By Ruben Navarrette, Readers often accuse me of being biased. Guilty. It’s a joke among editorial writers and columnists that readers confuse opinion writing with reporting. And so, they think those who write opinions have a secret agenda. They’re half-right. We often have an agenda, but it’s no secret. We put it down in black and white. It’s in the job description.
But my readers are not really worried that I harbor a political bias. What they’re really worried about is the possibility that, as a Latino columnist, I’m nursing an ethnic one.
For instance, when the subject is illegal immigration, they assume that my ethnicity makes me side with Latino immigrants who break the law over Anglo-Americans who want to enforce it.
Curiously, right after they say this, many of them will proceed to tell me how they know plenty of Latinos who oppose illegal immigration just like they do.
In that case, what is the Latino “agenda” on an issue like illegal immigration? No one knows for sure. We’re all over the map.
Still, one reader offered this advice: “Perhaps if you tried to write more balanced pieces, i.e., those that showed understanding that the vast majority of Americans are tired of the invasion, you might get more sympathy to your positions.”
Another reader put it less diplomatically: “You write like a Mexican. You need to write like an American.”
How about a compromise? Mexican-American. The experience of being a Latino journalist is no fiesta. You get told that you write about Latino issues too much, or not enough. When an Anglo columnist reaches a conclusion, it’s assumed that his head led him there. But when it’s a Latino columnist, it must have been his heart that paved the way. And no matter how many times you reaffirm the right of the United States to secure its borders, some people will take one look at your Spanish surname and accuse you of supporting illegal immigration to — as one reader told me — “let your relatives in.”
I suspect that some aspects of my story would ring a bell with Jose Antonio Vargas. Once an award-winning journalist, the 30-year-old is now perhaps the most famous illegal immigrant in the United States. No sooner had Vargas revealed himself as an illegal immigrant from the Philippines than many Latino journalists began to worry that they might find themselves under heightened scrutiny from editors and readers.
Never mind that Vargas isn’t Latino. Many readers will look at his surname and assume otherwise.
The scrutiny wouldn’t be about our immigration status, per se. It’s not like we’ll all have to paste our birth certificates to our laptops. The worry is that we’ll be seen as too sympathetic to the plight of illegal immigrants — because that could be our story.
Well, for some of us, it could be if you ignored two things: the several generations that our families have lived in this country, and the fact that the immigrants in our family tree either came legally or didn’t cross a border at all as much as found themselves overrun by settlers.
I have no sympathy for Vargas. He is a discredit to his profession, and a drag on many of his former colleagues. By lying to friends, colleagues and employers, he’s made an already tough job — that of being an ethnic journalist — more difficult.
And he’s just getting warmed up. Expect a book deal and speaking fees. Recently, Vargas was invited to be part of a roundtable discussion about immigration on ABC News’ “This Week.” Apparently, some producer in Washington thinks Vargas is an expert on illegal immigration.
Actually, he’s half an expert; he doesn’t seem to understand the “illegal” part.
Journalists are perplexed about what should happen to Vargas now. It’s not a hard question. He’s undocumented, and thus subject to deportation like any other illegal immigrant.
What are we supposed to do? Grant him a special dispensation because he’s a journalist and not a janitor? Treat him better than we treat many others because he speaks English and has a soapbox? That’s not what this country is about.
And, I bet, it wouldn’t mesh with why Vargas chose to become a journalist in the first place. Most of us get into this business to give voice to the weak and vulnerable, not to use our influence to claim special privileges that those people would never be afforded.