Voters' Vida Loca

Uncle George's nephew finds what he never knew at Rice: Latino causes

At the time, the primary Hispanic campus organization was HACER, the Hispanic Association for Cultural Enrichment at Rice. To Stella Flores, HACER president when George P. was at Rice, the current Latino godsend to the GOP was the Invisible Man. She says she doesn't remember him participating in any group events, or even hanging out on campus with any other Latino students. Likewise, former HACER vice president Mike Gomez says the now proud Latino was a no-show at events saluting Latino pride.

"During my time at Rice, he was not a member of HACER, nor was he active in pushing minority issues at the university," Gomez remembers. He concedes that there was the traditional apathy on campus, but that made it that much more important to find people who cared.

"If George P. had been active in any form, we would have welcomed it, encouraged it even," Gomez says. "But he wasn't."

That nonparticipation apparently extends to the academic arena.

Dr. Jose Aranda, associate professor of English and one of a handful of minority tenure professors, doesn't remember George P. ever signing up for his Chicano studies, or any other ethnic studies. "I never had George as a student," says Aranda. "I only met him once, very quickly, and our paths never crossed again to my knowledge."

"[Bush] was never involved in any of the multicultural groups or events I oversaw," says Cathi Clack. She's director of the Office for Multicultural Affairs at Rice and has been an adviser to many of the minority students.

Former classmate Makulski dismisses the questions about his friend's involvement. He says other companions would refer to George P. as Jorge, with the Spanish pronunciation, because he liked private discussions of politics and culture that reflected his uncle's conservative outlook. The young Bush wasn't active in campus organizations, Makulski concedes, but he was "very proud of being brown" and "was comfortable with his identity."

After earning a history degree from Rice in 1998, George P. took a teaching job in the Florida farming community of Homestead south of Miami. He abandoned that for the campaign and for his future law school plans. Harvard, New York University, Columbia and Yale law schools rejected his application. A spokesman for the Bush campaign says George P. has been accepted by the University of Texas law school, not too far from his uncle's Governor's Mansion. He'll start in the fall or spring semester, the spokesman says, after the high-profile stint on the presidential campaign trail.

Makulski insists his old friend doesn't want the limelight. "George has never sought all the attention he is receiving. Others are trying to thrust it on him while he tries to find his own niche in things."

Tatcho Mindiola, director of the Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston, says the nephew's ad campaign shows how George W. Bush is savvy in marketing himself to Latino voters.

"Now I've seen [George P.] on TV, and he's sharp, articulate and has a lot of appeal across the board," says Mindiola. "Whether that sways Hispanic voters in states like New York or California remains to be seen, but I think George W. Bush is smart for using someone in his family like this."

Mindiola predicts a future in politics for George P. "He certainly has what it takes to reach out to a number of voters if he chooses to go into politics and continue the Bush tradition."

As for George P.'s recent emphasis on his Latino identity, and his apparent earlier aversion to it, Mindiola says that shouldn't hurt either Bush. Some Hispanic students just need "time to crystallize."

"Of course, some of us would like to see them coming out of the womb with the fist in the air," Mindiola says. "But that just doesn't happen."

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