CNN’s May 8th United Shades of America focuses on Mexicans, Chicanos and less on our east coast Spanish friends the Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Argentinian-Americans.
Hispanic culture is described by one interviewed Chicano musician as a “census word” … a giant catch-all term that is meant to cover all in the USA who speak Spanish.
The divide under this catch-all word in cultures and customs is as wide as the Gulf of Mexico, but for Kamau’s purposes on this episode, he focuses on Mexican-American culture, specifically in East Los Angeles (Boyle Heights). Also, he dances around the pinche Republicans spearheaded by Donald Trump, a man who has proposed building a wall and mass deportation of illegals.
On Sunday’s “United Shades of America” you will get a bit of a vibe from Kamau that the vast majority of white people are at best uncomfortable with Mexicans. White people are like anyone in the USA, and most love the fact that America is a melting pot of cultures in which ideas, music, food and art add to the general awesomeness of the land.
Educated people know that the Mexican-American lads of New Mexico sacrificed mightily during the second World War and all Hispanics of every culture have served to protect us all.
So what’s the deal?
Unfortunately, Trump’s “build a wall” rhetoric has spit in the proverbial pudding of many a Latino these days. People are upset.
The fluid borders of North America, the historical precedents, wars and rewriting of maps has made the border states of California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona a true Latino stronghold. Well, they were there first! Most of us celebrate our differences and dig on the excellent array of food we get to sample and music we love to hear. United Shades of America is earnestly attempting to do this too and points out the U.S. will be a lot more Latino by 2060.
Kamau may suck at speaking Spanish, but he aced giving heartfelt hugs and heart, and one particular scene where he visits an ESL class to introduce himself is priceless.
The east coast folks who followed manifest destiny and settles out west in California have squeezed La Raza into a bit of a box. Numbers are now on their side as Chicanos, South Americans, Cubans, Dominicans, and Puerto Ricans are heading to majority status.
Kamau has a hard time getting some Latinos speaking on camera because they or family may be undocumented. One great scene sees Kamau is hosted by a Latino family of mixed status, some are U.S. citizens and some are not. We meet high schooler Maria, undocumented, charming and heading to college who shares her fears of “La Migra” (The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) who could separate her mom, dad and sister from her legal brothers.
A cool Chicano band called Las Cafeteras gets Kamau playing a donkey jawbone and he does not blow it! Good timing and spirited music underscore that segment where these creative Chicanos talk about life in East LA. Then we meet Carlos Portugal, co-creator, and director of Hulu’s runaway hit series “East Los High.” Also interviewed are Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo; graphic artist Ernesto Yerena Montejano; and a dad writing some big checks at a fancy quinceañera party.
Just as the Russians, Polish, Germans, Scots, Greeks, Italians, Chinese, Irish and gazillion other ethnic enclaves who arrived here, Latinos are part of our badass American quilt that makes us one of the coolest, smartest, best-looking and flexible folks around… despite pinche Trump.
TV critics April Neale and Ernie Estrella hash over the episode:
April Neale: Okay Ernie, this episode was west coast Latino perspective all the way. I really think a lot of Cuban-Americans and Puerto-Ricans would be like…nah on a lot of what the Chicano musicians were saying. What did you make of the very west coast focus of this episode?
Ernie Estrella: Yeah, the focus Kamau took was the issue to assimilate or not to, whether documented or not. The California-to-Texas grouping of Chicanos probably has a different slant on the issue as compared to those living in Southeast region of the country. There’s a sense of ownership or more so a survival kind of mentality since the whole Southwest portion of the States used to be Mexico. It’s a unique beast that’s for sure. I live in San Diego, I’m sure is a different feel than even what’s happening in East L.A.
AN: The vibe in Miami, NYC, and other east coast towns is much different for sure. I grew up in a heavily ethnic white area (the mid-60s to 70s), Boston was little fiefdoms of Italian, Irish, Russian, Jewish and a smattering of Puerto Rican when I grew up. Now it’s hardcore Laotians, Vietnamese, Guatemalan, some Mexican and more Puerto Rican for sure. Even many of the Italians have left the famous North End of Boston for the ‘burbs!
EE: Immigrants of all kinds wrestle with identity when they come here. I do think there’s this mode to catch up and acclimate to the American ways, especially the white American experience, but there’s a question of what do you keep sacred, keep traditional and pass on to future generations.
You don’t want to lose your makeup, your soul, but as an immigrant, you have to do what you need to be successful in your new surroundings. I’m not Hispanic or Latino, but coming from first generation immigrants, born here, I’ve had to deal with a lot of this, as well as gravitating to one’s community still.
That’s hard to do in the Great Lakes, where the community is so sparse as compared to Southern California, where there’s a high population of Chicanos or in my case, Filipinos, but I’ve since embraced the melting pot aspect of this country more so as a result of my youth and the desire to be entrenched in my community isn’t as strong as the Chicano community featured here.
That’s my own wrestling match with fitting in and being American. So I think there’s some validity to at least the cultural lifeblood of these communities and I think some are stronger based on the region and density of certain “minority” groups.
AN: I mean at a certain point, the generations become more ‘Americanized” by second nature. It happens to them all. Intermarriages, cross-pollinations, and voila, we have a new hybrid strain of American. Filipinos themselves are a total melting pot too. You and I probably share ancient Portuguese DNA! My maternal grandfather and his family were all from the Azores, islands off Portugal. They lived together, worked and built the stone bridges on Cape Cod and learned the American way quickly. English was mastered pretty damned fast, there weren’t any support services or TV shows for them for sure.
EE: I loved what is happening at Netflix though with East Los High being a viable show in mainstream streaming content. With all the years of whitewashing and limited roles for minorities still being a problem, this show might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I’d love to see dozens more shows just like it for African-Americans, Asian-Americans, and more, because I love seeing the real world being represented in entertainment. Minority actors shouldn’t feel like they can only play criminals, drug dealers, grocery store owners or whatever stereotypical roles Hollywood wants to hold them to. I know I’ll be tuning into ELH in the future.
AN: Thank the TV gods for Netflix is all I can say. You nailed it. The typecasting sucks. I would love to see Hollywood grow a pair and actually break molds and buck status quo.
EE: Kamau is looking at what ultimately makes us American. Is it a paper? No, I don’t think so and he’s right about that. I would rather have a standard of what kind of person you are, the quality of how one treats their fellow man to be the barometer of coming into a country, into the United States. Not, whether or not they know the presidents of this country.
Hell, I’d say that plenty of those born here couldn’t pass that test. I don’t want to see people isolate themselves when they come here, I want them to embrace being able to share one’s culture with each other.
That’s the beauty of this country and I wished those who are so angry at the Chicago/Latino/Hispanic communities open their eyes to really what valuable things they are bringing. Kamau definitely tapped into that, and hopefully, those who need to see this, will.
AN: You have to remember so many sent sons/daughters to wars over the last 200 years. All ethnicities. I think the lessons we learned immediately after 9/11, that sense of “they” attacking “us” and “us” being truly anyone who was on American soil living as a citizen was telling. I would be so sad if we didn’t have the plethora of cultural influences, food, music, fashion from so many places. Notice, though, I did not say religion. I want everyone to keep that to themselves!