Difference of Opinion

There's no such thing as a monolithic Hispanic vote.

Comedian/social commentator Chris Rock does this somewhat controversial stand-up routine in which he discusses the differences between (his words) "black folks" and "niggas." Says Rock, "I looove black folks; I hate niggas." In general terms, he describes the latter as those with whom he grew up who seemed to have little or no respect for themselves, their families, their neighbors, their community, their nation, the law, decency and/or common sense.

While this routine won him an Emmy and millions of new fans (of all ethnic stripes), it had its critics. Self-appointed black leaders said that it was divisive and that it played to racist stereotypes. But when he played before largely black live audiences, there were an awful lot of nodding heads in the crowd.

I was reminded of this when I heard all of the idiotic talking heads talking about how George W. Bush was making a play for the "Hispanic vote" (whatever that is) by introducing an immigration plan which basically amounts to "ollie ollie oxen free."

The plan would grant legal status to the eight or 10 or 12 or 15 million people who are living in the United States illegally at this particular time. Not surprisingly, it was hailed by hoteliers, restaurateurs and Con Agra. At the same time, it stabbed the Border Patrol in the back and made no mention as to how the United States was going to control its borders.

One has to be realistic about this. There is no easy answer to this mess. There is no way that we're going to kick 12 million people out of the country. It's going to take a lot of time and work for Mexico to reverse a century of corruption and graft in order to get started on an economy that won't force people to flee northward in search of work. And, in these times of global terrorism, we have to decide as a nation whether we have the desire and will to control our borders.

Those, however, are issues for another time. What I'm concerned about right now is how people who should know better have arrived at the conclusion that there is this big, monolithic thing out there known as the Hispanic vote.

Every time something on this issue pops up, we get the same crapola. On national TV, they interview Rep. Loretta Sanchez or her sister, both of whom are somewhat doofus-like. Here in Tucson, they trot out old dependable, Isabel Garcia, who used to be Isabel Garcia-Gallegos. (Whatever happened to Gallegos?) She's eloquent and really serious all the time, but in a metropolitan area of three-quarters of a million people, is she the only immigration law "expert" we have? Could we perhaps find somebody who doesn't take the predictable route every time?

I happen to know some Hispanic people; yes, I do. I've actually been married to one for a quarter-century, but she won't talk to me about anything substantive for fear it will show up in this column. So I talked to some of the others whom I happen to know.

Olivia (not her real name) is a lifelong Tucsonan and a teacher in a school on the southside. She sees a permanent underclass growing in the United States, and the members of this underclass seem almost willing participants in the separation.

"I see kids of illegal immigrants who have been in our school system for six, seven, eight years, and they still don't speak any English," she complains. "They don't even try. They know that our society--which is well-meaning, I suppose--will provide them with whatever they need to remain separate. They'll have bilingual teachers and forms written in Spanish and translators provided for them in court. We're facilitating this separation, and it's not good for anybody in the long run. I'm not surprised that a majority of Arizonans voted to do away with bilingual education. I'll bet that if you looked into it, you find that half or more of all (Hispanic voters) voted for it, too. It's gotten ridiculous."

A couple years back, Californians voted on a proposition that would ban the use of state funds for education, medical care and all kinds of other services for illegals. It passed by an almost 2-1 margin but is currently bogged down in the courts. My friend Manny (his real name), with whom I played baseball in high school, is now a teacher of economics in the California state college system. He points out that polls showed that 40 percent of Hispanic voters in California voted for it, as well. "And those are the ones who would admit to it. I'll bet that if they could find out, the real number would be closer to 50 percent or even higher."

Manny's father was living in Los Angeles illegally back in the 1940s. He got drafted into the U.S. Army and was wounded in North Africa and again in Italy. After the war, he had to fight to gain the citizenship he had been promised. His dad was proud to be an American and proud to have earned his citizenship.

"People used to come here and want to be Americans. Now, they come and are just Mexican nationals occupying parts of a foreign country. Lord knows there are complex economic issues at play here and answers are tough to find.

"What does bother me is that Hispanics are spoken of as though we are all of one mind. There are some serious divisions of thought among our people, as well there should be. All I know is that to say that George W. Bush is automatically going to become popular among Hispanic voters by granting legal status to millions of people who are in this country illegally is a joke."

He laughs, then adds, "And you know me, Tom. I'm a screaming liberal. On most things."

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