SAN DIEGO — It’s always great to be invited. But with Latinos, things don’t get interesting until you’re “uninvited.” It has happened to me a few times.
Several years ago, I agreed to speak at the annual conference of the California Association for Bilingual Education. The invitation was extended because the organizers approved of my support for immigration reform. Then someone “Googled” me and found out that, over the years, I had also been critical of bilingual education. The invitation was quickly withdrawn.
Soon thereafter, I was invited to accept an award from Latino legislators in California. The day before the event, a lawmaker called and took it upon herself to uninvite me. Another recipient – former United Farm Workers Vice President Dolores Huerta – was furious at me for revealing publicly the union’s ugly history of turning over illegal immigrants to immigration officials for deportation. I went anyway, accepted the award, and wound up in a shouting match with Huerta.
Now, it has happened again.
I had been asked by Manny Ruiz, the CEO of the Miami-based social media conference Hispanicize, to moderate a panel that was centered on a study about the political leanings of Latino journalists. The panel included a representative of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, with which Ruiz has been trying to forge a partnership. Last year, I had criticized the NAHJ for caving in to a demand from California Assembly Speaker John Perez that the group boot a political rival from a panel at its own annual conference. About two weeks before the Hispanicize event, I got an email from Ruiz saying that he should have consulted with the other panelists, and that – after speaking with them – “a decision [had] been made” and that he had to “rescind the invitation.”
All these uninvitations got me thinking about the big picture.
Last month, Latinos overtook whites to become the largest racial/ethnic group in California. Latinos now make up 39 percent of the country’s most populous state.
Yet, more population doesn’t always equal more power.
What holds Latinos back isn’t just discrimination, bad schools, inadequate access to capital, nativist backlash and closed doors from Wall Street to Hollywood.
Some impediments are internal. Many Latinos are – because of how they’ve been treated – plagued by insecurities, prone to infighting, envious toward one another, eager to tear each other down and insistent that everyone stick to the established narrative. They will often berate, scold or attack those who offer a different point of view.
Consider the tale of the UFW and one of the organization’s dissidents, a co-founder of the union who was shortchanged in the new film “Cesar Chavez.” Filmmakers – who obtained licensing rights from the UFW and worked with union officials to develop the story – cast Michael Pena as the iconic labor leader. An underutilized Yancey Arias plays Gilbert Padilla, now an 86-year-old former community organizer who fought the growers alongside Chavez.
Padilla resigned as secretary-treasurer of the UFW after raising concerns about the union’s bookkeeping. He became an outspoken critic of the direction in which Chavez steered the union – i.e., away from organizing workers and toward a national grape boycott. He was also critical of Chavez’s tendency to believe his own press clippings, and how a union that was created by many people was portrayed in the media as being about one man. Soon, this veteran of the farm labor movement was labeled a traitor.
I met Padilla about 25 years ago, and we had a series of eye-opening discussions about the reality of the UFW, Chavez and the movement. He has a deep reservoir of great stories that were, for me, all the more irresistible because the UFW and others on the left don’t want them to be told.
In the fall of 1990, I was teaching a Chicano-Latino studies course at California State University, Fresno. When I invited Padilla to speak to my students about the UFW, the department chair called me into her office and tried to get me to “uninvite” him. I refused and brought him to class anyway. I was never asked to teach another course there.
Pay attention, Latinos. Standing on principle isn’t the way to make friends. But it’s essential if we’re going to stop being our own worst enemies.
Ruben Navarrette is a columnist for U-T San Diego. Reach him at [email protected]