Commentary: Selective outrage
SAN DIEGO -- I'm delighted to report that the giant isn't really sleeping after all. He's just engaged in some selective outrage.
Latinos in America -- 52 million people with a reputation for passivity -- can still get angry when they want to. And they usually want to when they're offended by one of their own. That's when the long knives come out.
After a recent column on CNN.com in which I expressed my discomfort with the idea that Olympic athlete Leo Manzano celebrated his silver medal in the 1,500 meters by waving a Mexican flag with the American one, many of my fellow Latinos were furious. They responded:
How dare I write such a thing? Who was I to criticize an Olympic hero? Why couldn't I just be happy for a fellow Latino and pipe down? Manzano had earned his medal and so why couldn't he celebrate it any way he wanted? Why was I embarrassed to be Mexican? Isn't my mother ashamed of me?
So much for the nice ones.
Let me be clear. I did not criticize Manzano or the Mexican flag; I have nothing against either. I criticized the idea that the two of them would come together during a victory lap at the Olympics -- a time and place where an athlete should display the flag of only one country: the one he is representing in the games. In Manzano's case, it was the United States. Someone who came to this country from Mexico when he was a toddler should show more respect to the country that took him in, and not be so hung up on the one that he and his parents left.
There's nothing wrong with waving the Mexican flag under the right circumstances. It is fine at a cultural event like a celebration of Cinco de Mayo but not in a political context, like the immigration protests of 2006 when that flag was ubiquitous during demonstrations. And it's really not a good idea to show divided loyalties at the Olympics.
As for the reaction, I've been doing this for more than 20 years, and I've been attacked for previous sins. The pushback this time didn't surprise me. What did was the way my critics rallied around Manzano. I had no idea that they could be so eager to defend one of their own.
After all, they haven't done much to stretch those muscles during the three and a half years of the Obama administration. I've been trying to get Latinos riled up over the fact that the president they helped put in office -- and according to polls, intend to keep there -- has deported more than 1.5 million people, most of them Latino. In a ghastly practice, the children of deportees are often taken away and placed in foster care.
That's what happened in the case of Juana Reyes, a 46-year-old single mother of two and illegal immigrant in Sacramento, Calif., who is facing deportation. She was arrested by local sheriff's deputies and -- in accordance with a program that is this administration's favorite chew toy, Secure Communities -- and referred to immigration officials. Then her kids were taken away. Her offense: selling tamales outside a Walmart. Your tax dollars at work, folks.
Incidentally, Latino Democrats hate it when I talk about the record number of deportations under this president and the deceitful way in which he's gone about racking up the numbers.
I don't remember many of them defending the tamale lady. This would mean confronting the administration, and most of them won't do that. Too many Latinos are Democrats first, Latinos second. They only holler about neglect, dishonesty, manipulation and other mistreatment when it comes from Republicans. Democrats get a free ride.
This is one reason America's largest minority doesn't get ahead politically. Another is that they are often overcome with envidia (envy) over the success or prominence of fellow Latinos; Mexican-American comedian George Lopez has a hilarious bit about a Latino shopping for a greeting card to congratulate a fellow Latino for an accomplishment. He asks the clerk, "Do you have any that say: 'What? You think you're better than me?!'" And a third is that many of them refuse to accept different views and can't agree to disagree without becoming disagreeable.
It's great to see Latinos get so worked up in defending a piece of cloth. If only they could gin up that level of emotion attacking the White House and defending actual human beings whose lives are in pieces.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.