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.
I have read a few of his columns. While I do like the way he can at times remove ideological bias from the issues he discusses, his analysis often seems disingenuous. I agree that he often comes across as arrogant and your description of him only confirms this impression.
And for a journalist, he seems quite uninformed about the weblogging world.
Thanks for sharing your observatios. It is nice to be able to attend lectures vicariously.
Oh yeah, and in retrospect, I wish I did go with you last night instead of going to my first GRE course, I had no idea how freaken easy the math section of the GRE is. It is basically elementary algebra with some first quarter probability thrown in to wake you up a bit. I was soo bored…Unfortunately, we have to wait until they get through the math section until we arrive at what we went to the class for in the first place, the english section. Now that part is tough!!! Yikes!!!
I don’t mean to give the impression that Navarrette isn’t intelligent and qualified to do what he does. I wouldn’t have read his column for so long if it didn’t leave me impressed. And I’ll continue to read it (mostly because he’s just about the only columnist left at our local paper … which says something).
My point is that after having read him for so long, I was expecting much more. I was expecting the more detailed and nuanced experiences and observations which lead him to his arguments. Instead, he just fumbled around with the same anecdotes over and over again.
Navarrette treated his audience as if we were bunch of trailer park rednecks who had never seen a Mexican-American before in our life and this was our big chance to hear things from “an authentic.” The irony is that 75% of the room was full of professors and scholars from Mexico and the rest were mostly Latino students.
So no, my impression was not, “this guy is such an idiot.” But I was expecting much more. And I certainly do disagree with him that he is the only person out there giving “balanced” analysis of politics.
Yeah, I’ve got a couple friends who work at the U-T and things are not looking good for their job security at all.
Damn … SpamKarma usually does such a good job catching comment spam.
I think someone forgot to tell Navarette that Mexicans are also known for being humble.
Do I have this straight? A native-born American who scarcely speaks Spanish bills himself spokesperson for Mexican-Americans? Sounds like he has citizenship confused with ethnicity.
never heard of him before. but i guess he is as much out of the loop as me. i’ve come across one too many columns lately complaining about blogs. it just sounds like sour grapes to me. there was a column published in a local paper recently that suggested journalists take the news back by going on strike. why can’t we have both?
I also had the “privilege” of listening to Navarrette talk while he was here in Dallas, se cree la divina garza. I tend to think of him as the Hispanic version of Bill O’Reilly.
Good comment, Cindylu. 🙂
I totally agree with that!
Seyd said it best, “La Divina Garza” I also read his articles – I love to hate Ruben Navarette. His writing IS sooooo obnoxious it drives me nuts, but I cannot not read it, know what I mean?
Say it loud sister Julissa! and for the person who mentioned “John Stossel”…well, John Stossel is sexist ball muncher.
Did you know Navarrette is a former MEChistA? At least, that’s what he once emailed me. I used to trade emails w/ him back when he was in Dallas. He said he would read my blog. I somehow doubt that. He’s ok. I like his points sometimes, but yup, very arrogant.
There’s no real umph in his columns, but he is a smart guy who can break it down. He says, what we’ve been saying all of our lives. Really, I read a column once, and I could have sworn that debate had been going on for 10 years. Then I realized, he writes for folks who might not have been part of that discourse. Sepa.
Like DT I too have personally dialogued with him via email. Everytime we chated he always seemed easy going and very attentive and while I don’t always agree with everything he writes, I can relate to a lot of what he says and consider him a breath of fresh air compared to other modern day journalists.
First time visitor to this site. I was gathering information about Ruben Nanarrette and got to this link. Some very interesting and intelligently presented views here.
I to, likke Ruben Navarette, grew up and evolved in the San Juaquin Valley. Somehow Mr. Navarette’s vision of the Chicano is cloudy and blurred. He gives a very coservative perspective that is indeed disturbing and at the same time distorted. His “know it all” attitude is not only arrogant and sloppy, it is generally wrong. I don’t trust him, I don’t believe him, and I don’t like him. He is to me comic opera, great theater but no substance.
Roy Jimenez – email@example.com
I usually agree with Ruben Navarette’s columns. I don’t beleive he is a spokesperson for any particular group. His book, “A Darker Shade of Crimson” was a factor in influencing me to complete my Bacleor’s Degree.
I think he’s kind of bitter because Mexican-Americans are limited when it comes to careers in the media. He has a BA and an MA from Harvard. Others in his position are writing for Time, Newsweek, giving commentary on cable TV, etc but Mexican-Americans are not allowed in those jobs.
We don’t get to comment on “American issues” because we’re not seen as American, even if our families have been here for generations. We’re seen as “aliens.”
Mexican-Americans get to comment in the media if the issue is immigration.
And then they ususally choose somebody with heavily accented, broken English not only to undermine the message, but because to the media that is what a “real” Mexican sounds like. People who actually know how to debate are not booked.
So can you blame Navarette for being a little bit arrogant or bitter?
That’s a good point Karen. However, he is certainly at a point in his career now that he can choose to write about whatever he wants, but for whatever reason he sticks to immigration over and over again.
I doubt he can write about whatever he wants. Newspapers hire Latino columnists to write about “Latino issues.”
And to the media all Latino issues begin and end with immigration.