At the recent NALEO conference News Taco had the chance to sit down with Arizona State Rep. Rubén Gallego, the following is an interview with him and a short video snippet. He also previously wrote an op-ed for us about why boycotting the MLB All Stars Game hurts Latinos. Let us know what you think!
NT: What’s it like being a Latino in Arizona?
RG: It’s disheartening at times. Even though I don’t “look” Latino, I do feel the racism. For example, when I was running for office my family members would get on the phone and call voters, and voters would say, “I’m not voting for him, he’s a Mexican.” And my mom and my family members would say, “Well, excuse me, the person you’re calling ‘a Mexican’ he served in the Iraq War, he’s a veteran, he fought in the infantry, he loves this country.” They said, “I don’t care.” Click.
That’s very difficult for my family to deal with. For them to see that racism straight up really affected them very personally. And it affected me very personally. Arizona is a great place to live, it’s a great place for Latinos, and will be in the future, but it’s still very frustrating because there has been an environment that has been set up by a lot of our politicos that talk about immigration, but basically have given a free pass for some very horrendous things to be said. It does get very frustrating and it is disheartening.
NT: How did things get to this point in Arizona?
RG: With Arizona being such a transient state — you have a lot of people that move in from the Midwest, from the Northeast that are not used to seeing large Hispanic populations. It’s a matter of different needs. A lot of our Anglo population is older, retired, they don’t need a lot of the services that our younger Latino population needs. If you are an older, Anglo, retired person and you don’t want to pay higher taxes, especially for schools, it’s very convincing when you drive by a public school and you see a lot of Latino, Latina faces and you hear on the radio, “Well, your taxes would be lower if it wasn’t for all those illegals in those classrooms,”
A lot of that has been devolving into worse situations with language. This year we had a senator from Arizona read a letter from a substitute teacher saying that all Latinos wanted to be gang members and take their country back. That is unacceptable — words, language, it should never be said by anybody — but it was said. And that person did not have the sincerity to apologize — or even the soul to apologize.
And that’s a very sad statement. Because any other point in our life in America, that’s what you would have done. Not only that, if this had been said about any other community — African-American, Jewish community, whatever it is — they would have been forced basically to resign.[Immigration] is a political weapon that’s been utilized in every which way you can think of, in Arizona especially.
NT: What happens in Arizona now?
RG: First of all, I think we have to look internally as a community and ask “how did we get to this situation?” A lot of it has been weak leadership within our community, our political leaders have allowed this to happen. In Arizona, I can tell you for a fact that our political leaders have allowed this to build to such a head that it created its own legs. They basically ignored the prob.
Because they didn’t want to be confrontational. They didn’t take on a lot of the politicians that were using us as their little bailiwick, didn’t take them on early on to the point where a lot of these politicians became way to powerful and the issue became too attractive that it’s just gotten out of hand at this point.
We have to redistrict our lines to make sure the Latino community is effectively represented across the state, not just a couple of districts. Two, we need to recruit young, aggressive politicians that have crossover appeal.
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