By Helena Rodriguez: Freedom Newspapers
Growing up in an ethnocentric world, the barrio of north Portales, my ethnicity was a major factor in my early life. Now, it’s not color of skin or language that unites me with people. It’s common Christian beliefs.
But in my adult life, I’ve learned you cannot entirely separate the two factors of ethnicity, namely race and religion, although you can look at them more openly. And so I have a few thoughts to share as we observe National Hispanic Heritage Month, which kicks off on Sunday, the sixteenth of September, more commonly known as el Diez y Seis de Septiembre or Mexican Independence Day.
I must warn you though, these are not pretty thoughts.
Even when I attempt to step outside of the ethnocentric world of my past and be color-blind, I must say it has been the year of the anti-Hispanic.
I don’t want to go back in time and throw nasty reminders of past discrimination in people’s faces, but it has been an ugly year to be Hispanic — a year in which years of progress have been undone and I’m just shaking my head wondering how this can happen today, not only in a country that is supposed to have made significant progress in civil rights, but in a country that overwhelmingly calls itself Christian.
It seems like many people operate under the Christian banner, until they slip outside of their comfort zones.
My theory is that the anti-Hispanic mentality began forming several years ago, in 2004, when the U.S. Census released figures showing Hispanics were now the largest U.S. minority, and that’s not counting undocumented people. Suddenly, illegal Mexicans who have been crossing over while our law enforcement looked the other way for decades were taking over. This brought out the not just anti-immigrant, but anti-anything Hispanic likes of Lou Dobbs and Pat Buchanan.
Our nation has a right and obligation to control its borders and I am personally outraged that it’s taken this long, and under these circumstances to do it. That’s not the issue though. The problem is the anti-Hispanic climate this has created. It’s not just aimed at undocumented people, but legal citizens too. Some lawmakers and xenophobics want to discourage any form of Spanish or use of other languages which will only backfire on us. They’ve proposed housing laws in some states that would make legal U.S. residents of Hispanic origin subject to racial profiling, much like Middle Easterners who are constantly subject to suspicion of being terrorists.
This anti-Hispanic mentality was in action this year when PBS released a 15-hour documentary on World War II and entirely left out any mention of Hispanic soldiers who made up half a million of the WWII soldiers and are among the most decorated ethnic group in U.S. history. It took protests, letter writing campaigns and negotiating to get PBS to make half-hearted amends, 28 minutes of new footage tacked to the end.
It was the year of the anti-Hispanic when ABC TV cut its top-rated sitcom, The George Lopez Show, this spring. It was almost as if Lopez sealed his fate when he proudly boasted on his live comedy special of having the only Hispanic sitcom on primetime. Soon after, ABC announced it was replacing Lopez with the Geico Cavemen, a duo that have already drawn criticism for racist remarks.
When former House Speaker Newt Gingrich equated bilingual education in April with “the language of the ghetto,” many Hispanics were rightfully outraged but the issue quickly died because, as I sadly noted, we have no Jesse Jacksons or Al Sharptons in our community.
Jackson and Sharpton pressured MSNBC this past year to fire shock jock Don Imus for his “nappy-headed hoes” comment about the mostly African American Rutger’s University women’s basketball team.
The lesson, as history has shown and continues to show, is that civil rights are not handed out, but must be constantly fought for and protected.
Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: