Or, “Killing the Ventriloquist, Part II.”

“Yeah, hi, I have a two part question. It seems like a lot of professors, specialists, and pundits are making the same arguments as you, but doing so on their weblogs. I was wondering if a.) you follow weblogs yourself and b.) you think there is a future in print columns?”

He didn’t look at me once as I asked the question. Instead, head down, he was shuffling around papers in his leather attaché. It’s a form of body language I am well aware of – used by practiced speakers to assert their importance after their rehearsed performances. It’s meant to draw a line between the invaluable content of their speech and the amateur prodding of the audience which follows. I didn’t expect it from Navarrette though because little of his talk suggested that he was well-practiced at all.

Still, after a half-second of silence, he stood straight up, a little bothered, and it was obvious that he’d been asked the same questions a dozen times before at various events and cocktail parties. His response started with a sigh.

“You know, I’m really not worried about anything. I’ve seen weblogs and let me tell you why they can never do what I do. Every weblog is either on the left or on the right, but none of them lie in the center like me. No one else can spend as much time as I do to remain so objective … ’cause trust me, it takes some work.”

“But you do read Mexican-American or even Mexican weblogs?”

“Yeah, I’ve looked and there are probably six Mexican-American weblogs out there. Which is six more than two years ago. But of those six … you know … there are a couple knee-jerk conservatives and the rest are knee-jerk liberals. Which, of course, is what most Latinos really are. But you’re just not going to find the same kind of analysis that I give in my columns. So no, I’m not afraid of weblogs or anything like that.”

Clearly, when he mentioned “a couple knee-jerk conservatives,” it was immediately obvious that he was talking about HP and HispaniCon. I wished that HP had come to the talk with me. I was also caught off-guard by just how defensive his tone was. He insisted at least three times that he was not worried or afraid even though that wasn’t part of my question. I could feel the rest of the audience leering at me. This was obviously a topic they were not interested in, but I still wanted my question answered so I asked one final time; “But you do think there’s a future in print columns?”

“Yes, definitely. Amateurs just can’t do what I do. Now whether there will be print columns during my children’s lives, I’m not sure, but for the rest of mine, yes.”

I have been reading Ruben Navarrette for a long time – long before he ever came to San Diego. In fact, when I learned that he’d be leaving the Dallas Morning News for the Union-Tribune, I wrote about it on San Diego Blog. He writes with the authoritative voice of someone who is either extremely competent or arrogant. Unfortunatley, tonight I was left with the impression of the latter much more than former.

He started his talk by pointing out that he was named by San Diego Magazine as one of 50 people to be watched this year. Then he read an entire chapter out of his book about the dillema of referring to himself as an American or Mexican-American. And he closed with a list of “how Mexican-Americans are.” The list went something like, “We are democrats, but sometimes we vote Republican. We don’t mind social spending, we’re not so afraid of big government, but we do tend to be social conservatives. We don’t like thinks like gay marriage and that kind of stuff. We are always worried about how well we speak one language – either Spanish or English …”

Navarrette himself speaks only a limited and heavily accented Spanish, something you would never guess from his columns. The list went on for about five minutes and mostly stuck to such truisms as “we don’t feel American enough or Mexican enough.” His spiel reminded me of what most bothers me about mainstream media – the way they create stereotypes and the way they limit a diverse (and more realistic) range of viewpoints. I felt as if I were at a corporate marketing workshop learning how to break into the Mexican-American market.

Obviously, I’m not trying to say that I – mister white boy himself – am in any better position to comment about the realities and trends of Mexican-Americans in this country. Which is why I never do. But neither does it seem right to me that Navarrette qualifies himself as “in touch” solely because he happens to be Mexican-American. I do feel bad for professionals whose livlihoods are threatened, but I excitedly await the day when individuals speak and are not spoken for.

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