Letters for the week of June 23-29, 2004 

Thoughts about the El Cerrito mural, Boots Riley sets the record straight, victims of traffic court compare notes, and more on anti-Semitism at Cal.

"Portrait of the Times," Feature, 5/26

White + oppressive = right on
It's both disingenuous and silly to suggest that Mr. Cruz made a mistake in calling Victor Castro an "oppressive white man." Brenda Gaspar's suggestion that he was not an oppressive white man because he was "Hispanic" sounds wildly confused, especially following the statement that Castro's parents were both born in Spain. He was a rich, powerful Mexican of full Spanish descent who enslaved Native Americans. We should cut him slack because he's "Hispanic"? The confusion is not all Gaspar's fault; it's in the culture. We Anglo-Americans have always had trouble figuring out what, exactly, we meant by the word "Hispanic" (or its more PC synonym, "Latino"). Is it a race, a geographical origin, a culture, or what? Obviously not a race, since we apply the term equally to people of mostly European (like Castro), mostly indigenous American, or mostly African descent. If it purports to describe a culture, do we really believe that Argentina, Cuba, and northern Mexico share a single culture? If it describes a geographical origin, then does a one-generation stopover in a "Hispanic" country make you Hispanic, and how many generations do you spend in the US before you cease to be so?

Any way you define it, the concept doesn't hang together very well, and we'd probably abandon it entirely if not for our cultural obsession with fitting everyone into a single pseudoracial category. I suspect the word was coined by Anglos who wanted some way of describing anyone with light brown skin and/or Spanish-accented English, without having to think about the complexities of where the person actually came from. As a friend of mine said, tongue partly in cheek, "I didn't know I was Latina until I came to the US - I always thought I was Argentine."

Define Hispanic however you want to, and put Victor Castro in or out of that category as you like. But to claim that he was not an "oppressive white man" is utter nonsense. Two European parents = white. Enslaving Native Americans = oppressive. Looks like Mr. Cruz' first impression was right on target.
Jonathan Richardson, Oakland

Pleasing a poseur
As a resident of El Cerrito, I find Cesar Cruz incorrect and offensive. The mural in question is none of his business, as he does not live in El Cerrito. Mr. Cruz is well known for his activities, as well as his politics. His support for MEChA, a repulsive, racist organization, is damning enough. For him to stick his unwanted butt into our affairs is particularly annoying. I, and my neighbors, will fight vigorously any attempt to rewrite the history of our town to please a poseur flake like Cruz.
Scott Dillard, El Cerrito

Panic in El Cerrito
Of greater concern than the possible loss of the mural is that there's a teacher in the East Bay who doesn't seem to have the educational background or experience to be able to contextualize the mural's iffy content and use it as a teaching tool with his and other students, i.e. make a perceived negative into a positive.

Too, it is still not clear to me whether Mr. Cruz is upset because the indigenous people in the mural are portrayed as playing second fiddle to everyone else or because Castro (a Hispanic "Californio") was made to look white - or both and more?

That Mr. Cruz could so easily panic assorted officials and community leaders in El Cerrito is pretty scary as well.
Tim Troy, children's librarian, SF Public Library, Albany

"Generation Vexed," Feature, 6/9

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