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Latinx Files: Will there ever be a ‘Decade of the Latinx’?

Young Latinos pose in front of vintage cars in Boyle Heights.
Members of the Monte Cristo Car Club of Los Angeles in an image from “Latinos,” an early-1980s series on Southern California’s Latinx community and culture that won a Pulitzer.
(Jose Galvez / Los Angeles Times)

As 1989 came to a close, the late, great Frank del Olmo — the first Latinx journalist to be named to the Los Angeles Times masthead — took stock of how much progress our community had made during the 1980s, which had been dubbed “the Decade of the Hispanic” in the news media and in advertising because of our burgeoning population growth.

For Del Olmo, the term “was contrived and artificial,” a glib attempt at getting Latinxs to consume more, and conjured up images of brown people drinking beer.

For the record:

10:13 AM, Jan. 07, 2021An earlier version of this article said the “Chicano Squad” podcast was from the Houston Chronicle. It is by Vox Media.

“As near as I can remember, the phrase was first widely used in the Los Angeles area as part of an advertising campaign in the early ’80s,” he wrote. “Then, as now, the Coors Brewing Co. saw the Latino community as a growing market for its beer. So it plastered billboards all around town of a smiling Latino holding a beer and toasting the world as he proclaimed Coors ‘the beer for the Decade of the Hispanic.’”

Del Olmo concluded that calling the 1980s the Decade of the Hispanic was inaccurate, that “the progress for Latinos it was supposed to symbolize began long before” and that it would “continue into the 1990s.”

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As we embark on a new decade (contrary to popular belief, this one started on Jan. 1, 2021, not last year), I’ve found myself thinking about Del Olmo’s column and the term a lot lately.

He was right in challenging the notion that the 1980s were a golden decade for Latinxs. It was a consequential 10 years for sure, one that saw the rise of Fernandomania and the passage of the so-called amnesty law of 1986 that granted citizenship to millions of undocumented immigrants — but did the decade truly belong to us? Absolutely not. In fact, a report released in 1989 by UnidosUS, then known as the National Council of La Raza, found that the income disparity between Latinx and white Americans had widened during that period.

But Del Olmo‘s expectation that the ‘90s would be a period of prosperity and prominence for Latinxs would prove wrong. On the contrary, it would bring their vilification. The decade that gave us grunge and nü metal also gave us Gov. Pete Wilson and Proposition 187, the anti-immigration ballot initiative that he championed and California voters passed in 1994, fueling the same anti-Latinx and nativist sentiment that resulted in Donald Trump becoming president. (Side note: The Los Angeles Times launched a podcast in 2019 about the legacy and history of Prop. 187. You can listen to it here.)

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It’s clear that Latinxs have never had our long-promised decade, a period in which our presence is felt and our culture is at the forefront of the mainstream. Will we ever?

My gut says yes, and there are some signs that give me hope. Bad Bunny, for example, is the biggest pop star in the world. It took him just a few years to go from a grocery bagger in Puerto Rico to Spotify’s most streamed artist of 2020. That’s the type of energy we need.

But demographics alone won’t shape the future. They didn’t in the 1980s or the 1990s. Our population has grown significantly in such a short period of time and will keep growing — according to the Census, there will be 111 million of us by 2060, and two out of every seven Americans will be Latinx — but our place in this country hasn’t changed much. We are very much here, but white America doesn’t much seem to notice.

If we are to have that moment in the spotlight, if we are to be more than just consumers, if we are going to have a say on what’s to come, something else needs to happen. We’re missing that key ingredient.

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Who knows what that might be — but I’m hoping to find out. Over the coming weeks, I’ll be talking to demographers, economists, technologists, historians, academics and artists to try to get a sense of what the future will look like for Latinxs and what, if anything, can be done to take ownership of the next 10 years.

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What the inside of the U.S. Capitol looked like when pro-Trump insurgents broke in

I wrote this edition of the newsletter as a mob of Trump supporters violently took over the U.S. Capitol, but I wanted to direct your attention to this video tweeted by Jazmine Ulloa, a former Times reporter who now reports for the Boston Globe. Of all the photos and images out there of the surreal and yet very unsurprising violence instigated by Trump, Ulloa’s tweeted videos stand out the most to me because of how visceral they are.

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Things we’ve read this week that we think you should read

The Democrats are poised to take control of the Senate after the Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff won their respective runoff races in Georgia. It’ll be some time before we start seeing a breakdown of the electorate, but one thing is certain: The Black vote was decisive — and I’m curious to see how Latinxs, who shattered turnout numbers, cast their ballots. Georgia is very much a swing state with a burgeoning Latinx community (nearly 10% of the entire population), and it’ll be interesting to see how this growing political power is wielded in future elections.

A tree grows in East L.A.: It all started on Facebook. Word quickly spread that El Pino, a bunya pine tree considered one of East Los Angeles’ most recognizable landmarks, was going to be chopped down. People gathered to pay their respects and mourn the loss. Except it was all a prank for Día de los Inocentes, Latin America’s answer to April Fools’ Day. My colleague and Times columnist Gustavo Arellano wrote about why this tree, prominently featured in “Blood In Blood Out,” means so much to residents.

The Congressional Hispanic Caucus is asking the U.S. National Film Preservation Board to add “Selena” to the National Film Registry, a list of films deemed “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant” that is supposed to be a reflection of America. In a letter written by Rep. Joaquin Castro, the caucus notes that the 1997 Gregory Nava film “has become a beloved icon of Latino culture and has found widespread mainstream success, proving once and for all that Latinos’ stories are American stories.” The board adds 25 films to its registry each year. Latinx films on that list include “Zoot Suit” and “Stand and Deliver.”

Vox Media has a new podcast called “Chicano Squad,” hosted by comedian, writer and producer Cristela Alonzo, about a homicide squad comprised of Latinx police officers that was quickly put together by the Houston Police Department in 1979 as a way to build up trust with a community it disregarded and terrorized: Two years earlier, several Houston police officers had murdered Jose Campos Torres, a young Vietnam War veteran arrested for disorderly conduct at a bar. The Spanish-speaking crew was so successful at solving murders that the makeshift group was formalized.

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Christmas came late for Hugo Aviles of Milwaukee after a UPS delivery driver walked up to his home last month with a package containing his gift, looked at the name and decided not to do his job, choosing instead to write a failed delivery note and go on a racist tirade caught on camera. After public pressure from a Latinx advocacy group, UPS announced this week that the driver had been fired. What can brown do for you, indeed.

Adolfo “Shabba-Doo” Quiñones, a dancing pioneer and a champion of breaking, died last week in his Los Angeles home. My colleague Greg Braxton wrote this touching obituary for the man who gave us “locking.” If you’re not familiar with his work, I encourage you to watch this montage of “Shabba-Doo” doing amazing things with his body.

A loss in Lodi

A woman holds a framed portrait of her mother.
Maria Miranda of Lodi, Calif., holds a portrait of her mother, who died because of COVID-19.
(Brandon Tauszik)

The Central Valley, California’s agricultural hub and home to a large Latinx population, has been one of the regions of the state hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic. Residents continue to resist lockdown measures even as hospitals reach their ICU capacity and people continue to die. Among the dead is the mother of Maria Miranda, the subject of this short documentary by filmmaker Brandon Tauszik, in which she begs Latinxs to do their best to protect others.

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The best thing on the Latinternet this week: Baby Yoda roscas

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: One of my favorite things about Mexico is how local businesses down there are very lax about using the intellectual property of multinational corporations for their own purposes. The latest example of this trend comes from Mexican bakery Kraneo Food, which was all over my timeline the last week thanks to a rosca — king cake — it sold for Día de los Reyes inspired by “The Mandalorian,” with a baby Yoda instead of a baby Jesus baked inside. This is clearly the way.

For the record: Last week’s newsletter incorrectly referred to my colleague Julia Barajas, who reported on the damage COVID-19 has wreaked on East L.A., as “Julio Barajas.” I regret the error and owe her a beverage of her choice when we return to the office.


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