Category Archives: Multiculturalism

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.
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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.