HispanicVista's The Week's Best Guest Commentaries
The Week's Best Guest Commentary
1. Roberto Lovato's - White Fear in Wartime - Samuel Huntington Brings His
'Clash of Civilizations' Home
2. Frank Gomez's - Prisoner Abuse: Explaining America in Challenging Times
3. Roberto Miranda's - The Latino Community Has Confidence In La Causa Inc.
White Fear in Wartime -- Samuel Huntington Brings His 'Clash of
By Roberto Lovato,
Just as excerpts from a polemical new book by Harvard international relations
expert Samuel Huntington were hitting newsstands, I was in New York and
visited Huntington's old neighborhood in the Bronx near blocks of sooty,
industrial-age housing projects.
Despite the slight chill that overcast Sunday, the area's main drag, La
Bainbridge, a street long ravaged and revived by the ebb and flow of economic
depression and war, burst with beats of American life: colorful restaurants and
shops, vibrant Catholic, evangelical, and Muslim churches and mosques, and lots
of immigrants pregnant with a ferocious work ethic.
Most of the Bronx residents of Puerto Rican, Dominican and -- increasingly --
Mexican descent trekking along Bainbridge have probably never heard of the
powerful Bronx native who recently penned what may become the defining document
of "Americanness" and "Latinoness" in our time (if the profound impact of his
best-selling previous book "The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of
World Order" is any indicator).
These Bronx residents may not be aware that they and other Latinos in the
United States are protagonists in an ongoing American -- especially
Anglo-American -- crisis in which they are the latest group cast as "Barbarian Other."
In his just published book, "Who are We: The Challenges to America's National
Identity," Huntington speaks about the meteoric rise of white nativism in
America, for which he offers not an apology but a rationale: "The most powerful
stimulus to such white nativism will be the cultural and linguistic threats
whites see from the expanding power of Latinos in U.S. society."
What Bronx residents and for that matter most of us don't know is that, in
crossing the East River or the Rio Grande, Latinos have crossed a modern-day
Rubicon into hostility and war in the eyes of some whites like Huntington.
We Latinos are now living in the vast and varied terrain of white fear.
The failure to recognize white fear and confront it on its own terms has
become Latinos' central strategic error in the domestic policy wars that vilify
immigrants, destroy schools and disproportionately push larger and larger
numbers of former students of crumbling school systems into prisons and into the
ranks of the dead and endangered in Iraq.
In a chapter entitled "Assimilation," Huntington is very explicit about this
nexus between perpetual war and the construction of national identity:
"Without a major war requiring substantial mobilization and lasting years ...
contemporary immigrants will have neither the opportunity nor the need to affirm
their identity with and their loyalty to America as earlier immigrants have done."
I can't erase from my own mind the images of families and children devastated
by the Cold War counterinsurgency culture designed for El Salvador by the
U.S. National Security Council, or NSC, during Huntington's tenure there in the
late 1970s and early 1980s. Today, I can't but wonder what awaits all Americans
of Latin American descent as Huntington lunges into the domestic component of
his perilous vision known as "The Clash of Civilizations" in his earlier
The stakes couldn't be higher. Huntington isn't just some cloistered academic
crank; he's a warrior-scholar with direct links to vast networks of
political, military, academic and media power; he's a political scientist who learned
how to integrate the double helix of domestic and foreign policy as the former
coordinator of security planning at the NSC.
As one of the pioneers of the post-Cold War American grand strategy,
Huntington understands better than most how to engineer society through an ongoing
psychological operation or, as his NSC memos put it, a "psy-op." Manufacturing
various types of fear -- including racial fear -- is a standard psy-op that
effects multiple audiences in multiple ways.
Rather than fall into the psy-op trap of reactive anger by dismissing the
book as the rant of a "racist" or a 19th century backwoods nativist, it is best
to interpret "Who Are We" as another very dangerous installment in the career
of a seasoned national security specialist. With the steely calculus of a
post-Cold War warrior in search of new enemies, Huntington is helping create a fear
that is transforming American and Latino identity, and U.S. politics overall
-- a fear most visible in our gated communities, gated countries and gated
Huntington's 1968 classic, "Political Order in Changing Societies," has for
many years been a textbook for Third World authoritarian leaders. Another of
his books, "The Soldier and the State" was and still is required reading in
national security theory for numerous military leaders, including those of the
Salvadoran military. That's the same Salvadoran military that brought my
Salvadoran college students in the United States their most vivid recollections of
their home country: Dante-esque mounds of body parts and ground littered with the
dead bodies of national security practice.
How has political-military scientist Huntington suddenly come to view Latinos
as "The single most immediate and most serious challenge to America's
In search of answers I went to the Bronx County Historical Society, also on
Bainbridge, not far from the formerly middle class projects that once housed
the Huntingtons. Huntington's hood has changed -- radically so. Latinos account
for over 48 percent of the Bronx's 1.4 million people, and whites are now less
than 30 percent of the population.
Outside the Bronx Historical Society, just a few feet away from the lone
green carpet of museum lawn, pockmarked telephone poles and brick walls display
concert posters for musicians who trace their musical lineage to the thump and
mix of black, Puerto Rican and Jamaican Bronx rage that went global in the
1970s. A globalized Bronx gave the world Huntington and hip-hop.
Yet, only Huntington's world is represented inside the Historical Society.
Only white immigrants and their descendants are celebrated on exhibition walls
and a multi-volume series of monographs on Bronx history end for some reason in
Like the historical society, Huntington himself -- born in 1927, a professor
at Harvard's School of Government by 1962 and today a resident of Boston's
elite Beacon Hill -- missed experiencing his old neighborhood's most important
20th century demographic change: the huge influx of blacks and Latinos in the
1960s, when the Latino population doubled to 400,000.
Staring at the mostly war-related artifacts of the historical society, it is
easy to see how Huntington, who says he's descended from English settlers who
arrived in Boston in 1633, puts forth his Latino "threat" thesis in no
uncertain racial and geopolitical terms. In his view, Latinos are a menace to U.S.
civilization as defined by what he calls the country's core "Anglo Protestant"
culture defined by the English language and customs, including individualism
and the work ethic.
Latinos in the United States don't enjoy the same clarity of argument. They
are paralyzed -- hesitating between black and white. While they most resemble
African Americans in rates of poverty, imprisonment and health problems, half
of all Latinos checked "white" on the 2000 census.
Attacks like Huntington's may serve Latinos in one way: it may push the
country's largest "minority" to decide whether it is more black or white, whether
it will fight the power or serve it. The ceaseless troubles visited in recent
years upon prosperous and well-assimilated Arab and Muslim Americans -- the
primary "others" targeted in Huntington's previous book -- show there is likely
no saving middle ground of "brown" in times of white fear's war against those
perceived as 21st century barbarians. In white fear's eyes, any shade of brown
Even though ideas about race, ethnicity, culture and civilization are fluid
and murky, white fear is cohesive and entrenched. It gets funding for research
using state-of-the-art statistical methods to prove age-old ideas about white
intellectual superiority; it informs government policies and media coverage
that -- despite the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, white militias and private
border battalions -- never link "white" with "threat," "terrorist" or (to use
Huntington's term) "challenge." White fear mobilizes Republican and Democratic
voters to defend their perceived racial interests under the guise of patriotism.
White fear is profitable. Bond issues for prison construction managed by
major investment banks are more profitable than school construction bonds for
improving the decrepit, crowded public schools like Taft High School in the Bronx.
The prison construction bonds also depend heavily on a steady flow of young,
brown bodies of former students of de-funded schools, as do the crowded
barracks in Iraq's deserts.
Though Latinos are well on their way to surpassing African Americans on the
rolls of Rikers Island and other prisons as well as those dying in the deserts
of Iraq, there is no mature and sustained Latino equivalent of the established
black critique -- literary, musical and political -- of the politics of white
fear and its nefarious effects. Huntington's "Who Are We" has little to do
with Latinos and everything to do with whiteness in America. We must realize
that we can't win these ideological wars by leaving the cold silos of white fear
We must meditate about and lay siege upon the workings of white fear as if we
are indeed the very barbarians Huntington invokes. We must now take our place
alongside African Americans and countless barbarian others at the front of
the long march to move this country, this world beyond the calcified history and
fossilized notions of "civilization" and "assimilation" lurking behind the
gated white walls of the Bronx Historical Society and Samuel Huntington's mind.
Roberto Lovato (robvato63@...) is a Los Angeles-based writer.
Prisoner Abuse: Explaining America in Challenging Times
By Frank Gómez
Explaining America to the rest of the world has always been difficult. Since
the collapse of Soviet communism, as we became the world’s sole superpower,
it became more difficult. Now, with the prisoner abuse scandal, it seems more
daunting than ever.
That job rests principally in the Bureau of Public Diplomacy in the
Department of State. It houses the functions once performed by the United States
Information Agency (USIA). Congress passed a bill that merged USIA with State in
1990. Since 1991 the bureau has had three chiefs – two appointees and one
The Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, ad executive Charlotte Beers, left
after a year, due to illness. Her deputy, Patricia Harrison, former co-chair
of the Republican National Committee, became acting head. Margaret Tutwiler,
a spokesperson from the first Bush Administration, was appointed early this
year, but resigned months later to take a private sector job. A permanent
nominee for this critical position has not yet surfaced.
Budget cuts and a weakened USIA have harmed America’s ability to speak to the
world credibly at critical time. One wonders whether we can actually win any
hearts and minds. Allies question our motives and our actions. Opinion
surveys around the world show that respect for our policies – and respect for the
U.S. – has fallen to historic lows.
Reduced Information Capabilities
How such a state of affairs arose merits attention. It began in the
eighties, when Congress reduced USIA budgets. This agency ran the Voice of America,
Fulbright exchanges, cultural exchanges, libraries, English and American
studies programs, media and other programs abroad, and foreign press centers in the
U.S. In the nineties, with the collapse of Soviet communism, complacency
seized the American foreign policy psyche, budgets were cut further. Finally,
USIA merged into the State Department in 1991.
This precipitous decline in our ability to communicate with publics abroad
occurred, moreover, just as two powerful and related realities emerged: 1) the
explosion in telecommunications technology; and 2) the ascendancy of NGOs and
public opinion as public policy influencers.
With regard to the former, Marshall McLuhan’s “global village” had become “
wired.” Information and news were being transmitted instantaneously by
growing numbers of players, from CNN and the BBC to, a bit later, the Internet.
Their audiences numbered in the hundreds of millions. They included heads of
government, opinion leaders, media magnates, dictators and heads of
non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
The communications technology revolution was accompanied by the explosion of
NGOs. Addressing his annual meeting of his ambassadors from around the world
a couple of years ago, Jacques Chirac lamented the great and growing influence
of NGOs on French policymaking. Organizations here and abroad use
technology, i.e., the Internet, to inform, motivate and mobilize.
The World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle in 2000 was one of the first
major conferences whose opponents did not have to hold planning meetings.
They met on-line! WTO meetings since have faced similar opposition. The Cancún
meeting in November faced protests outside and opposition to “first world”
agricultural subsidies inside. The harsh reality is that in a wired world the
increasingly vital communication of American values, policies and actions came
to compete in a seeming cacophony of global information flows, both public
The Sole Superpower
In the nineties, the United States and the world were adjusting to the
realities of a sole superpower. We became a bigger actor on the world stage – our
culture was imitated and absorbed, our military was unmatched in technology and
power projection, and our economy was strong. America’s might, however, made
foreign publics apprehensive. Desert Storm, our commendable role Bosnia and
Kosovo, and other actions fueled concern that U.S. power could be used
anywhere – at will.
Then came 9/11. The immediate response from allies, friends and even
adversaries was overwhelmingly supportive. Le Monde’s banner headline, “Nous sommes
tous américains” (We Are All Americans) captured the sentiment. At no time
since World War II – sixty years ago – did the United States need allies to
respond to attacks on its soil and to defend against future attacks. Subsequent
actions in Afghanistan were understandable by most, even by many in the
But we stumbled. The Bush Administration called our war against terror a “
crusade.” That term means “carrying the cross,” a painful reminder of invading
European armies to stop the spread of “Mohammedanism.” Then came the “Axis
of Evil” speech, a virtual declaration of war. Some policy makers thought that
Iraq would be easy, and that Syria and Iran would be the next targets. But
our occupation of Iraq and the continuing violence there have taken a toll on
our respect and credibility. And anti-Americanism in the Arabic-speaking world
has been fueled by two new players in the global village of communications:
Al Jazeera and Al Arabiya.
America, in the eyes of much of the world, was realizing its potential as
what former Secretary of State Madeline Albright described as “the indispensable
nation.” We began the nineties and entered the new century with a sense of
omnipotence. The Cold War was over; no adversary could challenge us; we could
work our will with relative ease. But our failure to secure a positive United
Nations resolution, and our failure to rally traditional allies to our cause
in Iraq indicate how much the tide has changed.
Explaining ourselves is a challenge. Explaining policies and actions that
much of the world regards as mistaken is even more of a challenge. And we
hamper our ability to tell our story. First, we are projecting our power in a part
of the world that we do not understand. After 9/11 the CIA, FBI and other
agencies were desperately trying to recruit translators, interpreters and
We have too few experts in the history, culture, languages, mores and
politics of the Muslim world. We are perceived as arrogant bullies. Our statements
often provide ammunition to our critics. And now, the prisoner abuse scandal,
with more closets yet to be opened, fuels skepticism, further radicalizes our
critics, and sharply undermines our ability to achieve our foreign policy
A commission on pubic diplomacy in the Muslim world produced an outstanding
report late last year that appears to have gained little notice. It was a
wake-up call that woke up few! Retired USIA veterans have written articles and
reports about what they regard as the mistaken move of that agency to the State
Department. Their website (www.pubicdiplomacy.org) has persuasive arguments
to buttress their case. But few have taken note.
Whoever wins in November, the incoming Administration and the Congress need
to take stock of our weakened public diplomacy machinery. They need to
re-tool it for the new challenges of the 21st century. They need equip our country
with the means to communicate and compete more effectively in the global
village. They need to recognize that public opinion in other countries matters to
their governments as much as public opinion at home matters to our own. They
need to assess whether USIA ought to be an independent agency.
Frank Gómez, a retired FSO, is a former Deputy Assistant Secretary of State
for Public Affairs and corporate executive. He is a communications consultant
with the New York firm LatinInsights, and Vice Chairman, Hispanic Council on
International Relaitons. He can be reached at fgomez@....
The Latino Community Has Confidence In La Causa Inc.
By Robert Miranda
In the past few weeks La Causa Inc., one of Milwaukee's longest reigning and
best-known Latino social service agency, has managed to get itself in the news
- unfortunately the news has focused mainly on the agency's financial
The agency is currently experiencing a public relations nightmare as it tries
to deflect negative news reports, which have focused on its fiscal deficit -
reported to be nearly $2.2 million. A series of articles published by the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have highlighted these fiscal issues, however, what was
not reported is the positive impact and productive work La Causa has achieved
for the Latino community.
Indeed, the public should be concerned about the way public dollars are
handled at this agency and public dollars this non-profit group receives should be
accounted for. However, it must also be stressed that La Causa Inc., which was
founded in the early 1970’s to provide specialized childcare, education and
other programs, with a bilingual emphasis, is a prominent Latino community
Troubles From Within
In April several members of the board of directors resigned from the social
service agency because some felt the staff at the agency were refusing to work
towards reforms designed to improve the agency.
In addition, the Milwaukee County Health and Human Services Department has
decided not to renew the agency's child care services for special needs children
contract when it expires at the end of May. Milwaukee County said it would
handle the task in-house for the rest of the year. The county stated that
cutting off La Causa Inc. wasn't directly related to any controversy involving the
Leadership and Committed Staff
David Espinoza is La Causa's president and chief executive, his work in the
Latino community and his commitment to La Causa is unquestionable. Espinoza and
his staff are honest hard working people who love their jobs and have a
commitment to the Latino community few can equal.
After speaking with staff at La Causa I sense a commitment by them to meet
the challenges that now stands before them. There is pride and resolve to make
things right at the agency. There is a feeling of renewed kinship among the
workers and a rising spirituality that is focused on making things at La Causa
Indeed, steps to correct discrepancies that have been reported are being
taken and once these steps have been established La Causa will resume being a key
agency in our community. In the meantime, as they’re making the arrangements
to improve their situation, it is certain they will not have missed a beat
meeting the needs of our people.
Already board members who have resigned have been replaced and efforts to
launch an aggressive fund-raising program are being thought through.
Of course La Causa’s success will center on the effectiveness of its
leadership. To make things turn around this ship has to have a cool firm captain ready
to make the decisions needed to steer this potential Titanic away from the
David Espinoza is the captain that can make things happen. There is no
question, without David at the helm La Causa’s predicament could turn into a
calamity. As it stands, it hasn’t because of Espinoza’s steadfast leadership and
effective communication skills.
The Latino community understands the need to protect our public dollars, yet
we also have confidence in David Espinoza and his staff and we believe that
this current state of affairs will only strengthen La Causa. As La Causa
continues to stay the course, as one this community's top-notch social service
organization, Latinos will continue to benefit from the people who have made this
agency an important part of our Latino community.
Contact Robert Miranda at: rmiranda@...
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