News and views from the award-winning author of the novels The Skinny Years, America Libre, House Divided and Pancho Land

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Not a bad way to fail

Cartoonist Chip Bok of the Akron Beacon Journal has it all wrong. Bok wants us to believe young African-Americans are replacing one unrealistic dream (being an NBA star) with another (becoming president of the United States). This is a very short-sighted view.

Dreams are the most powerful force in any young person’s life. Without dreams, we flounder. A role model is often the embodiment of those dreams, someone a young person can point to and say, “that’s going to be me someday.”

Of course, few of us ever reach the dreams of our youth. But it’s the striving that makes all the difference. And that’s why the role model of Barack Obama will be a powerful influence on so many young lives in the days ahead.

A young person who prepares for a career in pro sports has little to fall back on. Only a fraction of high school athletes ever compete in college. And less than 1% of those who play in the NCAA ever make to the pro ranks. Yet, even those fortunate few who manage to make a living from sports enjoy only a few short years as professionals. Then what? No fall in income is more precipitous than that of a pro athlete at the end of his or her playing days.

Bok is right about one thing: the dream of becoming president may be even more unrealistic. But what will happen when a young person falls short of that dream? At worst they will be well-educated, involved in the community and motivated to achieve.

Not a bad way to “fail,” is it?

Raul Ramos y Sanchez

A promising young Latino artist

Following my presentation at Columbia College Chicago, I met Aldo Pereya. This young artist wants to share his unique vision with the world. (I would describe it as a 21st-century fusion of Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali.) Take a look for yourself. And if you are in Chicago, stop in to see his show. His work is hanging at the Atlas CafĂ© through the end of November – 3028 W. Armitage Avenue – Chicago, IL 60647.

Mexican crime wave defies easy answers

By now, most of us have heard about the epidemic of violent crime sweeping over Mexico. Over 3,000 have been killed so far this year. And the epicenter of the violence is the border region closest to the United States. In San Diego, a mushrooming suburban colony of newly-arrived wealthy Mexicans leave their BMWs in the garage and commute to Tijuana in aging Chevys. Americans who routinely cross the border like my friend Pieter Speyer, an immigration attorney and radio talk show host, are especially wary.

What’s behind this sudden upsurge in violence?

Like so many problems, its roots are complex and evade simple solutions. The most commonly held opinion is that president Felipe Calderon’s all-out effort to wipe out the Mexican drug cartels has led the traffickers to fight back. The U.S. is seen as complicit as well. Some blame the Bush administration for introducing U.S. trained paramilitary units into the war on drugs. These “Zetas” as they are known locally, have switched loyalties and are now better trained and equipped than Calderon’s national police.  

I am an optimist. I prefer to believe this outburst of violence is much like the bloodbath that preceded the breakup of the Medellin cartel in Columbia. Calderon is going after the drug lords and as a result, the traffickers are expanding into kidnapping and robbery. It will be a bloody and painful operation to excise this cancer from Mexican society. In fact, the U.S. experienced much of the same when the Feds began breaking up the mobs in Chicago and New York during the 1930s.

Time will tell who is right. In the meantime, we are in for a tragic and dangerous period along the border.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez