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

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Occupy movement could be a glimpse into future Latino turmoil

As I watch the Occupy movement make national headlines, I see the foreshadowing of another potential political upheaval on the horizon – one that will put Latinos at the center of the turmoil. Let me explain why. 
The Occupy phenomenon spreading across the U.S. underscores an often-ignored fact about political movements: Revolutions are rarely instigated by the downtrodden. They are usually created by affluent, educated young people.

Examine political upheavals present and past and the trend is inescapable. This year’s Arab Spring… China’s democracy movement culminating in Tiananmen Square… the overthrow of the Shah of Iran… Castro’s revolution in Cuba… In all of these diverse societies, and many others, the rebellions were led by disaffected young people motivated more by ideology more than personal need. Fact is, the poor are usually too concerned with survival to worry about abstract notions like justice and equality. My personal history bears testament to this insight. 

My father was a young man with roots in Cuba's working class, the first of his family to attend college. The education his parents worked so hard to provide for him opened my father’s eyes to the inequity and corruption of Cuban society during the reign of strongman Fulgencio Batista. Ironically, my father’s role in Castro’s revolution led to his divorce from my mother and brought me to the United States.

How does all this connect with Latinos? I think by now you may be getting the picture.

One of every four children under age five in the U.S. today is Hispanic according to the Census Bureau. By the time this cohort reaches their late teens, most will be fluent in English and well steeped in U.S. ideals. Many will have grown up seeing their parents struggle to make a living in a nation that tells them anything is possible. If present trends continue, these young people will also reach their teens in a political climate that puts all Latinos in the crosshairs thanks to a backlash against illegal immigration – and the thinly veiled racism that movement has engendered.

Will these young Latinos reach their volatile late teens meekly accepting their fate? Or will they follow a pattern seen in scores of other cultures and lead a rebellion? One thing is certain. We will not prevent this turmoil with repressive laws that alienate Latinos like those adopted by Arizona, Alabama and other states.

Illegal immigration is an issue that conservative politicians are using to pander votes from the ignorant, the fearful and the bigoted. But this short term political gain may have long range consequences. The Occupy movement may one day be seen as the harbinger of a much more turbulent future.

Raul Ramos y Sanchez