Saturday, April 14, 2007

21st Century Racism

Ya know, as I have played with what this blog should focus on, I have tried to stay away from topics related to work and politics. For one, I try to stay impartial when it comes to the topics that I cover at work - and chiming in them in a personal blog would taint me, I think. (Plus, I'd have to tell my boss about my personal blog and really don't think I want to extend that formal invitation. If people stumble upon it, then that's fine, but the invitation... nah.) Second, There are already so many people spewing their two cents on the political state of this country and world that I just don't want to be another.

But here's a topic that I feel the need to say something about: Racism in the 21st Century.

As a Latino growing up in California, I never really experienced much racism. Oh sure, there were always small snide remarks but it seems that Californians were equal opportunity racists - we all got under each other's skin: Black folks, Latinos, Asians, Indians, and, of course, Whites. But living in the East Coast has shown me what a Black-and-White mentality that still exists in some parts of the country - and with news of illegal immigration being spewed about by those who want to hide the horrible political, global and economic state of the USA under the Bush Administration, it's been enlightening to see how racism toward us Brown folks is alive and well.

I'm sure everyone out there has heard of the firing of Don Imus, the radio DJ who referred to the members of the women's basketball team at Rutgers as "Nappy-headed Ho's." It's dominated the news coverage - and with good reason. Who in their right mind says something like that about innocent college students whose only reason for being in the spotlight is because they're playing for a national championship? It's not like they wrongly accused some college Lacrosse players of a heinous crime (that's a different story, of course.)

But how many have heard about the controversy surrounding an upcoming PBS documentary called "The War?" It is a 14-hour (yes, FOURTEEN HOURS) piece that looks at those who served this country in World War II. It was six years in the making - SIX YEARS - and the director interviewed HUNDREDS of veterans about their experiences. He even broke out separate stories to highlight the unique African-American and Japanese-American experiences.

Wanna know how many Latinos he talked to? NONE. NOT ONE. ZERO. In the United States of America. In the 21st Century.

Latinos rallied from coast to coast. No, not newly-arrived immigrants who are literally trying to keep a low profile in cities like Herndon, Virginia or Hazelton, Pennsylvania. These Latinos are people like me - second- and third-generation Latino-Americans who take pride in the members of their families who fought to keep this country free. In my own publication, there was little interest in this story - until PBS backpedaled and agreed to a pathetic and lame way of trying to shut us up, with add-on clips about the Latino experience during commercial breaks and on the DVD (which I will NOT be buying.) Give me a break. When my publication was finally interested, it appeared in a TV column - after news of the most recent departure on American Idol... (I've purposely not linked here - separation of blog and work, ya know...)

I'd like to think we're a more civilized nation now. But apparently I'm wrong. Since arriving here almost two years ago, I have never in my life been more exposed to racism (check the reader comments in the link).

* I recently attended a formal event in DC and was shaking hands with some people, introducing myself. I shook hands with an older Caucasian man (who, without stereotyping, resembled Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard). I told him my name and he got a funny look on his face and said, "How do you spell your name?" I knew he was waiting to see if that was a "z" in my last name... So I replied: S-A-M.

* Shortly after we arrived in DC, we attended a work holiday party. A colleague that I had not yet met said hello and, in the small talk, asked me where I finally settled. I replied that we were living up in Rockville, MD. Her response: "Oh, Montgomery County. It's a lovely place up there. So nice... well, you know, it was... until all the Latino people started moving in."

* I really saw no reason to pay someone to clean my yard for me - after all, I have my own mower, edger and blower and a healthy-and-strong 22-year-old brother-in-law who can get out there and help. One day, we were out there, cleaning the yard and bagging all the clippings when one of my new neighbors wandered over to say hello and shoot the breeze. He commented about me doing my own yard and, with a bit of a chuckle, said, "Ya know... Don't be offended if someone drives by and stops to ask how much you charge."

After that, I hired a white guy to cut the lawn.