Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Yes we can vote for a Black man

In a vapid attempt either to rescue sagging circulations or pander to Hillary Clinton or merely expose to the world how little they know about Hispanics, major American newspapers have trumpeted a Brown vs. Black rift that has never really existed.

Supposedly, Latinos despise African-Americans and for that reason are flocking to Clinton.

As proof, major papers from East to West have rediscovered Dolores Huerta, who otherwise never graces their pages. Huerta has been a great labor organizer whose claim to fame, per the Anglo press, is to have worked alongside Cesar Chavez (note to broadcast journalists: please pronounce that SAY-czar CHA-vase, not Caesar ChaVEZ).

Huerta has cast her political hat in the ring for Clinton and threw her political influence to win the senator representing New York a sizable portion of the Latino vote in California.

Enter the "West Side Story" narrative. Reporters and editors who are always searching for the oversimplification that will sell papers have fallen back on a script right out of the musical that was made into a hit movie in 1961.

Surely you remember the Romeo and Juliet saga of "impossible" love between the all-American clean-cut Anglo boy Tony (played by Richard Beymer) and the beautiful Puerto Rican señorita (played by Natalie Wood). Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, the actress who played Latina was not exactly of Hispanic origin; then again, in those days señorita, mispronounced, was about all the Spanish most American non-Hispanics knew.

Fast-forward to the presidential election of 2008 and you have an African-American candidate and a Latina labor leader backing the woman candidate running against him. What do reporters see? Rumble!

You can almost see the Obama campaign singing for the Jets the Anglo gang's side of Stephen Sondheim's "Tonight" Quintet:
The Puerto Ricans grumble: "Fair fight."
But if they start a rumble,
We'll rumble 'em right.
And the Clintonistas, with Huerta at the lead belting out the war cry of the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks:
We're gonna rock it tonight!
They're gonna get it tonight,
The began it.
We'll stop 'em once and for all.
The Sharks are gonna have their day,
We're gonna rock it tonight.
Tonight!
But, oh, did I forget that most Hispanics in California are of Mexican, not Puerto Rican, origin? You think it matters to the major Anglo press?

And, no, stop salivating, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans do not hate each other. If anything, Mexicans remember the 1848 theft of half their country by the Anglos, much as Puerto Rican children to this day are told that El Drako (the Anglo pirate Francis Drake) will come get them if they do not go to bed.

Hispanics vs. Blacks, Mexicans vs, Puerto Ricans are all part of the Anglo wet-dream, one in which the minorities keep each other down by fighting one another and the WASPs, who numerically are no longer the majority, get to divide, conquer and rule, laughing all the way to the bank.

This election isn't about ethnicity -- "race" is an unscientific term with no basis in fact -- or about sex -- "gender" is a grammatical, not biological term. It's not a choice between a Black man and an Anglo white woman.

Rather, there is a choice between two very solid Democratic candidates with positions and views that will likely, and at last, turn the ship of state away from the iceberg toward which George W. Bush is blithely steaming.

Frankly, I don't see how Hispanics could lose with either one. In fact, the election is not the endgame for Hispanics.

The late Willie Velázquez, founder of the Southwest Voter Registration and Education Project, whose biting oratory reminded me of a mixture of comedian Lenny Bruce and community organizer Saul Alinsky, once put it very succinctly almost three decades ago at an event I attended.

"Do you want to know why Hispanos don't vote?" he asked an audience in Albuquerque, N.M., back in 1982. "Because nothing happens, that's why. The national organizers come by every four years to pick the ripe, fresh Mexican vote. And the streets of the barrio stay just as dusty and the schools just as bad."

That's the real key to the Hispanic vote. Not who you are, but whether you'll respect me the morning after -- by putting in place solid programs and policies that benefit my community.

Today, when I vote in the primary in my area, that's what I, a Hispanic, will keep in mind.
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