Ruben Navarrette, Jr.

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Newspaper Archives - 1989-2005

Los Angeles Times
August 24, 2003 Sunday

POLITICS; Call It the Loon Star State

BYLINE: Ruben Navarrette Jr. Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the Dallas Morning News, editorial board, a regular commentator on National Public Radio and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group.


LENGTH: 1087 words


The California recall election threatens to give Texans something of an inferiority complex. Compared with what is happening on the West Coast, democracy as practiced in the Lone Star State now seems downright boring.

That’s no small accomplishment. A few months ago, Texas took the prize for wacky political stunts and eccentric politicians. It started when Republicans in the state Legislature sought to reopen the redistricting process with the aim of increasing the party’s presence in the Texas congressional delegation. It wasn’t fair, insisted the lawmakers, that a state in which 60% of the votes cast in congressional elections were Republican should have a delegation with more Democrats (17) than Republicans (15).

House Democrats responded by scurrying off to a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Okla. Despite Republican taunts of “running from a fight,” the tactic worked. The Legislature lacked a quorum, so the GOP’s maneuvering came to a halt.

Now the Republicans are back at it in a special session called by Republican Gov. Rick Perry. This time, it is Senate Democrats who are seeking refuge in another state. Since July 28, 11 Democratic senators have holed up in a hotel in Albuquerque.

The seemingly bizarre happenings in Texas and California have gotten the attention of former President Clinton, who, according to one of his aides, has been “connecting the dots.” The events may be related, said the aide, and Clinton thinks they represent a GOP-led movement to override the democratic process. California Gov. Gray Davis picked up the theme in an address last week. “What’s happening [in California],” he said, “is part of an ongoing national effort to steal elections that Republicans cannot win.”

I’ll give the conspiracy theorists this much. In Texas, there seems to be something sinister coming from the direction of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas), whose fingerprints are all over the GOP power grab here. According to a recently released report from the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General, DeLay’s office was much more involved in efforts to track down the runaway House Democrats than previously known or acknowledged. According to the report, at the height of the initial standoff, DeLay’s office pressed the Justice Department to determine whether federal officials had the authority to join the search for the Democrats.

Thankfully, at least one senior department official had the good sense to dismiss the idea of federal intervention in a state-based political issue as “wacko.” Too bad that good sense is sometimes in short supply in politics. The inspector general uncovered nine different instances in which Justice Department officials, including FBI agents, were asked by aides in DeLay’s office for information or other assistance in locating the missing legislators. In one case, the report said, an FBI agent stationed in Texas assisted state officials in determining the whereabouts of two legislators. That showed poor judgment on the part of the agent, investigators said.

None of this was widely known at the time, and had it been, the Texas walkout would have been an even bigger story — not that it wasn’t big already. For the first few days of the standoff, the national media couldn’t seem to get enough. Everyone from late-night talk-show hosts to Sunday morning talk-show pundits poked fun at the Texas politicos. Street vendors in Austin did a steady business in souvenirs. One popular item was a deck of cards modeled on the one that the Defense Department distributed to U.S. soldiers searching for officials of Saddam Hussein’s regime. The Texas deck bore the images of the 51 wayward Democrats.

In addition to DeLay’s apparent meddling, Perry couldn’t help but involve himself as well. In doing so, he produced what was perhaps the most unseemly episode in the whole spectacle.

It started when House Speaker Tom Craddick ordered the Texas Rangers to track down the Democrats and bring them back to Austin. In a civil deposition taken after the standoff ended, the head of the state troopers testified that Perry instructed him to dispatch the Rangers to a Galveston hospital, where, a month earlier, the wife of a Democratic lawmaker had given birth to premature twins. Once at the hospital, the Rangers found the twins but not the lawmaker.

The governor’s office denies that Perry ever gave such an order and considers the matter closed.
Not so the matter of redistricting. A determined Perry promised he would keep calling special sessions, as is his right under Texas law, until the Legislature adopted a new map, one likely to put a majority of the districts under Republican control.

“If there is work to be done, I expect the Legislature to be here doing it,” Perry recently told the Austin American-Statesman.

What Perry calls “work,” Democrats insist, is a political mugging they’re eager to avoid. They point to the Republicans’ latest bombshell — the imposition of a $1,000-a-day fine on each of the political exiles, doubling for each day missed, up to a maximum of $5,000 a day. Should the Democrats stay out the entire 30-day special session, the fine on each of their heads will be $57,000.

Democrats said they would not pay, then set off their own bombshell. They compared the fine to the infamous poll tax, which, historically, Southern states used to discourage minorities from voting. Democrats cited Republican threats that they couldn’t take their seats — and thus reclaim their votes — until the fines were paid. The poll-tax charge carried an extra sting because most Senate Democrats are nonwhite. Not so any of the Republicans who voted to impose the fines.

If the Democrats didn’t pay their fines, Republicans threatened to cut off their parking privileges and cellphone allowances once the lawmakers returned. Democrats responded by posting a sign in the hotel conference room where they gather each day. It reads: “The State of Texas proudly accepts:” followed by the logos of major credit cards.

On a more serious note, Democrats also put up a replica of the flag flown by Texans in the 1835 battle that kicked off the war for independence from Mexico: a white flag with a black cannon barrel and the words: “Come and Take It.”

Cops staking out baby wards at hospitals. The return of the “poll tax.” Flags from a war settled nearly 170 years ago.

Don’t worry, Texas. You may not have an action hero running for governor — at least not yet — but when it comes to political wackiness, California has nothing on you.

Los Angeles Times

May 19, 2002 Sunday

POLITICS; Old Republican Habits Die Hard

BYLINE: RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR., Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group and a member of the Dallas Morning News editorial board.


LENGTH: 1195 words


How frustrating for President Bush to watch fellow Republicans squander gains with Latino voters through mistakes and missed opportunities. And how maddening that some of those Republicans live in Texas.

While the exact figure is still disputed, Bush got somewhere between one-third and one-half of the Latino vote in his 1998 reelection as Texas governor. He made those inroads by giving Latinos the respect of aggressively courting their support.

Back then, it was the national GOP that couldn’t comprehend the Latino-based offensive at the state level. As far as many Republicans in Washington were concerned, Latinos were nonconvertible Democrats. Today, the roles are reversed. President Bush has put out the word, time and again, that being a “compassionate conservative” means, among other things, making Latinos and other minorities feel welcome in the Republican Party.

House Republicans seem to have gotten the message. Under pressure from the administration, they recently voted, albeit in a nonbinding motion, to restore eligibility for food stamps to hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants cut off under the 1996 welfare reform law.

Now, strangely enough, the breakdown in communication seems to be at the state level, where Republicans are falling back into old habits.

In California, gubernatorial candidate Bill Simon Jr. told a radio talk show host in February that if he were elected, he would have his “legal experts look at” revisiting Proposition 187, a successful 1994 ballot initiative that sought to restrict illegal immigrants’ access to government benefits (it was later largely struck down by the courts), and would station National Guard troops on the California-Mexico border.

The president had to do damage control. During a recent meeting with Latino and African American leaders in South-Central Los Angeles, Bush showed his compassionate conservative side and distanced himself from Simon’s pro-Proposition 187 stance with assurances that he was, as always, “totally supportive of immigrants, their rights and their enormous contributions.” As Texas governor, Bush thwarted the launching of a Proposition 187-type measure in his state and emphasized his support of bilingual education programs that work.

In Texas, there is more damage to control. It seems that Republicans, in the game of racial inclusion, like playing offense more than defense. An aide to John Cornyn, Republican U.S. Senate candidate and state attorney general, dismissed the Democrats’ celebrated “dream ticket”–a Latino candidate for governor, an African American for U.S. Senate and an Anglo for lieutenant governor–as a “racial quota ticket.” Cornyn apologized.

As well he should have. Republicans don’t use words like “quota” by accident. This is the same party that tries to convince white males that they are victimized by a racial spoils system that includes affirmative action and quotas. When a Republican pulls a stunt like that, the inference is that the two nonwhites on the Democratic dream ticket–gubernatorial candidate A.R. “Tony” Sanchez Jr. and Senate candidate Ron Kirk–are less qualified than the three white males running under the GOP banner. But Sanchez and Kirk won their party’s nominations only after bruising contests with primary opponents. All three Republican nominees either ran unopposed or faced only token opposition. So, who’s qualified?

For an encore, Texas Republican Party Chairwoman Susan Weddington decided that a good way to get in the good graces of Texas Latinos was to go after one of their icons: Henry G. Cisneros. Since returning to Texas, the former San Antonio mayor and U.S. housing secretary has launched a voter registration project. The EVERY Texan Foundation Inc. aims to register at least 500,000 new voters for this year’s general election, many of them Latinos and African Americans.

Weddington considers the voter registration project a political front for Democrats. She even registered a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service, asking for a review of the nonprofit organization’s tax-exempt status. Weddington was reportedly incensed that Cisneros, in selecting a speaker for a recent $1,000-a-plate Houston fund-raiser for the group, chose former President Clinton. She wasn’t mollified by Cisneros’ claim that former President Bush had also been invited to address the group.

Weddington should take a long look at the ugly history of Republican-driven efforts to suppress the minority vote in and out of Texas. From poll watchers in the 1950s to allegations of voter fraud in immigrant communities in the 1990s, Republicans have repeatedly sent the message that they would prefer that Latinos and African Americans simply stay home on election day. That is the same message Weddington sent by going to the IRS. She foolishly advanced the perception that Texas Republicans are running scared. Why not just unfurl a banner at GOP headquarters in Austin announcing that Republicans are terrified of new minority voters rushing to the polls because the GOP has nothing new to say to them?

That is a strange concession coming from Bush country, named after a leader who aggressively solicits the votes of minorities.

Then there is Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who wants to have it both ways. While eager to replicate Bush’s success with Latino voters, Perry seems worried about alienating the GOP base of conservative whites. He likely realizes that many Republicans are nervous about racial politics and might turn against any candidate who tries to beat the Democrats at their own game.

Recently, while attending a Dallas business conference, Perry took exception to a reporter’s suggestion that he could not expect to win much of the Latino vote, given that he has to contend with an opponent named Sanchez. The governor suggested that Texans will cast their lots based on experience and qualifications, not on a candidate’s ethnicity. In fact, Perry said there was no place in this election for ethnic politics or any attempt to play to Texans along racial lines.

It was a lovely sentiment. And it might even have been persuasive if not for one small detail: Perry had just made an ethnic pitch to a conference designed to promote Latino businesses. If anyone can sympathize with Perry’s predicament, it is White House officials. President Bush is in a similar fix, namely, how to be a good team captain by supporting the GOP ticket in Texas without pooh-poohing diversity like his comrades. So, Bush kept mum–until recently, when, in an interview with a Dallas television reporter, he waded into the political fray. Bush implied that Kirk, if elected to the Senate, would be an “obstructionist.” He also tagged Sanchez, a former Bush contributor who has recently appeared to reverse himself on several issues, a clumsy campaigner apt to make mistakes.

Bush may have decided to break his silence in the Texas races when news reports disclosed that Mark McKinnon, Bush’s chief media advisor in the 2000 presidential campaign, made contributions to several Democratic candidates in Texas, including Kirk.

The president should have known better. Texas politics don’t follow national blueprints.
Los Angeles Times

February 17, 2002 Sunday

GOVERNOR’S RACE; The Art of Political Inclusion, Texas-Style;
Two Mexican Americans, one a former golden boy, the other a $600-million man, are going head to head.

BYLINE: RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR. Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the Dallas Morning News and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group


LENGTH: 1282 words


At a time when Latinos in other parts of the country are starving to elect more of their own to high office, Texas has laid out a feast. This year, in the Lone Star State, there are nine Latinos running for statewide office.

And two–oil businessman A.R. “Tony” Sanchez Jr. and former state Atty. Gen. Dan Morales–are aiming for the top. Both are slugging it out for the Democratic nomination and the chance to square-off against Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

If either Sanchez or Morales beats Perry, he will make history by becoming Texas’ first Latino governor since the days of the Alamo.

But at least as interesting as the fact that there are two Latinos vying for the governorship is how there came to be two in the first place. That story begins last September, when Sanchez, a regent for the University of Texas, announced his candidacy. The timing was perfect. Some Democrats, still smarting from the mugging they got from Gov. George W. Bush in his 1998 reelection, in which he took nearly 50% of the Latino vote, were warming up to the idea of running a Latino at the top of the ticket as the surest way to keep Latino voters from straying off the hacienda.

Not that there was any consensus that Sanchez should be that candidate. Some Democrats preferred Henry G. Cisneros, who had just moved back to San Antonio from Los Angeles, where he had served as president and chief executive of the television network Univision. Cisneros was asked repeatedly if he was interested in the job, and repeatedly he said “no.”

Instead, Cisneros said he was going to support Sanchez. Even with that valuable endorsement, Sanchez is a first-time candidate whose political base is the modest border town of Laredo–his hometown and that of seven generations of forebears. And so, his campaign might have been dismissed with a smirk by Democratic Party bigwigs if not for one thing: a personal fortune estimated to be in the (highly exclusive) neighborhood of $600 million.

That bankroll represents the fruits of Sanchez O’Brien Oil & Gas Corp., a successful energy-exploration company that Sanchez launched with his now-deceased father nearly 30 years ago, and a series of profitable ventures since, including investments in banks throughout south Texas.

More impressive to Democrats was Sanchez’ pledge to spend as much as $30 million of it to pay his way in a battle against Perry. That assurance, together with the millions of dollars that Sanchez had contributed to Democratic candidates over the years, largely cleared the field of Democratic challengers.

But with a state this big, there is always someone who doesn’t get the memo. In this case, that someone is Morales.

Once the golden boy of Texas politics, Morales spent last fall telling reporters that he was planning to run for the U.S. Senate against Republican Phil Gramm. Morales didn’t seem concerned about the cloud under which he had retired from politics in 1998. Actually, it was less a cloud than a smoke ring.
Texas’ participation in the multibillion-dollar lawsuit against tobacco firms put $17.3 billion into state coffers that year. It also put Morales in hot water with state and federal officials, who have investigated allegations that Morales, in utilizing the services of private attorneys in the tobacco case, funneled millions in legal fees to a lawyer friend. Morales denies any wrongdoing and says the issue has been kept alive by political foes intent on keeping him out of politics.

Then came the September surprise. On the same day that Sanchez crisscrossed Texas in his private jet to announce his candidacy, Gramm called it a Senate career and announced that he would step down at the end of this term. Within weeks, more names were mentioned as likely candidates for the Democratic Senate nomination.

Among them were Rep. Ken Bentsen of Houston, the nephew of Lloyd Bentsen, the former U.S. senator and Treasury secretary, and Ron Kirk, who, in 1995, became the first African American elected mayor of Dallas, with 62% of the vote.

The Kirk candidacy sent Democrats’ imagination into overdrive. There was talk of a “rainbow ticket”–Sanchez for governor, Kirk for Senate and a former state comptroller named John Sharp, a white male, running for lieutenant governor.

But before Kirk could complete the rainbow, he had to defeat at least two likely opponents, each with higher name recognition. Worse, while Morales had not yet formally entered the race, he was outscoring Kirk in polls of likely Democratic voters.

The Democrats didn’t just have one Mexican American too many; they had the potential of outright racial conflict.

In Texas, as elsewhere, many assume that gains for Latinos mean losses for African Americans. That doesn’t go down well with the racial group formerly known as the nation’s largest minority. Worried that, if Kirk was not on the ballot, African Americans, a loyal constituency, would “go fishing” on election day, party leaders decreed that Morales had to be kept out of the race.

Even Morales’ old friend Cisneros tried to talk him out of running for the Senate, for the “good of the party.”

As you can see, for Texas Democrats, it takes an awful lot of effort to make ethnic inclusion look this natural.

Then it happened. Morales started hearing rumors from fellow Democrats that the Kirk campaign was getting support from the “Sanchez for Governor” effort. What kind of support was never clear, but at the very least, Sanchez had made public his preference for Kirk.

Slowly, Morales became convinced that the $600-million man was trying to undermine him–for the sake of the rainbow.

Sanchez dismisses the charge as the paranoid fabrication of a once-popular political figure who, overnight, found himself without two Democratic Party supporters to rub together.

But Morales was sure he was being sent a message, and he decided to send one back.

So, on the day of the filing deadline, in a move that sent a tremor through Texas politics, Morales abandoned talk of the Senate and instead filed paperwork to run for governor–against Sanchez.

Morales’ thinking seemed to be that if he was going to find himself, in effect, running against Sanchez no matter where he appeared on the ballot, then he might as well run against him head-on.

Sanchez was not pleased. He called Morales a “desperate” man with no race to call his own. Morales fired back that the party’s nomination should not be up for auction.

Now, with less than a month to go until the March 12 Democratic primary, a Dallas Morning News poll finds Sanchez, buoyed by some $10 million in to-date campaign spending and a statewide media blitz of television and radio ads, favored by 36% of likely Democratic voters. Morales is the choice of 28%. About one-third of voters are undecided.

Among Latinos, Sanchez is outscoring Morales, by a ratio of nearly 2-to-1. The reason might have something to do with the recent debate over which man is the best Mexican American.

This is Sanchez’s doing. He has repeatedly reminded Latinos that it was Morales, as Texas attorney general, who expanded the 1996 Hopwood ruling, which barred racial preferences at the University of Texas at Austin, to all Texas state colleges.

The bad news for Democrats is that the poll also finds that, no matter who wins the tug of war between these two Mexican American candidates, either would be beaten by Perry in November.
Democrats aren’t worried. November is a long way off. And, after all, this is Texas, where politics offer a little bit of everything–except predictability.


Los Angeles Times
August 30, 1992, Sunday


BYLINE: By Ruben Navarrette Jr., Ruben Navarrette Jr. is the editor of Hispanic Student USA.

SECTION: Opinion; Part M; Page 1; Column 3; Opinion Desk

LENGTH: 1217 words


The savaging of one by another over individual differences is learned behavior. Learned early. A friend recalls, with pain in her voice, a certain afternoon, almost 20 summers ago, in a small town in Arizona. Her mother had gone to great expense to buy her a pretty dress for school. When she arrived, she was teased by a group of Mexican children who insulted her attire for being too prim, too proper. “Aw, look at her pretty dress. She must think she’s white or something.” My friend ran home with tears dripping down her face and onto her blue dress.

Privately, I wonder where children learn to devour one another so viciously. It is, I suspect, something they learn from watching their elders.

As the nation’s fastest growing minority group, Mexican-Americans continue to fall behind other ethnic groups economically and politically. Part of the reason may be how they relate to one another.

On college campuses, among shelves of Shakespeare and vaulted dining halls, we train our intra-racial assassins. There, privileged young Latinos, afraid of being found out as ethnic frauds, sharpen their skills at destroying one another, fueled by hatred and competition and intolerance of personal differences.

A friend remembers seeing an ambitious Mexican-American law student at Boalt Hall sternly scolded by Chicano classmates. She had announced her intention of pursuing a career in corporate law. Since the Latino left contingent at the law school — those who did not fulfill their thirst for Mexican blood in college — had decided that the ethnically correct career path led not to corporate America but to public service, they took it upon themselves to harass the young woman for her error. When my friend entered the room, he found her sitting on a couch in tears while a handful of Chicano brethren lectured her with pointed fingers in a spectacle resembling a feeding frenzy.

And, there are professionals. Grown-ups who should know better. A Latino attorney in Beverly Hills tells the tale of being an ethnic outcast since he practiced law from what the Latino left considers the wrong side. As a federal prosecutor sending Mexican-Americans to jail, he was unpopular with old buddies. “Can you believe what he’s doing now? Putting his own people in jail!” Sell-out.

And Latinos know well the concept of selling out, reserving for it in our collective hearts a special place. A dark, ugly place. The Latino left considers a sell-out someone who succeeds at the expense of his or her own cultural integrity. In Spanish, the word for such a person is an insult of particularly vicious bite. Even the angriest of Chicano activists use it sparingly. We say it with scorn: vendido.
There are more euphemisms: Un Tio Taco, a variation of the character of Uncle Tom in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic; Una Mosca En Leche, referring to a (brown) fly in (white) milk, trying to blend in. A coconut — literally, brown on the outside — where it is seen, but white on the inside — where it counts. What it means to be “white on the inside” is sorted out by those who toss terms like hand grenades.

When the grenades miss, there is more direct action. A Latino administrator at UCLA relays to me with glee the reaction of a group of Chicano undergraduates to a conservative Latina in the Reagan Administration. Someone was incensed enough by her remarks to break into her car and defecate on the front seat.

I saw the same official address a group of Latino students at Harvard University. She opened the floor to questions. In the Ivy League, our intra-racial destruction is more subtle. A Latino graduate student fired away. “Isn’t your reconciliatory tone influenced by the fact that your husband is white?” With that, the discourse digressed into a David Duke rally against miscegenation.

Harsh personal attacks between Mexican-Americans are old and tired remnants of an earlier, darker age. We accuse those fellow Chicanos with whom we disagree on political issues of somehow betraying us on a personal level.

There is yet another obstacle for Latinos to overcome before they may claim that elusive entity called unity. We direct it not at those who have “sold out,” but rather at those with whom we would like to trade places. Those of whom we are jealous. We admit its cancer among ourselves in whispered, frustrated voices. We acknowledge it with a squinted eye and a shake of our head — envidia.
In English, the term means “envy,” the green-eyed desire to have what another has. With Mexican-Americans, the term assumes a special significance. It is an emotion directed most often at those who are considered too close to positions of wealth, prestige, influence or power.

It is there in the heart of the teen-age girl who resents her girlfriend for being more popular. It is there in the minds of Chicano students at Stanford who wish each other well in securing that summer internship, while hoping theirs will be the juiciest plum of all. And it is there, among family (entre familia) who accuse the Harvard Man in their ranks of thinking himself “better than the rest of us” and secretly hope that he will not accomplish the goals he has set for himself.

Perhaps it is there any time that a member of a disadvantaged community strives to crawl out of the bucket and is rewarded for the effort with snide remarks from those left behind. Too intelligent. Too ambitious. Too good for the lives that others live.

Strangely, the one individual whom I have seen generate the greatest amount of envidia among some Latinos has also enjoyed the most support from others. In the 1980s, Henry G. Cisneros, the former mayor of San Antonio, became the most prominent of Latino political figures.

During a chat with a Chicano Studies professor from Berkeley, I cited Cisneros as my choice for a speaker for a Harvard forum. He made a snide remark about what was then the mayor’s admission of marital indiscretion. Just recently, at the opening of the Republican Convention, there was another such remark following a Cisneros pledge to rally Latino support for Bill Clinton — and it was traced to U.S. Treasurer Catalina Vasquez Villalpando. To appease her party’s thirst for infidelity blood, this Latina on the Bush Administration offered up one of her own.

In my lifetime, I may see a Latino mayor of Los Angeles or governor of California. What I have not seen, perhaps will not see, are Latino professionals holding raised hands in unity. “You be the candidate this time, I’ll go next.” Ethnic solidarity, a successful economic and political tool for American Jews and other ethnic groups, eludes Latinos.

I had hoped my generation could stop playing these hurtful games and, finally, respect each other’s personal and ideological differences. For 50 years, the Old Guard has attributed the stagnation of the Latino population to external forces like white racism and discrimination. Yet, there are internal forces at work as well.

For Latinos, there has been little cooperation or camaraderie. And so little progress. Petty competition, personal intolerance and a refusal to let any of our own progress ahead of us make it unlikely that the children of the sun, however numerous, will ever inherit the earth.


Los Angeles Times

August 5, 1989, Saturday


BYLINE: By RUBEN NAVARRETTE JR., Ruben Navarrette Jr. took a year off from Harvard to work on legal and educational projects. He is returning this fall as a senior.

SECTION: Metro; Part 2; Page 8; Column 3; Op-Ed Desk

LENGTH: 1541 words

“I’m a homeboy now. At Harvard, I didn’t fit.”
– Jose Luis Razo, Harvard Class of 1989

A writer friend warned me that this case brings no easy answers. There are no “obvious conclusions” to be drawn by the story of Jose Luis Razo, the former Harvard student who was convicted of armed robbery in Orange County two months ago. “The whole thing seems problematic,” my friend cautioned. “My hunch is that the kid’s shoulders can’t stand much metaphor. Forget it.” Still, I fear there is much that remains unsaid. So I say it.

The day after the Harvard Class of 1989 received the golden passports that would open any door of their choosing, Joe Razo, who would have been among them, was instead in a courtroom in Santa Ana facing a possible 15 years in prison.

So came to an end the drama, two years after it was first played out in the national media, of the Latino honors student from La Habra who, a jury decided, held up at least six stores and fast-food restaurants during school breaks over the course of 18 months.

If one seeks tragedy — dishonor, if you will — the drama will not disappoint. The wasted future of a bright young man imprisoned in a correctional system that leaves those it punishes scarred and beaten, seldom corrected. The pain of a family that sacrificed much of their own lives to enhance his. The white alumni offended by his abuse of Ivy League benevolence — “See what happens when. . . . ”
People following the story can only guess at the “why” of Razo’s turning from the educational fast track to armed robbery. Psychologists offer simplistic theories about self-destructive “sun children” — bright minority students who excel beyond expectation and then turn away from the guiding light of success to burn out like a shooting star. In New York, a writer draws what seems an insightful comparison between the Razo case and that of Eddie Perry, a black honors student from Exeter, bound for Stanford on a scholarship, who was killed as he was mugging an undercover policeman near Harlem. Razo himself says he felt “alienated” in Cambridge. Harvard, in characteristic fashion, disclaims responsibility. “An isolated case,” Harvard says. Ah. . . .

Four years ago, Joe and I entered Harvard as two of 35 or so Mexican-Americans in the Class of ‘89. Some of those students were from wealthy families and private schools in the Southwest; others were from poor, Spanish-speaking families. Some wanted to take their Harvard degree “back to the community”; others intended to take it only as far as Wall Street. In Harvard’s eyes, we were similar; in fact, we had our differences.

Unfortunately, at Harvard as in the world in general, what makes people different is not always respected. Insecurity as to whether you really “belong” in a foreign environment can breed intolerance toward others. At its extreme, it becomes a kind of contest to “fit in” — a contest that seems to have only one kind of winner.

At Harvard, Joe and I were friends. Yes, I think that’s fair to say. Sometimes we argued politics or talked football over a few beers; we felt comfortable with one another, I think. It was our school that my friend never felt comfortable with. He seemed to pass through a stage that many scared and alienated young people in elite schools go through — wearing his ethnicity like a badge. Or was it more like a shield? I remember him in the costume of an East L.A. “homeboy” — the khaki pants, the Pendleton shirt, the bandanna around his head. I remember his tattoos and his homesickness for La Habra. I remember seeing him with a black eye and learning that he had been in a fistfight with a couple of local “townies” because of a racist remark they made. Young working-class whites sometimes resent the presence of Chicanos on an elite hometown campus that remains largely closed to them. It’s ironic that Joe felt shut out from the campus, too.

Harvard Chicano. Twenty years in existence and the term still seems an enigma, a paradox that doesn’t lend itself to a neat definition. Two concepts, once as distinct as oil and water, now are joined in the name of educational progress. Who are the people who bear the weight of that label? A policy-maker’s “model minority,” one whose excellence will make affirmative action easier. A “teacher’s pet” always waving her arm with the right answer. A high school counselor’s “overachiever” needing little guidance. Most of all, a tearful parent’s pride and joy, proof that with hard work anything is possible.

Since the central character in this tragic play is a personification of this paradox, there is a temptation to romanticize his experience. A respected Chicano studies professor who knows neither Joe nor Harvard speculates that “Ivy League racism made Razo miserable at Harvard; he committed those crimes to get out.” I’ve heard others say that Joe’s story is really one of a scared young man who wanted off the fast-moving treadmill that a well-meaning society had placed him on. Maybe. But there are gaps in the drama that aren’t filled by even the most sweeping of “obvious conclusions.” Within the context of life at Harvard, Razo’s rebellious appearance was not unusual. Many freshmen adopt a costume, a mannerism, a way of presenting themselves to others. In the Commune on the Charles, the extraordinary is ordinary. But not every student who sports torn Levi’s, or a serape, around Harvard Yard commits armed robbery during summer vacation. There must be more.

At his trial, mention was made of Razo’s dabbling in drugs. Seeking shelter from his somewhat charmed life, he entered the hallucinogenic world of PCP. For him, this world promised acceptance. It is, after all, a world already inhabited by hundreds of thousands of young Latinos like him, or unlike him — those that he had always been told he didn’t have to be like.

With the emergence of drugs into the drama, many people lost interest. Razo was no longer a “good victim.”

It is tempting to take the complex human experience that began to unfold during Razo’s trial and reduce it to a more manageable drug story, but the critical onlooker presses for more.

Some of us know, and few will admit, that Joe Razo experienced a kind of double alienation while at Harvard. Confused and alone, he instinctively sought refuge in the one corner of that foreign world that appeared familiar.

The Mexican-American students’ association at Harvard is called Raza; its professed goal for 20 years has been to provide a support system for students who, on their application, checked the box marked “Mexican-American/Chicano.” Raza works with the admissions office to ensure active recruitment of Latino high school students, and the organization’s rhetoric promises that it will make every effort to provide emotional support when they arrive in Cambridge. In short, Raza is supposed to help create a nurturing environment in which Latinos can adjust to life at Harvard without necessarily surrendering their cultural identity at the front gate.

Yet those who know these types of student organizations also know that sometimes they become as intolerant of individual differences as they accuse the campus community at large of being. Ethnic organizations do sometimes develop an image deemed “proper” for their group and exclude those who appear to contradict that image.

To those members of Raza eagerly awaiting their admittance to the world of BMWs and designer suits, Razo and his East L.A. look represented that sort of contradiction. He was an embarrassment to some, a reminder of how close they still were to the world they’d left behind. He was dressed like the kid whose fate, we had been told, we could escape if we studied hard. So we did. And when, through all our effort, we arrived safely in the ivy-covered world of cashmere and Kennedys, there he was — staring us in the face and forcing us to deal with the painful realization that we had not progressed nearly as far as we thought we had. He made us feel uncomfortable, then guilty for feeling uncomfortable.

I remember my last conversation with Joe, before finals in our sophomore year — the boyish expression on his face as he described his eagerness to go home. He asked if I had time for lunch; I frowned and said no, some errand in the Square. He understood. None of us ever had time for Joe.
A few weeks later I was in California, clerking for the state attorney-general’s office. My father called and asked if I’d read the morning paper. “A guy from Harvard was arrested,” he said. “Did you know him?” Yes, I did.

As I punch out the painful impressions of that time, my father looks over my shoulder and seems intrigued by the element of betrayal. “This happened at Harvard?” he asks. “Are you saying that the higher we climb, the less united we become?” Maybe that is what I am saying. Or maybe this is personal. Maybe this is just guilt, another confession by another Latino at Harvard. Maybe.

Maybe I just want people to think about what happens when a young man walks a tightrope between two very different worlds. Each has a claim on him. Harvard homeboy. Between the worlds that those two words represent is, perhaps, a barrier that should not be crossed.

Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)

July 21, 1999 Wednesday




LENGTH: 774 words

It can’t be. I’ve awakened the past few mornings hoping that the tragic events of late were a terrible dream. I’ve spent the past few days grieving over the death of a stranger.

As news of John F. Kennedy Jr.’s death trickled out last weekend, I needed someone who understood my sorrow. I needed my mother.

My mom watched me, as a child, pore over books about the Kennedys and sit mesmerized by videos of old speeches. She watched me, as a teenager, wander through Harvard Yard on a scouting trip, retracing the steps of Kennedys.

Later, she watched my father exploit the Kennedys’ magical hold on Mexicangrandmothers. My own grandma, who eschewed faraway colleges like Harvard, gave her blessing to my choice only after my father described it as “la escuela adonde fueron los Kennedys” (the school where the Kennedys went).
After graduation, my parents took me on a pilgrimage to Hyannis Port and,later, heard me quote Kennedys in a book, in columns and in speeches.

More recently, during a decade-long writing career, my mother has chuckled at my habit of measuring politicians by “the Bobby Kennedy standard” of moral courage.

My mother understands.

By the time I reached her, she was glued to the television, as she was 36 years ago this November.
For my mom’s generation, John Jr. was an adopted son who was, during those terrible Thanksgiving days of 1963, pulled to the nation’s bosom and held there ever since.

All weekend, graying historians and journalists failed to grasp the essence of John Jr. They started at Camelot, with the boy’s salute to his father’s casket. They defined the son in terms of the father.
For my generation, John Jr. wasn’t just a bridge to the past. A survivor of tragedy who was raised in a fishbowl, he grew up into a class act. He was atrust-fund baby whose greatest asset was his mother’s upbringing.

He was my generation’s Kennedy.

Like his father and uncle Bobby, John valued courage. Maybe it was courage that convinced a novice pilot that he could land safely in fog off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard. If so, courage failed him.

But, for much of his life, courage served John Jr. well, guiding his professional and personal choices.

As a profession, Kennedy could have done anything, or nothing. He could have lounged around pools with starlets. Instead, Kennedy launched a magazine with an admirable goal: to make politics user-friendly to young people and give them a peek into the private club of the political establishment.
For a magazine, or a column, that’s a noble intent.

True to a family tradition, John Jr. pushed himself. After his brother’sdeath, Robert Kennedy found solace in the writings of Aeschylus, and the Greek idea that human beings aren’t meant for safe havens.

For me, there’s a poignancy to the latest Kennedy tragedy.

I had planned to talk today about the end of the road and opportunities that beckon restless spirits.
John Jr. was such a spirit. He carried on the Kennedy tradition of tempting fate, putting himself at risk, and living life on his terms.

In a world where too many let up before the race is over and coast to thefinish line, John Jr. never quit while ahead or played it safe.

He was independent in his chosen path, brave in the walk, and optimisticabout the outcome. He kept that optimism in the face of the lesson mostfamiliar to Kennedys, and Catholics: Life will break your heart.

The poignancy comes not from Kennedy’s life, but mine.

I’ve decided not to play it safe, either. This is the end of the road. This is my last column.

I’m going away. I’m going home.

In ten days, I’ll return to Harvard for a year to pursue a master’s in public administration at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Being there, at a time like this, will be bittersweet.

Next year, I’ll go where fate takes me. It could bring me back here.

Even as someone who makes his living wrestling with words, I find it difficult to express my appreciation for the time you’ve spent with me.

In nearly 100 columns, you’ve heard my voice. And in the thousands of calls and e-mail messages they generated, I’ve heard yours.

I’ve made you laugh and cry, cheer and curse. While I’ve made you angry, I only meant to make you think. It was having to think that made you angry.

In these difficult days, my mind wanders back to my first stint at Harvard.For a scared kid far from home, those were dark days. Eventually, though, the shadow subsided and sunlight shone through.
Now, I’m going back. And, in the wake of this heartbreak, it is dark again. Still, I press on with an optimism like the one that marked the life of John F. Kennedy Jr.

One day, again, there’ll be light.
The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
July 7, 1999 Wednesday




LENGTH: 791 words

Here’s a first. President Clinton may be telling the truth when he says that his swing today through south-central Phoenix is about empowerment.

Of course, it’s not really poor and minority communities that Clinton seeks to empower with an idea he swiped from former HUD Secretary Jack Kemp, a Republican, about encouraging private investment in enterprise zones.

The goal is to empower Clinton’s administration, his political party, and his group of handpicked Latino “leaders.”

It’s no surprise that a Democrat would hand out goodies in anticipation of next year’s presidential election.

So what if this Democrat isn’t running again? That hasn’t stopped Clinton from searching for a spotlight. This lame duck is part peacock.

Clinton needs attention. But he also needs a campaign. And what would a campaign be without Democratic giveaways to Latinos?

Thirty years ago, Democrat President Johnson would go to south Texas with tamales and beer.
The modern pitch is more subtle.

In 1992, Clinton and Vice President Al Gore marked the 16th of September by posing in front of mariachis in East Los Angeles. A few weeks earlier, in San Antonio, Clinton stood in front of a bandstand decorated in the colors of the Mexican flag — green, red, and white. Ethnic holidays not withstanding, the rest of the 1992 campaign was milquetoast, with hardly a mention of Latinos.
No matter. Mexican-Americans, who make up two-thirds of U.S. Latinos, are baptized Catholic and Democrat. In 1992, Clinton and Gore were elected with over 60 percent of the Latino vote. In 1996, they snagged over 70 percent.

Still, the past seven years have fallen short of the high expectations that many Latinos had back in 1992. Clinton’s promise to produce a Cabinet that “looks like America” led Latinos to expect to see themselves reflected inthis White House.

They don’t.

Clinton was content to appoint just two Latino Cabinet secretaries — Henry Cisneros at HUD and Federico Pena at the Department of Transportation. Four years later, Clinton maintained that equilibrium by moving Pena to another post and bringing in Bill Richardson as energy secretary.
On the other hand, Clinton had no problem playing favorites by appointing women and African-Americans in record numbers.

Clinton also blew two opportunities to appoint a Latino to the U.S. Supreme Court, choosing Stephen Breyer and Ruth Bader Ginsburg instead. A Latino on the high court, pushed for by the National Hispanic Bar Association for a decade, seems reasonable now that Latinos are to become the nation’s largest minority.

In fact, Clinton’s overall record for appointing Latinos was, in his first term, so poor that a national Hispanic group issued him a report card with a failing grade.

On policy, Clinton steered clear of the sticky immigration issue, defined his yearlong “national dialogue on race” in outdated Black- and-White terms,and allowed his views on such complicated issues as bilingual education to bedictated by left-leaning advocacy groups.

The Arizona Democratic Party chairman gives Clinton more credit.

“One thing a president should do is open up lines of communication,”state Democratic Party Chairman Mark Fleisher said.
“I think President Clinton’s done an excellent job of doing that. He’ssaid this group is important, and it shouldn’t be left behind.”

Clinton himself left Latinos behind.

In fact, the only group with more cause to feel betrayed by the promise of Clinton and the reality of Clinton are gays and lesbians who, in 1992, poured out to support Clinton-Gore only to watch the Clinton administration weasel out of its support for a federal civil rights bill for gays and a lifting of the ban on gays in the military.

Clinton’s superficial relationship with Latinos probably has a lot to do with his own personal frame of reference and the Black-and-White world in which he has lived for most of his life. All those years in Arkansas,Washington, London, New Haven, Arkansas again, and Washington again left Clinton ill-prepared to understand “the Latino thing.” And nearly eight years in the Oval Office made it worse.

There is one exception. We are told that the president consumes Mexican food in mythical proportions. On his last trip to Arizona on Feb. 25, Clinton ducked into a restaurant in South Tucson where he scarfed down a bean tostada, a taco, a tamale, an enchilada, a chile relleno, rice and beans, and tortillas.

If only there was some way of letting President Clinton know about the opportunity he’s squandered to provide a more accurate reflection of Americain the new century.

We could make a list of Latino initiatives for him to pursue in his last 17 months in office. But how to get his attention?

I know, we could roll up the list and stick it in a burrito.


The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
May 9, 1999 Sunday




LENGTH: 708 words

They meet in secret. This time, they put aside their distrust of the news media just long enough to invite me into their private world for a no-holds-barred discussion about cop killers.

The meeting follows hard on the recent deaths of Phoenix police Officer Marc Atkinson and Chandler police Officer Jim Snedigar. Because the alleged assailants in both cases were Latino, some citizens have seized upon that fact to assume the worst.

Bored with stereotypes and simplicity, I’ve gone to the source.

We meet in a graffiti-tagged neighborhood.

They live la vida loca, the crazy life. It’s a life of crime, guns, gangs,and drug deals. Since they grew up in barrios, they have relatives and friends in prison. The youngest ones are in their 20s; the veteranos are twice that age.

Most have a hard exterior that comes from dodging bullets, standing infront of judges, and looking over their shoulders.

Dressed in blue jeans, they wear guns under their shirts. They have cellphones and pagers. Their muscles bulge under shirt sleeves. One man has a tattoo, another an earring. Some have goatees.
The women are as tough as the men. They’ve had to overcome extra obstacles to win respect in a fast-paced game.

The discussion is also fast. They begin by blasting the news media fortelling only the stories that make them look bad.

When I ask what they make of the recent cases of Latinos killing cops, some shake their heads angrily.

“Bad guys come in all colors,” said one of the veteranos.

So do good guys.

Some of these hard cases look like they belong in a lineup rather than in the thin blue line.

They’re cops, Latino cops.

Their roguish appearance lets them do undercover work.

Drawn from Valley police departments and the Department of Public Safety,they make up the Maricopa County chapter of the Latino Peace Officers Association (LPOA).

Even though it was formed two decades ago purely as a social organization,it became an agent for social change. It urged Valley departments to hire andpromote Latino officers and pushed for reforms, like pay for bilingual ability.

Latino cops are men and women without countries. Straddlers of two worlds, their loyalty to each is constantly in question. Often too blue to be Brown and too Brown to be blue, theirs is a lonely journey. They know that there are no absolutes, that there is good in bad people and bad in good people. And if they’ve been on the job long enough, they’ve realized that the stuff they were taught in the academy about how racial differences never get through the squadroom door is mostly fiction.
They all have war stories, some comical. One speaks of being accidentally arrested by Tucson police during an undercover bust and, another time, ofbeing asked for a green card and producing a badge.
But when the conversation returns to the deaths of Atkinson and Snedigar, the room goes silent. Suddenly no one is smiling. When I mention again that the alleged shooters are Latino and one an illegal immigrant, the quiet is shattered.

“We lost two brothers,” a veterano said of the two fallen cops.

“We don’t see color. We cry for them and their families, because we’re in the same boat.”
Other veteranos nodded.

But a younger member, while voicing his distaste for those immigrants of the drug-dealing, cop-killing variety, confessed a sympathy for those others who arrive here looking for work and not for trouble. He said it isn’t difficult for him to see in those immigrants the image of his own grandfather.

“I was lucky to be born on this side of the Rio Grande,” he said.

“That could have been me.”

It’s easy to paint dramas in black and white. But the best ones almost always contain a lot of gray.
As these cops know well: Life is about choices. To help young people make the right ones, they give away scholarships to students who may be interested in law enforcement careers. This year’s awards banquet is May 22. The top prize is named in honor of Enrique “Kiki” Camarena, the American DEA agent killed by drug lords in Mexico over a decade ago.

It’s been a while since I’ve heard Camarena’s name. Hearing it again, I feel foolish. I should have realized: There isn’t anything that anyone can tell this bunch about dead police officers that they don’t already know.

The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)

April 18, 1999 Sunday




LENGTH: 735 words

Don Gaylien had been invited to the party by a war buddy. The 75-year-old Mexican-American retired postal worker was cozy inside the posh ballroom.

I was out in the cold, tempted to pilfer a white jacket and pose as a Mexican waiter to get in. I’d have done it, too, if it weren’t for the armed Secret Service agents standing guard.

I knew there was a story behind those doors. There was: Gaylien.

Media storytellers were banned from a recent, and discreet, presidential fund-raiser for Texas Gov. George W. Bush at the Ritz-Carlton.

In an aggressive raid into John McCain territory, 300 people each dropped $1,000 into the Bush coffer. But with George W. stuck in Texas, it fell to a surrogate to fleece the Phoenicians. Who better than a namesake and ex-president?

The elder George Bush began as a Navy bomber pilot in World War II and finished up as commander in chief. It was in the first gig that Bush met Gaylien, then a 20-year-old from Phoenix. Both served from 1943 to 1945 aboard the USS San Jacinto in the South Pacific and flew bombing missions in the VT-51 squadron. Bush was a pilot in one plane, Gaylien a radio man and gunner in another. When Bush was shot down in 1944, Gaylien was one of the radio operators who called in the submarine rescue of the Yalie who would go on to be president.

Bush never forgot Gaylien, inviting him to special events like Bush’s 1988 inauguration and reunions of the VT-51. The two have maintained a friendship for 55 years, which explains how Gaylien found himself personally invited, and comped, to a Phoenix event by the former Leader of the Free World while the less-connected were pacing around outside, looking for a waiter’s jacket in a 44 short.
This is heady stuff for a guy like Gaylien, who grew up a poorMexican-American and now lives on Social Security and a postal pension.

Gaylien remembers starting high school in bare feet because he couldn’t afford shoes. He remembers movie theaters on Washington Street with signs that read: “Absolutely no Mexicans or Negroes” and others in which Mexicans could sit only in the front rows.

He remembers returning to Phoenix a decorated war veteran and a new man.The military changed that generation of Latino soldiers by giving them something that bigotry had denied them: a sense of self-worth. So the veteransreturned the favor and changed America right back by giving it a sense ofracial justice.

“Here we were, coming back from the war, and we were still discriminated against,” Gaylien said, as tears welled in his eyes.

“We made up our minds that we weren’t going to put up with that.”

Gaylien joined other Latino veterans in forming a Mexican-American chapter of the American Legion to fight evil at home just as they had in Europe and Japan.

But Gaylien’s brush with history doesn’t end there. There’s one more thing that completes his personal stake in the 2000 election.

A 1944 recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Gaylien was given the temporary citation marking the honor by an admiral with a name that wouldlater become well-known: Adm. John McCain.

That John McCain was the grandfather of the man who is now running for president. And Gaylien, whose life was changed by a Bush and a McCain, now must choose between a Bush and a McCain.
Gaylien grew up believing that Republicans were the party of the rich and the Democrats, the working class. Now, he thinks the opposite. He became a Republican when Bush went national in 1980.
Gaylien met Sen. John McCain 10 years ago. For what it’s worth, he prefers McCain to the likely Democratic nominee, Al Gore.

That’s good news for McCain. Now that they’re on a collision course with a family dynasty that inspires, in Latinos in Texas and Florida, a warmth unmatched since the Kennedys, McCain’s advisers want the votes of people like Gaylien. They just don’t have the foggiest idea of how to get them.
But they know a good story when they hear one. Gaylien said the McCain camp asked him to appear in a Spanish-language television commercial. He declined. He’s backing Junior and said he’ll help Bush in Arizona if asked.

That’s bad news not just for McCain but also for the state’sMexican-American power brokers who have promised the Latino vote to Gore.Those self-imagined kingmakers should meet some of the people they have betrothed to the vice president.

If Don Gaylien’s story is any indication, they will be impressed with what they find.


The Arizona Republic (Phoenix)
March 10, 1999 Wednesday




LENGTH: 680 words

The most anticipated contest of the 2000 Republican primary won’t be between household names like Bush or Dole or between Arizona sons named McCain and Quayle. Rather, it’ll be a fistfight between Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Arizona’s U.S. Sen. John McCain over a batch of once reliably Democratic voters who are up for grabs.

It’s Bush vs. McCain for the Latino vote. Mano a mano.

Bush, who on Sunday unveiled his presidential exploratory committee, hasthe early advantage. Besides leading a crowded field and trouncing Democrat AlGore by 20 points in polls, Bush has made historic inroads with Latino voters.

The roads begin in Texas, where Bush won between 33 and 50 percent of the Latino vote in his November re-election. While the percentage is in dispute, Bush won acclaim by speaking Spanish on the stump, raiding Democratic strongholds and resisting the GOP temptation to get mileage out of divisiveissues like immigration, affirmative action and bilingual education.

But the inroads extend beyond the Lone Star State. As word of the Bush phenomenon has spread, so has Bush’s appeal to Latino voters.

Oddly, that appeal benefits Latino Democrats. It terrifies the Gore camp,which recently shuttled the vice president to Denver to speak a littleTennessee Spanish and unveil a $2.5 billion spending package aimed at Latinos.After two terms as vice president, Gore has, thanks to Bush-mania, not only found use for high school Spanish courses but also uncovered millions of Latino voters that he had overlooked.

Bush’s Latino success also throws a gauntlet at the feet of other contenders for the GOP nomination, some of whom are poised to repeat old mistakes.

Those include former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander, who on Tuesday enteredthe race ready to reheat affirmative action as a campaign issue.

But the worst news for Republican outreach efforts is still Pat Buchanan, who also recently entered the contest. In earlier gallops through Arizona,Buchanan waved a white sheet by giving a specific name to the metaphorical illegal immigrant who, Buchanan said, was giving immigrants - like the Irishbrood that produced ol’ Patty - a bad name. Buchanan baptized the intruder: Jose.

While the miscalculations and missteps of other Republicans are good news for Bush, not all elephants are tripping over land mines.

Recently, in an unexpected move, McCain picked up Bush’s Latino gauntlet and tossed it back toward Austin. Speaking to the California Republican Convention, McCain let it be known that he intended to work hard for Latino votes. McCain’s choice of California as the place to state that intention was a calculated one. It was in California where Republican candidates were pummeled in November for what Latino voters in that state perceived to be a GOP-driven, anti-Latino political climate in the 1990s.
Armed with recent awards from two Latino organizations - the National Council of La Raza and LULAC - for his support for bilingual education, McCain decried the “politics of division” and called for an America that was “proud of its variety.” Just as proudly, he cited his success with Arizona Latinos.
In 1998, McCain bettered Bush’s numbers by winning an estimated 62 percent of the Latino vote.
“Their support is my honor,” McCain said of Arizona Latinos.

Still, the Bush magic may be hard to overcome even in Arizona. A little Spanish goes a long way.
But so does a little sincerity. John McCain has his own magic. He has always done well, and will always do well, with a community that is notoriously fond of war heroes (having produced more than its fair share of them). Latinos are no strangers to Medals of Honor, flag-draped coffins and Mexican mothers keening at gravesites to the Virgen de Guadalupe.

Political observers may speculate whether McCain can make serious inroadsinto the Latino vote. One thing beyond debate is the seriousness with which the candidate seems to take the mission.

Study McCain’s words. One imagines that someone with a fistful of medals who spent 5 1/2 years in the Hanoi Hilton does not take a word like “honor” lightly.


Dallas Morning News

January 21, 2005 Friday

For first-time dad, sense of new place is back home

BYLINE: Ruben Navarrette


LENGTH: 695 words

Ruben Navarrette

For some time now, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of people on the move. I’ve often wondered how folks arrive at one of the most important, and most personal, of decisions: Where to live.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been to nearly every one of the 50 states, or because I’ve lived in 10 cities and would gladly live in 10 more. Or because I know that, if I feel restless, I’m not alone.

Every year, over 40 million Americans - or about 13 percent of the U.S. population - pack their belongings and move. According to the Census Bureau, the reasons most often cited included a desire to own a home, pay less for housing or live in a better city or neighborhood.

Assuming people have a choice about where to live, it’s still a mystery to me why they choose one place or another. For some people, I imagine, the choice is easy. For others, they don’t choose the place as much as the place chooses them - because the place is home.

I remember, years ago, coming across this notion of a “sense of place,” the feeling that you belong somewhere and that you won’t be fully at peace until you get there. Or back there.

I know what that’s like. I left my home state of California nearly eight years ago. Chasing a career as a writer, I went to Phoenix, then to Boston, then to Dallas. But I knew it was time to think about going home when I started getting comfortable with the idea of being away from home.

I don’t like comfortable. So now I’m headed home. I’m leaving The Dallas Morning News and the state of Texas, and I’m heading back to California to accept a job as an editorial writer and columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune. I’ll still write my twice-a-week nationally syndicated column, but I’ll do it from San Diego.

Adding to the pull of home is the pitter-patter of little feet. My wife and I are expecting a baby. Our first. And we decided about a year ago, while we were still planning, that we wanted to raise our child on the West Coast. In San Diego, our daughter will be close to her grandparents, my parents, and our family will have the benefit of good quality schools, museums and parks. And then there’s the ocean, the beach and amusement parks galore.

Friends with kids tell me - or rather warn me - that babies change everything. They aren’t kidding. This one isn’t even here yet, and already she’s helped change how her daddy makes career decisions.
My friends and fans in Dallas - and those who don’t fit into either camp but who turned to my column to see if their anger-management courses were working - can still read me where they have for the last 41/2 years: on the op-ed page of The Dallas Morning News, where my soon-to-be former bosses assure me they’ll continue to run the column.

Readers in San Diego, where the column has appeared since it was launched in syndication and where the response - positive and negative - is among the highest of any market, will now have me within shouting distance.

Judging from the mail I get from my home state, there’s plenty of shouting going on. Not unlike Dallas - or, for that matter, Seattle, Des Moines or Little Rock - San Diego is going through some major changes (much of it tied to population growth, political realignment, shifting demographics, immigration and more), and those who live there are suffering through the growing pains that come with change.
I’m headed for changes of my own. The biggest - and most important - is parenthood. I’ll finally have the chance to put into practice all the preaching I do about how to raise kids.

It’ll also be a new experience to write from a blue state, rather than a red one. And it’ll be refreshing to comment on President Bush and the administration from a different vantage.

Don’t get me wrong. Texas is a great state. Ask any Texan. Still, with one of their own in the White House, there are times when, living here, you feel like you’re in an ideological bubble. Friends, co-workers and neighbors all seem conditioned to view one if the state’s favorite sons through rose-colored glasses.

Of course, the roses are yellow.

Ruben Navarrette is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.



January 7, 2005 Friday

Blame Mexico if you must, but immigration problem starts here

BYLINE: Ruben Navarrette


LENGTH: 742 words

Angry readers accuse me of unfailingly defending Mexican immigrants. Some say they’re not surprised, as one put it so tactfully, “since your last name is Navarrette.”

That being the case, I don’t suppose these folks will be shocked at my reaction to the news that the Mexican government is distributing to would-be emigrants a comic-book-style pamphlet with tips on how to cross into the United States illegally and avoid detection once they arrive. It occurs to me that Americans love to complain about illegal immigration - as long as they can blame the problem on someone else.

One institution that catches more than its share of blame is the Mexican government. I hear it all the time from readers who insist Mexico should do more to prevent its citizens from entering the United States illegally and that it should institute reforms to provide economic opportunities at home.

The blame-Mexico-first crowd is going to go ballistic over the comic book. Dubbed The Guide for the Mexican Migrant, the 36-page booklet uses color drawings and short phrases to explain to Mexicans what they should and shouldn’t do to safely cross the border.

For instance: “If you cross in the desert, make sure you do so during the hours when the heat is not so intense.”

And: “Once in the United States, don’t call attention to yourself. Avoid loud parties. Don’t become involved in fights.”

Mexican officials say they are only trying to save lives. Just last year, more than 300 Mexicans died trying to cross illegally. The government says the pamphlet is only an extension of years of similar efforts that have included videos and radio shows.

I remember one such effort. In 2001, Mexico hatched a plan to distribute little survival kits to people crossing the border. Containing everything from salt tablets to bandages to snacks, the kits were soon nicknamed by the Mexican press as cajitas feliz (”Happy Meals”) and eventually laughed out of existence.

Now that the pamphlet has been published, don’t count on much amusement from those Americans who say that Mexico should stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution.

These people need to grow up. Mexico takes in about $15 billion a year in remittances from Mexicans living in the United States. The money Mexicans send home is now the country’s second-largest source of foreign income behind oil exports (about $16 billion annually). Tourism produces about $10 billion a year.

So it is in Mexico’s interest to maintain the status quo. Our State Department likes to say Mexico and the United States are working together to stem the tide of illegal immigration. Anyone who believes that is loco.

Not that the status quo doesn’t benefit whole segments of the U.S. economy, mind you. The $15 billion headed to Mexico is only part of the story. What I’m waiting for is the study that calculates the amount of money that American employers and companies save each year by paying lower wages to illegal immigrants to do - as President Bush often puts it - “jobs that Americans won’t do.” Or the study that examines which U.S. businesses - such as restaurants, grocery stores and bars - take in the billions of dollars that Mexican immigrants don’t send home but spend here.

Why do you think that every time Congress debates immigration, the members get earfuls from constituents - and contributors - who own and operate hotels, restaurants, farms and construction companies? And yet the cultural right insists that the reason Congress doesn’t do more on immigration is because it doesn’t want to appear politically incorrect or offend Latino advocacy groups.

That’s crazy. Washington isn’t so complicated. Just follow the money, which means tracking political contributions. Any power that the advocacy groups have is minuscule compared to the influence wielded by business interests - big business, small business, every-size-in-between business. And the sooner Americans accept that, the better off they’ll be.

With an issue as volatile as illegal immigration, it’s easy to get worked up over what a foreign government does or doesn’t do. But Americans need to worry about their own behavior and understand this much: They aren’t in this fix because of Mexican comic books or the Mexican government. They’re in it because of their growing reliance on cheap Mexican labor.
Ruben Navarrette is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.


September 17, 2004 Friday

You can’t overcome missing obstacles Kids need to be taught self-reliance, responsibility and a work ethic

BYLINE: Ruben Navarrette


LENGTH: 675 words

A good parent can always detect a bad influence. In the 1940s, my Mexican immigrant grandfather managed to keep his son - my father - away from those kids with switchblades and leather jackets who cut classes and stole hubcaps.

Now, as I get ready to become a parent, what scares me is the thought that my c hildren might one day hang out with kids who have BMWs and $1,000 handbags, who run up their parents’ credit cards and still demand more.

There is reason to worry, according to a recent cover story in Newsweek. A lot of parents are having a tough time saying no to their children’s demands to buy them more of this, and newer and more expensive versions of that. Parents are even flocking to daylong seminars where experts tell them how to stand up to their kids, how to say no to their demands, and how to hold firm.

How pathetic. I can’t imagine my grandpa ever needing a seminar to remind him who was the parent and who was the kid. A spanking, a scolding or even a disapproving glance did the trick.

The parents of today seem to be out of ideas about how to deal with what the article calls pint-sized “wanting machines.” They don’t want conflict or to disappoint their children. So they give in.

According to market research done by a company called Packaged Facts, families with kids aged 3 to 12 spend $53.8 billion annually on entertainment, personal-care items such as makeup, and reading materials for their children. And when the kids get older, they take their parents’ credit cards or their own disposable income and buy even more goodies. Last year, according to a firm called Teenage Research Unlimited, 12- to 19-year-olds forked out a whopping $175 billion.

You name it, today’s kids are buying it, wearing it, or playing with it: from designer labels to high-priced shoes to the latest electronic gadgets.

Surprise: The problem is less with the kids than with the folks raising them. Parents want so badly to be their kids’ best friends that they never get around to being parents. And part of being a parent is setting limits to consumption and teaching children the value of a dollar.

The mistake that so many parents make today is not that they’re too strict, but rather too lenient. It’s not that they demand too much from their kids but that they expect too little. Too many parents are failing to strike a balance between providing for their children and teaching them self-reliance, responsibility and a work ethic. The result is a whole generation that, experts fear, has been conditioned to see expensive things and a comfortable life as entitlements - to their detriment.

Not long ago, after a speech to a local business group, an Anglo gentleman stood and asked me what our society should do about poor black and Hispanic kids who come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Nothing, I told him. Leave them alone. Whatever you do, I said, don’t try to rope them into some government welfare program. The disadvantaged kids - at least some of them - will find a way out of their circumstance, I said. Chances are they’ll do what poor people and immigrants have done for generations. They’ll study hard, work long hours and push themselves forward.

If you really want to worry about someone, I said, worry about the kid living comfortably in the suburbs. The spoiled child who had every toy and every advantage growing up, who never bothered to get a summer job or do chores around the house, and who still got a new car at 16. The kid whose parents who were too busy providing for him to spend time with him, and who tried to make up for their absence by giving him money and buying him things.

What does society have to offer to the kid who has everything?

It’s funny. Sixty years ago, my grandparents worked in the fields from dawn to dusk to make sure their kids didn’t go hungry. And now, surrounded by modern conveniences, what concerns me is how to raise my children so that they will be hungry - for success.

Ruben Navarrette is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.



June 25, 2004 Friday

DA letters join long list of my critics inside, outside la familia

BYLINE: Ruben Navarrette


LENGTH: 714 words

There are days when the experience of being a Mexican-American columnist leaves you feeling like a piñata.

One minute you’re accused of being too ethnic, and the next, of not being ethnic enough. Some will say you’re trying to speak for all Latinos, while others skewer you for failing to defend your own kind.
About 10 years ago, in Los Angeles, a Latina yelled “vendido” (sellout) and stormed away from one of my speeches after I criticized the late César Chávez, the former president of the United Farm Workers Union. Just recently, a Latino reader from Texas accused me of spreading “misinformation” because I oppose bilingual education.

I’m not bothered by criticism from other Latinos. I’m used to it. What I’m not used to is having my ethnic bona fides challenged by phantoms.

Recently, The Dallas Morning News obtained a draft “letter to the editor” supposedly penned by Dallas attorney Michael Brito, a former president of the Dallas Hispanic Bar Association.

Mr. Brito insists that he didn’t write the letter. But he says the Dallas County district attorney’s office asked him to sign it and send it to the newspaper. Mr. Brito did neither because he thought the letter was “way over the top.”

I’ll second that, although I’m not an impartial source. The letter blasts at me for my efforts to determine the role that prosecutors played in the fake-drug scandal - efforts that, the letter says, aren’t “helping the search for truth.”

The letter also describes the fake drug scandal as something of a cultural affair - involving “Hispanic police officers, Hispanic informants and Hispanic victims.” It ends with this zinger directed at me: “And if he thinks he’s the voice of Dallas Hispanics, he’s wrong.” In the draft, someone has edited out the last two words, and written in: “he is not even close.”

The letter has a cover page attached, suggesting that Mr. Brito is telling the truth about it being written by someone else and faxed to him for his signature. And from where was it faxed? Why, from within the Dallas County district attorney’s office.

Local criminal defense attorney Cynthia Barbare, who represented some of the individuals charged in the criminal cases that grew into the fake drug scandal, says she was also asked to sign a letter.
Both Ms. Barbare and Mr. Brito say they were originally approached by Dan Benavides, the former Dallas County prosecutor who was found dead in his home in early April of an apparent suicide. It was Mr. Benavides who asked them to send the letters, they said.

That much makes sense. Mr. Benavides and I were what you might call forced adversaries. I’d been receiving praise from Hispanics for investigating whether the district attorney’s office played a role in the scandal. And, according to Dan’s friends and family, he was nearly consumed with trying to rebuild the office’s image with Hispanics in the aftermath of the scandal.

This was no easy job. Early in the scandal, District Attorney Bill Hill appeared on ABC News’ Nightline and declared how certain he was that many of those people he was releasing from jail were in fact guilty.

The letters, which Mr. Hill says Mr. Benavides wrote and the district attorney approved, had an ethnic subtext that made Michael Brito uncomfortable.

“I was extremely concerned about what they were trying to orchestrate,” he said. “The Latino community is very well known for not supporting their own in many respects. I’ve always been troubled to watch Latinos go after one another because it undermines the power that the group has as a whole,” Mr. Brito said. “And some people try to divide us.”

Bingo. That’s what the letter in question was all about. It was an attempt to divide and conquer and pit one Latino against another. It was also a cheap and cynical ploy to manipulate public opinion by convincing readers of the morning paper - especially Hispanic readers - that the district attorney’s office was trying to make things right and that it was wrong for me to say otherwise.

Here’s what I still don’t get: Why go to such lengths to prove that I don’t speak for the entire Latino community? Next time, just ask my Latino critics. They’ve been saying that for years.

Ruben Navarrette is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.


The Dallas Morning News

May 2, 2003, Friday

Lone arrest in fake drug scandal isn’t justice

BYLINE: Ruben Navarrette


LENGTH: 797 words

The good news is that after nearly 20 months of probing by local and federal officials, there finally has been an indictment in the Dallas Police Department’s notorious “fake drug” scandal. The bad news is that, indictment or not, the public isn’t any closer to knowing exactly who is blame for what was a hideous miscarriage of justice.

It became a national story when enterprising informants were accused of duping some of Dallas’ finest into thinking that a powdery substance was cocaine when it wasn’t, that innocent people - mostly Mexican immigrants - were guilty when they weren’t and that a slew of busts came from crackerjack police work when they didn’t. The snitches had something working in their favor - namely, that the department’s top brass wanted to believe the yarn the informants were spinning. Anxious to score political points with a public with no stomach for drug dealers, police supervisors were eager to believe that their narcotics squad was racking up tons of arrests and confiscating mountains of cocaine, which they then were only too happy to use as props at news conferences, with the ultimate goal being to snag airtime on the evening news.

When it became obvious that the cases involved bogus drugs that had been planted and that police, prosecutors, judges and juries had made a colossal blunder by convicting individuals who may have been innocent, prosecutors dismissed what grew to be 86 drug cases.

That piqued the interest of the FBI, which began its own inquiry - one that last week produced the first criminal charges in the case. The only person charged thus far is Senior Cpl. Mark Delapaz, who was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of depriving individuals of their civil rights and providing false information to a federal agent.

That’s it? If that is all the FBI has to show for a 15-month investigation, taxpayers should ask for a refund.

The bureau says that its investigation continues and that more indictments may follow. Don’t hold your breath.

It is possible this could be the only criminal indictment we see. I suspect the theory that this is all about one bad actor would sit well with Police Chief Terrell Bolton, who called a news conference the day the indictment was unsealed to say he had fired Mr. Delapaz. Chief Bolton also said the department had put in place safeguards to prevent further scandals.

Left unanswered in either the federal indictment or the lackluster response of local officials to this scandal is the big question: Was there, as some have suggested, a culture at the Dallas Police Department that made the scandal possible by encouraging officers to make high-profile arrests, authorizing corruptively large payoffs to informants and providing very little supervision?

That’s what Mr. Delapaz claims to have happened. Now facing up to 10 years in prison if convicted, the former officer insists he just carried out policies instituted by his supervisors.

“It was all blessed,” Mr. Delapaz told me in a phone conversation. “These weren’t my procedures. I just requested the money.”

Mr. Delapaz also insisted that the fact officers were handing over large payouts to informants - as much as $ 50,000 at one time - was no secret to his supervisor, Deputy Police Chief John Martinez, whom Mr. Delapaz claims signed off on many of the requests.

When I called Mr. Martinez for comment, he declined. Citing pending civil litigation stemming from the case, he referred all questions to a Police Department spokeswoman.

Mr. Delapaz also said that supervisors routinely would ask to be kept informed of looming drug busts so they could alert the media and that no one seemed to care when enough suspicions were raised about their most productive informant that officers gave him a polygraph test. All that mattered, it seems, was that the informant was good at what he did.

“It was all about greed,” Mr. Delapaz said. “It was about making the cases and getting the glory. I didn’t care about any of that.”

Maybe Mr. Delapaz was telling the truth when he said in court filings that he didn’t know the drugs were fake. Or maybe he did commit serious ethical breaches and maybe even criminal offenses for which - if convicted - he deserves to be punished.

Either way, we are talking about dozens of cases, hundreds of pounds of fake drugs and months of delay in bringing the cases to light. Are reasonable people expected to believe that one man - a senior corporal at that - single-handedly orchestrated a scandal of such magnitude?

If you are gullible enough to believe that, well, you are in luck. There is an opening at the narcotics division of the Dallas Police Department.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is an editorial columnist for The Dallas Morning News.