Chapter 3 “Is This What Democracy Looks Like?”
- What does Hinojosa say about America’s history of extrajudicial killings of Mexicans and the general lack of this discussion anywhere else (p. 35)
- How are the terms “wetback” and “illegal alien” racially offensive and ostensibly inaccurate? (pp. 36-37)
- How is culture altered, positively/negatively, by technology? What social commentary is Hinojosa making about technology? (p.3 9)
- When did you first “see yourself” in media and what kind of image was being portrayed?
- Hinojosa actively resists the oversimplification of a monolithic group of people. Describe how and why. (pp. 35-42)
Chapter 3 “Is This What Democracy Looks Like?”
1. America has always styled itself as a country built on the strength of outsiders, making use of the opportunities of this land. In reality, the country has always held the value of Racism close to its chest. American history is colored with instances of brutal prejudice against people of color. As far as Mexicans are concerned, the prejudice was rooted in jealousy or sometimes pure hatred. From 1848 to 1928, 597 Mexicans experienced lynching according to the reports put out by William D. Carrigan and Clive Webb (Hinojosa, 2020, p.37). Hinojosa traces the root of this hatred to the California Gold Rush. During this phenomenon, mining became a hugely important skill, and since Mexicans had more familiarity with it, they were able to become more successful than their American counterparts. This enraged America as a country. It was a direct blow to their ego. For almost a decade, Southern America, namely Texas, massacred Mexicans to eradicate this jealousy. After killing the Mexicans, they overtook their lands, forcefully and began inhabiting them, deleting the Mexican existence in a matter of seconds. Apart from civilian persecution, Mexicans had to also face authoritative abhorrence. In 1943 the Zoot Suit Riots occurred in which US Servicemen, ambushed Mexicans along with other ‘non-white’ civilians for their manner of dressing. Americans, especially white people, through their actions, always tended to make people of color feel distinct, and when they began to ‘own’ this otherness with their clothing, this was seen as a sign of disrespect, and people of color had to pay for this disrespect with their lives. Thereafter the physical violence was followed by libel. Statements were published in the media, that aimed to damage the reputation of Mexicans, in order to part them from any sympathy on the world stage, and by extension save the American reputation. All of this began in the 1950s when posters encompassing the sentiment, NO DOGS. NO MEXICANS became popular. Many people did not treat the Nationality Act, with positive reception. This brought the issue of immigrants into the spotlight. Through the Nationality Act, the sheer number of immigrants coming to the American border increased drastically. This immigration was not only fuelled by the desires of immigrants but also by the efforts of various ‘American’ corporations. To improve their work functioning and to make it more affordable, recruiters were sent to countries like Mexico, to gain cheap labor. The recruiters were also facilitating this ‘illegal’ movement. After this illegal movement, the Mexicans were left to their own devices and were the ones to suffer the consequence of Operation Intercept, while these recruiters and corporations reaped the benefits of cheap work. The Operation Intercept was so violent in spirit, that immigration came to a standstill. These killings often went undocumented, and rarely gained a place in ‘the news’. Hinojosa through her writing is looking forward to rectifying that and sharing with everyone the gruesome history, her people have gone through in America.
2. America, throughout its ‘prosperous’ history, has tried to maintain, its reputation or more specifically its image, in front of the world. The image of an ‘inviting’ land brimming with opportunities. Therefore, racism as a concept does not seem agreeable with the image America as a country has been trying to portray. Hence to combat it, the country adopted a strategy to ruin the reputation of those they are harming. This was done by running negative campaigns, against specific groups. One of these unfortunate groups happened to be Mexicans. Therefore, in the 20th century, terms like wetback and illegal alien began to be applied to Mexican immigrants. Hinojosa discusses these terms in her writings. Wetback was a popular moniker assigned to Mexicans and was also used by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, to define his campaign for deporting Mexicans (Hinojosa, 2020, p.38). Once this campaign gained heat, gaining a place in publications like the Los Angeles Times, many Chicano Law students expressed their distaste against this term, and coined another alternative in the form of ‘illegal alien’. This turned out to be a self-inflicting wound, as the latter term was used to characterize Mexican immigrants, for many decades. Both terms are intrinsically hurtful. Wetback was used for Mexican immigrants regardless of whether they were staying illegally or legally. Wetback was applied because of the presumption that many Mexicans entered America by swimming. As mentioned in the book, the arrival of Mexicans, in America on many occasions, was guided by Americans for their needs. Hence the use of this term by Americans themselves is hypocritical, to say the least as they have no right to criticize the passage, they have themselves taken advantage of, it for their own reasons. ‘Illegal Alien’ is offensive, as everyone involved in the discussion are humans. Using the term ‘Alien’ for a human of a different descent is a strategy to inflict ‘otherness’. This term hit Hinojosa’s consciousness for the first time when she found the words ‘Resident Alien’, on her Green Card. It took her aback, as, in her or any normal consideration, she wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. To describe her as an alien with such heavy negative connotations made no sense. To call anything that is not similar to you ‘alien’ is foolishness. The Americans went one step further when they called the Chinese, ‘celestials’ since for them they did not only belong in this country but also in this world.
3. Though Hinojosa’s family as a whole tried to stay close to their roots, even then, transformation touched them, too heavily. The transformation got initiated when they made a commitment to this country. This commitment happened in the form of a spacious house that they brought. The house reflected the loud colors of their culture, as well as the comfort that they as a family were seeking. This is symbolized by the study room emboldened with wooden shelves that the house encompassed. The room was Raul’s dream since childhood (Hinojosa, 2020, p.39). The instance reflected that America as a country realized a lot of its dreams, but also took a ton. As the family slowly became the thing they feared, a family watched television as they ate dinner. Mexicans did not do that and considered it as a marker of poshness. They teased this kind of behavior as being ‘gringo’. Considering the fact that the family as a whole had resisted assimilation so much, this was a shock to their system. It was a shock because technology provided a positive impact on the family dynamic. The family became more aware of the happenings in the country and openly discussed racism and fascism, making them in the process more open about each other. Shows like 60 minutes, made Hinojosa proud of the news system as a whole. The fact that a show was challenging people in power, so fearlessly, for their wrongdoings was riveting. Though, she begrudged that people involved in the making of the show were white privileged men, who couldn’t relate to the experiences of people they were making news about. Hinojosa couldn’t find any representation at all, in the media, the only time it happened was in regards to a man named Chavez, stopping people from buying grapes, to support farmworkers. His effect was so profound on the family that they immediately stopped buying grapes from the market.
4. As a Mexican, I first felt represented by seeing the character of Maria in West Side Story. Maria in West Side Story was exactly who I wanted to be at that time, a beautiful, spirited, and enticing girl, whom men would fall for in an instant. Though I felt disappointed when I found out that Natalie Wood was not a Latina and used makeup to look like one, which in my opinion is extremely offensive. Representation is extremely important and should be a huge priority. Roles for people of color is anyway so less, and therefore should not be pried on, by white counterparts. My experience of watching Maria was fascinating, to say the least, I loved the fact that someone like me could be the leading actress for her own story.
5. Throughout the book, various instances showcase the sentiment of diversity, starting from Hinojosa’s Jewish friend Maria and the environment in their neighborhood. Diversity was something that Hinojosa grew up with and felt intrinsically. Hence, the repeated attempts from America as a country to club people together on the basis of the color of their skin has been seen negatively by her. Right from the start of the book, she harps on this point through her explanation of ‘otherness’. The instance of her father being given the choice of entering either a white or colored bathroom was reflected harshly by Hinojosa. People aren’t the color of their skin; they are their experiences. Raul entered America to fulfill his dreams, while people like Slava, entered to save their lives. Therefore, their attitude towards the country is also hugely varying. She supports people reflecting their inner personality and criticizes the Zoot Suit massacre in strong words. The usage of terms like alien and celestials, for people of color characterizing them as something out of the world, was also shown negatively (Hinojosa, 2020, p.39). From the author’s perspective, people of color are distinct humans.
Hinojosa, M. (2020). Once I Was You: A Memoir. Simon and Schuster.