Friday, March 14, 2008

Geraldo Rivera and the Zeitgeist of the New Nativist

Geraldo Rivera has written a book, entitled His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S., which deals in large measure with the current debate over immigration. I have read excerpts of the book as well as the positions advanced in the book but this is not meant as a review of Rivera’s book. Rather than reviewing the book, I am interested in exploring what the reaction to the book says about the opponents of immigration reform. Rivera was recently interviewed on National Public Radio. I am in complete agreement with at least two of the propositions set forth by Rivera. The first proposition is that much of the anti-immigrant animus is motivated by the changing demographics of America, to wit the growing Latino population in the United States. The second proposition is that the current wave of immigration is no different than previous waves of Italian, Irish, or Jewish immigration. As such, the arguments advanced today by nativists are remarkably similar to the xenophobic sentiments of yesteryear. provides a nice forum for reactions to Rivera’s book. The discussion on Amazon is un-moderated and hence the comments are mostly unfiltered. The “book reviews” and the comment reactions to those reviews are open to anyone with an internet connection.

I anticipated that many of the “reviewers” had not read the book but would use it as an opportunity to rant on the issue of immigration. I was not disappointed. At most, half a dozen contributors on the Amazon site had actually read the book. The rest, mostly of an anti-immigrant persuasion, were merely using the book as the means to express their positions (such as they are).

What I found most interesting was how few of these people actually endeavored to deal with the issues raised by Rivera’s book. What they lack in substance they make up for in vitriol. The responses form an exemplar of the nativist sentiment. The comments are a road-map to the nativist community and its sources.

Every legitimate review (i.e., people who had actually read the book) garnered the same group of nativist respondents (who clearly had no interest in reading the book, let alone discussing its tenets). The most vocal and revealing commentators included Clarisa “Heather” McDonald, Zeezil, “stoptheinvasion”, JDunn58 and most self-incriminating, E. Baumgartner, of Jewish descent and from New York City. I will refer to this group as the nativists. Several rational people tried to inject reason into the debate, but as the old saw goes, you can’t reason with a madman.

In all of the comments, there was a tendency to ratchet up the number of alleged illegal immigrants in this country. Most respected commentators put the number of undocumented immigrants living in this country at between 8 and 12 million. Zeezil declared that “there are 28 million illegal aliens here,” a number which would indicate that more than half of the Hispanic population is here illegally, since the Census indicates that Hispanic citizens number 40 million. Clarisa McDonald argues as well that the country is experiencing an “invasion of 28 million illegal aliens.” Clearly, both Zeezil and Clarisa are getting their numbers from a similar source. What sources do Zeezil and Clarisa consult for their information?

Clarisa and Zeezil provide their sources and encourage others to do likewise. They share a common source of information: with Roy Beck, Ann Manetes, Rosemary Jenks, with Dan Stein, and and, with Dr. Diana Hull, with Jason Mrochek,, with William Gheen, with Xelan Bonn, with Steve Elliot, and with David Durham. As for authorities on the subject the nativists, they recommend Governor Richard D. Lamm, Tom Tancredo, Dr. Albert Bartlett, Roy Beck, Terry Anderson, William Gheen, Jason Mrochek, David Durham, Dr. Diana Hull, Rosemary Jenks, Fred Elbel, Mike McGarry, Russell Pearce, Don Collins and David Pimental. No surprises here. Not exactly a list of unbiased sources of information, but well worth watching as sources of hatred.

Those readers who actually read the book and commented substantively on its positions were viciously attacked personally.

The most telling of these nativists, E. Baumgartner, was a Jew from New York, who quite freely disclosed his bigotries. When told that Geraldo Rivera is half Jewish (Rivera’s mother is Jewish), Baumgartner had no problems maligning his own kind. “Oh, he's half Jewish, well that fits. I'm Jewish and I can say that I'm sometimes embarrassed to be Jewish. A lot of Jews have no real loyalty to this country; they are only loyal to Israel. America is simply a place they live and work.”

Baumgartner makes no bones of his bigotry and unlawful discrimination.

My brother-in-law owns 18 apartment buildings in the Chicago area. He will not rent to hispanics because of their [sic] repuatation. Most of his landlord friends feel the same way. He says, "as soon as Mexicans move in, they take a toll on the building. Their kids get involved in gangs or their kids have friends in gangs who visit and spray graffiti everywhere, crime goes up, etc". He continues, "also, if you have a few Mexican families in your building, it makes it a lot harder to rent to non-hispanics because they too know Mexicans reputation, so then you would get stuck and have to rent to more hispanics because you have to keep your building full. Of course though, with each new Mexican family, the building gradually turns into a mini-barrio and then your property value goes way down, this is why I won't allow even one hispanic tenant in any of my buildings".

So why are Mexicans so bad for the neighborhood? And is one really a bigot for making such generalizations? Not according to Baumgartner.

I wouldn't call it "bigotry", it's more like well grounded distaste for Mexicans (at least the one's in the USA). Every Mexican neighborhood here is a gang infested, graffiti scrawled, crime ridden garbage pit. If Mexicans were more like Asian immigrants, nobody would care one bit about their skin color. Do you see people complaining about Asians? Hardly ever. … … “Mexican parasites”…

Mexicans have been in the USA for more than 160 years and they still have the crappiest jobs, the highest poverty rate, the highest crime rate, endless gangs, highest teen [sic] pregancy rate, highest high school dropout rate (56% nationally). Mexicans will never be anything but an underclass, as they have always been. Sure a handful of Mexicans go to college, but overall, they are extremely low achievers. … “Have you ever been to a predominately hispanic neighborhood in the USA? They are all garbage pits. I can assure you that NOBODY wants to live near Mexicans, they are so dirty and their kids often get involved in gangs. That is the truth about your people. …

Well, now that we have that cleared that up, we can see that the problem is not illegal immigration but rather the presence of dirty Mexicans. What we need to check is not the illegal entry of Mexicans but the growth of the Mexican population. Perhaps we should deport all Mexicans, native-born, 5th or 6th generation, we need to get rid of all of “them Mexican parasites.” Is it unfair to lump nativists with the naked bigotry of Baumgartner? Not according to Rivera’s book. And on this point I have to wholeheartedly agree. One need not read too far into most nativist postings to see that their target is not undocumented immigrants but rather the Hispanic community as a whole. This is what bothers Lou Dobbs, Tom Tancredo, Michelle Malkin, and the rest of the nativist hacks. Bigotry: pure and simple.

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1 comment:

Dogberry said...

I appreciate your comment on my post, Geraldo Rivera and His (Hispanic) Panic, but I am not sure why you think my post was a "nasty swipe" or "glib jibe" — I believe that I agree with you and Rivera.

I said:
- Should we not be welcoming our neighbors from the south…
- If all the ‘illegal’ immigrants left tomorrow, our economy would collapse.
- I do think there are problems, but they are problems we created.

I am not one of the xenophobic nativists you encountered on amazon.