HISPANIC: The Weekend Interview with Juan Rangel: The Masters of Hispanic Destiny – WSJ.com
The Masters of Hispanic Destiny
‘Do we want to be the next victimized minority group, or do we want to be the next successful immigrant group?’
By DAVID FEITH
Fourteen months out, it’s a safe bet that Election 2012 won’t hinge on immigration. But with no major federal action on the issue since 1986, and Hispanics poised to be a much larger portion of America’s population by mid-century, immigration may decide Election 2016 or 2020. When that happens, look out for Juan Rangel.
Mr. Rangel, 45, probably won’t be atop a ticket, but his standing—and that of his ideas—will reveal much about the nature of Hispanic politics in America. In particular, they’ll signal whether this vibrant and growing demographic favors the sectarian identity politics of its highest-profile advocacy groups—or the alternative approach that Mr. Rangel has been cultivating quietly for 15 years.
According to Mr. Rangel—CEO of Chicago’s United Neighborhood Organization (UNO) and co-chair of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recent election campaign—the central question for Hispanics to answer as they grow in number and potential political influence is: “Do we want to be the next victimized minority group in America, or do we want to be the next successful immigrant group?”
This is a weighty question, especially given Mr. Rangel’s observation that for three decades the most powerful Hispanic organizations in the country—such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (Maldef) and the National Council of La Raza (“The Race”)—have, with the cooperation of the political class, empowered and enriched themselves by stressing the victimhood of Hispanics in American society. “I think we’re living in a very politically correct society that almost values victimization,” Mr. Rangel laments.
What’s more, he explains, the leaders who built these Hispanic organizations modeled them on the 1960s civil-rights movement of African-Americans. This was understandable, Mr. Rangel argues, but gravely mistaken.
“Hispanics haven’t endured the same suffering and struggles of the African-American community,” he says. Hispanics’ “struggles are different. Their struggles come from a desire to get ahead and leaving their nation and coming to a new land. And those are tough things, but there’s no way that you can compare that struggle to the struggles of slavery and Jim Crow and Reconstruction. There’s just no comparison.”
No matter to politicos—they’ve bought into this narrative in legions. “Democrats are so intent on making Hispanics the next victimized minority seeking entitlement programs and all that, that the Republicans are starting to believe it!” exclaims Mr. Rangel. “And they’re wrong on both ends. This is a great community that’s poised to do great things—but you gotta challenge it. Don’t pander to it.”
That’s the essence of Mr. Rangel’s message, and answering the call is the mission of UNO, which he has led since 1996. Inspired by the community organizing philosophy of left-wing theorist Saul Alinsky, UNO got its start tapping the latent power in the small Hispanic-Catholic churches of 1980s Chicago. Its premise today is that Hispanics in the U.S. are masters of their own destinies, responsible for their affairs good and bad, and duty-bound to invest in American civic life.