Sharron Angle, the Republican contender for Harry Reid's Senate seat in Nevada, created a stir this week as she responded to a group of Hispanic students' concerns over several of her ads that demonize immigrants as people who come to steal jobs and kill decent Real Americans. They thought one ad in particular demonized Hispanic people, showing men passing a fence at night, and so Angle responded:
"What we want is a secure and sovereign nation and, you know, I don't know that all of you are Latino. Some of you look a little more Asian to me. I don't know that," Angle said at the event organized by the Hispanic Student Union and with only Hispanic students in attendance. "What we know about ourselves is that we are a melting pot in this country. My grandchildren are evidence of that. I'm evidence of that. I've been called the first Asian legislator in our Nevada State Assembly."
And so, because liberals don't know how to discuss immigration out of the context of race (more specifically, without calling the other side racist and ending the debate there), she was called racist by every liberal with a platform this week. Joan Walsh, calling the encounter "the heart of what's so wrong with some of these emerging Tea Party leaders," wrote:
Sharron Angle did a decent impression of a reasonable human being last week during her debate with poor Harry Reid. But any ground she gained has been surrendered this week in a controversy over an anti-immigration ad that clearly dealt with Mexican immigrants. Angle chose to deny the point of her ad and actually met with Mexican and Mexican American students to reassure them she wasn't targeting their people in the ad. In fact, she said with deep and proud ignorance, she didn't know they were all Latino, because some of them look Asian! She revealed her deep bewilderment with America in 2010, where our children come in all colors, and it's never a badge of honor to see we actually think they're some race they aren't.
Is that really what Angle was trying to say? Was her point really that it's "a badge of honor" to be told you look Asian? I thought her point was that you can't always tell someone's race just by looking at them (much less grainy, black-and-white video of them), not that she was telling them they were awesome because they looked Asian.
Here's digby, after she called Angle a "racist, fundamentalist moron" and repeated the original reporter's claim that "The whole room is Hispanic teenagers," as if he actually asked everyone in the room what their race was:
Seriously, this woman shouldn't be allowed to drive much less be allowed to serve in the US Senate.
Keep in mind that besides the total idiocy of the comment itself, at the same event she claimed that her racist ad didn't necessarily feature Latinos
The NY Times quotes a mixed race activist who's Native, white, and Chinese but is often mistaken for Hispanic:
"We are more complex than our phenotype," said Mr. Gong, the past president of Mavin, an advocacy group for mixed-race families, and the co-founder of the Mixed Race Heritage Center, an information clearinghouse. "People have the right to self-identify in this country, on the census or in personal actions."
He said Ms. Angle's comments to the students were "a strong reflection of her sense of entitlement to identify them as she wants, not as they want."
I'm sure Sharron Angle has plenty of entitlement issues, but I don't see that in this specific statement from her. She's not saying that she wants the students to be Asian, or that since she thinks they're Asian that that makes them Asian, she's just saying that she thinks some of them look Asian. Which is different.
Anyway, when I first read her comments, my first thought was, "Yeah, some of us could pass for Asian." It's not really surprising as most people identified as Hispanic in the West are of Mexican or Central American heritage, and most Mexicans and Central Americans who come to the US are of Native descent (the Rio Grande didn't actually divide the pre-Columbian American people neatly into "Indian" and "Hispanic"; that was an invention by white people that came much later). And the original Americans, as we all learned in school, came across a land-bridge that linked Alaska to Asia, as late as 15,000 years ago, not a long time in evolutionary history. Is it really that shocking to say that people whose ancestors are from Asia look Asian?
Moreover, there are plenty of people of more recent Asian descent living in Latin America. Alberto Fujimori (right) was born in Lima, Peru, and became president of that country in the 90's. He looks pretty Asian as his family came from Japan, and since the word "Hispanic" has no precise meaning there's no reason he can't or shouldn't identify as Hispanic as well if he lived in the United States, just as there are plenty of Americans who "look Asian" who are as American as anyone else.
I've already posted about the slipperiness of the term "Hispanic" as a racial identifier. The problem, briefly, is that people from countries south of the US come in all colors. Even the idea of la Raza, or a Hispanic race, is based on the mixture of Native and European peoples, as Europeans colonized the New World and didn't ethnically cleanse Latin America as much as they did in what's currently the US. There were also Latin American countries where African slaves were forced to work, there are Spanish people who came to the Americas who are of North African descent as that country was occupied by Moors for several centuries, and there are plenty of East Asian and Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants who went to Latin America to live in the past couple centuries.
"Hispanic" doesn't actually exist in Latin America, it's an American creation, and in Latin American countries people's races are "European" or "Mayan" or "Quechua" or "mestizo," not "Hispanic." It's not useful to label everyone the same race in an entire group of countries, countries with racist power dynamics and violent ethnic histories.
And who's to say that any of those people aren't Hispanic if that's how they identify. It reminds me of an argument I got into with a German at a youth hostel when I was backpacking a few years ago, where he asked me what my nationality was, and I said "American." I always say I'm American here and always get bizarre responses ("You're not like most Americans!" is one of my least favorite), but that German was one of the few people who tried to actually convince me that I was "Spanish," not American, even without me saying that my family is from Argentina. I just looked Spanish, and so I was, to the exclusion of American-ness. That was insulting, but if he just said I look Spanish and left it at that I wouldn't mind (I get that one enough in Europe).
People can be both Hispanic and Asian at the same time, and liberals saying that someone who's Hispanic can't be Asian as well, or can't even look like another race because, I guess, everyone who's Hispanic looks the same, is actually what I find offensive here. It's as if you have to fit neatly into one little box or else white Americans just don't know what to do with you. Some people do, some people don't. Instead of mass labels, maybe we could listen to what people say they are?
The reporter who covered the event is the one who said no Asian people were in the room when he wrote "The whole room is Hispanic teenagers." How did he know that? Did he ask everyone who attended? It was a Hispanic group's meeting, but that doesn't mean that there weren't people of other races, like Sharron Angle herself and at least one journalist.
If he did somehow know that everyone was Hispanic, did he know much else about their heritages? Did he ask for a family tree to make sure that no one had any Asian ancestors?
I'm guessing he did a quick scan and just assumed and assigned a race to the entire room, and now white people who didn't even go to the event are taking his word without question since the video just shows the backs of a few people's heads. And then they accuse someone else of entitlement for assigning people a race.
Some people who are Hispanic don't look like what most people think of when they think of "Hispanic." And some people look Hispanic who aren't at all. Can you look at that video an say with absolute certainty that the men near the fence are Mexican?
I sure couldn't say what race or nationality those men are without context clues, but I don't think it matters all that much as the debate on immigration, especially undocumented immigration, centers around latinos in the US. Feigning ignorance is just silly - does she actually think Nevadans would interpret her ad as referring to anyone else, no matter where the actors were from?
Even so, I'm still wondering why liberals are rushing to label her racist for these specific comments. If the video showed a few blonds (who, by the way, could still be Hispanic) crossing the border and then said that they were coming to steal and wreak havoc, then that's anti-immigrant fear-mongering. But would liberals care if it were just anti-immigrant sentiment in that video?
I'm amazed by the amount of trouble my brother's German girlfriend is having getting a work visa in the US, considering she's educated, white, from a first-world country, had a decent job in Germany, has necessary job skills for the US, no criminal record.... They've decided to go the marriage route, but even that's expensive ($1300 for the visa), unsure (she still doesn't have it), and a whole lot of work. My mother, who immigrated to the US from Argentina 30 years ago, told me that a lot has changed since then. The American immigration system is a tough nut to crack and doesn't do anything to help even people who have legitimate reasons to come to the US. That's wrong no matter what race it affects.
It's getting harder in this world to decide to live outside the country you were born in as governments are regulating people's lives more closely. I've had a fair amount of visa trouble here in France, which is still plenty easier than the US to get into. What's made it even more annoying was the comments along the lines of "Oh, well, you're American, so it's easy to live wherever you want." Except, no, it's not, and I ended up going the civil union route this past week because it was just easier than finding an employer in this economy who's willing to pay a huge tax and do tons of paperwork to hire a non-EU citizen who doesn't have any technical skills a French citizen doesn't have or any language skills a UK or Irish citizen doesn't have. (And, yes, I do recognize the privilege that comes with being able to get my first few visas into this country, as college education and being a native English speaker were necessary, which gave me enough time to meet a French citizen and make the civil union route both possible and necessary.)
So when I watch Sharron Angle's ad, I just see someone who thinks she knows best where people ought to live, who's lying to real Americans about why they're facing economic troubles by blaming America's favorite scapegoat (used as a scapegoat even back when most immigrants in the US were white), and who thinks that the only problem with America's broken immigration system is that it isn't tough enough on immigrants. That's profoundly troubling to me, no matter which race she's talking about.
On the other side, there are liberals who say, "That's racist, portraying Hispanics that way! But as for the immigration system itself, then, fine, whatever, who cares." Even the argument that all discussions of immigration, whether they mention latino people or not, are racist ignores the fundamental problem of xenophobia. When did anti-immigrant rhetoric become so normalized that the only way decent people will care about it is when it looks racist?
Immigrants built the US, and those immigrants were of every race on the planet. There's no evidence that immigrants are more violent than everyone else. Instead of worrying about an immigrant stealing a job, when an immigrant is also a consumer who adds to aggregate demand and increases the need for jobs in the US, worry about the greedheads fighting jobs-creation programs that our country could afford if it would just tax large incomes and capital at an appropriate level. Immigrants who pay taxes have less access to social services than everyone else, and if there's any shortage of money for safety net programs, look to the people who wasted the country's wealth on two senseless wars and tax cuts for the uber-wealthy, not the parent looking for a decent education for her child.
Is that misdirection of anger based only or mostly on racism in the US? I'm not so sure, as Americans in generations past were completely willing to blame white immigrants for their economic woes and they weren't any less racist than Americans today.
There is a real problem with America's immigration system, and it's not just racism. It's that there are people who want to maintain a system that brings a large group of laborers afraid of seeking help from the law in the country, while others just want to decrease immigration generally because they're afraid that there isn't enough wealth in the US to go around. A person should have the right to live in any region of the world where they feel comfortable and able to achieve their potential, and the only thing standing in the way of that world is the insecurity of some people that their homes will be changed for the worse if dangerous foreign people lived there.
And even if someone were making an argument for forcing everyone to spend their entire lives in the country they were (un)lucky enough to be born and made it completely un-racist, they're still wrong. But if liberals weren't allowed to call the other side racist, would they know how to deal with anti-immigrant sentiment? More importantly, how can we argue for a better immigration system when our understanding of the issue isn't much deeper than bad people being racist and good people being pro-diversity?