In a vapid attempt either to rescue sagging circulations or pander to Hillary Rodham Clinton or merely expose to the world how little they know about Hispanics, major U.S. newspapers have trumpeted a brown-vs.-black rift that has never really existed.
Supposedly, Latinos despise blacks, and for that reason are flocking to Clinton.
As proof, major newspapers 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 mainstream white press, is to have worked alongside Cesar Chavez. (Note to broadcast journalists: Please pronounce that SAY-czar CHA-ves, not SEE-zer Cha-VEZ.)
Huerta has cast her hat in the ring for Clinton. She used her political influence to aid the senator representing New York in gaining 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-Saxon boy Tony (played by Richard Beymer) and the beautiful Puerto Rican senorita (played by Natalie Wood). Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, the actress who played a Latina was not exactly of Hispanic origin. Then again, in those days “senorita” was about all the Spanish most U.S. non-Hispanics knew.
Fast-forward to the presidential election of 2008 and you have a black candidate, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois, and a Latina labor leader backing the woman candidate running against the black candidate. What do reporters see?
You can almost see the Obama campaign singing for the Jets, the Anglo gang’s side of Stephen Sondheim’s “Tonight”:
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:
They’re gonna get it tonight …
Well, they began it.
But, oh, did I forget that most Hispanics in California are of Mexican, not Puerto Rican, origin? You think it matters to the mainstream 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 white settlers, much as Puerto Rican children to this day are told that El Drako (the British 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-Saxon vision, one in which Hispanics and blacks keep each other down by fighting one another. The WASPs, numerically no longer the majority, get to divide, conquer and rule, laughing all the way to the nation’s capital.
This election isn’t about ethnicity, color or gender. It’s not a choice between a black man and a 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 biting oratory of the late Willie Velasquez, founder of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, reminded me of a mixture of comedian Lenny Bruce and community organizer Saul Alinsky. At an event I attended nearly three decades ago, he put it very succinctly.
“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.
(Cecilio Morales is owner and publisher of MII Publications in Washington. E-mail Cecilio(at)miipublications.com.)