Monday, July 11, 2005

Insisting on Being Just a Person

Dan Banda is a Marquette faculty member who is to teach a course this fall titled “Mexicans in the Media.”

If that doesn’t sound politically correct, nothing does. One imagines a course about the terrible stereotyping Mexicans have had to endure at the hands of Anglo dominated media.

But in reality, Banda seems way less than fully politically correct. His father was Mexican, and his mother Norwegian. So far as his parents were concerned, neither should be the defining thing about his life:
Twelve years ago, my father warned me not to open the door to our past, but I didn’t listen. “If you dig around with this ethnic stuff, you’re just going to make yourself miserable,” he would reply to my questions about his Mexican-born parents.

My mother’s response to questions about her Norwegian-born parents, were a bit more diplomatic but no more enlightening. To them, yesterday really was a canceled check. To them, everyone came after the immigrant, at one time or another.
The moment of truth came with a Marquette Human Resources bureaucrat called him, to demand to know his ethnicity.
The person on the other end of the phone was . . . asking me to complete my personnel information and to please choose an ethnic identity.

I had left that part blank, as I always do. “How can I be just one of these choices?” I asked. What went unsaid, however, was that by choosing a label, I had to leave someone behind.

Choose “white” and I cede to Sir Frances Drake and reject my inner Viking. Choose “Hispanic” and I cede to Cortes and downplay my native heritage.
Banda refused to answer, and was told by the bureaucrat that growing numbers of Marquette students are also refusing to answer.

Banda then explains his dislike of ethnic labeling:
But with every one of these small victories, one can still hear the drums of the Anglo-Spanish War. On one side, people are promoting our ethnic festivals and tours of our ethnic neighborhoods.

To them I say, “If there really is such a thing as an ethnic neighborhood, there must be something called a ‘non-ethnic’ neighborhood. If you can explain what that is, I’ll go on the tours.”

On the other side, they are getting ready for the national Hispanic convention to arrive and are dusting off the Latino family values and work ethnic mantra.

To them I ask, “If these values are truly unique, then who do Latinos have better family values than?”
If Banda was at all cynical, he would pick “Mexican” as his ancestry. That would certainly serve the interests of University bureaucrats.

Hispanics are typically favored minorities in “diversity” programs, and basically nobody gives a damn about Norwegians.

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