back-of-barack

Encima De Nuestros Espaldas (On Our Backs)

Jose Vilson Jose 9 Comments

Last night, an enclave of us decided to liveblog the last debate between John McCain and Barack Obama at Hofstra University. While so much of the liveblogging was entertaining (while the debate often droned on), we noticed a few things of particular interest to us:

1) John McCain looks like a hard-pressed thumb
2) Both of their educational positions blow (as a teacher, I got particularly fired up about that)
3) There was no mention of Asians, even in passing.
4) The Latino community really got smacked around from both candidates.

The last one was of particular interest to me because of the implications that that carries for the issues most pertinent to Latinos today, including (but not exclusively) immigration, education, health care, and unemployment. The four main bloggers on last night’s debate immediately screamed immigration when we heard Schiffer mention the “last question,” but to no avail.

My girlfriend mentioned something about Barack Obama that has rung in my ears to this day: as liberal as he is, he still hadn’t talked to the Latino community until he needed votes from us. We also don’t really seem to know what he’s going to do for those Latino interests, especially in volatile places like California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. He bypassed the Latino community throughout much of his campaign, and unfortunately, we see the product of that last night, where he implicitly lambasted countries like Venezuela and Colombia, countries of rich heritage and an even prouder people.

It’s bad enough that just the very image of the word “alien” doesn’t evoke the little green weirdos but a brown-skinned, black-haired man with indigenous features and a Mexican accent, or a dark man with scruffy clothing and a almost-French but more Creole accent. Some people expect Latinos to keep selling oranges on the roadside, to stay behind the hot kitchens of their favorite restaurants, to stay as servants (in some cases locked in the closet so they wouldn’t leave their “master’s” homes). Their language, even when seemingly polite, invites discussion of the foreign, the unfamiliar, the extraterrestrial … something that I for one thought Barack could relate to.

Yet, and contradictorily, they’ll call la migra on them, and people will yell out how these immigrants, whether legal or not, don’t deserve those very jobs that they’re having them do, that they’re scums of the earth when they’re cleaning up your scum, that they shouldn’t have children in this country even as they’re taking care of theirs, and that their language needn’t be so damn pervasive, when all English has ever done for so many of America’s citizens is bar them from really dining in the same table. And of course, if the keymasters in this society say they’re vermin, everyone follows suit, as evidenced by the treatment I’ve seen from people of all colors to our immigrant community.

But here we are in 2008, raids all over the nation, children in classrooms where the teacher hasn’t been trained to teach those who speak more than one language, older folks dismissing those kids listening to reggaeton and neglecting their intelligences, and hipsters appropriating Tex-Mex and calling it as authentic as “El Paso,” whatever that means. I’m struggling with this idea of united Latinos, but I’m struggling even more with the oppressive nature of these politricks. And while I may understand that people in the US may have their beefs with Colombia and Venezuela, but if that’s what any presidential nominee wants to concentrate their efforts on in this time of critical change in this American population, then frankly, fuck it.

Yes, I said it. Fuck that. It’s time for people to rise up.

jose, standing opposite the mainstream thought …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 9

  1. nezua

    word. we have to look out for ourselves and it comes down to organizing on small and big scales—ORGANIZAING, which of course is a lowdown activity unless it applies to only a certain “type” of person.

  2. Joel

    As I begin my fifth year teaching on the Texas-Mexico border, I am amazed by how ignorant I was of the Mexican culture. Since moving here, I am diving into the culture and I really enjoy it.

    Now that my eyes have begun to be opened, I realize just how superficial all of the Hispanic politicking I have seen has been. It’s much like watching Vanilla Ice — it’s totally contrived, and just trying to tap into a lucrative market.

  3. Bam

    Maybe I am not in touch enough with my culture. But I’m going to be very honest here because I love you Jose and I know I can.

    Do you really think that outside of the skin he wears daily that Barak has specifically addressed Blacks? This post suggests you do. I have loosely followed this campaign, I admit, but to some degree, it seems his complexion and his culture have been only grazed in an attempt to avoid the pink elephant in the room. And honestly, I don’t see why Barak has to speak to any cultural community specifically.

    I think he needs to speak to the lower class, the middle class and the upper class, which he has. Regardless of the message, he has addressed each grouping of the American people. Not by social affiliation, but by class…

    I for one am sick of being separated by my damn skin color and heritage, and I think slightly worse than the Blacks at this are the Latino’s. Funny, I am affiliated with both culturally obsessed communities. Dear God, imagine if I was also part Asian.

    It is the (future) presidents duty to address the American population as a whole. I mean any social group can pick up and say, “you know he didn’t address the American Indian population.” Can he or McCain address every group culturally? Its impossible because people in America especially make issue with separation among cultures.

    I realize the Latino community is a large and fast growing segment of our nations population. As are the Asians. I am not belittling y/our voting power… I’m just saying, I’d just rather you pick him apart because he hasn’t said what you agree with for education or Health Care or Energy dependence or the state of the economy or hell, something that relates to all Americans. (And you did mention the fit you had about education).

    Get off the culture issue, (this includes you and these damn politicians). It’s wearing thin and its not shit any one president elect can do about it. They are social issues we as Blacks and Latino’s and whatever the hell else is out there reading, have a responsibility to work through.

    *sigh

    Anyway. JMO.
    B.

  4. Post
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    Jose

    nezua, the stereotypes that come with organizing is amazing, but I guess we have a reason to do so. Others may not so whatever reasons, apathy being one of them.

    Joel, your Vanilla Ice comparison was hilarious. My eyes popped out of my head.

    Kev, thanks a mil for dropping by.

    Bam, you know I respect your opinion too, and to an extent I agree: he should address people by class as a whole, but I also look at some of the pervasive issues of our cultures and frankly, some issues just have very little to do with any other communities the way that immigration and bi-lingual education the way it affects Latinos. And while it’s true that we want our “president” to address class more than race, unfortunately, much of the conversation was about “Joe the Plumber” which is a specific name for middle class whites, and that’s really unfortunate.

    And I’m not saying that Barack should cater to every culture, but throughout his campaign, he’s made stops at typically African-American places, especially churches. Many of his “big buzz” speeches came about because of race, not just the “race” speech, but also the “father” speech.

    Maybe I’m asking too much from a president to not just give a stump speech and lip service to specific communities when he or she needs your votes. Again, we’re not in disagreement in principle, but his actions are different than what we’re envisioning.

  5. Bam

    I feel you Jose. But look at where Palin and McCain gave their speeches: Places where Joe the Plumber and his toilet friends would be. Thats to be expected, who will have a rally where you don’t know if the people will receive you well? No candidate, and clearly much of the Latino population is giving Barak the side eye.

    Additionally, while I understand the need for change in area’s that specifically affect Latino’s (as well as in area’s that specifically affect blacks), all I am saying is that perhaps if it were framed up as not just a LATINO issue, but an issue with a specific class of people, (immigrants also tend to be lower class), then the bleed is more likely to get plugged.

    I’d be irritated as hell if he just got up talking about “I want to address Bi-Lingual education for Latino students…” Hold the damn phone, can you address some of this other major shit that affects everyone? Which in my opinion are the things people mostly ask about, ie healthcare.

    No offense, you know I love that you teach and greatly respect what you do – I just can’t entirely support your position on this one.

    It was a great post though. You know I had put you down for a while with the extra vague topics.

    Later babe.
    B.

  6. Post
    Author
    Jose

    But if we look at the numbers i.e. the polls, as many as 60% of the Latino community is supporting the Democratic position, despite evidence to the contrary. And secondly, no one’s saying that he has to say “bi-lingual education for Latinos,” but to speak about bi-lingual education for US citizens in need of it is a far-reaching issue for many, but that kind of issue directly affects the community. In other words, no politician should have to say that they’re all about a certain race of people, but they can certainly talk to issues pertaining to that set of people so they too feel included.

    This election, much like any other election, uses certain hot-button issues to separate people’s identity. Republicans use the abortion issue to isolate “fundamentalist” Christians from everyone else, speaking to them at their own churches. Democrats would go to Baptist churches to discuss unemployment and welfare. They never had to say “Black people” or “White people”, but they touched on the issues pertaining to that culture, and that’s the point.

    Politics is all about identity these days. As much as we can try to divorce one from the other, that’s not what it’s about, and that isn’t what this election has been about.

    So when I see some candidates prefer one issue over others, and Barack only really discusses immigration on his website (by the way, notice how the issue of immigration is implicitly tied to Mexicans even though it also affects Irishmen, Haitians, Dominicans, etc. ), it sends out a strong and not-so-subtle message. It’s not about whether I teach or not, btw; I’d still hold these positions even if I didn’t or rather, I held them even when I didn’t. It’s about my beliefs. Tis all.

    And no one’s going to be everything to everyone, so maybe my standards are too high.

  7. Grace

    Read your GREAT promo on ProBlogger and came to visit. :-)

    Have lived for many years in Hispanic communities of Arizona and New Mexico. HATE the hypocrites that want to fence ‘us’ in and ‘them’ out.

    But I am also aware of the hardships encountered in Mexico for immigrants coming through from Central and South America, and also for those border farmers that have to contend with trash and broken fences along well worn river routes.

    Not a simple problem. No simple solutions. Which is why I get wary of policiticans–from either party–who talk in sound bites. G.

  8. Post
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    Jose

    Thanks for coming by. I need to take that promo and save it somewhere. Anyways, you’re right: soundbites are dangerous. Let’s work in PLANS, and thorough PLANS, not just what they “might” do.

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