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Lawlessness knows no ethnicity

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Esther Cepeda
April 23, 2012
— Now that we’re in the post-Zimmerman-arrest phase of the Trayvon Martin drama, let’s finally confront a criticism that has been leveled at the Hispanic community.

Ever since George Zimmerman’s dad wrote a letter to The Orlando Sentinel stating that the attack on Martin, an unarmed black teenager, couldn’t possibly have been motivated by race because his son is a fellow minority, some have wondered why Hispanics haven’t rushed to claim Zimmerman as “one of us.”


The word “claim,” as it has been used in the bigoted emails I’ve received from those who believe that all Hispanics “stick together” even in defense of illegal immigration “lawlessness,” really means “defend.” For instance, just as the Martin case was quickly going viral, a right-wing radio personality accused the National Council of La Raza of not showing ethnic solidarity with Zimmerman.


Though at first Zimmerman’s ethnicity was in question, we now know that he is the son of a Peruvian immigrant.


Leave aside the ongoing debate about what he could or should be labeled—though the term “white Hispanic” makes perfect sense if you understand the U.S. Census labels and acknowledge that he’s not black Hispanic, such as people from the Dominican Republic, or Asian Hispanic, such as the Fujimori political clan of Peru—Zimmerman is Hispanic. He looks like he could be my cousin or other relative, and in his too-large dark blue suit he probably would fit perfectly at home at a “quinceañera”—sweet 15—party or any other gathering of Hispanics.


In response to the vague but still ugly accusations of leniency based on ethnicity, La Raza—a civil rights organization that does its best to publicize any and all good works by Hispanics and not surprisingly wasn’t about to proudly claim Zimmerman as “one of us”—responded by stating the obvious: “Unfortunately, being Hispanic does not mean that you aren’t capable of bigotry or discrimination. It does not condone or preclude him (Zimmerman) from having acted in a discriminatory manner.”


This is true. However, what might placate those who accuse the Hispanic community of acknowledging only the cream of the crop—millionaire entrepreneurs, award-winning scientists, Hollywood mega-stars and class valedictorians—is a simple recognition of the facts.


Like so many others in the United States, Zimmerman is Hispanic. And like too many other Americans before him, he stands accused of doing something bad. As a group, Hispanics are exactly like whites, blacks, Asians and all the combinations thereof, in that they are a diverse mix of people—some awesome, some not. And Hispanics, like all other subgroups of Americans, can be proud of the good while accepting—though not necessarily defending—the bad.


Claiming anything more or less would be disingenuous.


Esther Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. Her email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

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