Navarrette vs Acuña: The debate about DREAMers gets personal

Ruben Navarrette, Jr. Dr. Rodolfo Francisco Acuña


It’s the debate that’s burning up the blogosphere. Talking head and self-promoting Latino expert Ruben Navarrette, Jr. thinks those DREAMers are so SELFISH and LAME and NEEDY that they are drawing attention away from important topics, the most important of which is Navarrette who is no pinche DREAMer, thank you very much. Dr. Rodolfo Francisco Acuña, the father of Chicano Studies, responds.

Here are the two columns, side by side:

Editor’s note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist. Follow him on Twitter.

  • If I offended demanding DREAMers, I’m not sorry

San Diego (CNN) — Even for someone who has written more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years, sometimes the words come out wrong.

All I know is that my wife is angry.

“You need to fix this!” she says, as she holds up her smartphone.

On the screen is a copy of my latest column for scolding a faction of the DREAMers, the undocumented youth angling for legal status, for what I — and judging from the response, quite a few other Americans — see as a sense of entitlement.

“I hated this column,” she said. “I know what you were trying to say, because I know you. But other people won’t understand it. They’re confused and angry, and they should be. I get your point. You’re saying that these kids have become entitled and self-important like other kids and they’re going to blow it for everyone else — including their undocumented parents. But that’s not what you walk away from this column with. What you walk way with is meanness. And that’s not you.”

Bah humbug. Sometimes, it is me. As I often tell audiences that gather for my speeches, constantly cheerful and positive writers work for Hallmark.

And yet, I notice that many of my critics on the left who think the tone of the DREAMer piece was harsh didn’t object when, in the past, I lashed out in a similar tone against those on the right.

When voters turned out Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce, the major sponsor of that state’s dreadful immigration law, I wrote that “evil has left the building.” When Mitt Romney was overheard telling donors that he’d have a better shot at winning the presidential election if he were Latino, I mocked the Republican candidate for “playing the victim” because he had the “misfortune to be born a white male.” In another column, after Romney blamed his defeat on minorities who were hungry for giveaways, I called him a “loser.”

And, when writing about the intersection of immigration and politics, I have had no trouble saying that the GOP brand is toxic to Latinos because the party has chosen to “pander to racists and nativists.”

Every time, conservatives were upset, but — on Facebook and other social media — liberals applauded. Could it be that what really troubles people isn’t the tone of a particular column but who is being skewered?

Still, as a Mexican immigrant herself, my wife has a point. And so do many of my critics.

In the offending column, I was not trying to describe the individual lives of the estimated 1.4 million undocumented high school and college students in the United States. Everyone is different. I was talking about a movement, a political strategy that involves DREAMers demanding what they see as their “rights” and, in the process, succumbing to a radicalism that is counterproductive and threatens to torpedo immigration reform for millions of others.

Like the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than … by donning a cap and gown and occupying the office of a member of Congress until you’re arrested. Or something like that.

But people didn’t hear that message. They drew upon their own frame of reference and, thinking back to DREAMers they know, declared that they were swell folks who were humble and idealistic and didn’t feel entitled. So, they said, I must be wrong.

Ironically, some of those who reacted angrily to the column wound up making its point.

One reader, who identified himself as a DREAMer who has lived in the United States for 11 years, insisted that he and his cohort weren’t making demands. Then he added: “Speaking for myself … at this point I am done asking. I demand to be fully incorporated into this society.”

Now there’s a lack of self-awareness.

Yet, that’s also a good trait for columnists, who can always say things better and clearer. So let’s try this again. For those undocumented youth who think that America owes them a fulfillment of their dreams, or who — like the reader — demand to be fully “incorporated into this society,” that first column was for you. And the scolding fits.

But for the rest of you who work hard and obey the law and keep your head down and just want to find a way to live legally in a country you consider your own and where you’ve lived most of your life, let me first apologize for lumping you together with the demanders.

Then let me give you some friendly advice:

— Think critically. It’s not enough to have beliefs. You have to constantly challenge yourselves so you know why you believe it, and can defend it. Because someday, you’ll have to do so;

— Privileges are not rights, and so they are earned and not granted by our creator. If Congress gives you the privilege of legal status, you need to decide what you’re prepared to give in return. You need a plan, and a demand is not a plan;

— Focus on deeds not words, and admit that neither political party has been courageous or honest on immigration. So don’t feel beholden to either. Power comes from exercising options. Shop around;

(Last week, the Obama administration released figures showing that Immigration and Customs Enforcement broke its own record for total number of deportations. The agency removed 409,849 illegal immigrants in the 2012 fiscal year, compared to 396,906 in the 2011 fiscal year and 392,000 in the 2010 fiscal year. As most DREAMers would agree, those numbers are nothing to be proud of, especially since they appear to be driven by politics.)

— Challenge your friends with the same amount of enthusiasm that you challenge your foes. After all, in the world of politics and beyond, those you support owe you something for standing by them. Make sure you collect; and

— Accept that, while it’s true that you did nothing wrong when you were brought here as a child, someone along the line, someone in your family tree broke a law. They crossed a border without permission, or overstayed a visa.

Deal with it. Before we can legalize your status, you have to accept the wrong that was done and someone has to make amends for it — if not you, then the person who broke the rules.

Above all, always try to be better people who strive for fairness, listen to different points of view, and take responsibility for your words and deeds. And I’ll do the same.

Reprinted from CNN.COM

Editor’s note: Rodolfo F. Acuña has given anyone permission to repost the following essay he wrote in response to CNN contributor Ruben Navarrette’s recent columns about the DREAMers. Here is the post:

  • No Dreams: The Case of Ruben Navarrette

I usually ignore people who take cheap shots in order to make themselves look intelligent. However, Ruben Navarrette’s column titled, “If I offended demanding DREAMers, I’m not sorry” crossed the line. My gut reaction was who gives a dump? But I guess I do.

Navarrette begins his column in his usual self-congratulatory way: “Even for someone who has written more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years, sometimes the words come out wrong.”

I have known Ruben for those two decades, and my impression is that he is always trying to impress you. The first words that came out of his mouth when we first met were that he had graduated from Harvard as if that somehow qualified him as an expert.

At 25 Ruben wrote an autobiography A Darker A Shade of Crimson. It was about telling us he was from Harvard.

The Amazon promo says that Navarrette spent “his turbulent years as a Mexican-American undergraduate at one of the nation’s most prestigious universities.”

According the piece, the autobiography was Navarrette’s “declaration of independence, spurning the labels `people of color’ (offensive) and ‘Hispanic’ (too general), preferring ‘minority’ and ‘Latino.’” (Four years before that, he had been a Chicano).

In A Darker A Shade of Crimson, Ruben brags how he confronted bigotry.

Ruben pulled himself up by his own bootstraps. Ruben was a self-made boy, got straight A’s, a valedictorian, and his efforts alone got him into Harvard. Affirmative action and the sacrifices of others had nothing to do with it. I could not believe that this was the same chubby kid that I met a couple of years before who tried to impress me with how Chicano he was — high fives and all. Ruben was Mr. Aztlán.

The tone of Navarrette’s article offended my sense of history, and no one should mess with Chicana/o history.

I know that I am getting old. And my memory is not what it used to be. However, I remember witnessing firsthand students, educators and organizations pressuring Ivy League universities to admit highly qualified minorities. Even Michelle Obama, an excellent student, was reputed to have taken part in a sit-in at Harvard in 1988.

However, Ruben thinks he is exceptional, and the sacrifices of others had nothing to do with his admission. He was a boy genius from Sanger, California.

Perhaps at one time Ruben could be forgiven for his historical myopia. He was once a young man who wanted to make it. He had a dream of being someone. Of being called Mr. Harvard. But last month he completely blew any credibility he once had.

Navarrette preached, “I know just what a lot of those so-called DREAMers deserve to get for Christmas: a scolding. There are good and bad actors in every movement and the bad ones — if not kept in check — can drag the good ones down with them.”

He continues, “Having declared their intention to better themselves, some in the DREAMer movement now insist that they’re entitled to better treatment than run-of-the-mill illegal immigrants. You know, like the hardworking and humble folks who cut your lawn, clean your house or care for your kids. In fact, the DREAMers seem to suggest they’re due a reward for good behavior.”

Then he gets nasty, “Gee, kids, can we get you anything else? Maybe free massages the next time you stage a sit-in? These kids want it all… While they probably don’t realize it, their public tantrums are turning people against them and hurting the chances for a broader immigration reform package.”

Some might call this a cheap shot.

This man who says he has written “more than 2,000 columns over the last 20 years,” offers no solution while playing to the xenophobes. Indeed, other than he went to Harvard, what has he accomplished?

Most recent research shows that people deprived of entering the dream phase of sleep “exhibit symptoms of irritability and anxiety.” Their brains stop growing. This is what has apparently happened to Ruben.

On August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King gave his famous “I Have A Dream” Speech. Like all visionaries Dr. King wanted a more perfect society. The reverend spoke of the gap between the American dream and the American-lived reality and how white supremacists violated the dream. The reaction of his fellow Dreamers was “Now.”

The response to Dr. King was not all positive. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) expanded their COINTELPRO operation against the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and targeted King specifically as a public enemy of the United States. Some accused Dr. King of provoking enmity between the races.

Dr. King was scolded in the press. Called a troublemaker, and certainly his civility was questioned. In the end, history has judged him as it will the DREAMers.

As I have often pointed out when I arrived at San Fernando Valley State College, there were barely 50 students of Mexican origin at the college.

Students opened it up by demanding and often being discourteous. They were the children of “the hardworking and humble folks who cut your lawn, clean your house or care for your kids.” They dreamt of a better life, of escaping low-paying jobs much the same as Navarrette escaped Sanger.

Like Dr. King, the DREAMers have led a nonviolent struggle and practiced civil disobedience to bring attention to the injustices in our society. For the information of Ruben Navarrette, civil disobedience is an American tradition dating back to the Boston Tea Party and the abolitionist movement. Today’s DREAMers follow in the footsteps of other American Dreamers, which is probably hard for Navarrette, suffering from intellectual insomnia, to fathom.

Aside from the equitable argument that the DREAMers are entitled to a path to citizenship because they came to the United States through no fault of their own – most were minors when brought here by their parents — there are more compelling reasons. In spite of living in poor neighborhoods and often attending decaying schools, they have displayed considerable initiative and perseverance in pursuing their education and being good citizens in their community.

I argue that they came to the United States not through their own fault but because the United States has not been the best of neighbors.

Mexico has a population of 115 million people. Most of Mexican immigrants migrated to the United States because of economic reasons. The North American Free Trade Agreement has been a disaster to the small subsistence farmer, driving millions off their farms. Relatively little technical aid has been given to Mexico to help build its infrastructure whereas the United States is pumping in hundreds of millions of dollars to induce the Mexican government to purse a failed War on Drugs that has devastated the country.

The Nation magazine reported “Beyond the undiplomatic opinions … the WikiLeaks cables revealed the astonishing degree to which the United States exercised its power and influence at the highest levels of the Mexican government. In some cases it appears that an essential part of the decision-making process on matters of internal security is actually designed not in Mexico City but in Washington. For Mexicans, the cables have reinforced once again that famous adage ‘Pobre Mexico: tan lejos de Dios, y tan cerca de los Estados Unidos.’ Poor Mexico: so far from God and so close to the United States.”

In the case of the DREAMers from Central America, the US wrecked the economy of those countries and spent billions tearing them up. Lately, the US has been exporting made in the US gang members to El Salvador.

One might say the migration of the DREAMers was in most cases induced.
This debate could go on forever. But for Navarrette’s information, the actions of the DREAMers that Navarrette objects to are the ones that got him into Harvard.

The DREAMers never would have gotten this far if they had relied on the Ruben Navarrettes. Most of them have worked hard, gotten good grades and not gotten swallowed up in the apathy that often paralyzes the poor.

They dare to dream, and refuse to take less by just existing.

Perhaps Ruben should re-read A Darker Shade of Crimson and remember how it was to dream.

Thanks to