Latinos are under attack -- by one of their own.
Former U.S. Rep. Herman Badillo, D-N.Y., was born in Puerto Rico and was one of the five Latino members of Congress who established the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
As such, his voice carries weight. Unfortunately, he is throwing it around in an irresponsible way.
Badillo's book, "One Nation, One Standard: An Ex-Liberal on How Hispanics Can Succeed Just Like Other Immigrant Groups," serves the neo-conservative agenda more than it does the Hispanic community.
"Hispanics, as a culture, do place less stress on the importance of education than do other, more economically and socially successful immigrant groups," he writes. He is grossly generalizing about a culture made up of more than 20 distinct nationalities with varying levels of social class and educational backgrounds. Badillo's blanket statement falsely implies that Miami Cubans, New York Puerto Ricans and Los Angeles Mexicans all have a careless disregard for education.
Strangely enough, Badillo makes the argument that Hispanic parents' failure to get involved in their children's education is a cause for their lack of academic success. But his own story contradicts this. "My relatives and friends did not encourage me to remain in school," he writes. "They considered my interest in books an eccentricity." If so, then Badillo would seem a prime candidate for academic failure.
Badillo, who is 77 years old, went to New York City public schools at a time when "big government" run by "liberal Democrats" guaranteed that the schools offered an education that was close in quality to private education. He was able go attend the City University of New York and Brooklyn Law School at a time when tuition was free. This might also explain how he was able to educate himself despite his relatives' lack of support.
The statistics that Badillo quotes to support his argument come from un-cited sources and appear to be exaggerated. In particular, the statistic that claims that Hispanics have more than a 50 percent dropout rate from high school is contradicted by the National Center for Education Statistics, which reports that the rate for 2001, for ages 15-24, was 9 percent for Hispanics. When he writes that "most Hispanics remain in poverty," he ignores latest Census figures that find Latinos have a poverty rate of 22 percent.
Badillo's ideas are not exactly in lockstep with hard-line conservatives. He favors a relatively liberal posture toward controlling immigration, and is concerned with promoting the success of Hispanics in the United States.
But his position that strong racial and ethnic identities are a big part of Latinos' lack of success is misguided. When he chooses to criticize organizations like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the National Council of La Raza and Aspira as organizations that "demand special rights," he ignores how much work these groups do to promote educational opportunities for Hispanics.
Badillo has lost much of the admiration from the Hispanic community over the years. In 1999, he remarked at a lunch in New York sponsored by the Center for Educational Innovation that Mexican immigrants in New York are "pure Indians -- Incans and Mayans who are about 5 feet tall with straight hair Š who have never been to any schools."
Like any other minority "leader" who is willing to slander his own people, Badillo may be taken seriously by media pundits. But his words ring hollow to the people who need his leadership most.
Ed Morales is a contributor to The New York Times and Newsday, and author of "Living in Spanglish" (St. Martin's Press, 2002). He can be reached at email@example.com.