A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to speak a the Commonwealth Compact’s diversity breakfast at UMASS Boston. One of the questions I addressed was about a Boston Globe op-ed piece I wrote saying that Massachusetts Republican candidate for Senate Gabriel Gómez was being ignored by the national GOP even though he was an appealing Latino candidate. At the breakfast, I made the point that Gómez’s win as the first Latino to every triumph in a statewide primary was historic for Massachusetts politics. Given the ugly racial history Boston has had, people who believe in diversity needed to put aside their political difference aside for just a moment and celebrate the fact that Gómez’s primary win was a step forward in rebranding Massachusetts when it comes to presenting a state that values diversity and opportunity for all.
Personally, I don’t think I will support Gómez just because he is Latino, but I do believe that what he accomplished this year mattered, and that is was a positive sign for my adopted home state.
I guess Jerry Villacrés of Boston’s El Planeta newspaper still wants to live in the past. Today, Villacrés wrote an op-ed in Spanish calling Gómez a Latino in Name Only, a LINO. It was a silly column, one that does nothing to portray Latinos in a positive light, and Villacrés should be ashamed for questioning Gómez’s background and his identity.
Villacrés has every right to claim that Gómez is an outsider to the Latino community and question his politics, but he went too far in the “Latino enough” characterization that belittles the Republican candidate. Would Villacrés have the courage to say the same thing to Gómez’s face or to Gómez’s parents, Colombian immigrants who saw their son become a Navy Seal and a successful businessman? Or what of the fact that Gómez does not have to fit a Latino checklist that others get to determine? No one, and I mean no one, has the right to say that one person is “more Latino” than another. And you wonder why U.S. Latinos will never become a true force in this country: it’s because writers like Villacrés are still stuck in a past era.
What Villacrés writes only divides the community instead of unites us. Yes, Latinos can have different political beliefs, but let’s not forget that there are many things bind us culturally, and Gabriel Gómez is just another diverse voice. He is someone who has broken stereotypes, too. We can still be respectful of someone’s background and still be critical of one’s politics. For example, I don’t think Ted Cruz’s politics are on the mark one bit, but I would never question his family background and his self-identity. The same would go for Marco Rubio or Julián Castro.
I can’t fault Gómez for trying to go after the Latino vote in Massachusetts and if his Colombian roots make him appealing to some, then people should just deal with it instead of cutting him down. Does Villacrés ask the same question of Ed Markey, Gómez’s opponent? Why even create an atmosphere where one Latino goes after another’s Latinidad? Only Gómez can determine his identity, having a writer stoop to such a low level is sad and closed-minded.
Criticize a candidate for his politics, but leave unfounded generalizations about his identity for the amateurs. Villacrés has fallen into a trap that only he can try to defend, because his piece just failed. We can do better as a community. We can still respect people, even if we don’t agree with their politics.
If Villacrés is not careful, I might just vote for Gómez. Does that make me less Latino as well?
Julio (Julito) Ricardo Varela (@julito77 on Twitter) founded LatinoRebels.com (part of Latino Rebels, LLC) in May, 2011 and proceeded to open it up to about 20 like-minded Rebeldes. His personal blog, juliorvarela.com, has been active since 2008 and is widely read in Puerto Rico and beyond. He pens columns on LR regularly. This past year, Julito represented the Rebeldes on CBS’ Face the Nation, NPR, Univision, Forbes, and The New York Times.