Marcos Bretón

Marcos Breton: Why race and ethnicity matter in Capitol scandals

When you raise the of topic race or ethnicity, you sometimes have to explain yourself further.

In my column Sunday about the corruption scandals enveloping the state Capitol, I wrote: “As a Mexican American, I also was appalled that the three accused politicos are African American, Latino and Asian.”

For some, that one remark in a 900-word piece about the controversies is what jumped out. “Wow, you are one weird dude,” a reader wrote. “What is it with you and your politically correct racism?”

On Twitter, a follower commented: “Always have to add race to it. Big deal if (Ron) Calderon is Mexican or (Leland Yee) is Chinese.”

Clearly, no one group corners the market on sin or virtue. Three state senators suspended for alleged violations of law is a black mark for everyone.

But my personal feelings for Calderon, Yee and Rod Wright, who is African American, do run deeper because of their races and ethnicities. They don’t have to be your feelings, but they are mine, because I remember how difficult it was to affect diversity at the ballot box.

If diversity is a dirty word to you, then yes – we disagree.

My feelings come from remembering the pioneering “firsts” in politics who were supported by communities once on the fringes of our society. I remember the marches, boycotts and lawsuits that broke up old political power bases and created opportunities for candidates from different backgrounds.

I remember my eyes opened to the struggle for integration, the lessons learned in college and from my own parents, who took to the picket lines to improve pay and conditions in the low-skill jobs they once held in factories where California’s bounty of fruits and vegetables was processed.

I remember the time before there was an ascending Asian middle class in California and before Asians were often viewed – for better or worse – as whiz kids and “Tiger Moms.” I knew Japanese Americans who were interned in California concentration camps during World War II and the Chinese who were targeted by those who couldn’t tell the difference between Chinese and Japanese people.

I remember the day Martin Luther King Jr. was murdered and the day Jesse Jackson entered his name in nomination for the presidency of the United States.

I’m 51. It wasn’t that long ago that minority groups had to fight for representation in elected office, and, in my opinion, Wright, Calderon and Yee have besmirched the history that helped get them where they are today – a history that was forged by hardworking people wanting their share of America.

They let those people down, and each of the three senators is old enough to know that. Yes, they violated a public trust that is color blind. Yes, they should be held to a higher standard. Yes, they should resign. Yes, we all share the same democracy.

Many of us share the same feelings of outrage about this debacle, though our perspectives on why may differ.

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