SAN DIEGO – Disinterest is a first cousin to ignorance. If you’re not interested in a subject, don’t be surprised if you wind up ignorant about it.
This is how it is with Latinos in America. The largest minority is also one of the least understood. America still operates within a black-and-white paradigm, even though there are several U.S. cities where Latinos outnumber both blacks and whites. See Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami.
You won’t find many Latinos in Hollywood, or on the Sunday morning political shows – even when we’re the ones being talked about.
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But we’re just about everywhere else, living in each of the 50 states and accounting for one in six Americans. Still, oddly enough, millions of our fellow Americans don’t know the first thing about us – or even have the slightest desire to learn.
Most Latinos are fluent in American culture. And why not? In some cases, we’ve been marinating in it for hundreds of years. Yet by and large, this is a one-way street. Most non-Latinos haven’t done their homework on the large and growing tribe living among them.
If they had, they’d know that there is no such thing as “La Raza,” shorthand for the mythical organization that many white people fear is busy hatching a plan to avenge past injustices by doing to them in this century some of what was done to Latinos in the last. Those paranoid fantasies are driven less by reality than by a collective guilty conscience.
There is the San Diego La Raza Lawyers Association, which is a professional organization of mainstreamed lawyers and judges. I’ve spoken to the group, and I found it perfectly harmless. I saw a bunch of light-skinned Latinos who went to private colleges and speak English better than they do Spanish, some of them married to white people and living in the suburbs. If the nativists are right and there is a revolution afoot, these folks are hardly the tip of the spear.
The group’s members include Gonzalo Curiel, a U.S. District Court judge who risked his life to go after Mexican drug dealers while serving as a federal prosecutor and now must contend with a scourge that is arguably even more odious: Donald Trump.
Curiel is hearing a case against Trump University, and the businessman insists that Curiel, a U.S.-born American of Mexican descent, is ethnically predisposed to be unfair to him. According to Trump, the problem is that Curiel is a “Mexican.” The presumptive Republican presidential nominee has promised to build a 2,000-mile-long wall between Mexico and the United States. Trump assumes this pipe dream has created hard feelings between him and the judge, even if Curiel’s connection to Mexico is, shall we say, rather tenuous. While he was prosecuting Mexican drug traffickers, his life was threatened and he spent a year under the protection of federal agents.
The lawyers group in San Diego is not to be confused with the National Council of La Raza, which claims to promote the interests of Latinos but somehow never gets beyond promoting its own interest. I’ve spoken to that group, too, and I’ve written about it for two decades. Here’s what you need to know: The NCLR is basically a front for white liberals, and the organization is run by the corporations and foundations that fund its programs. It’s not separatist. It’s capitalist.
In 2010, after Arizona passed an ugly immigration law that essentially required local and state police officers to racially profile Latinos, grassroots outfits launched a boycott of the state that NCLR officials eventually put an end to – despite the fact that the boycott wasn’t theirs to end.
By the way, a former vice president of the organization who specialized in immigration is Cecilia Munoz. She now works in the Obama White House where, as chief apologist for the president, she specializes in coming up with rationales for deporting record numbers of immigrants.
And this is the group that white folks in America are so afraid of? Really? The NCLR is not hate-filled. It’s housebroken.
Meanwhile, with many Republicans scurrying away from Trump’s comments about Curiel, the offender is going on the offensive. Trump has told surrogates to turn the tables on reporters who ask about his comments regarding the judge and accuse the journalists of being racist for buying into “identity politics.” After all, the thinking must go, it takes a racist to see racism where it doesn’t exist.
Sadly, though, it does exist in this case. And Trump is the only racist in the room.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.