Sunday, October 29, 2023

Running Out of Other Hands

There's lots of blame to go around, that much is certain. What is also certain is there is not a single justification for what took place in Israel, across the border from Gaza on October 7, 2023.

None whatsoever. 

They call it Israel's 9/11 which is really saying something about a country whose entire existence has been defined by war and terror. In my opinion, in the scope of sheer depravity if not body count, 10/7 was worse. 

On that dreadful day, at this writing, three weeks ago, members of the terrorist organization Hamas, standing eye-to-eye with their victims, mostly ordinary Israeli citizens, tortured, raped, and butchered close to 1,500 people. Some were intentionally burned alive while hiding in their homes. Others were beheaded. Bodies of victims were desecrated. Many who were not killed were taken hostage. No one was spared, not the elderly, not the infirm, not children.

I'm not going to go into all the horrific details because information on that is everywhere. 

All I will say is that it takes a special kind of monster to kill parents in front of their children, not to mention all the other atrocities that took place that day.

Almost as disturbing were the scores of public acts around the world including the U.S., where people who support the Palestinian cause (a just cause in my opinion), openly celebrated the 10/7 attacks, claiming they were a legitimate response to Israeli policies.

If torture, rape and slaughter of innocent people, and cheering it all on aren't bad enough, for author/neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris, there is another atrocity that trumps them all, the use of human shields. In his words:

I’m talking about people who will strategically put their own noncombatants, their own women and children, into the line of fire so that they can inflict further violence upon their enemies, knowing that their enemies have a more civilized moral code that will render them reluctant to shoot back, for fear of killing or maiming innocent noncombatants.

This is taken from a transcript of Harris's recent podcast on the 10/7 attacks titled: The Sin of Moral Equivalence.  In the podcast, he notes that while ethics and morality take on different forms depending upon one's culture and religion, human civilization has advanced to the point where there are certain fundamental moral laws in our day an age, that nearly everyone accepts. It is generally agreed for example that it is wrong to kill (unless absolutely unavoidable), or to rape (in any circumstance), or to torture, or to take hostages, or to revel in such acts. And it is beyond wrong to use innocent people as shields to protect oneself from committing these crimes.

Therefore according to Harris, there is not any moral equivalence between the violent acts of Hamas, and the violent acts of Israel, who is merely attempting to defend itself. In his words: "Intentions count." 

I agree.

But he raises a few eyebrows with the following:

In the West, we have advanced to a point where the killing of noncombatants, however unavoidable it becomes once wars start, is inadvertent and unwanted and regrettable and even scandalous. Yes, there are still war crimes. And I won’t be surprised if some Israelis commit war crimes in Gaza now. But, if they do, these will be exceptions that prove the rule—which is that Israel remains a lonely outpost of civilized ethics in the absolute moral wasteland that is the Middle East.

To deny that the government of Israel (with all of its flaws) is better than Hamas, to deny that Israeli culture (with all of its flaws) is better than Palestinian culture­ in its attitude toward violence, is to deny that moral progress itself is possible.

The problem is we could argue all day about whose culture is the morally superior, but in the end, we're still left with the question of what to do about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 

I'm sure it makes little difference to the victims of the 10/7 attack, or the Israeli response to it, (over 5,000 people killed in Gaza at this writing), whether their or their loved one's killer was morally superior or inferior to the killers on the other side.

We can pick sides and argue until we're blue in the face as to who's cause is more valid, which side is responsible for more atrocities, and what group is more entitled to call the small patch of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, home.

Or we can go back and forth justifying the actions of both sides until we run out of other hands, as I certainly have after the 10/7 attack.

But in the end, there are only two realities that matter: 

Israel is here to stay and so are the Palestinians. We can either go on as we have for 75 years living with an unending cycle of violence and death, or somehow, someway come up with a solution for the Israelis and Palestinians to find a way to live together in relative peace.

Yes I know, that sounds very kumbaya of me but in all honesty, short of the mass eviction or genocide of one or both of the groups that call that land (whatever you want to call it) home, can you think of any other scenario?

No, I'm not presumptuous enough to claim to have an answer to this conflict. All I know is that it is not as some suggest a struggle between right and wrong, between good and evil. If it were, it would be an easy choice for those of us who haven't a personal stake in the issue to pick sides, like the other war we're dealing with in Ukraine. Nevertheless, many do pick sides without giving the other side the benefit of at least trying to walk in their shoes, even for a brief moment. 

To be sure there are very bad, perhaps evil actors involved in the current struggle in the Middle East, but the truth is that both sides have legitimate arguments that need to be listened to and respected, especially by each other.

In all his wisdom, Sam Harris makes no bones about which side he's on, which is certainly his prerogative. But in doing so, he illustrates much of the disconnect we have going on right now on both sides regarding this issue. 

While denying moral equivalence between the 10/7 attacks and Israel's response, Harris pays lip service to some of the issues Palestinians have, mentioning the:

the growth of (Israeli) settlements, (and) the daily humiliation of living under occupation.

 But then he adds:

Incidentally, there has been no occupation of Gaza since 2005, when Israel withdrew from the territory unilaterally, forcibly removing 9000 of its own citizens, and literally digging up Jewish graves. The Israelis have been out of Gaza for nearly 20 years. And yet they have been attacked from Gaza ever since.

This is a half-truth. While it's true that previous to the 10/7 attacks, Israeli forces were not occupying Gaza from the inside, Israel has blockaded the region, walled it off, controlling its air and maritime space, six of seven of its land borders, and as we've seen during this conflict, complete control of Gaza's utilities including water, electricity and telecommunications.

Harris's comments dismiss the dreadful conditions people have lived through in Gaza leading some to declare it, an "open air prison." And that was before Israel's current air bombardment and impending ground invasion, which have made it a living hell on earth. 

In all fairness it must be stated that a great deal of the suffering of the people of Gaza has been exacerbated by Hamas who has been the governing body there since 2007, and has been using the territory to launch missile strikes against Israel.

Sam Harris is not alone in his selective reading of history, In virtually all the assessments of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict I've read on both sides of the issue, the authors use charged language consisting of half-truths, false equivalences, conflation and other rhetorical devices crafted for the purpose of minimizing the suffering of and dehumanizing the other side.  

Folks taking the Palestinian side for example like to use provocative terms charging Israel with "imperialism" "settler colonialism", "racism", "occupation", "ethnic cleansing", "apartheid" and even "fascism". These are fighting words, terms designed to ring a bell by conflating Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with familiar grievous atrocities that have taken place throughout history such as the European conquest of the Americas, Apartheid South Africa, the brutal war in the Balkans in the nineties, and the quintessential symbol of evil, Nazi Germany.

Like Sam Hariis's occupation remark, while not entirely off the mark, these are half-truths that tell only part of the story. Israel is indeed guilty of committing grievous atrocities against the Palestinian people. What the folks who use these terms conveniently leave out, are the grievous atrocities carried out against Israelis by terrorist organizations acting, or so they claim, in the name of the Palestinian people.

Also conveniently not mentioned is the terrible history of racism and oppression against the Jewish people, culminating in the Holocaust which was the final straw that made the establishment of the State of Israel, a fait accompli.

On the other side, in a 1969 interview, then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said this: "There was no such thing as Palestinians."  She went on:

When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them. They did not exist. (Emphasis mine)

What she says here with the exception of the last sentence, is not entirely without merit. Before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the territory of Palestine had been under the control of the colonial powers of Great Britain, the Ottoman Turks, several other Muslim groups broken up for a brief period by European Crusaders, the Byzantine Empire, the Romans, (with brief interludes of Jewish rule), the Greeks, the Babylonians and the Persians. That takes us back to about 600 B.C.E. when the Hebrews still ruled over much of the area when the Egyptians weren't calling the shots. In none of that time was there a Palestinian state governed by a people called the Palestinians.   

According to Meir's framework, the people who came to be known as Palestinians, were simply Arabs who happened to live in Palestine. As such they were subjects of the imperial powers mentioned above and were referred to as Palestinian Arabs. Golda Meir compares these people to the Jews like her, who lived in Palestine before 1948, and were referred to as Palestinian Jews. 

So she's right in that there was never a Palestinian state. Other commentators point out that even the word Palestine is a Greek, not an Arab word. 

Golda Meir spent years backpedaling her remark but the idea of a lack of a true Palestinian identity has been picked up by many hardline defenders of Israel and has been the foundation of their argument that the people who identify themselves as Palestinians have no legitimate case. In their view, they are simply Arabs who should live with other Arabs in places like Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. 

The germ of that argument may be factually true, but in its entirety the argument can be refuted in two words: so what? 

Before World War I, about 700,000 Palestinian Arabs lived in the region as had their ancestors before them for millennia. There was no mass migration of Arab people into Palestine, no one date when we can say the Arabs arrived in Palestine. Modern day Palestinians can legitimately trace at least part of their ancestry to the region back to the time of Abraham and before.

As can the Jews.

The Arabs of Palestine had their own towns, farms and way of life. They bonded as a community. They had developed their own culture and language, one of the many dialects of Arabic. And they lived in peace with members of the Jewish minority who had remained after the mass exodus during the first century C.E. after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple. 

That all changed after World War I as the massive immigration of Jewish people into Palestine, made possible by Great Britain with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which declared British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the region, which completely changed the demographics of Palestine. 

Tens of thousands of Arab Palestinians were evicted from their homes and forced into exile, communities were destroyed, olive trees that provided Palestinian families their sustenance for centuries were uprooted, and entire towns were leveled. One incident was so horrific, The Deir Yessin Massacre, the obliteration of an Arab town near Jerusalem by radical Israeli terrorists, that it bears resemblance to what happened three weeks ago outside of Gaza, again if not in body count, in terms of sheer depravity. Remember as Sam Harris pointed out, intentions count. 

Today, Jewish people from every corner of the planet who have never set foot in the place are welcome to move to Israel upon which they automatically become citizens, yet Arab people who were born there and have since left for whatever reason, are denied that right.

I could go on forever describing sins of the past and present but what's the point?

The question of the day is where do we go from here?

Among the people making the rounds on the interview circuit in the past month is the Israeli author and historian Yuval Noah Harrari, who has friends and family members in Kibbutz Be-eri who were victims of the 10/7 massacre.

Harrari has been a strong critic of the current government in Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who according to Harrari is a populist, conspiracy theory driven strongman with aims to divide Israelis in order to shore up his own power. (sound familiar?). Harrari directly attributes the "success" of the Hamas 10/7 assault to the distraction caused by Israeli political infighting which led to a breakdown of security forces and Israeli intelligence resulting in letting their guard down, enabling the Hamas terrorists to cross the heavily defended border virtually unencumbered. 
Harrari also finds Israel's response to the attack unacceptable. While he agrees that Hamas must be dealt with severely, he doesn't agree with the hard liners' stance that the terrorist group must be annihilated. 

Beyond the obvious moral ramifications of killing thousands of innocent Palestinians in order to wipe Hamas off the face of the earth, there are strong tactical points that should be considered using Harrari's logic. 

Hamas knew exactly what Israel's response would be to their 10/7 attack, and Israel is playing right into their hands. Hamas on its own has no chance to stand up militarily to the mighty Israeli armed forces. But they know that thousands of dead Palestinians at the hands of Israel will further harden the hearts of the remaining Palestinians to the thought of a negotiated peace, and turn much of the world against Israel. In this sense, every dead Palestinian at the hands of Israel is a victory for Hamas, whose stated goal is the replacement of Israel by an Islamic state. 

Annihilating Hamas, if that is even remotely possible, would inevitably result in the deaths of several more tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians and the displacement of millions. With Hamas gone at the cost of all those lives, something will inevitably arise to take its place. Something that is, that will probably be much worse. 

Demanding justice is a normal, fundamental human desire. But Yuval Harrari poses this question: what is more important, justice or peace? There will never be traditional eye-for-eye justice for the 10/7 attack, just as there will never be justice for 9/11, Deir Yessin, or the Holocaust. 

The only real justice for the victims of these atrocities is to do everything in our power to ensure they never happen again. 

Justice in the form of retribution only leads to more retribution, an unending cycle, just as we've had in the past 75 years. 

Harrari proposes a rekindling of the peace talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia that were looking very promising up until 10/7, in fact he speculates their very existence was one of the prime motivations for the attacks. The last thing Hamas, a jihadist organization wants is peace with Israel.

Then in Harrari's words, with a 
coalition of the willing – ranging from the US and the EU to Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority – should take responsibility for the Gaza Strip away from Hamas, rebuild Gaza and simultaneously completely disarm Hamas and demilitarise the Gaza Strip.
With a rebuilt Gaza, and assurances from Israel to keep their hands off, maybe, just maybe there will be some hope for the future among Palestinians and the possibility that one day they will be able to live with dignity. And if that happens, maybe just maybe, Hamas and other similar groups will be seen for the truly needless destruction they cause and will be rendered irrelevant.

Yes it's farfetched but it's an infinitely better scenario then simply blasting Gaza to kingdom come, which is what we are experiencing now. 

But peace won't come unless attitudes on both sides change. 

Moshe Dayan was a formidable Israeli military leader and politician from the state's founding until his death in 1981. In 1956, he delivered the eulogy of a fallen comrade killed outside his kibbutz near Gaza by Palestinian fedayeen. Defining the reality and the terrible moral compromise forged with the establishment of the State of Israel, Dayan's words are resolute, yet filled with self-reflection and anguish:
Let us not condemn the murderers. What do we know of their fierce hatred for us? For eight years they have been living in the refugee camps of Gaza, while right before their eyes we have been turning the land and the villages, in which they and their forefathers lived, into our land.

Not from the Arabs of Gaza must we demand the blood of Roi, but from ourselves. How our eyes are closed to the reality of our fate, unwilling to see the destiny of our generation in its full cruelty. Have we forgotten that this small band of youths, settled in Nahal Oz, carries on its shoulders the heavy gates of Gaza, beyond which hundreds of thousands of eyes and arms huddle together and pray for the onset of our weakness so that they may tear us to pieces — has this been forgotten? For we know that if the hope of our destruction is to perish, we must be, morning and evening, armed and ready.
Imagine that kind of honesty coming out of the mouth of ANY politician today, let alone one involved in the Israel/Palestine crisis.

Compare Dayan's words to these words addressed to the Palestinians, of Israel's current finance minister Bezalel Smotrich:
you are here by mistake because Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) didn’t finish the job in ’48 and didn’t kick you out.

Clearly we not only need to disarm organizations like Hamas, but we also need to encourage the Israeli and the Palestinian people to stop choosing religious-zealot-extremists to lead them, as leadership on both sides has tragically failed its people.

As I said above, Israel and the Palestinian people are here to stay, despite the rantings of sociopathic lunatics.

We need to tone down the rhetoric and be willing to listen to different voices to try to understand our adversaries, instead of demonizing or dehumanizing them. 

Most of all, rather than declaring ourselves on the side of the Palestinians or the Israelis, all people of good will should declare ourselves to be on the side of peace.

I'm not at all optimistic peace will come, but what other choice do we have?

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Yo No Sabo

Last July in Los Angeles, El Tri, the Mexican National soccer team, won the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the men's Pan-American Championship. The final game was covered by ESPN Deportes, the Spanish language branch of the cable sports network. After the game, one of their reporters, José del Valle, sought out Mexican fans celebrating their team's victory and came upon a young boy wearing the El Tri jersey. The reporter introduced the child to his audience as "the future of Mexico", but when he began asking questions, it was clear the boy was not a fluent Spanish speaker. To which the reporters in the studio lamented that the boy belongs to a generation that no longer speaks Spanish. 

So much for the future of a Spanish speaking Mexico I guess was the message of the moment.

The video of the incident posted on YouTube went viral with comments shaming the boy, his parents, and Latin American parents in the United States who do not teach their children Spanish.

Since then, the media, social and otherwise have been flooded with articles and reports asking the question: "is Spanish fluency an essential part of being Hispanic?"  

There are two words that can best describe the situation: it's complicated.

I have an opinion which I'll share at the end of this post. As I'm not a member of that community, my opinion is irrelevant. However, as a child of an immigrant whose native language was not English, as a parent, and as a passionate, yet challenged language learner myself, I do have a bit of perspective.

So here's my story:

My father immigrated to this country from Czechoslovakia in 1955. He moved to Chicago and met my mother in the fall of 1957. After a brief romance, they married in January 1958 and later that year, I was born. That's how it was done in those days I guess.

Anyway, my dad had his heart set on teaching his only son his native language, which he began to do. An audio tape of a two year old me once existed where I was speaking perfect two year old Czech. When I heard the tape perhaps ten years later, I asked what had happened, why was my Czech so much better then than it was now? I can't remember what my dad's response was but knowing him, he probably blamed it on me. 

Years later after having children of my own, it makes perfect sense. My dad married a woman who was not Czech so obviously, Czech was not spoken at home between my parents. While my dad valiantly tried to speak to me in Czech from the outset, he, a man of little patience, must have given up at some point when it became obvious that I was more interested speaking the language that was all around me, English, rather than Czech. 

Which is too bad because boy how I wished I could speak Czech, especially when I worked for my father in his paint store and got stares of incredulity from his Czech customers when I had to tell them "Nemluvím česky", "I don't speak Czech."  "What's wrong with that kid?" my mind's ear could hear them say to themselves, in Czech of course.

And boy do I wish I spoke Czech now.

So in a way I can identify with the "no sabo kids", a derogatory term for Hispanic-Americans who speak either broken or no Spanish. "No sabo" incidentally is grammatically incorrect Spanish for "I don't know", making the put down doubly insulting.

I don't blame my father one bit. I have friends who successfully taught their kids to be bi-lingual from the get-go without the help of their spouses, and understand the commitment it took on their part, both parent and child. I especially appreciate it when I think back on all the things I wanted to do for my own children but didn't, simply because life got in the way.

No Pop, it wasn't your or anybody else's fault that I didn't turn out speaking Czech, although I haven't given up hope that one day...

I said I can identify with the no sabos "in a way" because the issue is vastly more complicated for Latin American people than it was for me. 

Here are some thoughts:

With the exception of Anglo Saxons, every racial/ethnic group in the United States has experienced marginalization and discrimination to a degree, some obviously more than others. With some groups, once members became culturally integrated into the population, usually one or two generations after family members first arrived on these shores, successfully assimilated children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of immigrants transformed from being the marginalized into being the marginalizers. Assimilation historically involved losing the traits that define the culture from which one's ancestors came, or at least sublimating them to a degree where they don't interfere with the traits that once defined a "typical" American. 

Being a "typical" American, even as recently as a half century ago, meant fulfilling certain well-defined requirements. It meant having values such as personal liberty, upward mobility, and owning a home. A typical American may or may not have been a church goer, but usually identified him or herself as Protestant Christian of one denomination or other. A typical American spoke Standard American English without a trace of a foreign accent and above all, a typical American was white.  

You can see this for yourself in popular culture by watching movies from an earlier era. Even a film with "progressive" sympathies such as the 1947 classic It's a Wonderful Life, presented its vision of that wonderful life as centering around a small town, (another typical American value) populated by White Anglo Saxon Protestants. The handful of people in the film that did not fit that description were Annie the black housekeeper, Mr. Martini, the Italian bar owner, and the nameless immigrant residents of the housing development on the outskirts of town, made possible by the honorable and humble Building and Loan at the center of the story. 

These "ethnic" characters while treated with a modicum of respect by the filmmakers (unusual for the time), were outsiders looking to land themselves a piece of that wonderful life, the so-called "American Dream." One of the implied messages of the movie is if the people in the projects kept their noses to the grindstone and strove to achieve those requirements and maintained the values mentioned above, they too could one day be welcomed into the town proper as full-fledged members. Martini, with his strong Italian accent may never quite reach that promised land, but his children, whom we assume would have lost the accent, might. 

But what about Annie's offspring? Well, they would still be black and at least in the Bedford Falls we see in the movie, there are no black people other than servants, whom we assume lived in their own section on the outskirts of the town proper. Their skin color meant there would be no assimilation for them, therefore no membership in the promised land.

1947, the year It's a Wonderful Lif e was made, was a watershed year in American history. It was the year the color barrier was broken in "organized baseball", a milestone in the history of race relations in the United States. 1947 was the year things began to change in this country, albeit drop by drop. 

Much has been written about the modern Civil Rights movement coming to life after World War II when black veterans after serving their country with distinction, came home to find they were still treated as second class citizens.

The same was true for Hispanic veterans. 

Discrimination against and the marginalization of Latinos in the United States may have taken different forms, but both have been as pervasive and have existed at least as long as the discrimination and marginalization of black people in this country. The two groups are intrinsically connected by their subjection to racism, exploitation, segregation, rejection, and even by the issue of slavery.

In an article published in August 2019 in the Washington Post titled A History of Anti-Hispanic Bigotry in the United States, responding to the idea that resentment against Hispanics has increased since the rise of vile rhetoric on the part of the ultra-right, the article's author Maria Arana assures us that:

It has not. These are long-held resentments. For centuries they have been fed by ignorance, racism and a stubborn unwillingness to understand a population whose ancestors were here by the millions — long before the first pilgrim set foot on Plymouth Rock.

A pivotal moment for Americans of Mexican descent was the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The westward expansion of the United States all the way to the Pacific Ocean was considered by many, to be the will of God. This was expressed by the term "Manifest Destiny" which was coined in 1845 by a columnist named John L. O'Sullivan who wrote the following in the New York Morning News:

And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.

The chief obstacle to U.S. Manifest Destiny was Mexico which at the time included what is now California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming. Texas, once also part of Mexico, declared its independence in 1836. However, Mexico refused to recognize that independence even after Texas U.S. statehood was declared in 1845.  

The high-minded expansion of democracy and liberty from the Atlantic to the Pacific was not all that drove the United States to eventually go to war with Mexico. Southern politicians were eager to gain territory for political reasons, chiefly to expand slavery into potentially future states. Increasing the number of slave states would add like-minded representatives to Congress to strengthen their standing against the free states of the North. 

Efforts to purchase land from Mexico were unfruitful leading the United States to send troops to disputed parts of Texas. When Mexican forces repelled the U.S. forces, Congress declared war against Mexico. 

The war was short lived; in a little over one year of fighting, U.S. forces marched into Mexico City.

The U.S. government was at odds over the terms of settlement, some going so far as to advocate for complete U.S. annexation of Mexico.  

Annexing land that once was Mexico's was met with opposition by South Carolina senator and former vice president John C. Calhoun whose words would be reflected in the attitudes of generations of Americans to follow:

We have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race--the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the first instance of the kind of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race.... We are anxious to force free government on all; and I see that it has been urged ... that it is the mission of this country to spread civil and religious liberty over all the world, and especially over this continent. It is a great mistake.

The following year Mexico and the United States came to peace terms with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which saw Mexico ceding 55 percent of its territory to the United States, and the establishment of the U.S. /Mexico border which exists to this day.

Along with land, the U.S. inherited the people who lived there. 

Here again is Maria Arana:

...that victory came with hostages: the Mexican American people. That grudging population was not easy to exterminate; not by war, nor by verdict. There were too many to be herded down trails of tears or consigned to faraway exile, and they were useful, if vexatious. They knew the land, worked the land and could be put to work for white overlords.
The people living in the lands ceded by Mexico to the United States were automatically granted U.S. citizenship. But much like the rights (including property rights), granted to former enslaved people after the Civil War by the Reconstruction amendments, the legal status of these new American citizens was largely ignored. 

As Maria Arana suggests, so long as Mexicans proved useful as a reliable source of labor, often doing work other Americans refused, they were tolerated. Once that usefulness faded, Mexican U.S. citizens were shunned, blamed for taking jobs away from "real" Americans, and were often the victims of segregation, forced replacement to Mexico, violence and even lynch mobs. 

Most related to the subject at hand, despite there never having been an official language of the United States, speaking Spanish in public in parts of the country was strongly discouraged and even outlawed. 

And so, the die was cast for the next century and half of Americans of Mexican descent living as foreigners in their own country, much as Martin Luther King said of Black people in his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Of course, people with ties to the Spanish speaking nations of the Americas living in the United States are not limited to Mexicans. Hispanic people come from the Caribbean, Central and South America, all with distinct cultures, reasons for being here, and legal status. Latinos are an ethnically and racially diverse group, their ancestry is African, Indigenous American, European, Asian, and all possible combinations of those.   

Chicago alone has two major groups representing nearly 85 percent of the city's Hispanic population, one from Mexico, the other from Puerto Rico, two countries with vastly different cultures. The remaining Hispanic population of the city has representatives from Central and South America and other Caribbean island nations, each with its distinct culture. Many things make up a culture, history, tradition, religion, values, art, music, cuisine, sports, dress and of course language, just to name a few. The one and perhaps only thing all these cultures have in common is the Spanish language.

Several years ago, well before the 2016 presidential election, I got into a conversation with a white guy during a long train ride. We got along well until the subject of language came up. He mentioned that there were people seriously studying Klingon, a pretend language invented for the Star Trek movies. I suggested that perhaps their time would be better spent learning a real language such as Spanish. He reacted almost as if I had made a disparaging remark about his mother. 

Showing his discontent with Hispanic people and his disapproval of the amount of Spanish he was subjected to on a daily basis he said:  "If only these people would learn to assimilate and speak English..." although I don't think he said it quite so politely. 

Fortunately, we had just about reached our destination and soon parted ways.

Unfortunately, many Americans are under the mistaken impression that the majority of Hispanic people in the U.S. do not speak English and have not adequately integrated themselves into American society.

Here's a link from the Pew Research Center that proves otherwise. 

Having said that, I realize the impossible position Latinos find themselves in this country. For generations they have been pilloried for not speaking English well enough, and now the ones that do are shamed for not speaking Spanish well enough. 

I guess you just can't win.

But there is another factor involved, race. To illustrate I'll use another example from popular culture of the past. 
Lucille Ball was already a star before the creation of the television show that bore her name: I Love Lucy, perhaps the most successful program in television history. The show was created to be the TV version of the radio program, "My Favorite Husband" where Ball played alongside Richard Denning as her eponymous husband.

For the TV version, Ball insisted that Denning's roll be played by her real-life husband, Cuban American bandleader Desi Arnaz. CBS, the network that was to produce the program, balked at the idea of presenting a show featuring the mixed marriage of an "all American girl", and a "Latin man". Despite the network's objections, Ball and Arnaz were able to convince the sponsors, the tobacco company Phillip Morris, that the idea of pairing two individuals from different backgrounds could fly on broadcast TV.

I Love Lucy was groundbreaking for several reasons, not the least of which was its depiction of a cross-cultural marriage, a subject barely touched upon in popular culture at the time, even though it was becoming more and more a reality in American life, my parents being an example. The show also played a role in popularizing Latin American culture with the general American public. 

Of course, Desi Arnaz was white.

Were he black like the great Cuban bandleader and singer Benny Moré, or of mixed heritage, the show would never have gotten off the ground. That kind of pairing in popular culture would have to wait another decade and even to this day, the issue still fraught with unease and difficulty, at least in some circles.

The truth is, it's all about race. 
A majority (62%) of Hispanic adults say having a darker skin color hurts Hispanics’ ability to get ahead in the United States today at least a little. A similar share (59%) say having a lighter skin color helps Hispanics get ahead. And 57% say skin color shapes their daily life experiences a lot or some, with about half saying discrimination based on race or skin color is a “very big problem” in the U.S. today, according to Pew Research Center’s National Survey of Latinos, a bilingual, national survey of 3,375 Hispanic U.S. adults conducted in March 2021.
 About a quarter of Latino adults say they have personally experienced discrimination or unfair treatment from other Latinos. Having darker skin and being born outside the United States are associated with an increased chance of experiencing this type of discrimination, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2021. At the same time, Latinos say they are as likely to experience discrimination or unfair treatment from non-Latinos as from fellow Latinos, regardless of skin color or their country of birth.
Racial discrimination and the poverty stemming from the lack of opportunities for people of color is not unique to the United States, this from the United Nations Chronicle:
What is rarely mentioned is that most (Latin American) nations still confront deeply seated racial inequality and discrimination that impacts all aspects of economic and social life...
Data illustrates that race continues to be one of the most persistent predictors of poverty in the Americas, which is particularly troubling because African descendant populations tend to speak their nation's language as their mother tongues -- whether it is Spanish or Portuguese -- and are in close proximity to urban, coastal, port or mining areas, which tend to be centres for employment and economic growth opportunities. 
A few years ago, I told a Latina friend that I had resumed studying Spanish forty years after I took it in high school. She gave me a sly look and said: "Spanish is the language of the colonizers, what you really should be studying is Quechua", one of the languages of the Inca civilization.

Romantic and wildly impractical to be sure, especially given my lack of language learning acumen, but my friend brings up a good point.

If helping preserve a heritage is your intent, why learn Spanish? Spanish, just like English, Portuguese and French, is merely one of the lingua francas of the Americas, languages of power, authority and subjugation. The majority of people in North and South America can trace their own heritage, (not very far back in some cases like my own), to people who had no connection to any of those languages. 
Great cultures existed in this hemisphere before the arrival of the Europeans who did everything in their power to wipe them out. They mostly succeeded.

Fortunately, they couldn't wipe out the people, many of whom in addition to facing discrimination of their own, are struggling today to preserve the remnants of their Pre-Columbian cultures, the most tangible symbol of which is their language. Sadly, thousands of indigenous languages have become extinct and most of those that survive are in danger of the same fate.

On the other hand, the last time I checked, testimony to the tremendous success of, second only to Great Britain's, Spain's rapacious appetite for conquest: 
  • Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world. 
  • Just behind Spain itself, the United States ranks number five in the world's nations in the number of Spanish speakers. 
  • Mexico is number one.
  • 75 percent of Latin Americans in the United States claim to be at least somewhat fluent in the Spanish language. 
  • The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the Hispanic population of the United States will reach 111.2 million, nearly double that of the Hispanic population of the last census. 
In other words, Spanish is not an endangered language by a long shot, not in the United States, not in the rest of the world, and especially not in Mexico.
So it would appear the appropriate response to the anchors over at ESPN Deportes who were so bothered by the young Mexican fan of El Tri not speaking Spanish well enough is the following:

No se preocupen chicos, ¡siempre tendremos español!

As promised at the top of this post, here is my entirely irrelevant opinion:

Should Latin American parents living in the United States teach their children Spanish? 
Of course they should! 
If they want to that is.

Should no sabo kids learn the language of their ancestors?
If they would like to.

Should Hispanic people be shamed for not speaking Spanish?
Absolutely not. 

After all, south of the Rio Grande and in the nations of the Caribbean, you won't hear people referring to themselves as "Hispanic" or "Latino" or any of its derivatives, as those categories have U.S. origins.

Instead you will hear "mexicano", "boriqua", "guatemalteco", "venezolano", and other Spanish and indigenous words (properly not capitalized here), adjectives describing the people and cultures of Latin America.*
What this means is that Hispanic, or if you prefer, Latino culture, is primarily an American** and Canadian culture.

What THAT means is that Latino culture is a mixture of the cultures of ALL of Latin America (including the non-Spanish speaking parts), on top of the already diverse cultures of the U.S. and Canada. Would you call that diversity squared or diversity cubed?

That to me is wonderfully mind-blowing.

Even more exciting is that Hispanic/Latino culture is a work in progress, evolving before our very eyes. 

It may not be to everyone's liking but fortunately, at least for me, the "typical" white bread America of Leave it to Beaver (to use another pop culture reference), doesn't exist anymore, if it ever did. 

We are a diverse lot and that is something to embrace, not to fear. Of all the groups who call our country and Canada home, (hopefully no one objects to me conflating the two), by far the most diverse is el pueblo Latino. 

What diversity means, or should mean, is that everybody gets the chance to be him or herself, ideally without being judged. That kind of liberty is still the great promise of U.S. and Canadian culture. We may still be a long way from there, but despite the recent hiccups, that's the trajectory we've been heading in for quite some time. 

As the most diverse community in an already diverse culture, in my humble opinion, el pueblo latino should and usually does lead the way as far as embracing its heritage(s) ALONG WITH the diversity of its people, including their language(s) of preference whether they be Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, one or more of the plethora of indigenous languages, or any combination therein.

That is indeed something to celebrate. 

¡Feliz Mes de la Herencia Hispana!


* There are Latin American people in this country who still refer to themselves by their or their ancestors' country of origin, yet the generic terms of "Hispanic" and "Latino" are becoming more common, thanks largely to the U.S. Census Bureau. Answering the call for the government to provide more resources for Americans of Latin American descent, in 1980 the bureau decided to create a new race category on their forms, adding to their previous list which was then limited to "black", "white", and the ever popular, "other".

Thus, the category "Hispanic" was born. As one might guess, the term Hispanic is problematic as the word implies people who speak Spanish, therefore it is not inclusive of all the people from Latin America, which is not exclusively Spanish speaking. Brazil is an example, Haiti another.

Enter the term "Latino" which was adopted by the U.S. government in 1997 to be inclusive of all people with Latin American connections regardless of language spoken, even presumably the hundreds of indigenous languages that have absolutely nothing to do with Latin, the origin of the colonial languages of Latin America.

But Latino has its problems too. Spanish is a highly gender binary language where all nouns including inanimate objects are assigned a gender. So, in traditional Spanish we would refer to men as Latino and women, Latina. Infuriating to modern sensibilities, a mixed group of men and women, even if there are many women and only one man, defaults to the masculine Latino. There are also people who do not wish to be identified by any gender. 

One way to address this issue is the introduction of the non-binary term "Latinx" (pronounced "Latin - ex") which has become accepted in some circles. However, Latinx is a word that would never occur in the Spanish language, consequently it is offensive to the sensibilities of many native Spanish speakers who accuse users of it as culturally appropriating Spanish by anglicizing the word. The more Spanish sounding Latine has been proposed but it hasn't really caught on. Likewise Latin@ (not quite sure how to pronounce that one), which looks like it was taken from standard Martian.

As there is no consensus in the community regarding the best word to describe itself, I decided in this post to use the terms Latin American, Hispanic and Latino(a) interchangeably.

** By "American" here I'm referring to the United States of America, another topic of controversy. People from Latin America understandably object to the adjective "American" specifically pertaining to the United States. After all, they live in America too. Unfortunately, in English we don't have any other adjective describing the U.S. Spanish does, the rather awkward  estadounidense, which translates literally to United Statesian. What do you think?

The argument for keeping American to describe a person living in the United States is that this is the only country in all of the Americas, with the word America in its official name. For that reason, I use it whenever necessary.