Sick Days

Yes, I’m as guilty as any other white-collar worker of bitching about office politics, inane corporate policies, and clueless colleagues who walked straight out of Dilbert.

But at least there is a pretty good likelihood that I will not get killed at my desk. Of course, my odds would be better if I weren’t Hispanic.

That’s because a recent study found that Latino workers are 18 percent more likely to be killed on the job than workers of any other racial/ethnic group.

So it’s bad enough we Latinos have a tougher time getting a job in the first place. Now it looks like once we are gainfully employed, we have to punch in next to the Grim Reaper.

Why is this? Well, the chief reason is because Hispanics are heavily represented in the construction and landscape industries. And those are dangerous gigs.

It’s even more lethal if you are an immigrant worker, who experience the highest risk of death on the job. Those would be the same immigrant workers who are, you know, destroying America by stealing jobs and launching crime sprees and raping people nonstop (at least in Donald Trump’s world).

In any case, the report is even more troubling because it shows that the number of people who die while working continues to decline each year… but not if they’re Hispanic.

It makes you wonder about a system that exploits undocumented workers, puts them at an increased risk of death, and then, quite literally, adds insult to injury by blaming them for every possible social ill (even though there is rarely any data that validates this viewpoint).

I would go on about this grotesquery, but I’m getting a little nervous about working at my computer, being Latino and all.

So if you need to talk to me, I’ll be cowering under my desk.


Fear and Loathing at IHOP

I think we can all agree that stopping the growing Nazi scourge that is taking over pancake houses across America should be our nation’s top priority.

Wait… you don’t know what I’m taking about?

Then clearly you haven’t seen this video, in which a brave patriot stands up to a Latina who committed the grievous sin of speaking Spanish in public.

The woman, Norma Vazquez, was at an IHOP here in Los Angeles with her son, Carlos Steven. They were apparently letting all those trilled R’s and double L’s fly around the place during their private conversation. And hey, let’s face it, even whispering Spanish is a clear affront to God’s favorite language — English.

So a woman approached the Vazquezes, and in the spirit of neighborliness, promptly snapped, “We speak English in America.” She also offered the helpful suggestion that the mother and son should “go back to Spain,” even though Ms. Vasquez is from El Salvador.

Now, you might ask what all this has to do with Nazis. Well, that’s where things go from ignorant and hateful to completely weird.

The confrontational lady equated speaking English with freedom, telling the Vazquez family, "Do you want the Russians over here telling you what to do? Do you want the Nazis telling you what to do?"

Indeed, I’m sure all red-blooded Americans agree that saying anything in Spanish is the gateway to fascism. Perhaps the wrong combination of Spanish phrases — like el sombrero or la fiesta or sin verguenza — acts as some sort of incantation, causing Hitler and his minions to rise from the grave and feast upon the brains of English-speaking, freedom-loving Americans everywhere.

And yes, that does sound like a kick-ass sequel to Dead Snow.

In any case, it turns out that Norma Vazquez does speak English, but her preferred language is Spanish. It also turns out that her son, Carlos Steven, knows how to use a camera phone. He videotaped the English-only lady and her bizarre tirade, and he posted it to Facebook, where it has since garnered 15 million views and almost 500,000 shares.

So what do we make of this situation? Well, it’s clear that the fear of foreign languages and hatred of bilingualism — which are concepts fairly unique to America — aren’t fading away soon. It’s also clear that individuals who really, really hate Spanish will continue to insist that it is their right, even their duty, to accost people and let ‘em have it if so much as an hola slips out.

Remember, just a few months ago, another upstanding patriot screamed, “USA, English only,” at terrified schoolchildren.

As for the English-only woman prowling around IHOPs, ready to pounce on Spanish speakers at the first sign of trouble, well, I’m tempted to call her a xenophobe.

But she would probably just say that’s a made-up word and to speak English, damn it.


Toward Complete World Domination

My new novel has been out for about three months now, and it continues to provoke people to run shouting though the streets about its greatness.

OK, maybe that isn't happening everywhere, but I assure you that I exaggerate only very slightly.

In any case, I must inform you that my novel, Barrio Imbroglio, is now available on Smashwords (you can snag a copy here). Also, the book will soon appear on Barnes & Noble's site, as well as iTunes.

So clearly, you are out of excuses not to buy it. And don't forget to join my email list so that I can let you know when the inevitable sequel comes out.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the book.


Let’s Get Rid of the Term “White Privilege”

Marketing is everything.

For example, witness the well-documented phenomenon of many Americans despising Obamacare while still liking the Affordable Care Act (fyi: they are the same damn thing).

Or consider the worst branding decision of all time: “global warming.” As we all know, climate deniers just scoff and say, “Then why was it so cold this winter?” Such idiotic assertions are easier to dismiss with a new and improved term (i.e., “climate change”).

We are seeing the same pushback, the same dismissal of reality with the phrase “white privilege.” Now, for those who are unclear about this concept, white privilege refers to societal privileges that benefit white people beyond what is commonly experienced by non-white people. We can nitpick this definition, but that would be a whole other article.

The problem with white privilege is that the concept is painfully easy to refute. I’m not talking about right-wingers who insist that racism is dead or that white people are actually the disadvantaged class in America. There’s just no reaching those people.

No, I’m referring to white individuals who hear the word “privilege” thrown at them and interpret it as an individual attack rather than as a societal fact. Their reply is frequently, “There’s nothing privileged about my life.”

Indeed, as the wealth gap increases, plenty of white people are being left behind. And many of those struggling individuals come from ethnicities that endured their own struggles in the past (and occasionally, in the present). Under such circumstances, it’s galling — even ludicrous — to be told that you are privileged.

And what have good liberals done when confronted with this response? We stammer that privileges are often invisible, or that white people are less likely to be harassed by the cops, or that we’re not implying white people have had everything handed to them on a silver platter.

That’s all true of course. But it’s also true that if you’re explaining, you’re losing.

And that’s why we need to drop the whole thing — not the concept, mind you, which is crucial to our understanding of racial inequalities and American culture itself. We need to rebrand.

This has been pointed out before, but so far we have failed to come up with a good alternative.

So let’s begin the discussion in earnest. Let’s make it a real goal to replace the needlessly confrontational term “white privilege.”

I’ll get it started. How about “white advantage”? It’s still racially loaded, but the idea of “advantage” is much easier to accept than “privilege.”

Hey, just take it as a first draft. I’m sure working together, we can come up with something better.

Because we really need to.



The Perils of Heritage

We are all descended from losers.

Take me, for instance. My family came from El Salvador, a charter member of the Third-World Nation Hall of Fame that is best known for crippling poverty, psychotic gangs, bloody civil wars, murdered priests, and raped nuns.

I’m also part Italian, which lends itself to stereotypes of Mafia hit men and the original unwashed horde of immigrants. In addition, Italy is currently on its 982nd post-WWII government (not exactly a source of pride).

And I’m a touch Irish as well. So here comes the drunken, brawling Irishman, everybody.

No, I’m not self-loathing. In truth, I’m grateful for my mélange of ancestry. I regularly sing the praises of Latino culture, and it’s not bad having a connection (however distant) to Da Vinci and James Joyce.

However, everyone’s culture has black spots, and our efforts to honor our ancestors should not extend to overt denial and large-scale myopia. But they regularly do.

No society is great at recognizing its historical mistakes and sources of shame.

For example, many Russians still think Stalin was a great guy, a lot of Japanese believe that whole Nanking thing was overblown, and the Turks won’t acknowledge they were a little, teensy-weensy bit mean to the Armenians.

As for America, it is only in recent decades that we have even begun to acknowledge what happened to Native Americans, and we still don’t know how to address slavery.

This brings us, of course, to the Confederate flag.

A recent survey said that most Americans (57%) believe that the flag is a symbol of Southern pride, more than it is an emblem of racism. Well, of course many Americans think the flag isn’t racist. They’ve been told that for generations. And for generations, they have been wrong.

But still, let’s look at the reasons why the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia is regarded as an icon of Southern pride.

As far as I can tell, the Confederate Army’s legacy constitutes of three things:

  • ·      Being led by racist slaveholders
  • ·      Waging the bloodiest, most violent act of treason in American history
  • ·      Getting its ass kicked by the Union Army

I’m looking over that list, and I don't see a whole lot to be proud about.

Perhaps it is too painful to admit that the Confederates weren’t fine gentlemen who were fighting for the honor of their states. They were assholes.

The sad thing is that Southerners have much they can celebrate. We’re talking about the land of Faulkner, and the birthplace of blues and jazz, and some of the best cuisine in the country. And while we’re at it, go ahead and play up Southern hospitality, which in my personal experience, is a very real thing.

But none of those things have the visceral impact of that blue X on a red background. None of those concepts conjure up the tortured self-righteousness of the Lost Cause and the romanticism of mint juleps and content Negros singing spirituals.

It is too difficult for Southerners to admit that their ancestors weren’t gallant or valiant. Lee, Jackson, Davis, et al were way past the wrong side of history, to the point where to honor them as respectable is Orwellian. No doubt, many of them were brave and fought hard for their cause, but that can be said about any army, including all the really bad guys.

And as many have pointed out, no other industrialized nation celebrates the legacy of a failed rebellion against its government. No other country says, “Yes, I know they killed millions of their countrymen for a horrific and shameful cause, but let’s put up monuments to them anyway.”

Understand that I don’t mean to pick on the South or assert that my background is so superior. As I stated, my roots are in El Salvador, so I know how difficult it can be to admit that a lot of your predecessors were reprehensible (and yes, US interventions and neo-colonialism are big factors in the dark history of Central America, but that doesn't let Salvadorans off the hook for their homegrown evil).

My point is that the relentless romanticism of heritage — along with misplaced regional or ethnic pride — are not just abstract annoyances. As we’ve seen, they have very real consequences in American society.

We see it in the ranting of a homicidal gunman. We see it in the denial that racism even exists. We see it in the refusal to look forward and accept a new society, because to do so would somehow dishonor our great-great-great grandmothers. We see it whenever we refuse to work on our personal and cultural flaws, because after all, we must be amazing based on our noble lineage. And we see it whenever we dismiss unvarnished facts in favor of some soothing fairy tale.

Now, it’s true that you can’t know where you’re going until you know where you’ve been. But adhering to that maxim to the point of hyper-reverence locks us into cultural handcuffs to the past, with all of its mistakes and prejudices and outright brutality.

Perhaps it’s time that we take pride not in the opinions of our forbearers, but in being mature enough — as individuals and as a nation — to transcend the antiquated and misbegotten hatreds of people who just happened to be born before us.

So how about all of just say that we’re better than our ancestors, and our descendents will be better than us?

Because no matter where you’re from, that’s pretty much the truth.