Column: On Hispanic Heritage Month, a passionate defense of Sen. Bob Menendez

Bob Menendez
(Celina Pereira / For De Los )
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As you are all no doubt amply aware, we are still in the thick of Hispanic Heritage Month, a 31-day window of time wherein Latinos get to do whatever we want without fear of repercussions. Or, so it should be.

Imagine my shock and disgust when I learned there were calls to oust Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) from Congress, all because of a few bribery indictments. Really? In the second half of September? The man’s last name ends in -ez!

Sen. Bob Menendez has resisted calls for his resignation after being indicted on bribery charges, suggesting he is being targeted because of his Latino heritage.

Sept. 25, 2023

You would think people might have the decency to look the other way until Oct. 16, but there’s no sense of decorum among the masses these days. For his part, Sen. Menendez has held his ground, saying, “It is not lost on me how quickly some are rushing to judge a Latino and push him out of his seat.”

By sheer coincidence, I said almost the exact same thing at closing time at Benihana last Wednesday.


In any case, Sen. Menendez is totally right. These indictments and the ensuing calls for him to resign are obviously rooted in anti-Latino sentiment, and I think it’s about time I utilized my platform to call it out. What is the point, after all, of broad identity categories like “Latino” if I can’t baselessly defend some weird guy I’ve never met and hadn’t heard of until 10 minutes ago?

Now then, let’s open up the Department of Justice’s website and take a look at the allegations. They can’t be that bad. It says here that Sen. Robert Menendez and his wife, Nadine Menendez, have been charged with “participating in a years-long bribery scheme” and have “accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes” in exchange for an agreement to use Menendez’s position of power to “enrich [the bribers] and to benefit the Government of Egypt.”

That doesn’t sound great. Not sure how Egypt got involved, but maybe it will get better. The charges go on to say that the bribes include “gold, cash, a luxury convertible … and other things of value.”

All right, so it seems as though Mr. Menendez stands accused of receiving gifts and cash in exchange for doing favors for an Egyptian American businessman and for the government of Egypt. Because God forbid we encourage Latino and Egyptian solidarity, I guess.

As for the evidence, the anti-Latino smear campaign is clearly desperate. All they could come up with was this jacket embroidered with “SENATOR MENENDEZ” on it in all caps and stuffed with multiple envelopes containing fat wads of cash, a completely innocent thing to have hanging in your closet.

Man pointing to posterboard
Damian Williams, U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, talks about a display of photos of evidence in an indictment against Sen. Robert Menendez.
(Robert Bumsted / Associated Press)

Let’s be real. Latinos squirrel away cash in all sorts of weird places. My family was recently clearing out my abuelo’s house and they found $500 wadded up and stuffed inside a glass Our Lady of Guadalupe prayer candle. What, is it a crime to prefer cash? I don’t know how the stock market works. I don’t know what a bond is. Checking accounts and credit are works of fiction. If I could, I would do what my abuela did and keep everything in a Ziploc bag. Next!

All right, so now we have the “gold,” which apparently was gifted to Mr. Menendez in the form of actual gold bars. I can’t lie to you, I wasn’t aware we still made gold bars. I thought that was something they made up in “Duck Tales” for Scrooge McDuck’s character. I have to say, if I was going to “do corruption,” I would also be blinged out about it. Allegedly.

Sen. Robert Menendez of New Jersey has been indicted on charges of bribery, the second time the 69-year-old Democrat has faced a federal indictment.

Sept. 22, 2023

The FBI reported to have found several gold bars last year in Sen. Menendez’s home. The gold bars were said to have been acquired by Sen. Menendez after a trip to Egypt and not too long after he asked Google, “How much is one kilo of gold worth?” Which is completely understandable. If I found myself suddenly in possession of solid gold bars, I too would have a natural, healthy curiosity about them.

Also, I mean, come on. You know how us Latin men are with our gold. Nothing makes me feel more confident than a nice gold chain or a gold bracelet. If being a macho who loves gold accessories is suddenly a crime, the entire diaspora is in trouble. What’s next? A national ban on Armani Exchange and Express polos? No mames.

Gold bars
This image shows two of the gold bars found during a search by federal agents of Sen. Robert Menendez’s home and safe deposit box.
(U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York)

As for the rest of the evidence, it’s pure chisme.


Sure, one Egyptian American businessman referred to Sen. Menendez as “our guy” in a text to an Egyptian general, but that could just mean the senator is a fun dude. And yeah, Mr. Menendez’s wife texted that she was “so excited to get a car next week” to one of the guys named in the indictment who gave her $15,000 cash in a restaurant parking lot. But who among us hasn’t sent texts that would look terrible out of context? Have not each and every one of us done something suspicious in a restaurant parking lot?


Ultimately, Sen. Bob Menendez is completely correct. The FBI and the Justice Department are rushing to judgment to push a Latino out of Congress where Latinos are already underrepresented. We make up just shy of 10% of the 117th Congress while constituting nearly 20% of the country. It’s sad, the lengths some people will go to in order to keep us down.

And you know what? Sen. Bob Menendez’s story is our story. Mis antepasados came to this country with nothing but jackets stuffed with reams of $100 bills and gold bars in their suitcases and a dream of one day being elected to the halls of power to collaborate with Egyptian government insiders. That’s what “Coco” and “Y Tu Mamá También” are about, I’m pretty sure.

In short, if this smear campaign succeeds, it will be a sad day for America indeed. At least we’ll still have George Santos.

John Paul Brammer is a columnist, author, illustrator and content creator based in Brooklyn. He is the author of ”Hola Papi: How to Come Out in a Walmart Parking Lot and Other Life Lessons” based on his successful advice column. He has written for outlets like the Guardian, NBC News and the Washington Post. He will write a weekly essay for De Los.