Esther J. Cepeda: When political leaders are seen as finger-waggers

May 31, 2013 

Judging from reactions to remarks by the president and first lady during separate commencement speeches, I have to imagine it'll be a bummer for Hispanics if a Latino ever becomes president.

I don't especially care for Barack Obama's politics, but I hate seeing him ripped for not being "black enough," not giving blacks enough favor or credit.

In the days since Obama addressed Morehouse College graduates, he's become a Bill Cosby figure — labeled a finger-wagger for using his time in front of one of the largest gatherings of young, elite black Americans to restate his belief in the power of hard work and personal responsibility.

"We know that too many young men in our community continue to make bad choices. And I have to say, growing up, I made quite a few myself," the president said. "Sometimes I wrote off my own failings as just another example of the world trying to keep a black man down. I had a tendency sometimes to make excuses for me not doing the right thing. But ... there's no longer any room for excuses."

It's stunning to imagine anyone taking offense at the notion that one should not rationalize bad choices based on what others expect of us.

Despite the fact that there are plenty of Hispanics out there telling their stories in terms of hard work, making good choices and taking responsibility, substitute the word "brown" in Obama's statement and you'd see the same outrage from the many Latinos who really do see everything in terms of whites trying to oppress minorities.

If New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez became president, would she get any better a reception for comments similar to ones Michelle Obama made at Bowie State's graduation?

"When it comes to getting an education, too many of our young people just can't be bothered," the first lady said. "Instead of ... school, they're sitting on couches for hours playing video games, watching TV. Instead of dreaming of being a teacher or a lawyer or a business leader, they're fantasizing about being a baller or a rapper."

Substitute "soccer player" for "baller" and you've got the potential to make Hispanics lament that "their" representative is a scold.

It's not as though the Latino version of "Is he/she Hispanic enough?" isn't already the most boring and trivial conversation about the few Latino politicians dotting the national landscape.

Worse, such navel-gazing would bubble out of the Hispanic blogosphere and into the national consciousness, confusing non-Lations about what proper political views and language preferences are acceptable to Latinos — as if there's a consensus.

On top of common misperceptions that Hispanics can't speak and don't want to learn English, the general public would learn that many Latinos believe that true authenticity comes only with a command of the Spanish language.

Two politicians recently subjected to the Spanish-related "Latino In Name Only" controversy: Democrat Julian Castro, mayor of San Antonio, and Republican Ted Cruz, senator from Texas.

And that's just for starters. As with criticism of the racial makeup of Obama's Cabinet, unemployment rates and other racial metrics, Hispanics would tear into a Latino president for not favoring them enough while non-Hispanics would be on the lookout for any sign that he did.

A shame, isn't it, that such a milestone for Hispanics could be so dreaded a proposition?

Email: estherjcepeda@washpost.com

WASHINGTON POST WRITERS GROUP

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service