The Importance of Texas

Yes Virginia, there are liberals in Texas, and not just in Austin. 

Quick question (and don’t look it up on Wiki) – what percentage of Texas voted for Barack Obama in 2008? Given that Texas is often seen as the “role model for red states”, it may surprise many to know that four years ago, Obama won nearly 44% of the vote. While Obama’s numbers declined by about 2% in 2012, this level of support still shows a state that is much more complicated than the caricature that it is often presented as. Convincing a small percentage of the state to turn blue can change the country for decades.

Let’s not kid ourselves – Texas is most certainly a conservative state. But even in the most ideologically extreme states, at least a third of the electorate goes against the prevailing wind. When we say that a state is really red, that just means that the state isn’t a tossup in the election. A shift of a few percentage points can change all of that. In Texas, the margin of difference is small enough to flip the state, or at least color it purple.

Texas is the second largest state in the country and has 38 electoral votes – almost 20% of Romney’s electoral vote haul. If a big blue state like New York flipped, it would be a big deal too. But electorally speaking, New York is much bluer than Texas is red (Romney won only 36% of vote there) and more importantly, the demographic trends do not bode well for future Republican gains.

Texas on the other hand is at the heart of one of the most dramatic demographic shifts in our nation’s history. I hate breaking things down in terms of white and non-white, but for what it’s worth, much of the country votes that way. As Texas becomes more racially and ethnically diverse, the greater the likelihood of a flip.

I doubt any monumental shifts will occur by 2016, but beyond that, it’s certainly a possibility. It would be foolish for Democrats to ignore Texas, and it would even more foolish for Republicans to take it for granted. With Texas, Dems are more or less guaranteed Presidential victory; without it, Republicans are guaranteed defeat. There are plenty of skeptics, but for the first time in more than a generation, Texas is being viewed as a real battleground for national elections.

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What’s an Asian (American)?

The only thing that binds Asian Americans is the common fear of disappointing our parents.

Yesterday we took a look at the demographic rise of the Asian American community. And since I took the effort to examine what a Hispanic is a few weeks ago, I thought I’d just touch upon what it means to be Asian American.

I never liked the word Asian. I suppose all racial/ethnic categories are arbitrary and invented, but Asian takes the cake for the silliest. It always seemed absurd to lump together 60% of the world’s population into one group. And as far as geography goes, Europe and Asia are obviously part of the same landmass, so why this arbitrary boundary of the Ural mountains? What do folks from Saudi Arabia and Japan have in common? Malaysia and Mongolia?

While growing up, it was easy to see solidarity and understanding within the Black, White and Hispanic communities (the “big three” as I like to call it) in my neighborhood. There were aspects of language, phenotype, and culture that kept certain kids with “their kind” and not with others. As pretty much the only Indian kid for miles, I took turns emulating and resenting each one of those groups. One day this Vietnamese kid joined our school and I decided right then that this word Asian was bullshit. The boy, I think his name was Phan, served me no purpose – the only thing we had in common was that neither of us were from the big three. Continue reading “What’s an Asian (American)?”

Here Come the Asians

“Nation, we’re getting boxed in. Mexicans do the jobs we don’t want to do, and Asians do the job we’re not able to do.” – Stephen Colbert

Just after the 2000 Census, the Hispanic/Latino community overtook the Black/African American community as the country’s largest minority community. At the time, there were just over 35 million Hispanics in the US. Following the 2010 Census, that figure has grown to over 50 million. The US has more people of Spanish speaking origin than any other country in the world other than Mexico.

As usual though, the demographic tides are turning. According to a new study put out by the Pew Research Center, in 2010, for the first time Asian immigration  (430,000 arrivals) outnumbered Hispanic immigration (370,000 arrivals). Asians currently comprise the largest stream of immigrants in the country.

Continue reading “Here Come the Asians”

Dhaka to Rome (Indian Express article)

A friend Kaushik and I got an article published in yesterday’s Indian Express.

Dhaka to Rome: the Bangladeshi community, the eternal city’s most visible immigrants, travel “by donkey” to reach Italy, struggle to make a livelihood but believe in a better tomorrow.

FYI – keep an eye out for Kaushik’s novel Windhorse, which will be published by Harper Collins in the coming months.

What’s a Hispanic?

The non-Hispanic White population is declining whereas that of White Hispanics is increasing. The difference between the two, or lack thereof, will hold the key to determining mainstream American identity over the coming generations.

As with any conversation on race, last week’s post on the relative decline in the population of White America sparked some interesting questions. What does it mean to be White anyway? And most importantly, in the American context of racial and ethnic demography, what exactly is a Hispanic or a Latino?

The boundaries between racial and ethnic categories are always fuzzy and it doesn’t get much fuzzier than the American invention of the word Hispanic. To get the heart of the matter, one must discern the difference between the American conceptions of race and ethnicity.

Let’s lay out at the outset that race is a construct and that the categories are fluid and not based in genetic classification. Race is, however, seen as having to do with geographic origin, phenotype and identity. Ethnicity, on the other hand, is almost entirely based on culture and identity. The US Census uses the following racial categories:

  • White: having origins in any of the original peoples of Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa
  • Black or African American: having origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa
  • Asian: having origins in any of the original peoples of the Far East, Southeast Asia, or the Indian subcontinent
  • Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander
  • American Indian and Alaska Native
  • Other
  • Two or more races

Notice, there is no category for Hispanic or Latino. That is because the US Government considers these to be ethnic categories (not racial) and includes people of Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican, South or Central American or other Spanish culture or origin regardless of race. For example, check out the following Hispanic Americans.

Most folks may not realize that Carlton Banks’ real name is Alfonso Ribeiro and that Charlie Sheen was born Carlos Irwin Esteves. Black and White, but both Hispanic.

I know many of you are already saying, but Charlie Sheen isn’t Hispanic – that he’s just a really weird White guy. That is just the point, White and Hispanic (just like Black and Hispanic) are not mutually exclusive terms. Let’s not forget that Latin America also received millions of European immigrants over the past few centuries. Argentina is arguably the Whitest country in the world. In fact, a majority of Hispanics and Latinos in the US are considered White by the government (but then again so are Arabs).

This begs the question, is it useful to have a Hispanic category if it includes the likes of Martin Sheen, Christina Aguilera and Andy Garcia? When demographers say that the US is going to be a majority minority nation in about three decades, they mean that the non-Hispanic White population will dip below 50%.

There is a possibility, however, that many Hispanics will assimilate into mainstream White and Black culture, as many have already done. This is why most Americans don’t consider Christina Aguilera and Charlie Sheen to be Hispanic in any real sense. By 2050, the US may be less than 50% non-Hispanic White, but since so many Hispanics are already White, this milestone may have little, if any real impact on American identity – it will depend largely on whether in the coming decades, White Hispanics see themselves as being primarily Hispanic or White. Let’s keep in mind that throughout American history, many European immigrants were not initially considered White – the term has been constantly evolving/expanding.

Also, there are already four majority minority states, including Texas and California, where the Hispanic and non-Hispanic White populations are almost equal. The non-Hispanic White community in these states still maintains an overwhelmingly disproportionate amount of political and economic power and cultural capital. So perhaps things might not be that different after all.

When Anchor Babies Attack

The Constitution of the United States guarantees citizenship to any person born within its territories. Fear of immigration is threatening this fundamental aspect of our national character.

Having grown up in the United States, I simply assumed that being born in a country was enough to earn citizenship. It turns out that the world is starkly divided in how it grants citizenship. Almost the entire “New World” (i.e., North and South America) gives citizenship to anyone born in their country – a system known as jus soli (soil juice). Almost the entire rest of the world requires some form of lineage or blood line to establish citizenship – jus sanguinis (blood juice).

The blue countries grant citizenship to anyone born there. The grey countries care who your mom and dad were.

The long-held tradition of jus soli has recently been revisited in the United States because some Americans feel that the system of citizenship is being exploited by those unfit to be American. The latest nativist fear-mongering centers around the supposedly popular practice of immigrants giving birth to a child in the US so as to facilitate their own legitimate immigration. What they fail to mention is that such a child would not be permitted to sponsor any parents for immigration until they reach the age of 21. Furthermore, immigrants having children in the US and establishing long-term roots is not new – the only thing different now is that the immigrants are coming from Latin America, Africa and Asia, and not from Europe.

Conservatives no longer feel that being born in the US is good enough. They are not scared of anchor babies, but using them them as an excuse to spew bigoted rhetoric. What they are really scared of is a non-White America. The same people who argue for the trumpeting of American exceptionalism are the ones who are advocating for the repeal one of our most fundamentally exceptional laws and traditions. The same people who complain that Obama is making American more like Europe are the ones who wish to revive an archaic (by American standards) practice.

I understand why Europeans maintain the jus sanguinis principle. Immigration poses more challenges for smaller European countries than it does for the US, where large-scale immigration predates the founding of the country. Places like Denmark and Switzerland feel much more threatened by the hordes of outsiders, armed with Schengen visas and strange languages. But as my Republican brethren repeatedly remind us, the US is not Europe and we should not abandon a principle that has enriched the country for over a century (and with the huge exception of the slave population and their descendants, since the writing of the nation’s constitution).

Anchor babies are not the problem, xenophobia is. Birth-right citizenship is not a universal truth that should be applied in every country. The United States, however, is in a unique position to posit the belief that a country can be built upon values rather than an idea of race or bloodline.

Is Superman American?

He was born far away but came here as a baby. For some, he’ll always be an outsider. 

Over the weekend, a few friends and I were playing a guess-who game in which each player must figure out the secret identity that they have been assigned  by asking yes or no questions. When it was time to play Clark Kent, someone asked “Am I American”? At first, the group responded with an unsure medley of yes-no-maybe. Then, it seemed as if everyone simultaneously remembered that Superman was born on the planet Krypton. The group almost unanimously answered that Clark Kent was, in fact, not American.

I insisted that Superman was American. After all, this was the guy who fought for “truth, justice and the American way”. My claims were roundly dismissed. I kept silent for not wanting to give the player too many hints, but had wanted to ask whether by the group’s logic, I too would be considered “not American”. Clark Kent arrived in Kansas as a baby whereas I immigrated from India at age 4. Was I even less American than this non-American? Of course not.

Obviously, a Saturday night party game is not the best test  for the boundaries of perceived national identity. Most people, Americans and Indians included, perceive me to be more American than Indian. But I wonder if the group’s answer to the question that night means anything? Did they merely forget that immigration and assimilation apply to the comic book world as well? Or did they merely slip and revert to a bygone era in which the place of ones birth was all that mattered?

Perhaps I was guilty of a false equivocation – rather than being an issue of American v. non-American, this was an issue of human v. non-human. I.e. Superman can not be considered a citizen of any country on earth. But that of course is wrong, Superman was a US citizen – otherwise, he would not have been able to renounce it. Much to the dismay of Fox News and conservative American, Superman renounced his US Citizenship in April 2011. So I guess I was wrong, but not for the reason I had anticipated.