In 1855, Francisco Ramírez, editor of El Clamor Público, a Spanish-language newspaper in Los Angeles, made an astute observation that Anglo Americans were not the unique upholders of democratic ideals that they touted themselves to be. “Who is the foreigner in California?” Ramires asked his readers, “ The North Americans pretend to give us (Mexican Americans) lessons in humanity and to bring to our people the doctrine of salvation so we can govern ourselves, to respect the laws, and conserve order. Are these the ones who treat us worse than slaves?”
The long history of Mexican American and Euro-American relations has been replete with conflict—a cursory look at this history tells the story. Far from being saviors, Euro-Americans stubbornly clung on to notions of racial superiority and denied Mexican Americans the “enjoyment of their liberty.” Indeed, even before the ink was try on the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (the treaty that ended the hostilities between both nations), Euro-Americans began to assert their power by directly challenging and usurping Mexican American property claims as well as civil and political rights. Social rights were also eagerly impeded and systematically trampled (barriers to education, housing, employment, fair wages, legal protections, healthcare, etc.). Resistance varied by geographic location, but Mexican Americans everywhere fought hard to maintain their rights.
In California, Mexican Americans, and Latinos in general, remained isolated, invisible, and marginalized for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth century. But this changed by the start of the twenty-first century. Indeed, in 2014, the Census Bureau reported that Latinos had now surpassed whites, 39 percent (14.99 million Latinos) to 38.8 percent (14.92 million whites). On the political front, there are now over 1,377 Latinos in local, state, and federal office in California. Accordingly, this the“second-highest number of Latino politicians in the country.”
But what does this all mean for Latinos today?
The 2016 election has left many Mexican Americans—and Latinos across the state and nation—bewildered and increasingly afraid for the future.
The 2016 election has left many Mexican Americans—and Latinos across the state and nation—bewildered and increasingly afraid for the future. Not only has our political process been denigrated to an incalculable degree, so has the level of common decency and respect. The heightened extent of xenophobia, racism, and white nationalism has been frightening to witness. Donald Trump has changed the political landscape and brought it down to such debase levels that he can now spew whatever absurdity he wishes without any fear of recrimination. Indeed, it’s as if the political process has lost its moorings and is now flailing uncontrollably in the wind. And a win for Hillary Clinton may not spell the end of this untethered storm of anger, hatred, and intolerance that has taken grip of our nation--and a storm that has targeted Latinos as the enemy.
So, how should Latinos respond to this growing menace? Latinos must work together--and with their allies--to shore up its community resources and build social, political, and economic capacity. To do this, Latinos must take the lead in setting an aggressive, proactive agenda that will target specific needs for overall change and improvement.
Setting priorities means Latinos coming together to talk about what matters to them. Some priorities might include: bilingual/multilingual education; curriculum restructuring that prioritizes progressive education and with an emphasis on Chicano/Latino and Indigenous history and culture; the development of our own textbooks; access to local boards, planning commissions, foundations, and committees that have a direct impact on our lives; the development and expansion of museums (state, municipal, and private) ranging from general to science and technology, history, and art; access to and development of financial institutions; access to universal health care; etc.
If this election cycle has taught us anything, it is that Latinos must not only demand a seat at the table—they must also take it (lawfully, of course). For too long, we have been the targets of aggressive anti-Latino sentiment that has rendered many of our communities powerless (think of deportation drives, school segregation, housing and employment discrimination, legal barriers to services (Propositions 187), and assaults on culture and language (Proposition 227). And now, we have a candidate for the highest position in the land spewing venomous insults and threats of deportation for over 11 million people and a pledge to build a wall. And what is also clear now, is that Trump pays no attention to history—he neither acknowledges it or reads it. But we do.
From California to New York, and everywhere in between, Latinos are standing up in greater numbers and demanding a larger say in their lives. No longer are we begging for acceptance in the hopes someone will open the door. Nor do we wish to disappear into some backward notion of melting pot assimilation (especially of the sort that demands that we drop our Latinidad at the door). We are no longer willing to hide in the shadows or cower in fear as outsiders looking in—we are standing firm this time, quite comfortable in our skin. We are not going to drop our history, culture, language, identities, and contributions to American society—we are going to celebrate them.
And, we especially don’t need a lesson in democracy; we know exactly what it is.
So, if nopalitos con tostadas aren’t your fancy, and if a taco truck isn’t your cup of tea, don’t worry, we won’t kick you out. But if you get angry at this “foreign” comida, then just remember, close the door on your way out.
Enrique Buelna and Gabriel Buelna