I’m a Facebook friend with progressive State Senator Judith Zaffirini. The Senator is a usually a soft-spoken, refined woman, but she recently posted something on Facebook that shocked me with its harshness. As follows:
- IGNORAMUS: You’re of Mexican descent? You don’t look Mexican.
- WISH I HAD RESPONDED: Are you as ignorant as you sound?
I wanted to challenge the Senator’s sentiments, but out of respect/intimidation also wanted to avoid being excessively confrontational, so after reading a slew of comments supporting her, I bootstrapped onto a comment questioning her:
- Jeremy Holshouser: I don’t get it. When I tell people I have Mexican in me, and they question it, I don’t get offended.
- Kueber: Jeremy, you need to be careful or you will step on a landmine. (wink emoticon) You can guess about anyone’s heritage, I guess, but Mexican is not one of those politically-correct options. Americans do indeed come in all colors and shapes, but that doesn’t prevent people in other countries from suggesting that we look American. And, like you, I don’t get offended.
- Jeremy: Unless he was using it as a slur, I still don’t get it. And even if it was, which I’ll never know, there are so much more important things to worry about in life. That’s just me though *shrug.
- Ellen Sweets: Preconceived notions of what a person is or isn’t has its roots in prejudice in this neck of the woods, whether we like it or not. Other than bad manners, such uninvited speculation is weighted and well, really socially inappropriate. Anyway, based on having lived overseas for several years, Americans are almost always identifiable for good and sometimes not-so-good reasons.
- Kueber: Ellen, when overseas and asked if you are American, I hope you didn’t respond, “Are you as ignorant as you sound?”
Later in the comment threat, Senator Zaffirini rejoined the conversation:
- Senator: I am actually of Mexican (mother, father), Spanish (mother), Greek (father), and Sephardic Jew (mother) descent. Our son, Carlos Zaffirini Jr., is all of that AND of Italian descent (father’s side). His beautiful wife, Audrey Pieper Zaffirini, is of German descent on both sides. Can’t wait to see their children!
- Murray Malakoff: The best traits of all of the above listed. Our age and our gender and our heritage are immutable characteristics. I am glad you did not respond to the idiocy and buffoonery of that individual lowlife bottom feeder. Way beneath your dignity Z.
- Kueber: Murray Malakoff, are you suggesting that ethnicity comes with traits? (wink emoticon) And I also question whether we should be calling the person an idiot and buffoon. Would you make the same accusation if the question was posed by someone in another country, or do you reserve your venom for Americans?
Not wanting to piss of the Senator, I decided against asking her whether her grandchildren, who will be at least ¾ European, should be entitled to affirmative action when they apply to the University that we both love.
While at yoga practice this morning, I asked one of my best friends about this issue. He is half German and half Mexican, Jesuit educated, and the husband of an Hispanic district judge, and he quickly opined that nowadays it is inappropriate to guess anyone’s ethnicity based on the way they look.
Which reminds me of an incident a couple of weeks ago on the set of an amateur movie. I was sitting with another extra from Houston, and she showed me a picture of her husband. I responded, “Irish, huh?” She looked shocked and ask how I was able to guess that. I told her that I don’t know how to describe Irish people, but my best friend is Irish and he routinely and proudly points out Irish people to me. Over the past few years I have been able to spot lots of Irish people based on facial features (I would have bet the family farm that her husband was Irish), but I wouldn’t be able to articulate what those features are.