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The New York Sun

Balkanizing Electorate By Skin Color


18 January 2005
Copyright © 2005 The New York Sun, One SL, LLC. All rights reserved.

One would think that someone at Gracie Mansion would hesitate before inviting me to any function celebrating my ethnicity after I wrote a column last October mocking the outdoor reception I attended for Hispanic Heritage Month. I was appalled to see the guests lining up to take their picture with Mayor Bloomberg as if they were waiting to sit on Santa's lap at Macy's Toyland.

Nevertheless, I received an invitation to attend an indoor reception January 6 to celebrate the Feast of the Three Kings. The invitation was followed up with a call to my office asking me to call back if I intended to attend. Sorry, Mr. Bloomberg. No offense, but I tend to disappear in crowds, so I avoid them as much as possible.

It appears that I'm on the mailing list of the city comptroller, William Thompson, as well. He is holding his annual Las Octavitas celebration January 19. His press release says: "Las Octavitas is an eight-day celebration that marks the end of the Christmas season. In religious tradition, the celebration of Three Kings Day includes a day for each king, and is followed by las Octavas, an eight-day period of additional worship and celebration (January 9-15), and las Octavitas, the eight days following las Octavas."

All I could say when I read this was huh? I never "hoid" of this.

That may be because I was born at Spanish Harlem, not Puerto Rico, where perhaps they do celebrate the tradition. Yes, we did celebrate Spanish Christmas here on January 6, which was great because one could take advantage of the after-Christmas sales to get real bargains to give as presents. In the barrio, however, celebrations like las Octavitas would seem to be a luxury few of us could afford. But I appreciate the thought, Comptroller Thompson - unless, of course, this celebration is about politics as usual.

Every political faction seems to be chasing the now all-important Hispanic vote, and efforts to secure it range from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Personally, I prefer the way President Bush recognizes the value of our contributions. He nominates us to high-level positions - while the Democrats filibuster long and hard to make sure we don't get them. Miguel Estrada is a highly qualified jurist who had received numerous bipartisan commendations throughout his career. Yet when he was nominated for the federal bench, Senator Schumer, who found him to be too religious, filibustered his nomination until Mr. Estrada withdrew his name. Thanks, Mr. Schumer - who nonetheless was re-elected in a landslide, because the state GOP neglected to nominate a viable candidate.

Now the Hispanic in the hot seat is Alberto Gonzales, whom Mr. Bush has nominated to be the first Hispanic U.S. attorney general. One would think his confirmation would be a slam-dunk. Even the HUD secretary from the Clinton administration, Henry Cisneros, says so, having written a piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled "Gonzales is Good for America." He wrote, "In the 36 years that I have voted, I have supported and voted for only one Republican. That was when Alberto Gonzales ran for election to the Texas Supreme Court."

I wonder if Mr. Cisneros realizes how revealing his statement is. It's also very typical of many Democrats, who cannot conceive of voting outside their own party. I have always been a registered Republican, yet my very first vote was for Hubert Humphrey. I have no problem voting outside my party for the right candidate.

Mr. Cisneros also writes that he feels an immense sense of pride because of Mr. Gonzales's nomination. Why? Only Mr. Gonzales has the right to be proud of his achievements. Mr. Cisneros had nothing to do with them.

Another point that bothered me about Mr. Cisneros's column was a point he made of how Mr. Gonzalez could identify with the struggles people face as they try to build a life for their families. Does he really believe that only Hispanics have had it hard? As poor as I was growing up in the barrio, my husband, who is white, had it 10 times more difficult growing up in the Florida Everglades, where his meals frequently came from whatever could be caught in the wild.

Martin Luther King Jr. dreamed for a day when our nation would be one where a person would not be judged by the color of the skin but by the content of the character. With politicians doing their darndest to balkanize the electorate by separating us into ethnic groups, that dream is still a long way off.


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