Book Review: “Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era”
By Jorge Ramos
Reviewed by Luís Torres
Journalist Jorge Ramos Challenges Donald Trump
“Get outta here, go back to Univision.” That’s what a growling candidate Donald Trump shouted at broadcast journalist Jorge Ramos when Ramos had the temerity to ask a question at a news conference during the 2016 presidential campaign. Ramos, a prominent award-winning reporter and anchor at the Spanish-language network, was shoved out of the room by a burly security guard at the direction of the candidate. Ramos had tried to ask Trump questions a few weeks after the Cheeto-haired carnival barker launched his run for the Republican nomination by calmly asserting that most Mexican immigrants to the U.S. “Are bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” And in keeping with the absurdist use of language we’ve now come to recognize, Trump ends his racist little rant with, “and some of them are decent people, I suppose.”
That was Ramos’ first confrontation with the racist hater-in-chief Donald Trump. But, in a more symbolic and metaphorical sense, Ramos has continued to be at choques with Trump for the last couple of years. Ramos represents the importance of freedom of the press, decency in the public discourse, empathy for immigrants and compassion for los de afuera y los de abajo. Trump—and this goes without saying now that we know his true colors—represents a threat to all of those notions.
This is crystallized in Jorge Ramos’ latest book “Stranger: The Challenge of a Latino Immigrant in the Trump Era.” (The subtitle is almost long enough to be a chapter on its own.) It’s an important and perceptive book for people to read in this wacky (and dangerous) era personified by the snake oil salesman who won the slimmest of margins in this country’s antiquated Electoral College voting system. It’s good for Latinos to read in order to help us get our bearings in this national political landscape. And it’s helpful for non-Latinos to get an important perspective on issues such as immigration, racial profiling and unjust mass incarcerations of people of color. And Ramos’ book is also a bit of a meditation on the notion of what it’s like to be of two countries or two languages or two cultures. Such a reality has its challenges. And it has its rewards. And, overall, a country such as the United States—which is an alloy of every imaginable linguistic and cultural element—should embrace and celebrate that reality.
At that odd news conference Ramos was eventually lead back into the room by none other than… wait for it—Hope Hicks. And he was able to ask reasonable questions of an impatient Trump. Trump tried to turn it into a comic book verbal jousting match. The questions about forced deportation of eleven million undocumented immigrants and what to do about immigrants who came here as children were legitimate and serious questions. But the “answers” from Trump were not. They were, shall we say? less than enlightening. It was a harbinger of what was to come after the inauguration on January 20, 2018.
In “Stranger” Ramos uses his personal experiences as an example of broader societal experiences having to do with surviving and thriving in a schizophrenic country such as the United States—a country that offers opportunities but yet simultaneously works to deny opportunities to “foreigners” (and let’s not forget, women too.) He reminds us that we are all foreigners in this country. (I would argue that even American Indians are relatively new arrivals in this land, given geologic time.) All people should be treated with justice and compassion. Something noticeably lacking in this nation’s pendejo-in-chief.
Whether we were born in the United States or have arrived from Mexico or Central American recently, we Latinos have always swum in two ponds. Noting that, Ramos writes: “This fluid sense of identity is precisely what bothers many people. They would rather Latinos be easily defined and have their loyalties lie solely with the country in which they live. But their historical reality—let alone their daily lives—is quite different from that of most Americans.” In varying degrees, Latinos speak two languages, eat from two different menus, sing two different types of songs and generally function equally in two different, co-equal universes. That continues to freak some people out. I suggest to them: calm down, no te preocupes, Martha.
Ramos concludes, in this important little book, with what is essentially an open letter to his two young children. They were born in the United States, whereas Jorge Ramos came to this country from Mexico. (He is a chilango.) Among other things, he tells his children: “You have seen me fight on television with those who mistreat or criticize immigrants. Nothing is more unfair than attacking those who cannot defend themselves publicly. That is why I believe part of my job is to give a voice to the voiceless. I would like nothing better than to be able to tell you that everything will be all right, that a tolerant, multifaceted future awaits you, and that the racists of the world will never win. I hope that is the case. But what I can tell you is that things will be okay—or even better—if you fight for them.”
Copyright 2018 by Luis R. Torres. Luís Torres is a veteran journalist based in Los Angeles. He can be reached at: Luis.firstname.lastname@example.org
Book cover and photo of Jorge Ramos used under the “fair use’ proviso of the copyright law.