New Feature: Latino Thursdays

Frito Bandido (Image courtesy of jimhillmedia.com)
Frito Bandido
(image courtesy of jimhillmedia.com)

Please Note: Latino Thursdays isn’t just for Latinos!

Okay. I’ll get right to the point. I can’t say for sure what comes to mind when non-Latinos think about the Latino community. Given a lifetime of interactions with people from all walks of life, I can say that the image isn’t very good, not to mention grossly inaccurate. A long-ago war framed that faulty impression and the modern media is an ongoing source of the blurred representations.

First, let’s consider a quick history lesson. In 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico. Like the Gulf War of 2003, the official justification for war was different than the actual reason, which was the American ambition to acquire the Mexican lands of modern-day California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. As it turned out, the stars and stripes would win the territory as spoils of war.

As in all conflicts, politicians demonized the enemy. A congressional committee in 1845 reasoned that “pure white blood, against a mixed and mongrel race, composed of Indians, negroes and Spaniards, degenerated by the mixture of blood and color” assured victory over Mexico. After the war, California legislators passed the Greaser Act of 1855, which defined vagrants as “all persons who are commonly known as ‘Greaser’ or the issue of Spanish and Indian blood.” A stereotype was born.

The media has been on the front lines of cementing the myth of the lazy, dirty, thieving, simple-minded, drunkard Mexican. Take a minute to watch an old Hollywood western and you’ll see what I mean. My earliest memory of Mexicans on TV was the Frito Bandido advertising campaign from the late 60s and early 70s. I still remember hanging the black cardboard mustaches that came in each bag above my lip so I could look like a marauding bandido. I looked just like my dad, only he wasn’t a bandit.

During the past century, Spanish-speaking people from all over the western hemisphere have come to the United States. Puerto Ricans, Colombians, Dominicans, Salvadorans, others from all points south, and American-born Latinos are all dumped into the same stereotypical bucket. Today, images of Latino drug dealers, gangsters, “illegal” immigrants, and welfare moochers flood the media.

The good news is that in recent years we’ve reversed the” lazy” myth as most Americans believe that Latinos have a strong work ethic. The bad news is that belief applies only to those who toil in menial and back-breaking physical work. The white-collar Latino hasn’t even reached the American consciousness yet.

Despite a growing population and modest inroads in economic and political influence, generalized Latino images still result in unjust misunderstandings. How do I know this? In more than 25 years working at the highest levels of the corporate, local government, and education worlds, I’ve heard non-Latinos say the darnedest things about us. I don’t believe these off-the-cuff comments are made in malice or with racist intent. Rather, the remarks are the result of over 160 years of misinformation started by a war of conquest.

For those who think Latino Thursdays on East Side Eddie Report.com will be a pity party dwelling on past sins and injustices, guess again. A historical review of the distorted picture that is the Latino image provides a foundation to understanding what caused it in the first place. With that knowledge, we can remove some of the barriers and embark on the road to clarification.

So what is a true reflection of Latinos? Some of us are smart and some of us aren’t that smart. There’s a small segment that is bad, evil, and criminal, but a vast majority are people striving to improve their lot in life and make the future better for their families.  We come in black, white, and every shade in between. Latinos are short and tall, gloomy and optimistic, funny and serious, festive and boring.  In short, we’re human beings.

By writing stories, commenting on news events, and doing profiles of people I admire, I’ll give my take on the dynamic, complex and misunderstood being that is the American Latino. Be assured that I won’t just highlight the positive. I plan to provide commentary on the good, the bad, and the ugly.

I’m a fourth generation Mexican American boy from the east side, so keep in mind that my perspective comes from a small segment of a large and diverse group of people. I hope not be the last word on each post. I want to be challenged by Latinos and non-Latinos alike about what I write so I can learn as much as I can about who we are.

That’s what Latino Thursdays is all about. I hope it will be a vehicle to dispel some of the myths and be a source of understanding a community that will represent one-fourth of our nation’s population by century’s end.

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