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The Case of Ruben Navarette

by RODOLFO ACUÑA

I usually ignore people who take cheap shots in order to make themselves look intelligent. However, Ruben Navarrete’s column titled, “If I offended demanding DREAMers, I’m not sorry” crossed the line. My gut reaction was who gives a dump? But I guess I do.

Navarette begins his column in his usual self-congratulatory way: “Even for someone who has written more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years, sometimes the words come out wrong.”

I have known Ruben for those two decades, and my impression is that he is always trying to impress you. The first words that came out of his mouth when we first met were that he had graduated from Harvard as if that somehow qualified him as an expert.

At 25 Ruben wrote an autobiography A Darker A Shade of CrimsonIt was about telling us he was from Harvard.

The Amazon promo says that Navarette spent “his turbulent years as a Mexican-American undergraduate at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities.” According the piece, the autobiography was Navarrette’s “declaration of independence, spurning the labels `people of color’ (offensive) and ‘Hispanic’ (too general), preferring ‘minority’ and ‘Latino.’” (Four years before that he had been a Chicano).

In A Darker A Shade of Crimson, Ruben brags how he confronted bigotry. Ruben pulled himself up by his own bootstraps.  Ruben was a self-made boy, got straight A’s, a valedictorian, and his efforts alone got him into Harvard. Affirmative action and the sacrifices of others had nothing to do with it.

I could not believe that this was the same chubby kid that I met a couple of years before who tried to impress me with how Chicano he was – high fives and all. Ruben was Mr. Aztlán.

The tone of Navarette’s article offended my sense of history, and no one should mess with Chicana/o history.

I know that I am getting old. And my memory is not what it used to be. However, I remember witnessing firsthand students, educators and organizations pressuring Ivy League universities to admit highly qualified minorities. Even Michelle Obama, an excellent student, was reputed to have taken part in a sit-in at Harvard in 1988.

However, Ruben thinks he is exceptional, and the sacrifices of others had nothing to do with his admission. He was a boy genius from Sanger, California.

Perhaps at one time Ruben could be forgiven for his historical myopia. He was once a young man who wanted to make it. He had a dream of being someone. Of being called Mr. Harvard. But last month he completely blew any credibility he once had.

Navarette preached, “I know just what a lot of those so-called DREAMers deserve to get for Christmas: a scolding. There are good and bad actors in every movement and the bad ones — if not kept in check — can drag the good ones down with them.”

He continues, “Having declared their intention to better themselves, some in the DREAMer movement now insist that they’re entitled to better treatment than run-of-the-mill illegal immigrants. You know, like the hardworking and humble folks who cut your lawn, clean your house or care for your kids. In fact, the DREAMers seem to suggest they’re due a reward for good behavior.”

Then he gets nasty, “Gee, kids, can we get you anything else? Maybe free massages the next time you stage a sit-in? These kids want it all” …While they probably don’t realize it, their public tantrums are turning people against them and hurting the chances for a broader immigration reform package.”

Some might call this a cheap shot.

This man who says he has written “more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years,” offers no solution while playing to the xenophobes. Indeed, other than he went to Harvard, what has he accomplished?

Most recent research shows that people deprived of entering the dream phase of sleep “exhibit symptoms of irritability and anxiety.” Their brains stop growing. This is what has apparently happened to Ruben.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” Speech. Like all visionaries Dr. King wanted a more perfect society.  The reverend spoke of the gap between the American dream and the American lived reality and how white supremacists violated the dream. The reaction of his fellow Dreamers was “Now.”

The response to Dr. King was not all positive. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) expanded their COINTELPRO operation against the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and targeted King specifically as a public enemy of the United States.  Some accused Dr. King of provoking enmity between the races.

Dr. King was scolded in the press. Called a troublemaker, and certainly his civility was questioned. In the end, history has judged him as it will the Dreamers.

As I have often pointed out when I arrived at San Fernando Valley State College, there were barely fifty students of Mexican origin at the college. Students opened it up by demanding and often being discourteous. They were the children of “the hardworking and humble folks who cut your lawn, clean your house or care for your kids.” They dreamt of a better life, of escaping low paying jobs much the same as Navarette escaped Sanger.

Like Dr. King the Dreamers have led a nonviolent struggle and practiced civil disobedience to bring attention to the injustices in our society. For the information of Ruben Navarette, civil disobedience is an American tradition dating back to the Boston Tea Party and the abolitionist movement.  Today’s Dreamers follow in the footsteps of other American Dreamers, which is probably hard for Navarette, suffering from intellectual insomnia, to fathom.

Aside from the equitable argument that the Dreamers are entitled to a path to citizenship because they came to the United States through no fault of their own – most were minors when brought here by their parents—there are more compelling reasons. In spite of living in poor neighborhoods and often attending decaying schools, they have displayed considerable initiative and perseverance in pursuing their education and being good citizens in their community.

I argue that they came to the United States not through their own fault but because the United States has not been the best of neighbors.

Mexico has a population of 115 million people. Most of Mexican immigrants migrated to the United States because of economic reasons. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a disaster to the small subsistence farmer driving millions off their farms. Relatively little technical aid has been given to Mexico to help build its infrastructure whereas the United States is pumping in hundreds of millions of dollars to induce the Mexican government to purse a failed War on Drugs that has devastated the country.

The Nation Magazine reported “Beyond the undiplomatic opinions … the WikiLeaks cables revealed the astonishing degree to which the United States exercised its power and influence at the highest levels of the Mexican government. In some cases it appears that an essential part of the decision-making process on matters of internal security is actually designed not in Mexico City but in Washington. For Mexicans, the cables have reinforced once again that famous adage ‘Pobre Mexico: tan lejos de Dios, y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos.’ Poor Mexico: so far from God and so close to the United States.”

In the case of the Dreamers from Central America, the U.S. wrecked the economy of those countries and spent billions tearing them up. Lately, the U.S. has been exporting made in the U.S. gang members to El Salvador.

One might say the migration of the Dreamers was in most cases induced.

This debate could go on forever. But for Navarette’s information, the actions of the Dreamers that Navarette objects to are the ones that got him into Harvard. The Dreamers never would have gotten this far if they had relied on the Ruben Navarettes.  Most of them have worked hard, gotten good grades and not gotten swallowed up in the apathy that often paralyzes the poor. They dare to dream, and refuse to take less by just existing. Perhaps Ruben should re-read A Darker Shade of Crimson and remember how it was to dream.

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution. 

RODOLFO ACUÑA, a professor emeritus at California State University Northridge, has published 20 books and over 200 public and scholarly articles. He is the founding chair of the first Chicano Studies Dept which today offers 166 sections per semester in Chicano Studies. His history book Occupied America has been banned in Arizona. In solidarity with Mexican Americans in Tucson, he has organized fundraisers and support groups to ground zero and written over two dozen articles exposing efforts there to nullify the U.S. Constitution.

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