Wednesday, June 10th 2009, 9:33 AM, Daily News Blog
Among the many stereotypes about Latinos perpetuated by popular culture is that of the so-called “Latin temper.” Since Lupe Vélez exploded on the screen as “The Mexican Spitfire” in the 1930s, Latinos, particularly women, have been depicted as having an uncontrollable, fiery temperament, a short fuse that at the slightest provocation makes us rant and rave in rapid-fire Spanish.
In the 1950s, a decade tone-deaf to cultural differences, throwing a tantrum or just having a run-of-the-mill ataque de nervios was diagnosed as the “Puerto Rican Syndrome” or “Puerto Rican Hysteria.” This curious illness, first detected by the military among Puerto Rican soldiers during the Korean War to identify what today is called posttraumatic disorder or battlefield trauma, had been discredited for years. Now it’s back, with a strange twist.
As soon as it was announced that a Puerto Rican woman was nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States, a breakout of “Puerto Rican Hysteria” spread like wildfire around cable news studios and other mainstream media outlets.
However, the people now convulsing and foaming at the mouth are not Puerto Rican at all. They are middle-aged conservative white males.
The Mouthzilla Brigade (Rush Limbaugh, Pat Buchanan, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck) and the Four Has-beens of the Apocalypse (Newt Gingrich, Tom Tancredo, Karl Rove and G. Gordon Liddy) have centered their attack of nerves on Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s alleged lack of “judicial temperament” while being quite discombobulated themselves.
Republican elected officials had, for the most part, taken their Prozac and kept their peace. Then, last Wednesday, during her courtesy calls to various senators, Judge Sotomayor stopped by to greet Sen. Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina. After the meeting, Graham told reporters that he will not vote for Sotomayor because although she has the intellect and the credentials, she has “a temperament problem.”
What the heck does that mean? What happened during the half hour they spent behind closed doors? Did her Latin blood boil over, driving her to poke him in the eye with a loop earring? Did she whack him on the head with a pair of maracas?
The temperament charge stems from the fact that Sotomayor is known as an assertive courtroom manager who keeps a tight rein on the proceedings and has little patience with dawdling lawyers — something that in a male judge is seen as a virtue.
But what really got the Mouthzillas and the Apocalipticos in a tizzy was Sotomayor’s decontextualized quote about a “wise Latina” making better decisions than a “white male.”
Charges of “reverse racism” flew, a respected Latino organization was compared to the KKK, and whining about how white men are discriminated against filled the air waves. And while this craziness went on, how have hot-tempered Latinos behaved? Like a model of coolness and restraint, shinning examples of dignity and respect. That’s because, unlike those aggrieved white males, we have years and years of experience in being disrespected and really discriminated against and even murdered for just being who we are. One stereotype down, 50 to go? Have we lost our pasión edge? Or are we just being muzzled?
Conspiracy theories abound. Perhaps all this Latino cool-headedness may be just a mirage, a made-for-television toned down response.
The fact is that in hundreds of mainstream media prime-time hours devoted to “reverse racism,” “affirmative action promotions” and “identity politics” vis a vis Judge Sotomayor, very few Latino faces and voices have been included in the discussions. So, what we actually think or feel about this issue, and many others, continues to be one of those eternally unknown mysteries of the universe. One way or another, let’s hope that we all come out of this distasteful national nervous breakdown a little wiser. After all, when in search of wisdom, there’s nothing like walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes.