Attorney General Alberto Gonzáles and the Hispanic Challenge

When noted Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington published his controversial article, “The Hispanic Challenge,” in Foreign Policy no one could have thought of Alberto Gonzáles. Huntington’s article was published on February 24, 2004. And President George Bush announced on November 11 of that same year that Gonzáles was his choice to replace John Ashcroft .

Huntington’s first line may be in time as memorable as the first line of Don Quixote or that of One Hundred Years of Solitude: “The persistent inflow of Hispanic immigrants,” stated Huntington, “threatens to divide the United States into two peoples, two cultures and two languages.” The second sentence may also be remembered; but it is longer and more complex. “Unlike past immigrant groups, Mexicans and other Latinos have not assimilated into mainstream U.S. culture, forming instead their own political and linguistic enclaves—from Los Angeles to Miami—and rejecting the Anglo-Protestant values that built the American dream. The United States ignores this challenge at its peril.”

Today we can say with certitude that in every generalization there is an exception. Gonzáles is a complex exception, for sure. Although he has assimilated in the mainstream U.S. culture as well as one could imagine, he has become indeed a peril and a real Hispanic challenge. Gonzales, the Times reported on March 30, 2007, has worked for President Bush since 1994. In each of the jobs he’s held, Gonzáles has been the first Hispanic to hold such positions .

However, and in spite of having the merit of being the First Hispanic in many state jobs, he did not pursue the agendas of Hispanics or Latinos but, rather, that of Mr. Bush. That is a perfect case of assimilation in Huntington’s sociological analysis. He assimilated but he is, no doubt, a peril. Not for Huntington, of course. He’s a peril for the Latinos and Latinas and for the future of democracy in this country as well as in the globe.

I am not, of course, making Gonzáles responsible for every wrong and for the growing injustice and inequalities in the world. I want to draw attention to the easy ways in which Hispanics or any other ethnic “minoritarian” group is easily and generally cast as marginal and disruptive. They are threats endangering the supposed homogeneity of those who claim, like Huntington, that the Hispanic challenge is a peril for the United States (by which he means the U.S. Anglo-ethnic population).

What became clear is that Huntington’s alarms are representative of the alarms of an ethnic group (e.g. Anglo-Americans) fearing that other ethnic groups (Afro-American, Hispanics, Native-Americans, etc.) would challenge the control the Anglo- population enjoyed for more than two hundred years. The exact meaning of “minorities” is not quantitative and demographic. It is one engrained in the social and racial matrix of power. Power, as we know, is ubiquitous and no one can “have” it. Power is a matrix, a structure that situates people, ethnic groups, gendered and sexually categorized people in a particular stratum of the social fabric.

We are all situated in a “matrix” of power where decisions are made by those who have managed to occupy positions already marked in the matrix of power. To get there is difficult because positions are already taken (over centuries), and positions are taken by groups marked by ethnicity and gender. For example, Huntington belongs to the club of Anglo-American males, while González to Latino males. It is unlikely that Huntington would like to assimilate and become a Latino. But it is quite understandable that Gonzáles would like to assimilate and become an Anglo. Not in body and blood, of course, but in spirit.

If you think of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, you have still another remarkable case. Rice had to overcome both her gender and ethnic handicaps. For a Black woman to occupy such a powerful position in a structure of power mainly occupied by Anglo-males is indeed a remarkable achievement. One U.S. trademark is precisely the possibility that a particular born in a “minority” ethnic group and in a “disadvantaged” gender group, can go all the way to the “top” where the “majority” ethnic group and the “advantaged” gender dwell.

Here we have identity politics and affirmative action in a nutshell: the politics of assimilation that President Bush played well by appointing Collin Power, Rice and Gonzáles. But once the White House’s quota has been fulfilled, Bush forgot about people in New Orleans. Rice did not pay attention at the very beginning also. It was reported at the time that she has been seen shopping in a New York quality store the day after the waters in New Orleans broke the leaves. Identity IN politics began to replace the politics of identity. Identity IN politics is not looking for assimilation but for radical intervention: the views, needs and dreams of the racially governed are filling the political landscape of the nation. That is what Huntington sees as the Hispanic challenge. By contrast, the challenge for Hispanics with a new vision of the nation is Attorney General Gonzáles.

Now, let’s return to the Hispanic challenge. One can assume Huntington will prefer that people forget about their dignity and surrender to his own way of life, subjectivity, and political vision. Instead, what he has are workers doing their job for low wages and no social security and health insurance. He has intellectuals reminding everyone of 1848, when the U.S. moved the frontier to the South by appropriating huge extensions of land from the Mexican State and leaving thousands of Mexicans within U.S. borders. Huntington’s reasons to expect a form of Hispanic surrender (he talks about assimilation) assume that “Anglo-Americans” are in their own country. Hispanics are “foreigners,” even if millions of them were already U.S.-born already. This reason is the one endorsed by most U.S. citizens and the reason behind all the tension behind immigration laws and the racialization of Latinos and Latinas . The Hispanic challenges are, in Huntington’s mind, the challenges of dissenters who are not ready to do what Huntington thinks they should do. Turning the table and looking from a Hispanic perspective, the abuses committed by the Attorney General should alert us on the Anglo-challenge to peace and justice in the United States. For it will be difficult to argue that Gonzáles is bending the law for his own––and Mr. Bush’s––benefit because of the perils that Hispanics represents for the United States of America. It would be more reasonable to think that the Hispanic Gonzáles was appointed Attorney General and entered the hall of possible corruptions that the existing structure of power allows.

We cannot say the same about Rice who has played the game, thus far, according to the rules. She has, as every honest Democrat and Republican, acted by the book. It adds to the merits of her effort to serve the structure of power that has been put in place and occupied by white males in the history of modern Europe and in the building of the United States of America. Beyond Rice’s honesty and Gonzáles’s dishonesty, there are hundreds, if not thousands of Afro-Americasn and Hispanics, women of color, gay and lesbians, Native Americans, honest and progressive Muslims, and dissenting people around the world who do not want to endorse and assimilate to the neo-liberal project of managing global democracy. Thus, Huntington’s Hispanic challenge, eleven years after the “clash of civilizations” , alerts us that either the United States is a regional case of a global conflict in the structure of powe,r or that the global conflict in the structure of power (or the “clash of civilizations”) has, in the United States, its manifestation in what Huntington’s labels the “Hispanic challenge.”

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