Latinos Must Speak Out on Gonzales

As the image of the most powerful Latino government official in U.S. history goes, so goes ours

By Roberto Lovato
Published on LatinoLA: April 25, 2007

Latinos Must Speak Out on Gonzales

A friend who knows beleaguered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales recently confessed in a hushed tone that he thought his fellow Tejano was ‘«£not an evil guy, just too loyal.‘«ō Another friend who lives in Gonzales‘«÷ hometown of San Antonio and shares some mutual friends with him practically screamed to me that, as former general counsel to then-Governor Bush, Gonzales pushed for and oversaw the state executions of more people than anyone in her home state or in the country. ‘«£He‘«÷s an embarrassment, a disgrace,‘«ō she raged. ‘«£And he needs to go.‘«ō

As the scandal surrounding Gonzales‘«÷ firing of eight U.S. attorneys continues to unfold, I‘«÷m reminded that, before cheering, booing or ignoring his meltdown, Latinos must bear in mind one thing: as the image of the most powerful Latino government official in U.S. history goes, so goes ours.

This was clear to me as I watched the Attorney General‘«÷s incompetence, duplicity and blind loyalty displayed before a global audience during last week‘«÷s Senate Judiciary hearing. With so few Latinos ever occupying positions of such prominence and power, I wondered how many people watching the news reports will use this case to reinforce beliefs about Latinos being generally unfit to lead.

I actually felt sorry for Gonzales as he delivered a humiliating speech that persuaded no one but George W. Bush. His dismal performance on the hot seat fit perfectly with the stereotype of ‘«£ethnics‘«ō occupying positions for which their only qualification is their skin color ‘«Ű and powerful amigos. Yet, a part of me wanted him to show something of another Latino trait: ganas. If not to defend himself, then at least to defend us (even the most effete and reactionary Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, like Oklahoma‘«÷s Tom Coburn, showed more ganas as they savaged him with questions and some called for his resignation.) Yet, unlike many of my peers who prefer to fall silent when things go awry, I feel an urgency for more Latinos to express their wish for Gonzales to resign.

Principal among the reasons we need to step up is the colossal threat that Gonzales poses to civil liberties and justice for all, not just Latinos. It is inevitable that Latinos will assume positions of power concomitant with their numbers and growing influence. The country needs to trust that future Latino leaders will not follow the footsteps of the Latino they see destroying privacy rights, facilitating torture and, most recently, politicizing the justice system. Latino or not, Gonzales is an unprecedented threat to the ‘«£American way of life‘«ō that he and others claim to be defending in their ‘«£war on terror.‘«ō

We live in a racialized society, one that still designates limited slots for the non-white in elite circles. The failure to denounce Gonzales, in a society already predisposed to view Latinos with hate and anger in the immigration debate, means that even many ‘«£progressives‘«ō will assume that the silence of many national Latino organizations around the Gonzales scandal speaks for all of us.

These views were reinforced by the shower of praises of Gonzales by national Latino organizations like the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) during his nomination process. Since then, with several important exceptions like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), many national Latino organizations have been silent about the firing scandal, the decimation of privacy and other civil liberties under the Patriot Act, and Gonzales‘«÷ gutting of the Freedom of Information Act. And, as old school ethnic politics become deadly in the age of national security, these same organizations said nothing when the man they lionized as ‘«£an American success story,‘«ō the hard working son of immigrants, laid the legal foundation for the tower of torture that casts its shadow over Latinos, the country, and the entire world.

The silence of Latino civil rights organizations that joined Gonzales in his brightest hour is deafening in this country‘«÷s darkest hour. Yet the firing scandal presents an opportunity for new voices to be heard.

The diversity of Latino thought and leadership need to blossom in the age of human rights. Major Spanish-language newspapers like La Opini??n in Los Angeles and El Diario/La Prensa in New York have written front page editorials calling for Gonzales to resign. Smaller, lesser-known regional Latino groups like the Mexican-American Political Association and other local groups have joined the call as well.

Though this is encouraging, the rage expressed against a man who is ultimately responsible for a Justice Department that will police, prosecute and jail more Latinos, African-Americans and poor people than ever before, must be louder. Viewed through an ‘«£ethnic‘«ō lens, Gonzales is the brown front man of a prison construction and corrections system that spends $60 billion annually, a system in which one out of three African-American males and one out of six Latino males born today will be jailed. We can‘«÷t afford not to criticize and denounce a man who considers the Geneva Conventions ‘«£quaint‘«ō and outdated, who, in a more balanced system of justice, would be considered a war criminal.

Like it or not, we hold some responsibility for Alberto Gonzales by virtue of our silence.

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