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Citizen Voices

Preparing for an appearance on KPBS' "These Days" with Chris McConnell and Chuck Hartley , the topic selection for the program narrowed down to discussing the La Raza conference in San Diego , the gas crisis, and Proposition 2 .  Among the producers, the radio program's excellent host Tom Fudge, and the three bloggers, we decided to discuss the Latino vote in general and Proposition 2. 

Although discussing animal cruelty can involve contentious debate, (just check out Chuck's blog and subsequent comments) I started to worry about how the conversation surrounding La Raza would take shape. Would I be asked to defend the organization, which gets a bum rap as being fundamentally divisive? How about my personal reasons for not attending? Would Tom Fudge ask me how a Mexican-American could not attend the conference in good conscience?

Tony from San Diego
July 22, 2008 at 07:28 PM
While I’m coming from a completely different standpoint, I know what you mean when you describe how anxious you feel when talking about racial issues. Because of America’s slave-owning, racially-supercharged past, race may always be a sensitive issue. You do a good job of empathizing with people who have grown weary of others defining their entire selves though ethnicity. I’ll try and follow your lead and continue your productive discussion about race. Your post today is thoughtful and measured, but in your discussion of racial identity, you come dangerously close to conflating race with culture. Two people of the same race can embrace fundamentally different viewpoints. Culture is much more strongly passed down through family or regional ties than ethnic ones. If you hadn’t inherited your heritage from your parents, would you have likely developed the same appreciation for northern Mexican cooking and Cinco de Mayo? It is your absolute right to embrace your cultural heritage. Concordantly, it would also be your right not to define yourself through ethnicity. Not everyone understands this. My Filipino girlfriend, who has a Spanish-sounding name, has been accused of “denying her heritage” because she doesn’t speak Spanish. The political commentator Linda Chavez has been accused of “denying her heritage” because she’s conservative and doesn’t share the political sensibilities of groups such as La Raza. I’m a quarter Italian, and because of this a man I deal with through work couldn’t understand a few weeks ago why I didn’t care that Italy’s soccer team lost to Spain. I didn’t get angry; I just shook my head. I guess if I have anything meaningful to say, it’s this: Please don’t handicap yourself by trying to please everyone. If someone is offended by your pride in your heritage, just dismiss them. People who are threatened by the varieties of human condition will always exist. All of your nervousness concerning whether or not someone will understand why you didn’t attend a political conference should dissipate once you truly understand that there is nothing wrong with being yourself, even if it makes you a little less communitarian.

michael valentine from spring Valley
July 22, 2008 at 10:22 PM
As a biracial person, 1/64 Cree Native American and 63/64th mixed Mediterranean and Northern European, I'd like to point out that there are few of us who qualify as any kind of "pure" this or that. The only race that really counts in this Democracy is the human race. That's why when asked which race claims me on a form I decline to answer or fill in other and write in Human. I try to live up to that one standard of being a human first and always. That is a choice. The make-up of my ancestors was none of my choosing. I was born into the world like everyone else, in a situation that was none of my making. The color of my skin and the culture I was brought up in was by chance, happenstance if you will. But deciding to be a human first, last and always is what makes us citizens of the world and brother and sister to all. That is the choice, the most important choice of all. In my heart it signals the acceptance of our common race, the human one. I have had help in this enlightenment/revelation from my church. I am a member of the Mid-City Church of Nazarene on University Ave. in San Diego, Ca. This church, ten years old this year, is comprised of people speaking seven different languages in five separate congregations, united under one roof. Many are refugees from despots overseas. Once every four months we join in a common service that is anything but common. We unite together to worship and the face of the united congregations is the face of humanity as we know it. Every shade of skin, every shape of the eye the result of Creation, somehow. We remember and celebrate our diversities. We recognize and celebrate our coming together as disciples of Christ. In this coming together we have a joined mission in serving Christ among the poor. To this end last year we distributed over a million dollars worth of food to the needy in the neighborhood. Our church isn't rich, refugees seldom are. But with the use of volunteer labor and a very limited budget we seem to make fishes and loves as a diverse people who are brother and sister to each other. In the end we speak from our own backgrounds and ethnic makeup, but aren't we better off speaking from our common background of humanity? The state of being fully human with all it's frailties ties us together. The misconception of individual strength leads us to the anti-christ view of social darwinism.

andy from greater pittsburgh omg I can see a blue sky today!
July 24, 2008 at 05:09 PM
Well there certainly are a never ending amount of groups out there right? The great thing is that we get to choose whether or not to identify with those groups or actively deny involvement in them for whatever reasons on both sides of that-and we get to pick our groups too. For me, I went against my family's culture, and to some degree against what the norms of races were doing in the 70's...I think that I have been an advocate for issues that are not necessarily my business based on race or culture-they are just issues that I strongly believe in defending. Those were and are the groups that I decided to join and defend. So where do the lines of race, culture, and personal belief lay? At this point I am not sure when it comes to myself. I have an English and Irish Mom...a Russian and not sure what else Dad...and never really identified with my own neighborhood races or cultures...including religion. But that was more an expression of my now I am really confused at what I am blending into one idea from the pieces of race, culture, and personality! But one interesting thing I noticed is that to be an advocate and belong to a group or line up with a cause implies that one also has some connection to it...sounds obvious I know but what I mean is that there is a belief I think that one must speak from authority on an issue to be believed. Where does this authority come from? I am getting a little tired personally of the remark that Senator Obama is half this and half that so...(I hear both that he has the right to speak and that he has NO right to speak). I guess when someone runs for president the entire question is does that person have the authority (through experience and/or mastery of some skill) to represent all groups. I say yes. Only because it comes with the job! I am thrilled that an African American Senator is in the race and I would be thrilled for him to speak for or on behalf of all African Americans...but what about the rest? I wouldn’t want his race, or his culture, to overshadow that immense job of representing and defending all of us. Alma...loved your piece...curious what happened to the “fourth” daughter and learning Spanish?

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