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    The Latino Leadership Vacuum?

    Last week the Pew Center on Hispanics published the results of a study in which Latinos were polled about who they perceive as the most  significant Latino leader in the US.  A remarkable 64% answered they do not know.  Another 10 per cent said no one is a significant Latino leader.  Seven per cent named Sonia Sotomayor.  The remarkable absence of a Latino figure in the center of public discourse is not surprising when I think about the way Latinos are portrayed in mass media or –actually—NOT portrayed at all.  A separate Pew study of Latino media coverage found that vast majority of coverage of Latinos in 2009 was on immigration, drug wars, the H1N1 flu outbreak in Mexico City and Sonia Sotomayor—in that order.  And the remarkable thing is this: most of the time when these issues are discussed in major media outlets there were few Latinos present. 

    Latinos are now the largest ethnic group in the US and are at the center of one of the most contentious debates in the US as immigration reform ensues.   Researchers David Hayes-Bautista, Rodolfo De La Garza and Dowell Myers,  journalist Robert Lovato are just a few of those who should be involved in the discussion.  These are the individuals who have dedicated years of study to provide informed perspective on a complex issue.  Yet in an age when media interns are asked to find experts for the most obscure  biotech developments, technical breakthroughs and the complexity of climate change—how is it that major news casts can cover immigration and fail to ask Latinos to be part of the discussion?   

    This lack of presence of Latinos in the media is a key contributing factor in this perceived vacuum of Latino leadership.  But there’s more to it beyond the mainstream media neglect. In watching the endless number of people who claim their 15 minutes of fame—Joe the Plumber, Preacher Terry Jones itching to burn Quarans, and irritated flight attendant Steven Slater—I am stunned at the level of hubris evident to seize a moment in the bright lights.  This is so not Latino.  Latinos bring cultural values that emphasize humility, stoicism, and cooperation.  It is rare to see Latinos who want to draw attention to themselves.  Even in the face of remarkable achievements, few Latinos engage in self promotion.  It’s a trait that is at the same time admirable and yet limiting in a world that seems to notice the obnoxious first and the nobel last. 

    The future of the nation is linked to the future of Latinos.  Latino leaders exist in every field and discipline and they need to be engaged in the media rich society we experience now.  We may be a quietly proud people but let’s not confuse this with being absent or unavailable to lead. -M


    Mexico Celebrates Independence

    Mexico has celebrated the anniversary of “EL GRITO” in the Zócalo of Mexico City, on the night of Septermber 15th.  At midnight the President of the Republic rings the same church bells as did Padre Hidalgo, and repeats Hidalgo’s call for independence:


    Long Live The Virgin of Guadalupe!

    Long Live the Americas!

    Long Live Mexico!

    And Death to Corrupt Government!

    With this cry for Independence, Hidalgo took up a banner of The Virgin of Guadalupe, and led some 600 insurgents into the city of Guanajuato where they freed numerous Mexican political prisoners and incarcerated the Spanish authorities. And thus began the Mexican Revolution of 1810, and Mexico’s struggle for independence.  

    Despite all the celebrations around Cinco de Mayo (May 5th), September 16th is celebrated as Mexico's Independence Day--this is the real deal!


    Immigrant or Native?

    It is often said that the US is a land of immigrants but the unspeakable corollary is: not all immigrants are seen as equals.  We do not treat immigrants from Cuba the same as those who came from Ireland. We do not see the Vietnamese who crossed an ocean to reach us the same as those who cross the Rio Grande. We value immigrants with key skills and create special visas for them so that they can work at some of our most prestigious academic institutions and some of the most innovative corporations.  

    Likewise, it should be understood that immigrants do not see our land in the same way.   The people who traveled an ocean, escaping the ravages of war came to the US to seek refuge.  In solidarity with their plight, the US grants asylum. The scientists, students and scholars, who visit us, see the United States as a place to expand their intellectual independence and create unparalleled opportunity. Our dire shortage of scientists and our desire to be competitive compels us to say yes to these elite immigrants. We do not have a one-size fits all immigration policy because we have different immigrants.

    In the wake of the immigration debate sparked by the events in Arizona, we now desperately need to understand immigrants from Mexico and the unique relationship to this land among the many people whose ancestry transcends our borders.  While it is true many come here to seek jobs, their presence here is not limited to seeking opportunity.   In 1848 when the US signed the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo to secure the land we now consider to be California, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah roughly 100,000 Mexicans inhabited the territory.  As the US further expanded and borders shifted in what is now Texas, families that had lived in one region for several generations suddenly found themselves defined in between the land they called home and the new land that considered them outcasts.   Many Mexican immigrants consider themselves native to these lands. Indeed, they would at least argue “we were here long before any other immigrant group”.  And because of this history, Mexicans do not feel obligated to shed themselves of their tradition or history or language.  By contrast, the Irish, Italian and Jewish immigrants in the 1940’s knew they had abandoned their homeland in order to survive and live freely and thus their acculturation happened differently.  There was no turning back.  For Mexican immigrants, there is much less of a sense of having left “home” or needing to give up their identity. These lands are not foreign and there is nothing “illegal” about being here.

    While some would argue that we are well beyond 1848, history cannot be ignored.  Immigration reform is desperately needed to address the presence of an estimated 7 million people from Mexico who remain in the Southwest and who overwhelming live quietly as hard working people, contributing to local economies. But policy and legislation will fail unless we consider the identity of this vibrant community and the cultural roots tied to these lands.  Many nations have drawn borders only to fail against the deeply rooted culture associated with geography.  The US is poised to fail in its reforms again, unless a new accord is found with a people who remain loyal to our lands.     


    HISPANIC Magazine Doesn't Represent Me!

    Somehow Hispanic Magazine chose to nominate the outrageous, self-made Hollywood celebrity gossiper Perez Hilton as its 2009 Hispanic of the Year.   In a year when the nation saw Justice Sonia Sotomayor become the first Latina to serve as a United States Supreme Court justice, Hispanic Magazine should be ashamed of its lack of judgment and indifference to historical precedence.  The only good thing that can be said about this horrific choice is that, thankfully and mercifully, the rest of the media chose to ignore it.   

    In explaining her decision, Marissa Rodriquez, Hispanic Magazine’s Editor wrote: Who, we asked, are the big players who make the World Wide Web go around? There is little doubt that one of the web’s biggest stars is Perez Hilton. This famous blogger of Cuban American descent is credited by many for revolutionizing celebrity news. Professional gossips are nothing new, as gossip columns have existed in newspapers and magazines since their beginnings. But Perez is at the tipping point of something new, he’s taken an old idea and created something no one else has. His is one of those blogs that sometimes bests traditional news outlets in the 24-hour news game. …While he may be known for his flamboyant personal style and snarky approach to celebrity news, there is also a serious side to Hilton. A prolific poster on his site, he doesn’t hold back an opinion, and his opinions influence millions. Yes, he is controversial. Some people even despise him. Hilton knows it. But he is also loved by millions of readers from all over the world who flock to his website daily, making the site not only a cultural phenomenon and a smashing business enterprise. (Editors Letter, December 2009 Edition of Hispanic Magazine) 

    The “tipping point of something new”?

    Influences millions?

    A “cultural phenomenon”? 

    Aside from asking the obvious question about what kind of web surfing Rodriguez engages in, her gushing admiration for Hilton as a web pioneer raises serious questions about HISPANIC MAGAZINE’s journalistic rigor.  While there are far more significant individuals to list as Latino internet pioneers, HISPANIC MAGAZINE willfully ignored a Latina who truly will influence millions through her decisions in the highest court and whose success represents a tipping point of political and economic opportunity for all of us.  As Latinos finally gain much deserved attention in the arts, sciences, law and politics—we cannot afford to be distracted with the mediocre who tantalize us with an opportunity to be sensationalized with 15 minutes of fame.  We don’t need fame. We need authentic power that comes from inspired vision and substantive leadership. In the annals of history, there will be much written about this one remarkable moment Judge Sotomayor captured for Latinos.  Too bad that chapter did not get written with our own voice under the banner of HISPANIC MAGAZINE. 


    Veteran's Day Rememberances

    My first visit to the Vietnam Memorialin Washington DC was shortly after it opened in 1984 and by then the controversy of the war had subsided but the anguish of broken lives remained a national open sore. Instead of the noble tributes that we saw today at Fort Hood, Vietnam veterans were never quite seen like the men and women in the armed services today. The Vietnam Memorial was perhaps an apology for the days of controversy when political posturing overshadowed the anguish of personal sacrifice. All along the wall that day were stacks of personal tributes...letters , mementos, dog tags of those who survived and even some teddy bears.  Like so many who visit the site, I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of seeing over 58,000 names and all those mementos of unspoken promises, yearnings and prayers.  It was hot and humid as only DC can be in August.  I needed to catch my breath before I made the long walk to the section where my cousin Raul Robledo would be listed.  My one task for that day, as the first in my family to visit Washington DC was to take a photo and send it to my Tia Paula who lived in Shreveport, Louisiana. A single parent, of very humble beginnings, my Aunt would never make this same journey. So I walked to a nearby souvenir stand selling soft drinks and stood in line and glanced at the post cards of DC and the Memorial.  And then, there it was. One postcard. A dozen names. A rose laying on one side.  My cousin's name was there framed by the one rose and the border on that postcard.  I bought as many as I could for her and for Raul, my cousin, who I never had the chance to meet--growing up on opposite sides of the country. Raul was deployed Nov 11, 1967 and died by friendly fire March 14, 1968 at the age of 20 and left behind one daughter who he never met. No matter how I frame that day for myself, I always picture my aunt opening the envelope with my letter and the cards and hope she felt proud that day. Today is about that moment for her and all the families who have someone to thank, someone to remember or someone to care for this Veteran's Day.