A lot has happened to me this week. I continue to struggle through Facebook, which I have to admit I am enjoying. There is also the continuing coverage of George Zimmerman and his gunning down of Trayvon Martin, and now James Holmes’ indiscriminate shootings in Aurora, Colorado.
These events are part of a stream of consciousness that should not be isolated or lumped together. The Facebook experience is just part of a social process which we should use to refine our thoughts.
Facebook is a good vehicle for us to examine and correct our language. We have a lot in common, those of us who communicate through our social networks, many of us are concerned with bringing about social and economic justice and have to learn to think and not just react.
In the case of Tucson, Arizona, most involved appreciate the importance of the struggle and what appear to be insurmountable odds which include some of the nation’s wealthiest and most powerful interests versus a community with limited resources.
What the quality of our reaction is greatly depends on our tactics, which include a vocabulary that is precise and builds a narrative that tells who we are and what we want.
Early on during my involvement in the Chicano Movement an older friend advised me that I should think before I act. He brought up the example of the rattlesnake and the cobra.
“If you tease a rattlesnake in a glass cage, the rattlesnake will lunge at you repeatedly hitting his head on the glass pane, blooding his skull to the point of unconsciousness whereas the cobra will try once or twice and wait its time.”
Recently, George López On HBO called out Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio saying “Sheriff Joe in Arizona, fuck you, you fucking puto. How about that? Fuck you. You fat mother-fucker. Fuck you.” The audience roared with laughter. The racist Sheriff responded in the press telling López to come to Maricopa and say it to his face.
I pointed out on Facebook that if Arpaio wanted to be called out he should have come to Los Angeles where there would be no lack of takers. However, it would be stupid to go to Phoenix where Arpaio runs the local gulags.
I added that it was not a question of being politically correct or incorrect but I believed that López’s use of the term “puto,” which is a derogatory expression that originally referred to gays, detracted from the message.
It was an insult to gays to be compared to Arpaio who is a sadistic neo-Nazi. My preference is to ridicule Arpaio through caricatures and set up a dunking booth where we could sell chances to throw baseballs at the lever that would tumble the sadist excuse for a human being into the water.
Maybe it is a matter of old age but I want every word to count.
In the Arizona struggle the time has gone beyond the point that we have to shout to be heard (which was true initially). There is a core of progressives that although they do little about it at least know what we are talking about.
On the question of language, two further incidents come to mind where I personally turned off readers.
The first was when I referred to the tea partyers as rednecks. A blogger who I respect pointed out that his family was from West Virginia and he resented the term redneck, which I have been using liberally for the past humdillion years.
It is difficult to get beyond your own stereotypes when people indiscriminately refer to you as a meskin and un-American because you just want the rights they take for granted. You fail to remember that Woody Guthrie was from West Texas and that the Koch Brothers probably went to Ivy League schools.
Another word that I have used thousands of times is “intellectual incest.” It is catchy. I used it recently and most readers repeated it. However, I received a very thoughtful email from a reader that got me thinking. She said that the term incest was painful to her and minimized its gravity and perhaps I should think about the victims and their painful memories.
I must correct the habit. Perhaps use a more precise term such as “excessive inbreeding.” It is not a question of political correctness, but a desire to be like the cobra.
I may be wrong but I do not believe that the media or the public will show the same consideration toward immigrants and children without medical care.
Getting back to the case of George Zimmerman and his gunning down of Trayvon Martin. When the news reports first came out, reporters fell all over themselves to ascertain his ethnicity. When it was learned that his mother was allegedly Peruvian, the media gave a sigh of relief. Zimmerman was a “Hispanic white.”
However, the Conservative Heritage Times wrote, “George Zimmerman is not white,” adding “In fact, George Zimmerman is a mestizo. His father is white; his mother, Peruvian. Peru is over 85% Amerindian/mestizo. Given the appearance of Zimmerman, he’s obviously a mestizo…Some in the media still insist on calling him a ‘white Hispanic,’ but this is inaccurate, as this term is already designated by demographers to refer to people in Latin America of pure, or almost pure, European ancestry.”
Technically, his mother is American so her origins should not matter. Not much is known about her, for example, her class background. So I think that it is fair to raise the question as to whether Zimmerman was thrown under the bus because he was not all white. Would the question have been raised if he was blond and blue eyed?
In the horrendous case of James Holmes and his indiscriminate shootings in Aurora, Colorado, we are now three days into the slaughter. It was a tragic event. Obviously Holmes looks white so it is not a matter of identification. He is obviously not Middle Eastern or off white like Zimmerman. However, there are millions of Latinos who do not meet the stereotype.
I have yet to hear any of the reporters or talking heads even question Holmes’ ethnicity. Simply in the U.S. today certain ethnic groups are presume to be white and their ethnicity is not suspect.
When I was growing up, Italians and Jews were considered non-whites. I remember Jewish friends telling me that their mothers told them that they should never marry a goy, non-Jew, because she would one day throw up his ethnicity. Italians shared the same status as Jews, although many believed that because they were Caholic that they had an edge.
Today, the terms Jewish-Americans and Italian-Americans are hardly used, with many preferring to be called just Americans. This is the case of Arizona Attorney General Tom Horne, Tucson Unified School District John Pedicone, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio. who are Jewish-American and Italian-Americans. To many, they appear to overcompensate and want to be accepted on the backs of Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants.
This is tragically the case with many Mexican-Americans who say they just happen to be of Mexican ancestry.
Acceptance in the United States reminds me of my deceased golden retriever. When he did not want us to remove him from the bedroom, he would lie stretched out on the floor, thinking he was invisible and if he was invisible he could stay.
The lack of definition in the use of words contributes to this state of mind. Being Mexican-American entitles us to more than being Mexican. We delude ourselves that we are one step from being Americans and thus accepted. The color game gets adds importance by our lack of definition.
Mexicans since the colonial period have had trouble with color, which determined social status. Color not only separated classes but also families where a brother was guero and a sister morena as in the case of my family. We have bought into this absurdity — this blurred American vision of society.
When I took the California State University Northridge students to Tucson, some of my students commented that the people were so light. I gave them an instant history lesson, asking them if they had ever been to Sonora or Guadalajara where there are green-eyed, light-brown-haired Mexicans. Pancho Villa came from San Juan del Rio, Durango, where light-skinned Mexicans are common. Villa appears to be dark from his hours of riding in the sun.
Certainly as in the case of Emiliano Zapata and my sister, many Mexicans are dark; however, color should not be defined by the majority society who uses it to determine who is an American and allocate privilege accordingly.
I for one want to remember that I am a Mexican, I don’t want to be put into that transition stage waiting for acceptance as an American. I am not like Arpaio, Pedicone, and Horne who lie prostrate on the floor like dogs trying to be invisible. I want to remember what it is to be a Mexican in the United States so I can be better than the Arizona xenophobes; I want to treat everyone with dignity. It should not matter what a person looks like to be an American.
Rodolfo F. Acuña
Posted: Monday, 23 July 2012