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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Carlos Alberto Montaner: "Shithole Countries" & Latinos in the United States
Carlos Alberto Montaner writes about the ideas described in the new book Latinos in the United States and how people from "shithole countries" go from rejected to respected in American society.

By Carlos Alberto Montaner

Latinos in the United States is a book just published by Oxford University Press. It was written by Ilan Stavans, a brilliant Mexican-American Jew who teaches at Amherst College in Massachusetts.

The topic is perfectly adequate for an era in which we discuss the fate of millions of human beings whose lives depend on the goodwill and compassion of a political class that doesn't seem to possess such virtues, as gleaned from Donald Trump's words, reported by the press: "Why are we having all these people from shithole countries [such as Haiti and Africa] come here?"

Stavans' book begins with a quote from Mark Twain that could be the title of this article: “All generalizations are false, including this one.” The author broached the issue from an informative and multiple perspective, with hundreds of topics (some essential, others not so much), as if he were telling the Americans: “Observe this demographic phenomenon carefully and pay attention, because you'll have to live with it in an expanding and permanent fashion.”

In fact, the work bears a subtitle that serves as a warning: "What Everyone Needs To Know." He's referring, of course, to the United States. “Everyone” is the United States.

Why do Americans need to know what Stavans relates? Maybe because Latinos constitute an immense minority. They number 60 million people, in a current total of 325 million, but by mid-century they will number 100 million. As the white population of European origin declines, the proportion of “Latinos” grows.

Of course, the appellation “Latinos” is a false category that conceals a racial or cultural bias. Latinos do not exist. Maybe, little by little, a Latino identity will emerge, but for now it's only a chimera: an imaginary creature with the head of a lion, the body of a goat, and the tail of a dragon, snorting fire.

Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, etc., do exist but Latinos do not. Despite his name, Ilan Stavans is a Latino because he comes from Mexico (a specialist -- among other things -- in Spanglish), but if his grandparents had settled directly in the United States or Canada he would be just another American Jew, even if he devoted himself to the same issue.

The United States' rejection of Latinos is so severe (though subtle) that when Cuban Jews found exile in South Florida they had to create their own synagogue. The cultural aversion shown by their American religious brethren was greater than the ties of common faith that should have united them.

Why that mismatch between Anglos and Latinos?

The bad news is that it might be a typical feature of human nature. One's own identity is reinforced by one's hatred for someone else's. Probably due to ancient prejudices that fade into the past. The Greeks despised the barbarians, including the rustic Romans. The Romans despised the Germans. The Catholics rejected the Protestants and vice versa. Everyone hated the Muslims and the blacks, and vice versa. The Spaniards hated the natives and vice versa. White Americans of Nordic origin had contempt for dark-skinned people from Italy or any other Mediterranean country.

In Miami, a curfew was imposed not only to keep the blacks in their ghettos but also to keep white Jews at home.
The good news is that, with the passing of time, prejudices change or vanish. The Chinese, who in the 1920s were considered inferior, at present are respected. There is a humble acknowledgment that their IQ is higher than the Anglos'.

Will the same happen with Latinos? It depends. The Asians did not modify the general perception by washing clothes or selling ethnic food on the streets. Gradually, they invaded the departments of science at universities and took their place in the sun within a society that highly respects change and technology.

Is that transformation happening among the Latinos? I believe so. It's a matter of time.

Carlos Alberto Montaner is a journalist and writer. Born in 1943 in Cuba and exiled, Montaner is known for his more than 25 books and thousands of articles. PODER magazine estimates that more than six million readers have access to his weekly columns throughout Latin America. He is also a political analyst for CNN en Espanol. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine named Montaner as one of the fifty most influential intellectuals in the Ibero-American world. His latest book is the novel A Time for Scoundrels. His latest essay is "The President: A Handbook for Voters and the Elected."


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