SAN DIEGO – One of my Mexican grandfather’s favorite sayings was: Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres. Simply put, people judge you by the company you keep.
When we last tuned in to the sad but predictable telenovela starring Javier Palomarez, the president and CEO of the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce was taking fire from Hispanics for keeping company with President Donald Trump.
Once an outspoken backer of Hillary Clinton, Palomarez went from publicly mocking Trump during the election to later meeting with Trump staff at the White House. At one point, Palomarez claimed that he had been invited to join the White House’s diversity council. The administration denied this. And when Trump ended the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, Palomarez resigned in protest from a council that it’s not clear he was ever part of.
Still, Palomarez was good at promoting Palomarez. So good that some thought he might be offered a position with the Trump administration.
It would have been a pay cut. In 2015, Palomarez’s reported compensation - including bonuses - was $611,015.
But suddenly that government job looks pretty good. Amid accusations of sexual harassment and financial impropriety – which came to light after a messy extramarital affair with a Latina businesswoman who sat on the USHCC board – Palomarez has been ousted.
And the reputation of the country’s oldest Hispanic business group – which claims to represent 4.4 million Hispanic-owned businesses in the United States that contribute at least $700 billion annually to the U.S. economy – is in shambles.
You can chalk this up to the #MeToo movement, if you like. But Palomarez’s troubles began when he got too close to Trump, which opened him up to heightened scrutiny.
A little context. For Hispanics, these are not normal times, and this is no ordinary president. Having gone out of his way to woo white voters by antagonizing America’s largest minority, Trump is to Hispanics in 2018 what Alabama Gov. George Wallace was to African-Americans in the 1960s.
Thus any Hispanic who aligns himself with Trump sacrifices his credibility and distances himself from the community.
A lot of Americans worry about “fake news.” But if they tune in to cable TV and see someone with a brown face supporting Trump, they’ve caught a glimpse of a fake Hispanic.
Sometimes all it takes to end up on the outs with other Hispanics is to express support for a policy proposal put forth by Trump, such as his recent 3-for-1 swap on immigration.
The president has said that he will support legal status and a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million Dreamers if he gets $25 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the elimination of the diversity visa lottery, and an end to so-called chain migration.
That’s a good deal – especially since Democrats don’t have a serious counter-proposal. As a columnist, I can say that.
Apparently, one person who can’t say it is Roger Rocha, who serves as the national president of the League of United Latin American Citizens. After Rocha sent a letter to Trump in support of the swap, LULAC members and the heads of local chapters demanded Rocha’s resignation. Under pressure, he put out a press release saying that he regretted sending the letter. But he has not apologized for the content, which suggests he still supports the deal.
Meanwhile, Palomarez isn’t offering any apologies either. He probably should. He made mistakes, even if he won’t admit it.
When a reporter from The New York Times asked him about the accusations of impropriety, he said: “I categorically deny these troubling allegations.” And after his departure was announced, in a statement put out by the USHCC, Palomerez said he was “extremely proud” of his tenure.
Here’s the question: Do you care about any of this?
To be honest, I didn’t – not at first. I started getting pitched bits and pieces of this story about 18 months ago by some well-placed sources who hoped I’d write a column about the fiasco and expose Palomarez’s alleged wrongdoing.
I passed. And I did so for the same reason that I’m ambivalent about the story now.
Organizations like the USHCC and LULAC dug their own graves over the last few decades by neglecting and forgetting about the people they claim to represent. The people who lead these groups have become elitists who breathe rarified air and often get too close to the powerful.
Once that happens, it’s hard to find much sympathy from the community they left behind.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is email@example.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.