Category Archives: Multiculturalism

When Mexico had an Illegal Immigration Problem

I’ve been meaning to post this picture for some time. Participating in a great Tweetchat last night #Latism reminded me to do it.

Here’s a picture of a historical placard located in the Alamo in San Antonio. (I’m there often because my mom has a home in the Hill Country of TX.)

History Placard at the Alamo

Zooming in on the text:

I have no huge point to make here other than note, as I’ve done before, that irony is the most powerful force in the universe. (Also I was reminded by the folks in #Latism last night that, as this text implies, the Mexican Government also had a problem with the settlers owning slaves.)  And perhaps this can serve as a small antidote to the self-righteous and smug tone of many (not all) in the immigration debate.

Paris, Vienna, Thanksgiving, Stereotypes

RecoveringFed (with her mom) is currently in Paris and Vienna for Thanksgiving Plus. Here’s an excerpt from my travelogue to friends. (Disclosure: I am not in the pay of any commercial brand mentioned below.)

All in Europe is progressing smoothly even if it is the coldest late fall experienced for many a year. My mother and I limit our city walks to the bright, sunshine hours of the day, which means in these northern climes that we’re out and about for almost 45 minutes. Our stay in Paris began with a really nice Thanksgiving dinner prepared Parisian style. The restaurant served the well-known Mayflower salad featuring corn and that other ingredient familiar to Indians and Pilgrims alike–avocado. But the turkey, all kidding aside, was among the best I’d ever had and the stuffing tasted like Stouffer’s. When in Paris for Thanksgiving there’s only one wine to have–Beaujolais Nouveau.

The French have banned smoking in restaurants and everyone seems to be adjusting nicely. We were a little taken aback, however, when during dinner the entire table of six next to us seemingly disappeared at once, their half-eaten Mayflower salads still moist upon their plates. It really seemed they had been sucked up by aliens. But then one of our dining companions noticed that the purses of the women were still there; we peeked out the front door and sure enough there were the six, grouped for warmth, smoking their intra-prandial cigarettes.

Another custom we observed at this restaurant for the first time was the waiter sprints. About halfway through our dinner, the waitress/host dashed out of the restaurant, easily reaching top speed as she burst through the front door. I was concerned, thinking maybe she was hoofing after someone who had skipped l’addition and also worried because she was only wearing a sleeveless (and essentially backless) bright red dress. (Although I guess if you are an attractive young woman and you’re going to be sprinting through the dark winter streets of Paris, red sleeveless, backless dress would be one of your better options.) But again our wiser dining companions reassured us that sprinting and dashing waiters are common sights in small Parisian restaurants. “You see it all the time. It usually means they’ve run out of bread and five minutes later they return with half-a-dozen baguettes tucked under their armpits.” This gave me a completely new appreciation for warm French baguettes. Our waitress returned with nothing, however, thus successfully retaining her air of mystery the entire evening.

Our hotel, Castille on Rue Cambon, is right next to the Chanel House in Paris. They had the cutest Chanel rag dolls as part of their Christmas window decorations.

One day, as I was tweeting on the hotel computer, I noticed that on the French computer one does not have to shift to use the exclamation point. I think that says something about the French.

On the Saturday we traveled to Normandie to visit the famous invasion beaches. I really recommend that but in retrospect I would pick a day other than the one following a recent snowfall.

And so now we’re in Vienna. A very merry Christmas town. We visited the Hofburg Palace this afternoon. If you’ve been, you walk through room after room of the Imperial Cutlery and Dinner Service. My mother caused quite a stir as, after each even more ostentatious display of wealth, she snorted violently and said, “I can’t believe this. With all the poor people in the world, the emperor spent all his money on dishes!!” I think she’s got a good point there. Less convincing was her observation that instead of displaying these plates, it would be best to send them all to Haiti. But as I anticipated, she was fascinated by the section of the museum devoted to the life of Empress Elizabeth.

The contrast between the French and the German/Austrians remains acute, despite Europe’s integration. When you’re in Paris and you come across something untidy, you think of it as charming and bohemian. If you run across the same thing in Austria, you think, oops, their standards are slipping.

Or maybe it’s our stereotypes that never change.

Has Twitter Eaten My Brain? (Lesson 22)

It’s been more than a month since I wrote a blog post. Reasons:

1. I’ve started doing some hours as a consultant, so most of my pleasant “thinking and writing mornings” have disappeared. I need to develop a new routine.

2. I’m getting ready for a vacation to southern Africa. I have two more nights of good sleep left before it’s wheels up, and stay tuned to this space for pictures and reports of what we hope will be excellent adventures. My interest in the world has many antecedents, but one in particular was the show Discovery that ABC aired in the 60s and 70s as part of its weekend children’s programming. Perhaps some of you remember it as well? Hearing the jazzy score after four decades is Proustian in its effect.

3. I haven’t had anything to say that I couldn’t say in 140 characters or less. Is this scary? I can’t quite decide myself, but generally I quite like the discipline of having to convey ideas in short, digestible snippets, although admittedly the “telegraph” language and spelling used in twitter just seems to confuse/annoy some people.

I keep a list of topics, ideas I might want to blog about, but none of them seemed worthy of an entire posting.

  • On Diversity. One of the ways I can tell that Latinos haven’t really made it into corporate America yet is how easy it is to use my surname, straight and unadulterated, as a userid on business-oriented websites. On the Harvard Business Review website, I was able to walk right in as “camedina”. At the CIA I was just plain “medina”. No medina25, no convoluted acronyms. Medina is a pretty common Spanish surname; according to About.com it ranks 30th in frequency of use in Spanish-speaking countries. (In the US the 30th most common surname is King.)  The About.com list of 100 most common US surnames makes for good perusing. The two most common Spanish surnames in the US are Garcia and Martinez, which come in at 18 and 19, with Rodriguez just outside of the top 20.
  • More on Diversity. There have been some comments on my post from a few weeks ago on the essential Latino heritage of the US. I’ve really no interest in argument, because I’ve learned over the years that debate never really seems to change most people’s views. I’ve been struck recently, however, by the dynamic impact that new waves of immigrants are having on US society.  For example, the south Asian, specifically Indian, contribution to the US economy cannot be overestimated. I’ve read estimates that upwards of 25% of Silicon Valley startups are Indian-run firms. Personally, I think the most prosperous future economic scenario for the US is decidedly multicultural.
  • On the Difference between Government and Private Industry. As I dip a toe or two into work outside of government, my first impression is that the two are more similar than not. Both probably have about the same proportion of good/dumb ideas and competent/incompetent staff. The key advantage for private industry, however, appears to be that it can kill bad ideas/projects a lot more easily than the federal government seems to be able to.
  • Lesson 22 from a CIA manager: Be clear about what kind of management problem you’re facing. Sure, there are many sticky situations the artful manager can unstick, but be careful to diagnose problems correctly. There is a whole set of problems that managers can never solve. They can only be solved by the passage of time (and generations). Many of these can only be managed like some kind of chronic illness. The Arab-Israeli dispute comes to mind, for example. Really difficult people are also likely to “outclass” you. Remember, you will only spend at best a few years with this individual who suffers from really difficult emotional issues or pathologies. My motto was: If your parents weren’t able to correct your behavior, there’s very little chance I ever will.

What I Learned from the Texas Historical Commission

As a Latina, specifically Puerto Rican, I’ve watched the events in Arizona with considerable personal interest. (Because I spent my middle and high school years in El Paso, Texas, I also feel I have some understanding of the border culture in the southwest.) I usually visit Arizona at least once a year, I have friends who live there, but it disturbs me now to think that the color of my skin, definitely brown, might make me feel less at ease the next time I go there. Assuming there is a next time.

There’s nothing inappropriate with the debate about how best to deal with the immigration issue. But something seems to have happened in Arizona to turn the debate into something bigger, different, and rather ugly. Many in Arizona seem to question the legitimacy and/or desirability of the Latino role in their state. The Latinos don’t belong here, they seem to be arguing, or we need to cap their influence.

¡No mas!

The Hispanic culture is antithetical to the American spirit.

So it was with some surprise during a recent visit to Texas that I read about how arguably the most iconic representative of the American spirit–the cowboy–is actually a Spanish transplant into American culture. Now, I should have known this but it wasn’t until I read the pamphlet, written by the Texas Historical Commission, on the Chisolm Trail, that I realized the essentially Hispanic nature of the cowboy tradition.  Quoting the Texas Historical Commission:

The hardy breed of livestock known as the Texas longhorn descended from Spanish Andalusian cattle brought over by early 16th-century explorers, missionaries, and ranchers…In the early 1800s, Spain lost control of the region and abandoned the area, but ranchero and vaquero traditions lingered, affecting the look, equipment and vernacular of America’s cowboys. Terms like lasso, remuda, lariat, mustang, chaps, and bandana became a part of everyday speech, and America’s cowboys adopted the Spanish traditions of open-range ranching, branding, and round-ups.

Who knew? The article in Wikipedia on Cowboy goes into even more detail, noting that open-range ranching began in the medieval era in Spain. (It even discusses the Arabic and possibly Persian influences on the vaquero tradition.) The American word buckaroo is thought to be a corruption of the Spanish word vaquero.

What are we to make of the essentially Spanish origins of the great American Western tradition? Should we make all Arizonans turn in their cowboy hats, spurs, and chaps? Or maybe Arizona can borrow the Texas Board of Education to rewrite the history of the American West?

The truth, uncomfortable for some, is that Spanish culture has always been a primary influence on the United States. I would have more respect for the proponents of anti-immigration measures if they could somehow make their legal arguments without casting cultural aspersions. I have no problem with enforcing the law. But I do have a problem with imposing a monocultural and false version of America.