THE YEAR IN REVIEW.
This year is drawing to a close. What kind of a year has it been for Latinos here in what 1960s African American activist Frank Greenwood referred to as “the Land of the Free and the Home of the Slave?”
A mixed year, sin duda. Some successes. Some failures. Lots of in-between. Lots of close-but-no-cigars. In politics, in sports and in the arts and cultura it has been a mixed year, indeed, for Latinos.
The year has come and practically gone with no substantial progress in moving a “comprehensive immigration reform plan.” (Of course, for many on the right, comprehensive immigration reform really means – for them – comprehensive “enforcement” reform; but let’s put that aside for the moment.) Dreamers and their supporters have to keep on dreaming. A federal law to make students who were brought here by their parents as chavalitos eligible for legal residence and access to scholarships and other benefits that most students take for granted got no traction in the partisan gridlock of the Congress. Yet, through executive order, President Obama was able to provide a small bit of relief – and hope – to those who need The Dream Act. But, that’s counterbalanced by the stepped up deportations that have become so common this year. So, with one foot in the fire and one foot in a bucket of ice, are you on average, okay?
In California, undocumented college students did get some good news. It’s not yet a totally fulfilled “dream,” but it’s not a pesadilla either. We’ll have to wait and see if the new year brings about genuine reform that realistically takes into account the circumstances of the estimated 12 million undocumented men, women and children in the United States. It would benefit all of us – citizens, permanent residents and those who find themselves undocumented at the moment. Haber.
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
This year the myopic folks who run the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Honors program have finally decided to include a Latino: Carlos Santana. In the 36-year history of the program 181 innovators in the arts and entertainment have been honored. Only two have been Latinos.
Early at the start of this year a small army of activists and Latino leaders decried the lack of recognition for Latino artists. The mero meros of the Kennedy Center generally scoffed at the criticism. However, they apparently came around to realize the folly of overlooking Latino artists – artists who enrich the lives of all Americans. So, congratulations to Carlos Santana for his long-overdue recognition. Let’s hope it doesn’t stop there.
And congratulations, tambien, to talented filmmaker Alfonso Cuarón. He directed the jaw-droppingly beautiful film “Gravity.” Born in Mexico City, he is part of what filmmaker Sergio Arau calls the “Frijollywood” group of talented writers, producers, directors and actors who have successfully made their way to Hollywood from south of the border. “Gravity” is a remarkable film, visually stunning. So, there’s one unqualified success for Latinos in the year 2013.
Regarding inroads into Hollywood, there are signs of solid potential success for Latinos. Progressive, sensible change doesn’t come easily in ossified institutions, and the unions, production companies and studios of Hollywood are certainly no exception. It takes activism and constant pounding on doors (backed up by genuine artistic talent) to create ans seize opportunities for Latinos in Hollywood. It’s been a battle since the days of outrageous stereotypical portrayals of Latinos in the 1930s. Things are changing, however, glacially.
One reason there’s hope for optimism is that certain Hollywood institutions have developed specific programs to cultivate new talent and give Latinos a shot at proving what they are capable of. For example, in recent negotiations between the Directors Guild of America and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, studios and networks agreed to create access programs for minority and women directors. It’s probably no surprise that one reason such institutions are making such changes is because Latino, African American and other minority and women professionals are now too present to be ignored. There’s hope, but change will come incrementally.
Years ago Cheech Marin, who is no slouch when it comes to success in Hollywood, summed it up in his classically humorous fashion. He told me: “You know, everyone wants to know – is Hollywood run by Jews? Is Hollywood run by gringos? No, Hollywood is run by Laplanders – they don’t do anything until it lands in their laps.” And nothing bodes better for longevity in Hollywood than proven success.
Oh, and when it comes to success in the realm of sports, Los Angeles Dodgers fans can relish 2013 as the year of Yasiel Puig, the Cuban outfielder who appears to be part Superman, part Jim Thorpe and all Latino.
So, for Latinos overall I guess we’re batting above the Mendoza Line for 2013.
Luís Torres is the author of “Doña Julia’s Children: The Life and Legacy of Educational Reformer Vahac Mardirosian.” Available online at Barnes and Noble.com and Amazon.com.