I was walking down the street the other day, whistling a little tune and minding my own business, when a middle-aged man in a blue serge suit rushed up, gave me a big hug and said it was wonderful having me among them. Then he went on his way.
Normally, it would upset and possibly terrify me for someone to invade my space and have the audacity to touch my body. We just don’t do that in L.A. There’s enough room in the city from mountains to ocean for each of us to remain a safe distance from the other. But this is an election year. Latinos are being courted.
We are the nation’s largest minority, temporarily more beloved than pie a la mode and certainly more than any other ethnic group walking the streets. Politicians will go to almost any lengths to convince us they are one of us, including darkening their skin and altering their names.
One candidate for local office, whom I shall call “Bob Smith,” suddenly became “Robert Valdez Smith,” even though he didn’t actually possess a middle name. He wanted to relate. Another Anglo who recently ran for office announced that he had discovered he was “one-eighth Mexican,” based on the heritage of a distant relative.
Just as John F. Kennedy orated during the Cold War that “Ich bin ein Berliner”—”I am a Berliner”—this guy let it be known that “Soy parte mexicano” (“I am part Mexican”). It didn’t work. He lost.
It puzzled me at first how my hugger knew I was Latino. I am only slightly brown, more tawny than ecru, and I do not wear a sombrero. Then I realized I was whistling what had been my mother’s favorite song, “La Cucaracha” (“The Cockroach”).
The man on the street probably had a guide book titled How to Spot a Latino in America. When he heard the song, it triggered a response not unlike that of Pavlov’s dog. At least he didn’t drool.
I understand the need for votes in the heat of political fervor. I am hugged and hello’d by conservatives and liberals alike, although liberals, more often than conservatives, will try to kiss me on the cheek, which I will not allow. Otherwise it’s OK. Just don’t pick my pocket during the embrace.