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It's Not Racist To Call For Election Of Latinos


April 26, 2002
Copyright © 2002
CHICAGO SUN-TIMES. All Rights Reserved.

Readers! Readers! Readers! Racist? Calling for the election of Latinos to statewide office is not racist. It's called inclusion. And if that is the most racist statement you've ever read in the mainstream media, either you are a new arrival to Chicago or simply haven't been reading very long.

Why is it that every time a Latino calls for the election of Latinos, some sanctimonious non-Latino has to remind us that we should be electing only the ''best qualified'' candidates because they are quite capable of addressing Latino needs and concerns? Obviously, to these people, advocating the election of Latinos must imply that some compromising on qualifications may be necessary. Now that, my friends, is racist. Anyone who thinks that you can't be Latino and be the best qualified too obviously does not know the same Latinos I know. And I guess it would never occur to these people that electing a Latino may in fact be raising the bar on what it means to be the best qualified.

For that matter, I know Latinos who are better qualified to be president than George W. Bush. They are better qualified to be in the U.S. Senate than Dick Durbin and Peter Fitzgerald. I know Latinos who are better qualified than George Ryan to be governor of Illinois. You see, being the best qualified is the least of our problems as Latinos.

The real problem is that political power brokers oftentimes have their own ideas about getting certain people elected, whether or not they are the best qualified. The money people have their preferences too, regardless of who may be the best qualified. The political campaign trail is littered with the ''best qualified'' who never got the support they needed from ward bosses or the money they needed to win. What I'm complaining about is that Latinos are not being considered even when they are the ''best qualified.''

In January of this year, USA Today ran an editorial about the composition of the U.S. Senate and the National Governors Association, and noted that every senator and every governor was white. The point the editorial tried to make was simply this: If today's U.S. Senate and the National Governors Association were private clubs, no one in politics would want to join because there are no African-American and no Latino members. Well, they are not private clubs, but I think far too many Americans must think they are.

Just look at the composition of the Senate and the governors association. There are 70 million Latinos and African Americans in the United States. Are readers trying to tell me that not one is qualified to be in the Senate? That not one is qualified to be governor? Be serious. There are many things needed to be elected senator or governor in America. Unfortunately, the least of these is being the ''best qualified.'' Truth be told, if being the best qualified really counted, neither the Senate nor the governors association would be all white today.

''It is precisely this attitude that will keep Latinos seperated[sic] and segregated from the rest of America,'' a reader wrote. I beg to differ. Pushing for your own worked for whites, especially the Irish in Chicago. To some degree it has worked for blacks, too. So now that Latinos are 26 percent of Chicago's population, the rules are not going to be changed. Face it: If Latinos don't push for Latinos, who will? Any Latino separation and segregation from the rest of America that may exist is not of our own doing. But ending such separation and segregation is exactly what I am trying to do by calling for more inclusion.

''It is time for you and the rest of the new Latino immigrants in America who think this way to wake up!'' Oh, believe me, are we ever awake. There is power in demographics, and we are learning how to use it to shape our own destiny. There is power in politics, and we are learning how to flex our muscles. There is power in money, and we are learning where and how to spend it. There is power in business, and we are creating more of them. Trust me: We are awake.

''Latinos should consider themselves Americans first and not the other way around.'' I think we do. But forgive us if it doesn't always seem that way. We are only following in the footsteps of the Irish, Poles, Italians, Germans and other immigrant groups in Chicago. And please try to understand. For centuries Latinos have had to fight to be considered Americans, despite the fact that we have been in America longer than America has been America.

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