BY ESTHER J. CEPEDA, Washington Post Writers Group
CHICAGO -- Judging from reactions to remarks by the president and first lady during separate commencement speeches recently, I have to imagine that it’ll be a bit of a bummer for Hispanics if a Latino is ever elected president.
I don’t particularly care for Barack Obama’s politics, but I hate seeing him ripped for not being “black enough,” not giving blacks enough favor or enough credit.
In the days since Obama addressed Morehouse College graduates, he’s become a Bill Cosby figure, labeled a finger-wagger for using his time in front of one of the largest gatherings of young, elite African-American males to restate his belief in the power of hard work and personal responsibility.
“We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself,” the president said. “Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But one of the things that all of you have learned over the last four years is there’s no longer any room for excuses.”
Though the complaints are out there on blog after angry blog -- “The First Couple’s Post-Racial Bootstraps Myth” on The Nation’s website is particularly indignant -- it’s truly stunning to imagine anyone taking offense at the notion that one should not rationalize bad choices based on what others expect of us.
Yet I can easily see that if a Hispanic were to be elected president, similar attacks by Latinos on such seemingly self-evident expressions of character would further confuse a non-Hispanic population that’s already mixed up about who Latinos are and what they believe in.
Despite the fact that there are plenty of Hispanics out there telling their stories in terms of hard work, making good choices and taking responsibility, substitute the word “brown” in Obama’s statement “just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down” and you’d see the same outrage from the many Latinos who really do see everything in terms of whites trying to oppress minorities.
If New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez became president, would she get any better a reception for comments similar to ones Michelle Obama made at Bowie State University’s graduation?
“When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can’t be bothered,” the first lady said. “Today, instead of walking miles every day to school, they’re sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they’re fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper.”
Substitute “soccer player” for “baller” and you’ve got the potential to make Hispanics lament that “their” representative is a scold.
A steady stream of such criticism would be unimaginably tiresome and difficult to stand for four, or more, years. It’s not as though the Latino version of “Is he/she Hispanic enough?” isn’t already the most boring and trivial conversation about the few Latino politicians dotting the national landscape.
Worse, such navel-gazing would bubble out of the Hispanic blogosphere and into the national consciousness, confusing non-Hispanics about what proper political views and language preferences are acceptable in the Latino community -- as if there’s a consensus.
On top of common misperceptions that Hispanics can’t speak and don’t want to learn English, the general public would learn that many Latinos believe that true authenticity comes only with a preference for, or command of, the Spanish language.
Two politicians recently subjected to the Spanish-related “Latino In Name Only” or “fake Hispanic” controversy: Democrat Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, and Republican Ted Cruz, senator from Texas. Of course Cruz, as with other Republican Hispanics, was also disqualified as a Latino by liberals who disagree with his conservative beliefs.
And that’s just for starters. As with criticism of the racial makeup of Obama’s Cabinet, unemployment rates and other racial metrics, Hispanics would tear into a Latino president for not favoring them enough while non-Hispanics would be on the lookout for any sign that he did.
A shame, isn’t it, that such a milestone of historic progress for Hispanics could be so dreaded a proposition?
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.
(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group