So God Made a (White) Farmer

Relax white people – we should respect farmers, but no need to steal thunder from marginalized and underappreciated Latinos.

First thing’s first – hats off to the Richards Group and Chrysler for putting together a gem of an ad. It is masterfully crafted and manages to be simultaneously understated and in your face. And Paul Harvey’s words really are remarkable. Unfortunately, the ad is a warped distortion of the country we currently live in.

There are 35 photographs used in the commercial. Twenty one of them have people in them, of which 16 have some visual indication suggesting race/ethnicity (the rest are either zoomed out or show pictures of hands only). Of the 16, there is one black guy, and anywhere between one and three with Latinos. Now normally, a commercial with a bunch of white people doesn’t bother me. In many ways, white is still the “normal” and it’s not surprising that companies want to take the safest route in terms of marketing. But I draw the line at farming. Nearly 80% of farmers in the US are of Hispanic/Latino heritage. When it comes to crop workers, the figure is 83%. It’s like making a commercial about basketball in America and showing only white players.

If this commercial was your introduction to farming in America, you’d get the impression that most of it is carried out by white people. Continue reading “So God Made a (White) Farmer”


Mexico – Wealthier Than You Think

MexicoAs an American, it’s easy to think of Mexico as our poor and violent neighbor. And while there may be significant poverty and violence south of the border, it pays to take a step back and think of Mexico in a global context rather than a local one.

Mexico is always in the shadow of its wealthier and more powerful neighbor, in a way that hides how wealthy and powerful it really is. If Mexico were located anywhere else in the world, it would be perceived as a major international power. Adjusted for purchasing power, Mexico has the 11th largest economy in the world. Fareed Zakaria’s blog recently pointed out that although Mexico has a higher adjusted per capita income ($15,300) than Brazil ($11,700), China ($8,500) and India ($3,700), these other countries are always in the international economic limelight. Apparently the bad press has affected domestic sentiments as well – Mexicans see themselves as worse off than residents in these other countries even though Mexicans are significantly wealthier. Also, the Mexican economy continues to grow even as most of the advanced economies of the world has slowed to a standstill.

Mexico is the Scottie Pippen of international geopolitics – not a superpower but definitely a power to be reckoned with, and constantly in the shadow of the superstar teammate. There are of course those who say Pippen was as good as he was because he played with Jordan. The same can be said of Mexico’s wealth and power being aided by a close economic relationship with the US – but that’s a whole other blog post.

What’s in a country’s name?

Will Mexicans rename their country Mexico? What do Chinese people call China? Just how Bolivarian is Venezuela?

You may not have known it but Mexico’s official name is the United Mexican States (Estados Unidos Mexicanos). Following independence from Spain in 1810, according to outgoing President Felipe Calderòn, Mexicans were emulating their neighbors to the north who were seen as a beacon of democracy and liberty breaking away from European colonialism.

In the last days of his Presidency, Calderòn has sent a piece of legislation to the Congress to officially change the country’s name to “Mexico”. The country’s official name is seldom used – only for official documents and diplomatic protocol. The President feels it’s time to make official what everyone already calls the country and stop emulating the USA.

Whether that happens or not is yet to be seen, but it got me to wondering, what other countries are commonly known by something other than their formal name. Plenty of countries have a longer formal form:

  • UK: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
  • Venezuela: Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela
  • Bolivia: Plurinational State of Bolivia
  • Macedonia: former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

Virtually every country in the world has the common name preceded by “Kingdom of” or “Republic of” or god forbid, “Democratic Republic of”, or anything with the word “People” in it – those last two usually means you’re in a bad place.

What interested me more were those instances in which the English version of a country/territory’s name was totally different than the one used in indigenous language(s). Here are some that came to mind.

  • Bhutan: Bruk Yul
  • China: Zhunggua
  • Egypt: Miṣr
  • Finland: Suomi
  • Germany: Deutschland
  • Greenland: Kalaallit Nunaat
  • India: Bharat (or something similar) and sometimes Hindustan
  • Japan: Nippon
  • Korea: Han Guk
  • Scotland: Alba
  • Switzerland: translated into English as the Helvetic Confederation
  • Tibet: Bod

If you know of others, leave them in the comments section below.

Also, a special shout out goes to Barbuda. Everybody always forgets about it. It’s not just Antiga people – it’s Antiga and Barbuda. Poor Barbuda, always in the shadow.

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”

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.

Mexico’s $4 Billion Drug Bust

Is $4 billion in meth a lot? Some numbers for perspective.

Earlier this week, the Mexican authorities seized 15 tons of pure methamphetamine in Guadalajara, with an estimated street value of $4 billion. This got me to wondering, is that a lot? The answer is, yes. There have been larger busts in terms of weight, but few, if any, have been quite this valuable. For the sake of comparison, 15 tons of gold would cost less than $1 billion. The entire Afghan opium economy is estimated to be worth $4 billion – imagine all of it sitting in one warehouse. The entire GDP of Sierra Leone is only $2 billion. With $4 billion, one could buy the entire Manchester United and New York Yankee franchises and still have half a billion left over.

The stash probably belonged to the Sinaloa cartel, which has been described by US officials as “the most powerful drug trafficking organization in the world“. It’s leader, Joaquín Archivaldo Guzmán Loera (known as El Chapo), is ranked as the 55th most powerful person in the world by Forbes magazine.  The Governments of Mexico and the US have offered $2.5 million and $5 million, respectively, for information leading to his arrest.

Since 2006, the Government of Mexico, with help from the US – home to most of the demand that drives the trade, and the guns that drive the violence – has been fighting the cartels in a war that has claimed more than 50,000 lives. In 2007, authorities seized 25 tonnes of cocaine – the biggest powder bust in history. Less than two years ago, the Federales seized 105 tons of marijuana in Tijuana – also the biggest grass bust in history. But that was just pot, which meant the street value was less than $500 million – peanuts in comparison to the latest haul. The strangest thing though, was the packaging (shown below).

Marijuana packaging with Homer Simpson proclaiming "I'm going to get high, dude!"

Also, ever wonder what a pile of $205 million looks like?

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.