Saturday, August 25, 2007

Welcome, Parents and Students, to Graduation Day at Jennifer Lopez High, Dept.

So, we're driving along Riggs Road in charming Hyattsville, Maryland, home to at least one Cluck U. chicken outlet and just south of East-West Highway, when I look over and see a building. On said building, a sign that reads "César Chávez Elementary School". Now, at first, this was unsurprising. Hyattsville and neighboring Langley Park are demographically weighted towards Hispanics or Latinos or People Whose First Language Is Spanish But Who Nevertheless Manifest A Stubborn Unwillingness To Associate Themselves Even Tangentially With Spain Presumably Because Of Whatever Colonial-Era Baggage Some Might Attach To That Association Despite The Fact That Said Association Means Less Than A Gnat's Fart In Twenty-First Century America. There are usually very many People of Spanish Speech bustling along that nearby stretch of University Boulevard that wedges pupuserias and Peruvian chicken joints up against tandoori restaurants and auto parts outlets. Said people like to play a game presumably popular back in their native El Salvador or Honduras or Mexico. The game is a little bit like the arcade favorite, Frogger. However, in this case, a woman, say, in spray-painted jeans, sequined halter, and a tragic muffintop will try to navigate three lanes of viciously-fast traffic not by hopping back and forth and side-to-side like ol' Frogger but by plowing straight ahead and praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe for protection.
Unsurprisingly, there is a high rate of traffic fatalities along University Boulevard beneath the glow of the Peruvian chicken signs.

Which has little to do with my thoughts regarding César Chávez Elementary School. So, I see this sign and, as noted above, am initially unsurprised. But the more I think about it, the more I wonder: why? Why "César Chávez"? Now, Chávez was undoubtedly a great man, on a par with Martin Luther King Jr. as an American civil rights leader as well as a committed animal rights advocate and a champion of the dignity of honest labor. But we're thousands of miles from Chavez's stomping grounds, not a lettuce leaf or grape to be picked anywhere inside the Beltway.
And then it struck me.
Latino America is suffering from Role Model Deficiency Syndrome (RMDS).

I should've seen the signs. Ghetto-ized awards shows with the same six presenters being shuttled frantically from one red carpet to the next like the handful of soldiers a desperate commander repeatedly marches pasts his castle parapets to deceive his besiegers. Jimmy Smits, Edward James Olmos, Héctor Elizondo, Eva Longoria, Daisy Fuentes, Gloria Estefan. Hustled from dais to limo to hit breathlessly their marks at the Latin Grammys or the Alma Awards or the Hispanic Heritage Awards or the... Now, the Latino strain of RMDS is different from the one that has beset the African-American community for years. For, while Latinos suffer from RMDS-S (for "scarcity"), African-Americans are plagued by RMDS-R (for "respectability"). I mean, sure, you can scare up lots of Black celebrities. But how many won't have outstanding bench warrants, paternity suits, parole violations, statutory rape charges, or dogfighting/cockfighting/bullbaiting operations in their recent pasts? That's why America loves itself some Denzel and Beyoncé and Latifah and Will and Oprah. Not a whiff o'scandal about these fine folk. And if some of them are only oh-kay actors or singers or what-have-you, well, that's just the price we as a nation must pay for apparent rectitude among our minority performers.

Returning, then, to César Chávez Elementary School, I ask you, my indulgent readers, to make an effort. Try each day to elevate a Latino or Latina just a bit in order that the community might have a larger pool of candidates from which to draw for commemoratory purposes. Take the cast of Ugly Betty, for example. Plenty of Hispanics on that show and no scandal attached to any of them yet. Or Vicki Carr. President Ford called her his favorite Mexican dish in what was hopefully an unscripted remark. Or take the field of sports. Most any team in professional baseball is chock-a-block with Dominicans who've had to share an island with Haiti, so you know they're no strangers to hardship. The halls of government, eh, not so much. But, yeah, show business and baseball, both fertile breeding grounds for quality Hispanics. Take a moment, won't you? So that your children and your children's children won't have to attend Alberto Gonzales Middle School.
Do it for them.
For they are our future.
I thank you.

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