“Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and never will.” – Frederick Douglas.
As multicultural and multiracial (primarily raised and identifying as Latino and Pascua Yaqui Indian) I’ve long felt compelled to offer a counter-narrative to commonly held perceptions about the Latino community.
I realize of course that Latinos are not monolithic, we have diverse backgrounds, subcultures, even languages. However, as a group, it’s my contention that we share a common bond that both elevates and enervates us.
Let’s begin with the accession of power in this country. Power originates from culture. It matters little if its manifestation is national, racial, ethnic, religious, tribal, familial, gender, political or business. The aim and result are the same, the attainment of authority to influence one’s people, society, and conformity over others.
It has neither conscience nor master. It’s a free radical, unrestrained by nature or man. It has no sense of right or wrong, and no one group of people owns it. It belongs to those capable of seizing, controlling and wielding it to their advantage. Moreover, it’s not relinquished voluntarily. If one seeks empowerment, they alone, are responsible for taking it.
In retrospect, an October 2010 controversy between two high profile media personalities underscores this divergence of reality clearly. First, one accuses the other of bigotry and states what everybody suspects but are reluctant to acknowledge: Jews run the media (and I contend virtually every level of power) in this country.
As a consequence, CNN fired news anchor Rick Sanchez for airing his rant publicly. Shortly after that, Jon Stewart former host of the Daily Show on the Comedy Network gives smug credence to the assertion at a fundraiser. Wisecracking to the choir, he self-righteously boasted that all Sanchez has to do “is apologize to us, and we’ll hire him back.” SNAP!
To be clear, I’m not a fan of Rick Sanchez’s well-documented buffoonery, nor do I believe in the adoration of Jon (Leibowitz) Stewart. And there’s certainly nothing gained by castigating an impulsive Cuban-American commentator for stating a pointed and inconvenient truth to a condescending Jewish-American comedian. Sanchez’s comments about media ownership were professionally ill-advised but arguably true. Stewart didn’t dispute it. Rather, he offered a retort tinged with pompous, tribal superiority.
What this embarrassing exchange and consequences shed light on, is the power of Jewish cultural and tribal allegiance and the disparity between powerful and impotent constituencies. Now, compare the Jewish (2%) juggernaut with the numerically rising but deferential and subservient Latino community. Given the sheer percentage (17%) of the U.S. population, Hispanic underachievement in every socioeconomic metric is inexcusable.
Latino progression, or the lack thereof, is largely attributable to the failed leadership of a compliant Latino professional class. If there were a crime for ethnic infidelity, they’d be found guilty of criminal fraud. At the head of the class; Latino politicians, tenured academics, national ethnic organizations, the Catholic Church, and corporate-sponsored media, including virtually every Latino online website. They sold out. Never mind their bagmen, although it’s impossible to ignore the usual suspects: the paternalistic Democratic Party machine, corporations, the entertainment industry, and Wall Street backers.
Inept and co-opted, Latino ‘leaders’ willfully and wrongly promote centrist, corporate, collaborationist government. They’re merely the newest variation, in a long line of racial and ethnic gatekeepers. They’re commissioned to guard the plantation (hacienda); to genuflect and grovel at the altar of their big business masters. Their accrued currency, both monetary and professional, is as bankrupt as the empowerment they profess to promote and represent.
Case in point: Latinos in the highly influential entertainment industry. I recently witnessed a Jimmy Smits interview conducted by a sycophantic commentator on NBC News Latino. The gist of the conversation dealt primarily with Smit receiving the Ackerman Award for his advocacy of mental health services, as well as his National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts granting several college scholarships. All well and good. No offense Jimmy, you should be commended for doing your part. But staged altruism is window dressing and doesn’t do much to further Latino opportunities and prospects. Unfortunately, the Smit video was just another example of how corporate media uses entertainment as a communal – between elites and Latinos – to avert bringing attention and addressing substantive discussion and solutions to national racial and ethnic issues, entertainment advocacy notwithstanding.
Welcome to corporate Latinoland where media propaganda is utilized to diffuse and pacify an entire ethnic constituency. Where “artists” desperate for work are afraid to challenge moneychanger authority and create independent entertainment systems. Where inherent talent and power encoded in the Latino genome is voluntarily rendered impotent and left hanging, to die on the vine.
So, let’s put our cards on the table. Face up. Latinos are obsessed with celebrity. Never mind reality. We prefer fantasy, outside “direction” and a paycheck.
Take a bow, Jimmy. And while you’re at it, gather all your other celebrity brethren and thank them for stereotyping and subjugating us further in liberating works of ART like, “Ugly Betty,” “Devious Maids,” “Zorro,” the self-loathing “Original Latin Kings of Comedy” films. And the boot-licking comedian buffoon, Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias and his opus to xenophobic Matthew “Alright, alright, alright” McConnaughey. Thanks for rep it…güey.
So here’s a thought. The next time you view shameless (sin vergüenza) celebrity suck-ups, on a national LATINO entertainment and political award show (ALMA, Latin Grammy & Imagen, etc.), ask yourself “how much money and assets are sitting in that venue?” Millions? Not even close. More like billions. More than enough to fund an independent entertainment industry capable of giving voice to a disenfranchised constituency.
Then ask yourself, “What kind of “entertainment” am I being served, why, and by whom? Does this socially engineered, self-congratulatory, egomaniacal spectacle feed me?” Uh, no it doesn’t. And that’s the point. It’s pap, driveled diversionary dessert, served without a socially sustainable entrée. You can put the cherry on top a pile of crap, but it doesn’t make it a sundae.
Today’s ‘LATINO inteligencia’ is an oxymoron, a disgrace – a collection of puppets and pawns paid generously by patriarchal bosses for shoveling manure and maintaining the status quo.
Cesar Chavez is rolling over in his grave.
Latino leadership’s betrayal of ethnic heritage, intellect and resources are designed to harness private interests and suppress Hispanic power and influence, and make certain external control and hegemony. The political insurgency that’s sweeping across the country led by community engaged progressive Latino millennials has brought this to light. To their credit, they’re increasingly at odds with Latino leadership and are remaking the Latino culture.
Yes, of course, it’s indisputable that systemic inequity and oppression impedes Hispanic progression. But the indentured imprisonment of Latinos – and it pains me to say this – is in no small part the result of cultural submissiveness and acceptance of inadequacy. That passivity and compliance was and continues to be aided and abetted by Latino elites deceiving and persuading constituencies to channel their time and money into counterfeit political and corporate funded Latino organizations, and their commercial benefactors – at the expense of not creating autonomous investment pipelines, organizations and institutions for their people.
That said, Latinos (individually) bear much of the blame for lemming-like deference and their subsequent internment – they drank the “Kool-Aid.” Their economic impotence, by choice or deceit indentures them into fraudulent “American Dream” exceptionalism, capitalism, cultural consumerism, celebrity, and entitlement. They’ve voluntarily prioritized and accepted short-term material gratification over long-term reward and self-sufficiency.
The good news is that with increasing population growth and the highest banking demands of any ethnic group, Latinos are uniquely positioned to leverage their increasing numbers through self-sufficient, self-sustaining and self-funding financial enterprises.
In a battle of economic determination, the requisite weaponry is money. Latinos have to create and control their financial institutions to compete. Latinos must convert the power of growing numbers into the power of the purse. They should build cooperative investment institutions designed to channel collective assets to their communities and constituencies.
The FDIC previously predicted that Latinos will account for 50 percent of all retail banking growth over the next two decades. And according to Tower Group, a leading financial services research firm, that number could be as high as 70 percent over the next few years. Demand exists. Incomprehensibly, virtually every major bank in the U.S. has chosen, to their collective detriment, to concentrate services on account holders with less growth potential than the fastest growing population segment in the United States.
This seemingly willful disdain and disregard to a constituency possessing over one trillion dollars in purchasing power creates an incomparable opportunity (opening) for Latinos to build and leverage their financial institutions.
To reiterate, if Latinos ever expect to compete, they must build their economy and control their investments, purchases, and strategies. They must gain and keep their equity by fusing ethnic and economic appeal through central and independent financial organizations and institutions. Specifically, they have to build a separate Political Party or LEVERAGE an existing one. Sound familiar?
They have to create Worker Collectives, Credit Unions, and Banks that are designed to accommodate Hispanic cultural and socioeconomic needs and requirements. And make no mistake, it can be done.
It has been done.
Latinos need look no further than to an ancestral country to find a blueprint from which to build cultural self-sufficiency.
The Mondragon Cooperative in the northern Basque country of Spain is the premier worker cooperative in the world. It’s a network of over 250 cooperatives, subsidiaries and support organizations with over €32 billion in assets, €14 billion in sales and 85,000 employees worldwide. Their worker and financial cooperative model have withstood the oppressive austerity calamities of Europe, and their business sectors prosper, despite a depressed Spanish economy.
Their ability to flourish is primarily the result of an imbued, self-reliant culture, and of having the ability to manufacture and offer diversified products worldwide.
Their operations are fluid and liquid. They’re capable of moving cash from cooperative to cooperative as needed to offset temporary declines in sales and profits, and to finance projects, products, and services in different business sectors.
Most evident to their success is their insistence on starting and developing their cooperative financial institutions – far removed from crony capitalist banks, including those in Spain and the United States. Furthermore, each Mondragon Cooperative contributes 10 percent of their profits to their central cooperative bank, ensuring the continued financing of projects and worker related loans and services.
Unemployment is offset by moving workers from one cooperative to another and having workers take temporary pay cuts as necessary to ensure the continued employment of all others.
Executive compensation is fair – not exorbitant. Compared to the obscene salary and bonuses CEOs in the U.S., the highest paid executives at Mondragon receive no more than six times the salary of their workers.
The Basque, like Latinos in America, are a minority in Spain and have historically suffered at the hands of a repressive Spanish majority. But they took it upon themselves to build their economy. They created independent, self-sustaining, cultural-based enterprises. Including, but not limited to banking, social welfare, pensions, healthcare, insurance, manufacturing, trade, distribution, universities, vocational schools, and research centers. Their core principle was to integrate humanist values into business, creating employment and socioeconomic equality and independence; exactly, what Latinos and every working class person should aspire.
Cooperatives, by definition, are two-way support systems designed for and long employed by independent-minded people.
Predatory, crony (winner-take-all) capitalist institutions, as controlled and administered by others, simply don’t work for the Latino community. They’re purposely designed to profit corporate shareholders and more powerful racial, ethnic and religious groups.
And the only way to recapture, control and redistribute Hispanic assets and resources is for Hispanics to become owners and shareholders of enterprises that empower them in the decision-making processes. Moneyed elites and political classes in American society will never willingly share (except through occasional and intermittent altruism) their perceived entitlement of the American pie. The sooner Hispanic institutions and leadership realize this, the sooner they can create a more efficient independent framework capable of motivating, elevating and enriching their people. Anything short of this is an abdication of responsibility.
So, what prevents Latinos from becoming a dominant social force in America? I contend – that it’s honest introspection and accountability. Latino leadership and organizations mirror the corrupt American political system. They openly solicit, accept, and depend on corporate “contributions” and in turn, convince and expect their constituency (membership) to believe that nothing is expected in return – when in fact remuneration warrants sub-servience and the status quo.
Latinos must come to the realization that leadership has failed them in their pursuit of American prosperity. They must understand that for a group of people to achieve major socioeconomic and political reforms; it must be preceded by SELF-REFORM.
They must recognize Latino intelligentsia is willfully ignorant or powerless by design, and its practitioners are but highly paid corporate tools, expert at obfuscation and exploitation. Their allegiance is not to their people, but to their professional status and social class. They no more identify with their membership, nanny or the guy cutting their lawn than does the privileged upper-class white suburbanite.
What Latinos need is a revolutionary change within the ranks. A revolution of consciousness is in order – an independent mindset – to fuel a united ethnic rebellion.
Latinos must adopt a new purpose and mantra: “leverage over loyalty.” They must “get” (results) before they “give” (loyalty).
The reality is that demographics is destiny and as it changes, so should proportionate cultural leadership and empowerment. If there’s anything to learn from incompetent and inequitable representation and leadership, it’s this: if you are not at the negotiation table, you’re on the menu.
Latinos have to come to the realization that the disparity of power and justice correlates directly to the leverage (there’s that word again) attained through self-reliance. They must coalesce around shared cultural objectives and not wallow in deluded thoughts of acceptance – and that they’re guests to the festivities. At best, they’re only tolerated to serve those already seated at the table.
Ironically, the current austerity orthodoxy of corporate America and government (one in the same) continue to fragment all U.S. citizens into subgroups, pitting them against one another for diminishing benefits and opportunities. With the privatization of social programs and the disintegration of the social safety net, all working-class people, regardless of generation, race, ethnicity or affiliation are forced more than ever to fend for themselves.
Inevitability requires preparation. It’s a matter of self-preservation.
To survive, Latinos – and all people - must build.
Build is a powerful word. Its very definition – to construct, to assemble, to erect, to fabricate, and to manufacture – is a testament to its potential and force in society.
Build, don’t bitch. That’s an affirmative action that generates the leverage.
It’s time for Latinos to build on the proud legacy of cooperative economics and collective ownership, and harness the economic energy capable of empowering their heritage and their people.
The lingering question is whether there are Latino leaders who have the cultural distinctiveness (cojones) and chutzpah to make it happen. That’s still an open question.
*For the purposes of this essay, Hispanic and Latino were used interchangeably.