MYTHS AND TROPES OF HISPANICITY.
Perhaps like Albert Camus’ stranger, we’re all strangers to each other despite consanguinity. It may not be the most long-lived estrangement in history, but the 400 year estrangement between Anglo Protestants and Hispanic Catholics has created a checkered path of myth and stereotype that has come to be known as “La Leyenda Negra/The Black Legend.”
First introduced by Julian Juderias in his book La Leyenda Negra (1914), the term has served to draw attention to the historical record of Distortion, Defamation, Slander, Libel, and Stereotyping of Hispanics, growing out of the destruction of the Spanish Armada in 1588, a destruction brought about by a perfect 10 storm but for which the English bruited “victory” over the Spanish, heralding their maritime prowess. This is one of the most long-lived tropes about Hispanicity; a trope that has caused the most mischief for Hispanics. That mischief is well chronicled in Philip Wayne Powell’s Tree of Hate: Propaganda and Prejudices Affecting United States Relations with the Hispanif World (University of New Mexico, 1971) and in my work La Leyenda Negra/The Black Legend (forthcoming).
The English saw that “victory” as one of Protestantism over Catholicism. For the English it was a sign that God was on their side; the Spanish saw the destruction of their Armada as a sign that God did not favor their cause—which was essentially to bring errant England back into the Catholic fold. The futility of another Armada was plain to Felipe Segundo as the King of Spain. In the ensuing years, non-Catholic Europe parlayed the destruction of the Spanish Armada into a campaign to topple Spain from its pinnacle of imperial power by slander and defamation. To accomplish that, the campaign portrayed Spain and its heirs globally as depraved and untrustworthy villains in league with the forces of evil—especially in the Americas where England was vying for a foothold. The success of that campaign is with us in the waves of current Hispanophobia in the United States.
Hispanics of New Mexico and the other states of the Hispanic Southwest are fending off the effects of la leyenda negra, a daunting challenge but not insurmountable. Everywhere in the country, Hispanics (many of whom identified as Latinos) are feeling the brunt of that slanderous and defamatory onslaught of Hispanophobia. Along the U.S.-Mexico border that Hispanophobia manifests itself in the form of a wall creating a “fortress mentality” against Mexico and Mexicans seeking ingress to a land once part of their patrimony, much the same way as Palestinians seeking ingress to a land once part of their patrimony.
At the moment New Mexico is a Blue State (that is, politically a Democrat state) but everywhere in the state there are strong smatterings of Red (Republicans) seeking to turn the state into a Republican state. For example, the 2nd Congressional District of Southern New Mexico has elected Steve Pierce, a Republican to the House of Representatives though the District has a high representation of Hispanics. This is not to identify Hispanics of the District as Republicans. Not at all. At the moment there are more Republican voters in the District, a proportion of whom may be Hispanics.
A recent column in the Las Cruces Sun News by Walter Rubel, Managing Editor of the paper, pointedly suggested that the victory of Steve Pearce in the 2nd Congressional District of New Mexico (essentially the southern half of the state) clearly indicates the Hispanic preference for Pearce as a Republican than for his Democratic opponents. Rubel contends that since Pearce staked out a huge win for himself in a predominantly Hispanic Congressional District, nationally. Republicans should not fear a Hispanic reprisal in the national mid-term elections. The upshot is that Republicans don’t need to “rehabilitate their image” for Hispanics. Moreover, since for some time Democrats have failed to field a candidate capable of winning the 2nd Congressional seat of New Mexico, it’s not likely Democrats will be successful soon. Rubel counsels that it would be foolhardy for Republicans to reinvent themselves just to “win” the Hispanic vote. What’s wrong with that picture? Everything.
Politically there is a strong “give and take” in the state. To wit, the state may be Blue but it has a Republican governor who at times manifests a fiercely partisan streak. For example, despite the Governor’s appeal to the New Mexico State Legislature to approve New Mexico voting districts designed by the federal court in San Antonio, Texas, the New Mexico Legislature considers the Governor’s request a breach of constitutional protocol which constitutionally is the state legislature’s responsibility. New Mexico state legislators balk at being spurred by the Governor who may be on the losing end of this Donnybrook even though it appeared that the Texas districts would be in jeopardy in an upcoming federal review of the situation in Texas. It turns out, however, that the Supreme Court’s decision on the Civil Rights Act has eliminated—for the time being—restrictions against Texas using District Maps previously drawn up. Mexican American resistance to gerrymandering voting districts is growing to tsunamic proportions.
In the U.S. House of Representatives, Congresswoman-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham joined her colleagues from the Congressional Hispanic Congress in reaffirming support for a comprehensive immigration plan. Congresswoman Lujan Grisham was elected Whip of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Responding to a question about an amendment to the Immigration Reform bill that would add 20,000 more border patrol agents along the U.S.-Mexico border and add another 700 miles of fencing, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) responded that the U.S. will have the ‘Most militarized’ border since the Fall of the Berlin Wall,” a comment lacking in jest, leaving us wondering if the irony of his comment is intentional. Immigration Reform is still a high political priority for the state, particularly for Republicans. This is not to say that Democrats are not concerned with the issue. They are, but from the perspective of their binational heritage, keeping in mind that in Border Country real people live and die and reality is far more complex than current political tropes. As citizens in a progressive state, however, New Mexicans are well aware that the country is fissured by race, class, religion, and politics.
In New Mexico’s San Juan County, members of Somos un Pueblo Unido filed complaints of racial profiling—while inquiring about immigration status—against local and federal law enforcement agencies. That kind of racial profiling is a violation of New Mexico’s Prohibition of Bias Based Policing Act of 2009. In Albuquerque, unemployment is more than double for Hispanics. Of eligible voter in New Mexico, 39% are Hispanics.
Recently, the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee met in a Public Session at Western New Mexico University for citizen input on state expenditures. The financial outlook for the state is grim despite efforts to put a bright face on the outcomes. Democrat-controlled state house and senate are determined to duke-it-out with the Republican governor who is equally determined to stand her ground. Though not as good news as expected, New Mexico enters the current budget cycle with a modest fiscal cushion which doesn’t provide much for New Mexico Hispanics. The general sentiment among New Mexico lawmakers is to head for the Roundhouse—according to a trope, they can’t corner you there. The New Mexico house of government is the only “round” state capitol in the United States, known informally as “the Roundhouse”. The building was designed with four entrance wings to resemble the Zia Sun Symbol when viewed from the air. Architecturally, the Capitol is a blend of New Mexico Territorial Revival style and neoclassical architecture.
At the moment the state is beset with raging forest fires in a number of sites, many of which pose physical danger for nearby inhabitants. Smoke is everywhere, drifting with the winds creating public health hazards especially for the elderly and those with inhalation problems. More feared is the loss of property which more often spells ruination for its victims. Fire is to the western states what hurricanes are to the eastern states. Though the eventualities of fire are heart-breaking, New Mexicans affected by fire keep on keeping-on. Resilience is not a geographic-specific characteristic, but it is a characteristic mark of New Mexicans.
Though the results were not as expected, the Supreme Court ruling on California’s same-sex marriage, New Mexico’s LGBT population counted the decision as a victory in the slowly evolving fight for equal rights. On a personal note, I mourn the passing of Marta Sotomayor—colleague, friend, and co-author with me on a number of literary works.
Copyright 2013 by Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca
Dr. Felipe de Ortego y Gasca, Ph.D. (English, University of New Mexico, ‘71) is
Scholar In Residence and Past Chair of the Department of Chicana/o and Hemispheric Studies, College of Arts and Sciences, Western New Mexico University and was founding Director of the Chicano Studies Deaprtment at the University of Texas at El Paso. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Greenwood Encyclopedia of Latino Issues Today (2 Vols.) forthcoming.