Sunday, January 20, 2008

Obama and the Latino Vote in the NY Times

I found this interesting article over at Abdul Halim's blog Planet Grenada.

Obama and the Latino Vote in the NY Times

(Baseball star David Ortiz, aka "Big Papi," just one of the millions of Afro-Latinos ignored - again - by the New York Times)

There are many things to admire about the New York Times. A complex and nuanced understanding of the vast diversity of Latino America is not among those things.

In a story on page A1 of the Times yesterday, reporters Adam Nagourney and Jennifer Steinhauer stated that Latinos are not going to support Senator Barack Obama in his bid for the White House because, “in Obama’s pursuit of Latinos, race plays a role.” In other words, they said that Latinos would not vote for a black man, and backed it up with nothing other than a couple of anecdotal quotes from random Latinos in Los Angeles.

The sloppy, inaccurate story goes on for 32 agonizing paragraphs, using the terms “black” and “Latino” as though they were mutually exclusive – which they are not. Historians estimate that 95 percent of the African slave trade to the Americas took place in Latin America.

To this day, the vast majority of people in the African diaspora live south of the U.S. border, in Latin American countries from Brazil to Colombia to Cuba and, yes, even Mexico. The song "La Bamba," in fact, was brought to the Veracruz region of Mexico by Africans enslaved to the Spanish. The song likely has roots in the Bembe (Bantu) culture from what is now the Congo. This is only a stone's throw, geographically, from the Kenya of Obama's father's birth.

How quickly we forget in this country. How brutally we refuse to learn.

The New York Times not only ignores completely the African history of Latin America by positioning "blacks" against "Latinos" as if none of us were both. To do so is enormously irresponsible because it dissolves from public consciousness the fact that African slavery was a crime committed all across this hemisphere, by colonial Europeans who spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese and French. The story also erroneously portrays Latinos as a race unto themselves - an error egregious enough to be stated in our own census bureau's definition of Hispanic as a person "of any race". Including "black".

The miserable Times story also uses “Latino” as a synonym for “Spanish-speaking,” which is as useless and ignorant as would be the assumption that all French-Americans speak French. Most Latinos in the US do not speak Spanish well. Many pretend they can, because they are afraid of being laughed at or called pochos by all those other Latinos pretending they speak Spanish. But the truth is: Most of us cannot speak Spanish after the second generation. This assimilation pattern is no different from that of the Germans, or the Italians. It's just that the Times, like the rest of Big Media, seems to have confused "immigrant" with "Latino" - another huge error. The Times story actually says Latinos are new to the American Southwest. Did they forget "Arizona" "Nevada" "California" "Colorado" "Montana" and even the city of the story's dateline, "Las Vegas" are SPANISH WORDS? Jesus Christ. New here? C'mon. Some of us are. Some of us, clearly, are not.

It is not difficult to find information about the long history of Latinos in America, or Afro-Latinos, or even on linguistic preference among Latinos in the United States; among those who will vote (citizens) the vast majority are English-dominant and do not speak Spanish well enough to consume media in that language.

Mysteriously, the story opens with Hillary Clinton eating a taco (at King Taco, with Villaraigosa, no less) in East Los Angeles. It is one of three taco references in the story. Need we remind the Times that tacos are no ubiquitous among the nation's diverse Latinos? Or that tacos are considered mainstream American fare? Or that tacos, if you trace their ethnographic lineage, are actually Native American in origins?

Tacos. Latinos. East Los Angeles. Villaraigosa. It's like a bad movie. I would laugh if it weren’t so pathetic. I wondered, and not for the first time, why it was that the New York Times chose, when writing about “Latinos,” to do so in the cliched barrio of East Los Angeles. After all, the nut-graf for the story states that Latinos will sway the primaries in California, Nevada, and New York.

New York.

Immigrants from the Dominican Republic made up the largest single immigrant block to the city of New York in the 1990s. Five out of every six Dominicans are of African descent. Many Puerto Ricans are also of African descent. There are great movements afoot in popular culture throughout the Americans to make the link between Africa and Latin America – from Grupo Niche singing of blackness in the salsa classic “Etnia,” to the Nuyorican Poets rapping about being BlackTinos.

How it is that the editors and reporters of the nation’s leading newspaper - located in the city where salsa was invented from the Afro-Caribbean beats of Puerto Rica and Cuba, where Dominican blacks have replaced American blacks in much of Harlem, where Washington Heights now goes by the name Quisqueya Heights, for the Dominican Republic, where Junot Diaz and his Afro-Dominican novelistic mojo dominated the bestseller list last year – can completely ignore the significant segment of this country’s Latino population that IS BLACK is beyond me.

Way beyond me.

The article quotes a random 20-year-old woman on the streets of Los Angeles as their only legitimate source for the headline screaming about Obama’s lack of support among Latinos, ostensibly because of his “blackness.” This is your source? Natasha Carrillo of East Los Angeles? Holy crap. Are you joking? Is this the best you can find? Why not go the CUNY, and talk to the Dominican and Puerto Rican studies experts there? Why send reporters to a freakin' taco stand in East Los Angeles? I'll tell you why: The story was written in the minds of the editors before it was reported; that's why it WAS NEVER reported. It was made up. And because it was on the front of the NY Times, you are going to have pundits from coast to coast quoting it as the gospel truth, all because Natasha Carrillo, 20, of East Los Angeles, said so.


I suggest the reporters and editors of the New York Times stop taking their cues on Latino identity and politics in America from the boxers on Resurrection Boulevard and other nonsense TV shows, and take the subway uptown for a spell. Walk around. Go to a bodega or two. Listen to people talk. All those “black” people you see in Washington Heights? They’re Latinos.

And many of them (us) will be voting for Obama.

You want a source on blacks and Latinos, New York Times? Call me, the Cuban woman whose father was dedicated to the Yoruba God Obatala when he was a child. Call me, who knows that the phrase “Fulano” comes from the Fulani people of Africa. Call me, who knows that the double-headed tambora drum of merengue music, the national music of the Dominican Republic, has roots in West Africa. Call me. You have my number. I'm the one who writes you an editorial every week that you ignore. I'm the one who is supposedly one of the most influential Latinos in America, but can't get your attention on this, or any other Latino issue. Yeah. Me. The one who busts all your stereotypes up into little gray flecks of newsprint.

You want to talk about blacks and Latinos? Then stop forgetting history.

Stop forgetting that millions of us are both black, and Latino. En punto, y ya.

Posted by Alisa Valdes-Rodriguez at 4:52 PM

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