There is a war between the GOP and the Democrats for the hearts and
minds of Latino voters. One of the key battles of that war is the issue
of undocumented immigration and that battle’s front lines are in
I propose to take a closer look at an exchange of fire in that battle
that has caught a considerable amount of press attention: the speeches at Tucson
High of Dolores Huerta and Margaret Garcia-Dugan.
All that most people
know about this controversy is that Huerta was invited to speak to
students and said, “Republicans hate Latinos.” Following a firestorm of
protest from Arizona Republicans, SPI Tom Horne arranged for his Deputy
Superintendent, Ms. Garcia-Dugan, to present a rebuttal at Tucson High.
From all the hoopla, you’d think this was practically the
Lincoln-Douglas debate. But this was not fight between two evenly
matched opponents, it was a rout from the very first shot.
Huerta did say that Republicans hate Latinos, but those three words decontextualized from her presentation lend her message a raw and unthinking partisanship that does a great disservice to the case she actually presents. Given the context she presents of the history of immigration politics, current partisan alignments on immigration, and the history of civil rights reform, educational policy, and the labor movement in this country, Huerta’s assertion is simply a reasonable conclusion of her argument, not a partisan opinion.
Ms. Garcia-Dugan’s response is little more than repackaging the very racial identity politics she claims to deplore. Her main appeal is that she is a Latina and a Republican, therefore, logically, Republicans can’t hate Latinos, because she doesn’t hate herself. She said:
“The statement you heard several weeks ago – ‘Republicans Hate Latinos’ is nothing more than a political statement designed to incite an emotional response. Of course, it’s not true and cannot be backed up with evidence. As I said before, I happen to be a Latina and have been welcomed into the Republican Party, along with many other Latinos.”
In fact, Huerta did back it up with evidence, copiously. Her entire speech was a discourse on the many reasons and ways that the GOP is making war on Latinos. Again and again, the Republican party has proven that while, of course, they do not hate individual Latinos who conform to their standards, play the game by their rules, and don’t try to change the status quo, they in fact are opposed to the interests of Latinos as a class, as a race, and as a culture. If the GOP is objectively hostile to the majority of Latinos and is pursuing policies harmful to them, and opposing policies favorable to their interests, it is not wrong nor misleading to say that Republicans hate Latinos – just the opposite – it’s an education. Those kids probably got more enlightenment from Huerta’s speech that anything they learned in classes that day.
Of course, I think it is fine for Horne to have dispatched Garcia-Dugan to Tucson High to do some damage control. Perhaps it was the best thing he could have done. Garcia-Dugan’s reposte to Huerta’s thrust was risible, and the kids saw right through it. They saw for themselves what hypocritical potification and moralizing the GOP is offering Latinos. They saw for themselves the kind of Latina who aligns herself with the GOP. They weren’t impressed.
Ms. Garcia-Dugan entreated with the kids to think for themselves. She warned them that broad stereotyping statements should be viewed with suspicion. Good advice. So when the Right characterizes all immigrants as either criminals or freeloaders, they should question those people’s motives. When the GOP’s poobahs decide homosexuals are all immoral perverts, they should be suspicious of an ulterior motive. When right-wing nutcases hold-forth to rapt Republican audiences about how Latinos are attempting to reconquer the West under the guidance of MECHA, they should take that with a grain of salt. When Republican lawmakers, who believe that undocumented immigrants should all be treated as criminals, pass laws that try to make many of those kids’ parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and friends into felons for coming to this country, they should be suspicious. Well, Ms. Garcia-Dugan, I guess those kids are listening to you after all.
Another key value that Ms. Garcia-Dugan recommended was the importance of education. Being as she is the Deputy SPI, I can hardly imagine her neglecting this cornerstone of the American Dream. But I can imagine her party’s role in attempting to dismantle, hollow-out, and defund public education from K-12 to public universities in this state and across the country with their policies: vouchers, tax funded religious instruction, religious control of ciricula, standardized testing to transform education into test preparation academy. Kids can spot a hypocrite better than most adults, and it doesn’t take too deep of a scratch to discover the utter hostility to public education lying below the surface of the GOP and its educational hatchet men and women. I dare say they sniffed out Ms. Garcia-Dugan in no time.
Ms Garcia next imparted a key value of Republicanism:
“A fourth tenet of my father’s was to never rely on other people or government to take care of you financially. Do not assume the attitude of self identified victims, who must be cared for because they cannot, or will not, take care of themselves. Such people are not self sufficient. One of my father’s best attributes was his self-sufficiency, and he made US that way also.”
Ah, the great shibboleth of Republican dogma: self-reliance. It’s a great excuse not to give a crap about your fellow man. It’s a perfect rationale for destroying the social safety net, and pulling up the ladders of socio-economic advancement behind you. There’s a great distance between a hand-out and a hand-up, however, and these mostly working-class kids know it. I daresay Ms. Garcia-Dugan, whose father was a pit miner, experienced such a hand-up from her government more than once in attaining the position she now occupies. But by her telling, it was all her doing; not the Pell Grant program or state funded scholarships she got through college on (her miner daddy sure didn’t pay tuition), or even decent public schools she attended when growing up, before Arizona fell to nearly dead last in school funding under the wise stewardship of the Grand Old Party.
Self-reliance is great so long as you don’t try to use it to build a university, build a road to get to work, or a port to accept and distribute your groceries, or build a rocket to get to the moon… aw, heck, to do just about anything we do everyday in order to live in a technologically advanced and economically complex society. There is a name for people who are live in a state of true self-reliance in these times: hermits.
Ms. Garcia-Dugan even cherry-picked the wisdom of the great union organizer Samuel Gompers (an odd choice for kids more familiar with Cesar Chavez), quoting him as saying, “Doing for people what they can and ought to do for themselves is a dangerous experiment. In the last analysis, the welfare of the workers depends on their own initiative.” Gompers probably did say it, though I can’t find the quote. But what I do find is a humanitarian who believed that the people, united, cannot be defeated. He wanted workers to depend on their own initiative, organized in unions, rather than upon government.
Gompers did not imagine, nor advocate, that people can take care of themselves as individuals, devoid of social context and societal support, as Garcia-Dugan’s selective quote implies. Gompers would be horrified to have his words twisted to the ends of a two-bit apologist for the corporate owned party of capital. Gompers wanted a rich and resilient network of civil society, rather than government, to support those needs of workers that they could not furnish for themselves, like social security, pensions, health care, unemployment insurance, disability insurance, etc.. But Gompers lived and organized in a different era, a different America. His preference not to rely on government was predicated on a healthy and practical distrust of an institution he saw as owned and operated by the wealthy and powerful.
Well, perhaps not all that much has changed after all… but Gompers was no Ayn Rand, despite Garcia-Dugan’s attempt to make him sound like a resident scholar of the Cato Institute.
In the end, this attempt of Republicans, through the parrot-like mimickery of their most tired and discredited rhetoric by thier Latina shill Garcia-Dugan, to ‘balance’ Huerta’s powerful and authentic message, is really just sad. The kids responded powerfully to Huertas message because it was authentically rooted in their cultura and shared history. The kids rejected or were indifferent to Garcia-Dugan because they are no fools; they could see the strings animating her visit. This debate is a microcosm of how and why the GOP has already reached its high-water mark in its appeal to Latinos with George Bush: a semi-literate speaker Spanish who is a liberal on immigration. Support for the GOP among Latinos is already ebbing, and it won’t be long before a Latino Republican is every bit as rare as Black Republican, or a Gay Republican.