Latino civil rights groups finally see the light on Gonzales

by Amaury Nora

After breaking ranks with with other civil rights organizations two years ago, it looks like Latino civil rights groups have finally swallowed their pride and admitted that their beloved Al “Torture Guy” Gonzales is not the person they thought he was, according to a New York Times article.

Two years ago, major Hispanic groups broke with other civil rights organizations and supported Alberto R. Gonzales’s nomination for attorney general, primarily because he would become the highest-ranking Latino ever in a presidential Cabinet.

I have to say we were in error when we supported him to begin with,” said Brent Wilkes, executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens. Gonzales, Wilkes said, has not aggressively pursued hate crimes and cases of police profiling of Hispanics. “We hoped for better. Instead it looks like he’s done the bidding of the White House.”Janet Murguia, president and chief executive of the National Council of La Raza, the nation’s largest Hispanic rights group, called Gonzales “a follower, not a leader.” In the Hispanic community, she said, “people are conflicted. They are excited that a Latino had a chance to serve as the attorney general.” But, she added, “I think we’ve been disappointed with his record so far.”

A few rights organizations that once backed Gonzales now refuse to talk about him. Gilbert Moreno, president of the Association for the Advancement of Mexican Americans, said, “We’re not really in a position to comment.” Gonzales once sat on his organization’s board.

The National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials, which offered enthusiastic support for Gonzales, also declined to discuss him. William Ramos, director of the organization’s Washington office, said, “We provided a support letter, yes,” then hung up.

… The U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the National Latino Peace Officers Association, the Latino Coalition and the Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute all wrote letters supporting Gonzales when he became embroiled in the scandal over the prosecutor firings.

The most depressing feature of the Gonzales nomination hearings was neither the faux support by the Republicans nor the spineless silence of the Democrats – both reveal the predictable inability of most white politicians to talk candidly about race. Rather, what most disturbed me was the high level of automatic acceptance among Latinas/os. So the question is, when did the light go off for LULAC and NCLR? According to the Times, it was when Gonzalez decided to snub them. I am terribly disappointed at this excuse; it is no reason to stop supporting him. It totally negates everything Gonzales has done to this country, and sounds more as if they are “taking their marbles and going home” because their homeboy Al snubbed them.

How could they not see he was a peón blindly following his patrón. Gonzales has time and time again demonstrated, both before and during his current tenure, that he is President’s Bush’s in-house and in-court “yes” man. His only role as peón is to seek out the loopholes in the law to uphold, for political or moral reasons, what his boss has already decided to do, no matter what. When he was up for nomination, what still boggles my mind is how these organizations could consider his two-year stink on the Texas Supreme Court as experience to be AG? The true purpose of affirmative action is to make sure that everyone has the equal opportunity to enjoy America’s wealth by eliminating all barriers. It was not intended to hire some random unqualified minority just because they happen to be minority. The reason affirmative action is being dismantled is because of LULAC and NCLR, who abuse for their own gain. And look what just happened: the person who they strongly supported decided to turn his back on them. So who will suffer from this blunder? We, the Latino community. Now, we are forced to work twice as hard and prove ourselves in order to erase the damage our creditability.

Even if we were to consider him qualified because of his time spent as Justice, it’s a mystery how they still could overlook the draconian policies he has help put into place.

Through his career as a peón, he:

With all of this, we should not be surprised at the recent scandal involving Gonzales – the writing was on the proverbial wall for all the world to see. The Times article also mentions that activists have criticized La Raza and LULAC for backing Gonzales. They are damn precise in their assessment. As I mentioned before, it is one thing to be committed and supportive of the Latino community and communities of color, but it is another to do it just because he is Brown. The truth is, Gonzales’ interest is confined solely to himself, rather than to larger Latino communities. Gonzales’ conservative Republican politics do not promote a closing-ranks mentality; instead, his claim to Latino status is for the purpose of self-promotion, to gain power and prestige. All his professional life he has championed individual achievement and race-free standards. Now that he is seeing his ship sink, it is not a surprise to see him whip out the race card of Latino victimization and Latino solidarity.

There were only a few of us who had the courage to publicly say that his appointment was nothing more but an act of cynical tokenism concealed by outright lies about him being the most qualified candidate regardless of race. The fact is Gonzales was simply unqualified for the position of Attorney General. The very fact that no Latino leader could utter publicly that a Latino appointee for Attorney General was unqualified shows how captive they are to white-racist stereotypes about Latino intellectual talent. There were a few who privately admitted his mediocrity, but they were also quick to point out the mediocrity of his processor, John Ashcroft – as if white mediocrity is a justification for Latina/o mediocrity. No double standards here, this argument goes – if a Latino is unqualified, one can defend and excuse him by appealing to other unqualified white appointees. This jives well with a cynical tokenism of the lowest common denominator – with little concern about shattering racist stereotypes or furthering the public interest in the nation.

Gonzales proved his usefulness by playing the role that was assigned to him, Bush’s token Latino. It was nothing more but an illusion, a ploy to win over the Latino vote and these organizations took the bait – hook, line and sinker. Why did so many of them capitulate to Bush’s cynical strategy? The answer is simple. Most Latina/o leaders got caught in a vulgar form of racial reasoning: Latino solidarity. Rarely did we see a Latina/o leader illustrating the moral maturity of Latino identity and highlighting the need for a coalition strategy in the struggle for justice. Especially after going through four years of the Bush Administration.

As long as this racial reasoning continues to regulate our action as a community, the Alberto Gonzaleses of the world will continue to haunt us – as Bush and his ilk sit back, watch, and prosper. It does not help the Latino cause if people are willing compromise their principles by jumping on every bandwagon just because a person can say “Soy Latino.” So how does one go about undermining the framework of racial reasoning? By dismantling each pillar slowly and systematically with the aim of replacing racial reasoning with moral reasoning. The Latina/o struggle is not about skin color or having a Spanish surname, but rather is a matter of ethical principles and wise politics. If it means passing up the chance to have the first Latino (fill in the blank), so be it. It would be better have someone we could be proud of as a great role model for our community than some fake Latinos who we will no longer mention – like Henry Cisneros, Federico Peña, Lauro Cavazos, and Henry Bonilla. We can now add Alberto Gonzales to this list.

The continuing silence of these organizations, with the exception of Hispanic Alliance for Progress Institute, is represents a refusal to undermine and dismantle the framework of racial reasoning. As long as our leaders remain caught in a framework of racial reasoning, they will not rise above the manipulative language of Bush and Gonzales. Where there is no vision, the people perish; where there is no framework of moral reasoning, the people close ranks in a war of all against all.

Gonzales has to go for the sake of the nation. It is about time and some of our Latino civil rights groups have finally seen the light, but there is much more that must be done if Americans are to survive with any moral sense.

x-posted on Para Justicia and Libertad

2 replies »

  1. Alberto Gonzales should try and undo all the damage he caused, now we all have to do our part also to push ahead for what is just for all humanity.