On Being a Minority Columnist

A little more than halfway through my first year as a columnist for The Houston Post, I was asked to speak to a local Latino organization. I don’t remember which group it was. In fact, I’d forgotten about the speech until I ran across a faded copy as I was cleaning out some of my files. I like some of what’s here, and some parts make me cringe, like the use of language that would be unacceptable today (Hispanic and Mexican-American instead of Latino or Latina; the automatic use of the masculine pronoun when talking about politicians, etc.) I’m also embarrassed by my arrogance and the preachy tone. But I thought I’d share it with you nonetheless:

I CAN SAFELY say that for the last 8 1/2 months, I have been having the time of my life, doing what I have been wanting to do for long, long time. Writing a column is not half as difficult as I feared it would be and it is a hell of a lot more fun than I ever hoped it would be. 

I’ve become convinced that this truly is a wonderful country. Where else would a white-owned company pay good money to brown boy to give white people piece of his mind? 

Seriously though, one of the greatest joys of this job is knowing that my audience consist of people of all colors. But I am truly touched when I get a call or a letter from a fellow Hispanic who says, “Thanks for expressing exactly what was on my mind.” 

Not all of them agree with me, of course, and I’ve never expected that. One of the scariest things is to hear people say, as one Hispanic told me, I speak for the Hispanics in the city. I do nothing of the sort. I speak only for myself and I would never be presumptuous enough to say that I speak for anybody else. 

I know that, because of my background, because of what I’ve gone through, my feelings and thoughts are shared by many other Mexican-Americans in this town. But I also know that there are many others who have lived through the same kind of things I have lived through and have come out of that experience with completely different opinions about a lot of things. 

And that is the way it should be. For too long, the world has seen us as a monolithic mass with the same emotions and opinions. And for too long, many of us of expect the same things of ourselves, and we somehow even resent it when someone within our community dares to stray from the flock.

I’ve been as guilty of that as anyone else. Having been a Democrat all my life, I’ve often found myself wanting to wring a fellow Hispanic’s neck when he’s told me he’s a Republican. 

But there has always been diversity in our community, and as the years go by, and we become more and more a part of this country, there will be more and more diversity. And that will call for us to have more tolerance of each other, and we will come to a point where we will have to quit questioning the motives of people who disagree with us and accept the fact that they may have valid reasons for their political leanings. 

I think that is one of the best things about being a columnist. Although – as I have made admitted in my column, my roots are in the Democratic Party – and I am proud to call myself a liberal, I have the freedom and the obligation to not be bound by party loyalty. 

That’s why I can criticize Ann Richard and Hugo Berlanga just as easily as I can George Bush and Phil Gramm. And neither am I bound by ethnic or racial loyalty. When I put on my columnist’s hat, I have no more qualms about rapping Román Martínez than I do Kathy Whitmire. 

I’m not saying that it’s not difficult for me to go out for Mexican-American Democratic liberals. It bothers me to have to be critical of Ben Reyes or Martínez or Berlanga, but I don’t think I would be doing my job if I were to remain silent simply because the person I suspect is doing something wrong also has a brown skin. 

SINCE I STARTED this job, I’ve been to accused several times of being “too preachy,“ of having a holier-than-thou attitude, and I’m sorry that’s the impression I have given some people. I am not a saint. I never have pretended to be a saint and I gave up hope a long time ago that I would ever be one. 

I have my faults, just like everyone else. But I am not a politician and the fact that we are all sinners should not prevent us from demanding honesty from public officials. I do not care what a politician does in bed, or with home – or with how many. That’s between him and his wife and his kids. 

I don’t care if he drinks too much and I don’t even care if he uses some drugs on a recreational basis. But I do care if a politician sexually harasses one of his employees and I do care if a politician who screws around goes around making political hay by sanctimoniously criticizing other people’s sexual activities or preferences. 

And I do care if I a politician’s alcohol or drug abuse affects his performance on the job, or if he hypocritically goes around the railing against drug and alcohol abuse. It’s not a politician’s private life that I am concerned about, it’s his public life. It’s how his actions as a politician affect us. 

A Hispanic politician can go out and become a billionaire and I will cheer him on as long as I can be assured that he’s getting rich strictly on his own ability and talent, that he has something of value to sell other than his office and his title and his vote – and the trust of the people who elected him. 

I HAVE ALSO been accused of having a double standard for minority politicians and that I expect more from them then I do for white politicians. My answer is, you better believe I expect more from them! 

And I think we all should. The stakes are simply too high for us to accept Hispanic politicians who are merely good enough. Until we Hispanics are in the majority, the demands on representatives are going to continue to be enormous, and we can’t settle for people who don’t aspire to be better than the rest. 

Think about it: when the time comes for us to have a Hispanic president, would you want that person to be someone like Richard Nixon, or would you rather have someone like Franklin Roosevelt? We all know what the answer is. Well why should it be any different for the city council or the school board, or any of the other offices to which we are electing Hispanics? 

I KNOW SOME of you may be thinking, who appointed him God? The answer is simple: nobody. Actually, the better answer is, I did. I asked for this job. I’ve been asking for it for a long time and finally the Houston Post was smart enough to give it to me last October. And for that, I have to thank those of you who have been putting pressure on both the Post and the Chronicle to do a better job of covering the Hispanic community here. 

Without that pressure, both newspapers would probably still be trying to pretend that Hispanics do not exist in the city. The Post gave me my column, but it was really up to me to decide what kind of column it would be. And I decided a long time ago that if I ever got the opportunity to write a column, I would not waste it, that I would use it to really say something, and not simply take up valuable newspaper space with meaningless phrases. 

And just as I expect more of Hispanic politicians, you have the right to expect more of me. There are way too few Mexican Americans writing columns for major newspapers and I don’t intend to let this opportunity be wasted. If I were to screw up, it would be very easy for newspaper editors to use me as an excuse to deny other Hispanics their own columns. 

There have been many great columnists in this country. What made them great was their willingness to risk their popularity by pointing out the sins of politicians and institutions loved by the people. 

I am not egotistical enough to claim that I’m a great columnist, but I do have enough confidence in my own ability to tell you that I know I am a good one. And as long as The Post continues to let me write this column, I will strive to be good, to provide you with the most honest assessment possible of what is going on.

I am having a ball and as long as it continues to be fun, I will continue to write. I don’t expect you to agree with me all the time or even most of the time. I simply ask that you to give me a chance.

About juanzqui7

Former Texas reporter, columnist and editorial writer.
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