I try to make a point not to read the Arizona Republic for a variety of reasons, but David Safier’s post over at Blog For Arizona prompted me to check out this morning’s eloquent op-ed by Senator Alfredo Gutierrez.
Because I am a masochist, I checked out the comments and found them to be mostly positive. The exception would be a thread started by former State Senator Jack Harper, who disparaged Gutierrez as a “race baiter,” though his own record as a demagogue gives him little room to criticize anybody, particularly given that Gutierrez has far more to show for his legislative career than the clownish Harper does. Predictably, this prompted a number of comments citing the same out-of-context quote that always gets repeated by his detractors whenever Gutierrez makes a public appearance these days. Of course, this all helps prove Gutierrez’s point.
Senator Gutierrez mostly discusses his personal experience growing up in Miami (not Globe), one of the central Arizona Copper camps that birthed so much of the state’s Mexican-American political leadership from the 1970s to the 1990s. Along the way, he makes a passing reference to a “wealthy Californio” of the 19th century named Pablo de la Guerra. Though de la Guerra is tangential to the story that Gutierrez is telling, some elaboration is called for.
Pablo de la Guerra was not just another Californian. He was a Delegate to the California Constitutional Convention, was a member of the State Senate, and served a term as Lieutenant Governor. While some would argue that this somehow mitigates the discrimination that he faced and would make his a story of triumph over adversity, his accomplishments really make the situation even more absurd. Despite a long record of public service, his status as an American was constantly being questioned for no reason other than his Spanish last name.
Because he had been outspoken in his opposition to the discrimination faced by his fellow Mexican-Americans, de la Guerra found his patriotism questioned during the years of the Civil War, often by people whose own Union loyalties were shaky. This was in spite of his vocal and substantial support for the effort against the Rebellion, and the fact that several members of his family served in the Federal Army. Much of this was demagoguery from opponents who resented his political power and influence.
All of this still sounds horribly familiar. Mexican-Americans as accomplished as Senator Gutierrez still have to constantly fight to prove they are entitled to a seat at the table as Americans despite their contributions, and there are still those who argue that it is somehow unpatriotic, or at least rude, to speak out against discrimination. Fortunately, this may be changing for the better, but, as the comments to Gutierrez’s editorial prove, these sentiments are certainly still out there, and are still current in some prominent quarters of the Republican Party and the Movement Conservative Establishment.
Gutierrez’s book, To Sin Against Hope: How America Has Failed Its Immigrants: A Personal History, comes out from Verso Books later this week.