Columnist Ruben Navarrette, Jr. is very proud of his Mexican heritage and makes this a central theme in many of his writings. His pride is so great, apparently, that when those of equal or greater Mexican heritage oppose amnesty for illegal aliens, specifically ones entering the United States through its southwestern border, he is nothing short of outraged. Enter former Massachusetts governor and Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney, whose father was born in a Chihuahua Mormon colony and later emigrated to America. Being “just one generation removed from our ancestral homeland,” Navarrette proclaims, Romney might become our “first Hispanic president.”
Here we go:
“This is ironic given that I’ve spent the last 20 years criticizing politicians who twist the facts, propose simple solutions, and pick on those who don’t have a voice….Romney has spent the last several months doing precisely that,” he continues. It gets better, though: “Listen up, Primo Mitt. You’ve made your bed. You’re persona non grata with Latino voters, and it’s your own fault. You can’t win without them, but they can help make sure you lose. We don’t care where your family’s from. What matters is where your heart is.” There was quite a bit in between these quotes, but, believe me, not a line of it was worth your time.
I will not beat around the bush in stating my opinion about Navarrette. As far as I am concerned, he is no objective analyst or impartial historian, but somebody who makes a profession out of being a perceived sociocultural minority. People like him serve as the Al Sharptons and Jesse Jacksons of the Hispanic realm; nothing more and nothing less. They contribute very little of substance to the national dialogue, but detract a great deal from it. In Navarrette’s tribalist alternate reality, one is bound to look after those sharing his or her ancestry. Whether this is good for the individual in question, or contemporary society as a whole, matters not a whit. If you had Mexican forefathers, then you should be unflinchingly sympathetic to the plight of Mexicans, even if they break the laws of your real homeland; the country of which you are actually a citizen.
This sort of primitive nonsense cannot even be described as ethnicity-based due to the fact that there is no such thing as a Mexican ethnicity. As Navarrette essentially puts it, the issue here is Hispanic solidarity. What does the term Hispanic really mean, though? Many afford it with pseudo-racial, let alone ethnic, significance, but it merely denotes an extremely broad social and historical concept of those descending from Spaniard settlers of present-day Latin America. For Navarrette and his ilk, however, this definition might as well include an actual genetic tie amongst those choosing to identify with it.
I could opt to brand myself as a Hispanic, at least to a certain extent. As I mentioned last year, my father’s family is, by and large, Sephardic Jewish. The surname Cotto was devised by Italian Jews, probably as a variant of Cohen, and can be traced back to 1500s Rome. I am related to many other Sephardic families, but none more prestigious than the Abramils, a Spanish rendition of Abravanel, whose members can track their lineage to King David himself. All were forced to leave southern Europe for Puerto Rico during the Spanish Inquisition’s waning years. Under the threat of death or severe public harassment, those who did not convert to Catholicism practiced Judaism in strict secrecy until nearly the dawn of the twentieth century.
Am I now ethnically Hispanic as opposed to ethnically Sephardic simply because my forefathers, through no choice of their own, lived in a certain region controlled by an imperialist bully? According to Navarrette, who deems Romney as Hispanic despite the latter having only northern European ancestry, the answer would almost definitely be yes. I say that no man or woman of sound mind should consider this rabid collectivism for even an instant. The label syndrome has not only hit politics, as I write about frequently, but the extraordinarily personal subject of one’s own heritage.
At the end of the day, we should not define ourselves by where our respective families came from. We are all here in the United States right now, and that is what truly counts. By building bridges instead of barriers in life, the benefits of a cultural melting pot can be fully appreciated. Navarrette’s rhetoric, and the sociopolitical ideology derived from it, deserves to be relegated to its rightful place in the ash heap of history. By doing this, we will have taught ourselves a very important lesson: to treat those around us as individuals, not members of a sketchily defined group.
One would think that most would have learned this by now. I suppose that the most obvious of facts are often the most difficult to see.