A copy of Geraldo Rivera’s His Panic: Why American Fear Hispanics in the U.S. just hit my desk. I haven’t even opened it and already I have some concerns.
For one, the title, His Panic. Gosh, what are the chances Rivera hopes to fan the immigration flames some? I appreciate intelligent, thoughtful conversation about immigration – even with people who disagree with me, but causing ‘panic’ about the issue is the tired, easy way out. That’s strike one.
Strike two is the subtitle: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S. Ah, Geraldo, some Hispanics are Americans. So are those American who are both Hispanic and American afraid of themselves? Well, damn. That’s rather schizophrenic of them, isn’t it?
I also have a problem with the length of the book; it’s 262 pages. On one hand, the 262 pages is way too long. It shouldn’t take Rivera 262 pages to say, “Americans are afraid of Hispanics because Hispanics are different and different is always feared.”
That’s the essence of it, isn’t it? They’re different. They eat strange, stinky foods, speak a strange language, and have strange, stupid customs. It’s no big insight as to why they’re feared and resented.
And then again, 262 pages to dissect one of the most complicated issues of our time, is too short. Maybe the font is really, really tiny and he’s crammed a lot into the book.
I move to the first page. He thanks local UH professor Nicolas Kanellos. The head of Arte Publico’s press, Kanellos has a reputation for being a good guy, solid in his information and generous with his time and talent.
I start the first chapter: Rivera goes on the Bill O’Reilly Show, they disagree, blah, blah, blah. Rivera was a champion of immigrant rights, O’Reilly a backwards racist. Blah, blah.
Next topic: Rivera tells us about his family and how they came to the United States from Puerto Rico. His grandparents had 17 children, they lived on a farm. Rivera talks about San Juan, a beautiful city in Puerto Rico with a 450+ year old history. In fact, Rivera likes San Juan so much – wait for it – he buys an island “as an expression of solidarity with the land of my father and his father…”
Oh. My. God.
No, he didn’t just try to equate his ability to buy a freaking island with Juan the dishwasher who earns $2.25 an hour and all the hamburgers he can eat.
I put the book down. That’s as much as I can take for one day. I’ll try again tomorrow.
I’m at home watching television when I accidentally come across Rivera’s talk show. Oh, look, he’s holding up a copy of his book and recommending it to his viewers. I take it as a sign. I’m not sure what it means, but surely it’s an omen.
I’m back at my desk, just my copy of His Panic and me. Maybe today will be better. I thumb through the book and stop at the chapter called “Saint Cesar and the Immigrants.”
Hmm, it says here union organizer Chavez was anti-immigration. Hmm, it says here Chavez once told his good friend Senator Robert F. Kennedy, “to remove Wetbacks who are being recruited to break our strike.”
My only question is: Is wetback capitalized?
I have no doubt Chavez may have used the term. A Google search turned up almost 9,000+ documents/sites that contain both the terms “Cesar Chavez” and “wetback,” some from such respected sites as Time.com and PBS.org. (The Time.com article, dated 1968, is titled “Deathtrap for Wetbacks” and details a too familiar story of immigrants trapped in a hot truck during an illegal crossing.)
So what’s the big news? Chavez said wetback? In the mid-1960s? Oh my.
Or Chavez didn’t like scabs breaking his union lines? Yeah, that’s a headline.
I flip to the end of the book. Surely, the last page must have some nugget of insight into immigration, one of the most politically complicated issues of our generation. This is what Rivera finally offers up:
“At the risk of alienating faith-based, fundamentalist activists, immigration is Darwinian. The Black Legend reputation of Hispanics is bullshit. Who but the most eager and hardy can walk across forty or fifty miles of parched desert, dodge dopers, coyotes, and the feds, endure hardship and risk life and limb just to get a job at the other end of a gauntlet of discomfort and anxiety? Don’t you want these tough sons of guns on our team?”
That’s it. Rivera sums up immigration policy in one, simple thought. Immigrants are good because they can stand discomfort.
Yeah, that’s worth His Panic’s $24.95 price-tag.
I tried to find one good thing to say about His Panic and Geraldo Rivera. It took some time, but here goes: The author photo is nice. — Olivia Flores Alvarez
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