Invisible Latinos: Bootstraps and What They Hide

El Guapo would like to apologize in advance for anyone expecting what he normally attempts to pass off as humor.  You won’t get too much of that in this one.  Occasionally, El Guapo loses his mind.  Read on.

So, here’s the thing.  The so called little things matter.  Quite a bit and quite often.  In fact, usually they’re not so little at all.

Each human life is influenced significantly by a myriad of swirling obvious and subtle factors.  While many, particularly politicians, and of these, particularly those on the right, love to speak in trite cliches that often precede the stories of personal sacrifice, individual determination, and dogged relentlessness that have allowed members of the disenfranchised and the downtrodden to rise to unfathomable heights, these stories are so amazing because they are extra-ordinary.  As in not-at-all-ordinary.  One-in-a-million type stuff.  So, while the stories are admirable, impressive, inspiring, and inherently interesting – they have a darker side.  They hide something that we might want to pay more attention to – they hide the ordinary. They hide the real conditions that give these narratives their conflict and result in their final catharsis.  They hide the stories of hardworking people whose fates were less glamorous, less notable.  They hide the stories of the ordinary by which the extra-ordinary are compared, defined, and then deified.

The narrative of rising from humble beginnings is very American, and who doesn’t love a great rags-to-riches story and who doesn’t love to learn about someone who was dealt a crap hand and yet rose above?

So, when someone starts going on about racism or institutional factors that impede some group’s (or individual’s) pursuit of happiness and equality in real ways, it is received in distinct manners by distinct groups.  Some roll their eyes and equate it to whining – an easy dismissal.  Others nod their head in agreement, since they believe they’ve experienced the very same impediments first hand. Others see a battle to undertake, a wrong to right.  Others chalk the issue up to a right of passage – the inevitable struggle that precedes progress.  In any event, what underlies much of this discourse is the fact that someone (sometimes several someones or small pockets of someones) have ridden out the crap avalanche of their particularly unfair situation and jumped the seemingly insurmountable hurdles and have gone on to do amazing things in spite of the odds.

Doll Experiments

Over 70 years ago Kenneth and Mamie Clark, a pair of African-American psychologists conducted experiments that essentially concluded that young children had internalized racism.  Their “doll experiments” found that the black children in the studies preferred to play with white dolls.  These children disproportionately attributed positive characteristics to white and described black as “ugly” or “bad”.

To some, what kind of doll a kid plays with seems at first glance rather inconsequential.  Others acknowledged that this study nodded at the resulting dysfunction that lived under the tip of the iceberg.  There were serious psychological factors at work.

Recent attempts at reproducing the experiment indicate that in our post-racial world, things aren’t so post-racial.  But it’s pretty cute to think so. The results so many years later were more or less the same.  This fact doesn’t support the popular narratives of progress and I doubt you’ll hear much about it.

The Invisible Latin@

According to recent census numbers, there are more than 50 million Latinos in the US.  To put it in technical terms- that’s a butt-load of people.

Quiz: Name one Latin@ protagonist in a mainstream US feature film, television show, or book (who isn’t Machete).

Can’t? Surprised?  Again, this could be interpreted as relatively innocuous, as just some group looking for something to whine about.  Perhaps it’s just a very odd coincidence. More accurately though, the lack of real representation in mainstream narratives is something that has a tremendous effect on Latin@ self-perception and the way Latin@s are perceived by society overall.  What the lack of existence in mainstream media does is, on a pervasive, subconscious level suggest inferiority. Think of a Latino kid growing up without ever encountering a Latino protagonist in a mainstream film, book, or television program. Stories that reflect that kid’s experiences are not told in any meaningful way.  His/her experiences must not be:

A. Legitimate

B. Worthwhile

C. Entertaining

D. American

E. Interesting.

Knowing the power of stories, throughout history any colonizing nation worth its salt immediately subverted the stories of the colonized by either forbidding them altogether or replacing heroes and deities with those that would leave no doubt of the new hierarchy.  This was by design. The stories were, as much as shackles and violence, tools of subjugation.  The stories mattered.  They still do.

Throughout the nation, the dearth of genuine Latino representation contributes to the countless recent examples of overt racism aimed at Latinos.  It is going almost entirely unexamined.

Some fun facts:

  • One politician said openly and publicly that undocumented immigrants should be shot from helicopters like feral pigs.  (For the record, if you said this at your job, even in jest, you’d probably get fired – unless you happen to be a KKK spokesperson.)
  • The word “illegal” is routinely used to describe a human being.  As in “..another goddamn illegal”.
  • The shooting of 9-year old Brisenia Flores and her father by Arizona Minutemen (and the subsequent trials of her killers) similarly received virtually no national press while the trial of Casey Anthony has, as you’ve undoubtedly seen, dominated news coverage.  Check out Victor Landa’s recent post on the discrepancy.

Back to Bootstraps

So, you can highlight stories of triumph through tragedy.  You can speak of those that pioneered, who rose from a dung heap, but what does the almost singular obsession with the bootstrap cliche conceal?  Pretty much everything that these individuals had to overcome, the very things that need fixing so that these extra-ordinary stories can become ordinary.

Your handsome and humble servant-
El Guapo (trying desperately to jump off his soapbox)

[photos courtesy of Brett Jordan, photogirl7.1, Lel4nd]



  • Thank you so much for this. You hit the nail right on the head. It is so easy for those in power to go on ignoring the oppression and the huge demographic shift, because it suits them, it maintains their power. It’s made doubly easy, as so many in the Latino population do not speak up. It is time we do. Thank you, for being one of those that spoke out.

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