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Anti-Latino Racism and the Right’s Soft Underbelly

Thursday, May 13, 2010


If the far right in America has another soft underbelly aside from sex (a topic for another column), then it is most certainly race.  Like many Americans across the political spectrum, right-wingers of all racial backgrounds would prefer most of the time not to talk about race, nor even to think about it.  


That is why they do not want to talk about how the reaction to the Michael Steele strip-club scandal might have something to do with his blackness; or about how the Republican Party does not have a single person of color amongst it more than 200 members of the United States House and Senate; or that the explosion of right-wing militias and other hate groups (as documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center) since the election of Barack Obama might have something to do with the color of the new president’s skin.

Enter Travis Rowley’s recent GoLocalProv piece (May 6, 2010), “The Not-So-Wonderful Land of AZ,” which purports to be a column about both race and immigration but is in fact more about Mr. Rowley’s apparent discomfort with both topics. Rowley’s thesis is that legal “Hispanic” immigrants (an ethnic term that itself essentially erases the race of brown people from Mexico and throughout Central America by focusing on their linguistic heritage) are frustrated with illegal “Hispanic” immigrants, and blame them for the profiling that all “Hispanics” in the United States have to endure.

I could just call Mr. Rowley an anti-Latino racist, sit back self-satisfied, and be done with this column, but that would be too satisfying to him—because it would only back up his claim that those who support immigrants’ rights are intellectually and emotionally lazy. So instead, I will suggest that this writer of White Anglo Saxon Protestant descent, as well as many other right-wingers of all colors, are missing a key point when they harp on the difference between legal and illegal in the immigration debate. The point is that more often than not, those first-generation immigrants in this country legally and those here illegally are members of the same family.

The Pew Hispanic Center (which is not a radical left-wing organization) estimates that there are roughly 2 million “mixed families” in the United States, where at least one member is a citizen or lawfully living in the country and at least one member isn't. The vast majority of those families involve an illegal parent and legal children – but they also include siblings who are legal and ones who are not, and even spouses with two different legal statuses.

The idea that these family members would resent each other for their legal statuses would be laughable were it not so dangerous – dangerous precisely because it allows the Right to hide behind the cloak of “legality” when the real issue is the fear many Americans feel about the impending date when this becomes a “majority-minority” country.

Unfortunately for Mr. Rowley and many others, the date that this demographic bomb explodes their majority status will come relatively soon (at least if climate change doesn’t wipe out the planet first.)   Many of us who are white Jewish Americans, who are used to the simultaneous experiences of having white privilege and being part of a three-percent minority, are less worried about our impending loss of one majority status. We don’t forget that even though many of our forebears came here “legally” long before the Holocaust, they were legal only because 100 years ago at Ellis Island they needed little more than to show they lacked a significant disability and a venereal disease.

Peter Asen ([email protected]) lives in Providence, Rhode Island.


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