortz, for instance, while promoting a massive fence at our southern border declared: “I don’t care if Mexicans pile up against that fence like tumble weeds…Just run a couple of taco trucks up and down the line.” Another alleged that the civil rights organization “La Raza” is the “the Ku Klux Klan of Hispanic People.”
The media’s outspoken critics are not alone in their fear-mongering over the browning of America. The Washington Post recently profiled the views of the so-called “average American.” One interviewee stated that she stopped shopping at WalMart because she noticed she was the only non-Latino customer in the store. She reportedly said, “I’m in the minority, and if we don’t get control over this pretty soon, all of America will be outnumbered.” Another interviewee reportedly complained that “Latinos turn things into slums.”
Media figures are not alone in their hate: Republican Presidential Candidate Tom Tancredo, Head of the Immigration Reform Caucus, often speaks to the threat of “radical multiculturalism.” For instance, in his speech before the House of Representatives on halting illegal immigration, Tancredo warned:
If we were to actually do what is necessary to prevent people from coming into this country to create havoc and to commit acts of terrorism, we would essentially end illegal immigration….I do not understand how any American, any American regardless of the hyphen, what word we put before the hyphen, I do not understand how any American could say please do not defend our borders because if you do, fewer of my countrymen would be able to come in. Because if you feel that way, then that is your countrymen that we are keeping out, then you are not an American, of course.
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Then, of course, there are the even more dangerous aspects of this, because the people coming across the border, bringing illegal narcotics into the United States. They
come with backpacks, 60 to 80 pounds on their back. Sometimes they come guarded by people carrying M-16s or various other automatic weapons. They come across the land in, again, droves, thousands. We have pictures of them.
As the presidential election primaries neared, Tancredo said he intended to visit New Hampshire and Iowa, as part of a campaign to get a leader in the White House who “understands the threat illegal immigrants pose to the country’s security.” According to Tancredo, we all need to be fearful because federal prisons overflow with illegal immigrants, some of whom aim to harm people. “They need to be found before it is too late. They’re coming here to kill you, and you, and me, and my grandchildren.” More recently, Tancredo took hate mongering to new lows when in a recent television commercial, he implies that illegal immigrants are terrorists in the making. The ad in question evidently asserted that radical Jihadists have slipped into the flow of illegal immigration, and as a result attacks are inevitable.
These inacuracies, are my inspiration to say “Basta Ya” or in in its English translation: Enough already. These and related issues are the ones that inspire me to write, and in some respect provide me an unfair advantage because I too often see, read, and listen to examples of matters that need to be challenged.
I am truly honored to be associated in this blog with the amazing group of academics and social justice advocates, who I believe will follow that old Puerto Rican saying a proclaim “Presente,” or in other words, state that they are present and should be accounted for to write on issues affecting the Latina and Latino community. Like the communites we represent, we come from various backgrounds and will provide a variety of perspectives on many issues including, race, class, gender, sexual orientation, education, health care, immigration, crime, and politics, just to name a few.
I, for one, expect to learn much, and will be inspired. Like the official tab describing this blog, the truth can heal and will inevitably rise.