National Latino Museum: A Fix for Ignorance and Exclusion

From the New York Times Room for Debate Blog: Arlene Davila is a professor of anthropology and American studies at New York University. She is the author of “Latino Spin: Public Image and the Whitewashing of Race” and the forthcoming “Culture Works: Space, Value and Mobility Across the Neoliberal Americas.”

In the current political context it has become a cliché to put down any ethnic specific project as balkanizing and unnecessary. Yet the growing xenophobia and heightened nativist political climate enveloping the immigration debate and Latinos has shown otherwise.

At the core, current debates manifest the vast ignorance of Latinos’ history in the American mainstream, and their consistent representation as newcomers and foreigners, rather than as a central component of American history and culture. In this context, the debates over whether a National Museum of the American Latino will be built and in what fashion will undoubtedly reflect larger debates over the past, present and future of Latinos in America. Continue reading

Podcast: The Challenge of Immigration Reform

Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, co-editor of the forthcoming Educating the Whole Child for the Whole World (NYU Press, Fall 2010), has been right in the middle of the immigration debate. Last week he appeared on Minnesota Public Radio to talk about the challenge of reforming immigration law, and you can download the podcast here. He’s been quoted on the issue several times in the New York Times: here, here, and here.

The Hispanic Crime Rate

An inspired debate at The Nation about the researching and reporting of the Latino crime rate in the United States referenced our author, Ramiro Martinez, and his book, Immigration and Crime.

It’s true that some academic specialists have generally been aware that Latinos didn’t have especially high crime rates (though as far as I know nobody’s previously used Unz’s particular methodologies to make the point directly and quantitatively). Even the volume of academic literature seems extremely scant, relative to the magnitude of the subject involved. Over the last decade, there have been a couple of books by Ramiro Martinez dealing with the subject, and a relatively small number of journal articles, few of which are very direct or explicit. But there’s a huge difference between academic specialists being generally aware of this, and perhaps occasionally communicating their results to other academic specialists via turgid journal articles and books, and this information getting out to a wider public audience.

The Space Behind Sonia Sotomayor

Lázaro Lima, author of The Latino Body: Crisis Identities in American Literary and Cultural Memory, offers a look at the particular type of racism on the rise with Judge Sonia Sotomayor, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court.

Writing in the New York Times Frank Rich observed not too long that “Gay people… aren’t the surefire scapegoats they once were. Hence the rise of a jucier target: Hispanics. They are the new gays, the foremost political piñata.” Rich’s observation took on literalist meaning this week when Creators Syndicate’s Chip Bok depicted Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor hanging from a rope and strung up like a piñata along with a Mariachi sombrero-wearing President Obama handing out bats to Republican Congressmen.

Recall, for example, how the “lynching” that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas said he indignantly “suffered” when Anita Hill accused him of sexual harassment during his confirmation hearings years ago drew ire for obvious though ironic reasons. After all, the conservative Thomas, who wouldn’t have been able to marry his Anglo American wife in the state of Virginia, where he lived, until Loving vs. Virginia (1968) made it legal for Blacks to marry whites, used the proverbial race card when all through his career he had eschewed the “racisim” inherent to affirmative action policies that, for him, discriminated against whites. So suddenly, from his race-free worldview, he was being lynched by, not inconsequentially, a black woman.

Fast-forward to our present and now Sotomayor, of Puerto Rican descent, and hanging, ahem, presumably from a tree, is a stand-in for all Latinos in the U.S. as a recent cover of Time Magazine suggested. Puerto Ricans, who are U.S. citizens by birth, are somehow like Mariachi-sombrero wearing and presumably piñata loving Mexicans in the public imagination though the they are routinely discriminated against with a fervor and hate that makes politicians spend billions on paper-walls to keep “them” out though they’ve been “in” the U.S. for longer than current political and historical memory can account for. Political piñatas indeed. And thus the problem with representative personhood for “Latinos” as it is understood in the public imagination.
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