This is the second part of a two part series. Read part one here.
When Mitt Romney jokes that if his father had been a Mexican immigrant, he’d have, “a better shot of winning this [election],” because “it would help to be Latino,” he both commits the error John Rawls made when relying on the veil of ignorance, and original position, in his A Theory of Justice. And advances the absurd, unsubstantiated notion that his identity as a white, non-Hispanic man, disadvantages him in a country where 43 of 44 Presidents have been white, non-Hispanic men.
Rawls incorrectly assumes that if you strip away socioeconomic class, gender, race, religion, culture, sexual identity, formal education, life experience, legal status, family structure, etc. that there is enough left to constitute a full human being. In other words, he’s making the preposterous claim that identity is the sum of malleable, interchangeable, and superficial traits. But blackface did not actually transform Freeman Gosden and Charles Correll into African American men named Amos and Andy in the 1950s, and a fake accent, hoop earrings, hand gestures, and a handsy boyfriend did not convince anyone that Cecily Strong, from Oak Park, IL, was Mimi Morales, from the concrete jungle, where dreams are made, on last week’s Fall 2012 season premiere of Saturday Night Live. As Elise Rodenbeck recently wrote in Pocho, “Consumerism… [seeks to] process culture, strip it of all that gunk we don’t need (like knowledge and power)… [so that] culture itself has no value outside the bounds of consumption. [If] culture is no different than a box of cereal… why would I want that? Why would I want something that has no monetary value when I could just pass as white and be at the top of the pecking order?… [But, if] culture is not something to be consumed. [Then] it is in our hearts and blood… our minds… more powerful than any trinket, more powerful than capitalism itself.” In other words, Latinidad can’t be veil of ignorance’d away, or worn by Romney like a garment.
Mitt Romney wrongly asserts that he could be the exact same person he is today, after having grown up as a member of the Latino community—specifically as a member of the US-born, Mexican American community from a mixed-status, immigrant household. He also wrongly assumes that this mythical Latino version of himself would find it easier to win a presidential election without changing his policy stances, platform rhetoric, campaign tactics, and/or candidate strategy. Politic365 superstars Adriana Maestas, Dr. Jason Johnson, and Jeneba Ghatt have already addressed the second point, so please allow me to simply share one thought related to the first.
Richard Wright once wrote that black and white Americans are engaged in a war over the nature of reality. Noting that African Americans having looked and brooded upon the harsh lot of black people, and having “compared it with the hopes and struggles of minority peoples everywhere… [until] the cold hard facts have begun to tell them something… [have concluded, that people of color] feel the meaning of history… as though they, in one lifetime, had lived it themselves throughout all the long centuries.”
Latinos are not a monolithic population. We are a US census group carved together out of dozens of countries and dependencies, who share overlapping histories rooted in Latin America and the Caribbean, as it exists today, and as it has existed over the course of the last 520 years. Some of us have always belonged to territories now forming part of this country. Others of us arrived as servants, refugees, workers, students, or to be reunited with our families. We don’t share a common primary language. We don’t even belong to the same racial group. Nevertheless, the vast majority of us come from communities comprised of persons who have brown or black skin because we are the descendents of Amerindians, Africans, or both. Whether or not we choose acknowledge our connections to present day mestizo and indigenous populations, or the peoples of the Diaspora connected to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, to be Latino in the US, means we experience (seemingly endless) moments in which our American identity—our Americanness—is questioned socially, legally, and politically.
At the London Olympics, Leonel “Leo” Manzano won a silver medal in the men’s 1,500-meter final, running the fastest time ever by a US athlete. He celebrated his US record, and medal won for the US, by carrying both an American flag and a Mexican one. The CNN op-ed page read as follows, “[It was] misguided and ill-mannered… As the world looked on, he [Manzano] held up both the U.S. flag and the Mexican flag. Not a good look. And not a good idea… The image didn’t warm my heart. It upset my stomach.” 27,919 people recommended this article. The most popular of the 10,995 comments posted below it read, “What this guy did is wrong… He should apologize or leave USA.”
A US athlete, wearing an American uniform and waving an American flag, after setting a US record, and winning an Olympic medal, is told to apologize, or leave the USA:
Does anyone, anywhere, believe this would have happened if he were not Latino?
Former White House Coordinator of Security Planning for the National Security Council, as well as Harvard and Columbia University professor Samuel P. Huntington, published a text in 2004, whose sole purpose was to paint Latinos as a threat to America’s national identity. Without apology or hesitation he argues that Latino immigrants are not as culturally American as those who came before.
He reaches this egregious and erroneous conclusion, ignoring data from the Pew Center, affirmed by the Economist, and aligned with studies by Nielsen, that immigrants from Latin America, and their children, learn and use English as their primary language, at rates that rival any previous wave of immigrants from anywhere in the world. Ignoring the fact that Latino students have been punished for attempting to maintain their bilingualism since generations and generations before the Civil Rights Movement, and that this attack continues today, decades and decades later. Ignoring the fact that the Supreme Court case declaring the denial of educational opportunities to Latino students, attending under-resourced, segregated schools, a violation of the US Constitution, Mendez v. Westminster, predates Brown v. Board of Education, and was used as the chief precedent in that landmark ruling. Ignoring the fact that the Schott Foundation for Public Education has called the preponderance of college-and-career denying, educational achievement gaps, and persistence of dramatically different graduation rates for whites and Latinos, as well as African Americans, the product of “willful neglect” on the part of federal, state, and local policymakers.
Ignoring the fact that Latinos have fought in every US military conflict since the American Revolutionary War. Ignoring the fact that Latinos founded the city of St. Augustine, hundreds of years before Florida became a state in 1845, and set roots in the West (from Oklahoma to California) long before the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo made this land part of the US. Ignoring the fact that all Puerto Ricans, nearly one of ten Latinos, have been US citizens since the 1917 Jones Act.
The fact that nearly two-thirds of all Latinos are native-born US citizens, and more than one-quarter of foreign-born Latinos are naturalized US citizens should count for something. But since 1 in 3 Americans believe that more than half of all Latinos are undocumented immigrants. The only logical conclusion is, not only have Latinos not been accepted as equals by those who believe “American” is synonymous with “white,” we’ve been targeted for even greater marginalization.
During the Great Depression, half a million Americans were forcibly “Repatriated” to Mexico. They were rounded-up by authorities and forced to comply with a law designed specifically to target their families, regardless of their citizenship status, regardless of their place of birth, their use of the English language, their level of education, etc. because they had brown skin and Hispanic surnames. Although it took 50 years, Japanese Americans received an apology from President Clinton for the Internment, Franklin Roosevelt ordered. It’s been 73 years, but no apology has been issued to Mexican Americans.
We’re fighting it now.
In August 2010, the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice opened an inquiry into charges of racism and abuse of power in the State of Arizona, orchestrated by Maricopa County Sheriff’s Department. They refused to cooperate with the investigation. In December 2011, the Justice Department released its finding that the Sheriff’s Department repeatedly arrested Latinos illegally, regardless of whether they were US citizens, legal residents, or undocumented immigrants, abused them in the county jails, and failed to investigate hundreds of cases of sexual assault against adults and minors. The Justice Department report found that the Sheriff’s Department carried out a blatant pattern of discrimination against Latinos, and held a “systematic disregard” for the Constitution. The Justice Department’s racial profiling expert found the Sheriff’s Department to be the most egregious case of profiling ever seen in the US.
The institutionalized racial profiling of Latinos has been embraced at every level; upheld by the highest court in the land. Because of the Supreme Court’s decision not to overturn the entirety of Arizona SB 1070, “papers please” policies will remain Constitutional until their implementation unduly harms and burdens enough American citizens from communities of color to justify their modification. Every single time a law enforcement officer encounters someone he or she deems worthy of questioning, that officer will be entrusted to make a determination on that individual’s American identity. Between April 2010, the time SB 1070 was signed into law, and the June 2012 Arizona v. US decision, the American Civil Liberties Union said their Arizona hotline had already taken over 3,500 calls alleging violations of the rights guaranteed to citizens and US residents by the Constitution. This, in spite of the fact that the ninth circuit, federal court of appeals, upheld an injunction preventing the full implementation of the law until the Supreme Court had reached its verdict.
Welcome to the one Nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty and Justice for All, where 96 year-old, former Arizona Governor, Mexican American, Raul Hector Castro, has already been detained three times.
Mitt Romney—self-admittedly, made happy by becoming rich and famous—asserts life would be even more of a cakewalk for him if only he were Latino. Apparently being the son of a man born into a white, Mormon-American community living in Mexico, has provided him with sufficient justification to don the same brownface for his appearance on Univision that Jimmy Fallon employed in his Late Night sketch, mocking Julian Castro’s DNC speech. If granted Latinidad by a genie, leprechaun, or a wishing-well, however, Romney would find himself dealing with challenges to the legitimacy of his US-born citizenship, as well as relentlessinvestigations regarding the legal status of all of the members of his family. Just ask Republican National Convention speaker, New Mexico Governor, Susana Martinez, if she’d rather answer questions about her undocumented grandparents, or entertain requests that she disclose more than just one complete tax form for 2010, along with an unfinished estimate of 2011, in the final months before Election Day.
Not one, white, non-Hispanic public figure, has ever faced citizenship-related scrutiny.
But believe it or not, having a pack of hateful individuals accuse you of not being an American while you’re a candidate for the Presidency—despite the fact that you’ve already served in an elected office that requires you to represents the interests of all of the Americans residing in one of fifty states, while concurrentlykeeping a promise to preserve, preserve, defend and uphold the US Constitution—isn’t the worst thing imaginable (especially after earning an undergraduate degree from an Ivy League college, and an advanced degree from an Ivy League law school, like both President Obama and GOP-candidate Romney).
Mitt Romney asserts life would be more of a cakewalk for him if he were Latino, while concurrently (and paradoxically) believing, “If the Hispanic voting bloc becomes as committed to the Democrats as the African American voting bloc has in the past, why, we’re in trouble as a party and, I think, as a nation.” To quote the Mamiverse Team, “It’s one thing to say that the Republican Party will struggle without the Hispanic vote. But [this]… suggests that Mr. Romney is nationalistic and maybe, just maybe, a little racist… Is he worried about Hispanics taking over and white males… becoming a minority [that will be treated exactly the same way the white majority has treated Latinos and African Americans]?”
Being Latino would make him significantly more likely to belong to his 47% statistic. And since Romney has already written off the vast majority of Latinos as those who are, “dependent upon government… believe they are victims… believe they are entitled (emphasis Romney’s) to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it… people who pay no income tax… [who] should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.”
He asserts life would be more of a cakewalk for him if he were Latino, but has expressed zero concern for the findings of the Associated Press-Univision poll, revealing that 81% of Latinos believe all Latinos in the US, not just undocumented immigrants, face significant discrimination. He doesn’t know or doesn’t care that this belief is corroborated and substantiated by National Institute of Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, and FBI data, demonstrating disproportionate growth in anti-Latino hate crimes and hate groups.
These metrics will never be made tangible for him. But they are painfully real for us.
Juan Varela was shot in his front yard, in front of his mother and brother, by a man yelling, “Go back to Mexico or die!” The Varelas have been US citizens for five generations. Even if they had been immigrants, this would have been an unforgivable, violent hate crime. But the fact that this family’s five generations in the US mean far less than their skin color and surname, is an indictment on what it means to be Latino in 21st Century, post-SB 1070 America.
Shawna Forde and two suspected accomplices woke up Brisenia Flores’ family and told them they were law enforcement officers. When her father questioned the intruders, they stormed into the house and shot him. They shot her mother. And then they shot her, twice, at point-blank range. Brisenia was murdered by Minuteman border vigilantes, despite the fact that she was a US-citizen, despite the fact that she was 9-years-old.
Mitt Romney asserts life would be more of a cakewalk for him if he were Latino. But since the percentage of Latino GOP and Democratic Party presidential nominees remains zero, our chances of burying a 9-year-old family member, murdered by a xenophobic, white supremacist, remain far greater than the chances of any of us being elected President.