A Powerful New Force in U.S. Politics

Readers were intrigued by our May 30 story on L.A. Mayor-Elect Antonio Villaraigosa and the growing influence of Latinos in America. "Villaraigosa's election is a victory for us Hispanics," one reader said. Musing on the historic win, another asked, "At what point will Hispanics stop being referred to as 'minorities'?" Some readers took issue with our cover, wondering, "If someone from another race had won, would you have printed 'Black Power' or 'White Power'?" Some also criticized the story for failing to discuss the role illegal immigration plays in the ever-increasing Latino population, particularly in Villaraigosa's city. One described a billboard he had seen there: "It read LOS ANGELES, MEXICO: YOUR TOWN, YOUR COMMUNITY. It can't get much clearer than that." But one patriotic Latino American reminded us that diversity is our heritage. Lauding Villaraigosa and other Latino leaders of his state, he cheered, "Bravo and ole for the true Californios !"

As a 20-year NEWSWEEK subscriber, I don't recall any issue with a cover that sang the praises of "Latino Power" (May 30). We Latinos have been around for quite a while, and it's about time that major media began to look at our people and their accomplishments in a better light. While we have become a dominant force in politics, we still have a great way to go. We must mobilize our numbers to those candidates and policies that not only represent our views, but respect our people as well. We have been ignored and taken advantage of by the major political parties and only now are they realizing that we play a role in whether they win or lose. I can remember a time when speaking Spanish would result in scorn or even punishment. Now our language is being courted in business and society. It is my hope that our people continue to share in the American experience and realize what our history has been, and how we can shape our future to that of a better one for our children.
Randy Saucedo
Denver, Colo.

Your cover story explaining Los Angeles Mayor-Elect Antonio Villaraigosa's 17 percentage-point humiliation of one-term incumbent James Hahn is excellent. Yet the cover headline LATINO POWER focuses only on one important, but not singular, force defining Villaraigosa's huge win. Yes, Latinos--who number about half of our city's population--wielded their voting strength, giving us an outstanding leader who shares their heritage. But a different lesson underscores Villaraigosa's landslide win: 75 percent of votes cast were non-Latino. Why did he win? Villaraigosa has proved himself to be tireless and effective in solving problems, and he stands for an ethical government that represents everyone. Voters welcomed these contrasts to Hahn. Antonio Villaraigosa's election exemplifies how an honest leader who cares for all ethnicities, who follows through and solves problems, and who is accessible and involved will coalesce all population segments because those are the leadership qualities we all want and need.
Laura Beth Heisen
Los Angeles, Calif.

As a Mexican-American, I am glad that my ethnicity is being acknowledged as something more than an immigration problem. I find it flattering that politicians want to appeal to us. I consider it a problem, however, when the priority of their campaigns is to lure a certain race. It seems that if political nominees don't have appealing viewpoints or ideals, they can still win by using the ace up their sleeve: their ethnicity. Did L.A. actually listen to Antonio Villaraigosa's propositions on the city's problems, or did they just listen to his accent? Mexican-Americans (and everyone else) should keep that in mind the next time they vote. They need to be able to tell the difference as to when they are being paid attention and when they are being used.
Susan Cortez
Chicago, Ill.

I have been a Los Angeles resident for more than five years now. I find myself meeting the fanfare over this city's first Latino mayor in nearly a century with much skepticism. Why? Because when you spend hours of each day in traffic, see the thick smog when you look out your window in the morning and are constantly harassed by the growing army of panhandlers in this city, you are reminded what the job of a mayor really is. When he fixes these things, then I'll get excited about sociohistorical milestones in local politics.
Rob Seltzner
Los Angeles, Calif.

Although your cover shot of Antonio Villaraigosa captured the enthusiasm and energy that L.A.'s newly elected mayor brought to the campaign trail, your coverage barely scratched the surface of what was an incredible personal and political experience for the thousands of Angelenos who volunteered on Villaraigosa's behalf. While his election does demonstrate the growth of Latino political power in the United States, it also represents the ascendance of a leader who doesn't just enjoy the political process, but truly savors the opportunity to meet individual citizens and respond, personally and sincerely, to their concerns. While doing phone-bank work with volunteers in the San Fernando Valley campaign office, Antonio answered one voter's question--"What will you do to bring food prices down?"--not by telling her what she wanted to hear, but by saying that the mayor can't control prices but can foster a climate for job creation that enables her to earn enough to pay her bills. Even more remarkable was Villaraigosa's encounter at a town-hall meeting in a synagogue with a dozen Jewish high-school students and their houseguests, 12 non-Jewish teens from Germany. His unscripted commentary on the symbolism of their encounter was simply inspiring. He applied the encounters to his own campaign--which united Angelenos from all backgrounds, faiths, ethnicities, nationalities and walks of life--and to his hopes for a united Los Angeles.
Marcy Rothenberg
Los Angeles, Calif.

I found your articles on "Latino Power" fascinating on a number of levels. In particular, the editorial "Why We're the New Irish" by Gregory Rodriguez refers to Latinos as the "new Irish" but then mentions the "uniqueness of Mexican immigration." I assume the uniqueness of the recent wave of immigration from Mexico, unlike the Irish wave of the 19th century, reflects its almost complete disregard for U.S. immigration law. You made no mention of one of the most important ways the Latino political base has swelled so large so quickly: illegal immigration and subsequent amnesty. Anyone who sneaks across the border in order to cut in front of those who are trying to enter the country legally will never be an American in my mind, amnesty or not. While it is true that the face of American politics will become increasingly Latino, I for one will not forget its roots.
Tom Webster
Napa, Calif.

"A Latin Power Surge" raised good points about how Antonio Villaraigosa was able to do what Democrats failed to do nationwide during the 2004 election. As a Hispanic business owner who works closely with the Democratic Party, I understand the need for the party to reconnect with the Hispanic population. Over the course of four years, the Hispanic vote has drastically changed. In 2000, Al Gore received about 65 percent of the vote, but John Kerry saw that shrink to 56 percent in 2004. If Democrats want to avoid becoming the minority party for decades to come, they must not allow that number to shrink in 2008. How can the Democrats win the Hispanic community back in the next election cycle? Critical components will be connecting on a visceral level with Hispanics on issues that matter, creating a community and tapping into fund-raising and get-out-the-vote efforts. Understanding the Hispanic community's thoughts on current key polarizing issues such as stem-cell research, immigration and abortion will enable Democrats to appeal to a broader base of Hispanics on the topics they most care about. Also, Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean should execute a 50-state plan that touches Hispanics not only in traditional Hispanic-rich states such as New Mexico and Arizona, but in nontraditional states such as Iowa, Wisconsin and North Carolina. Without an understanding of where Hispanic populations are growing, Democrats are doomed to repeat their failures of the 2004 elections.
Juan Proano, President and Cofounder
Plus Three
New York, N.Y.

NEWSWEEK makes more of Villaraigosa's election as L.A.'s mayor than the facts warrant. First, his being the first Latino to win such an election in 133 years says more about James Hahn's problems as well as the number, character and competence of prior Latino aspirants to the office. Second, ethnicity, as repeatedly demonstrated in the United States and around the world, does not and will not ever equate to integrity, competence or the wherewithal to win elections. Finally, the fact that 70 percent of the registered voters in this election didn't bother to go to the polls says more about our "greatest democracy on earth" than it does about the winner.
Lawrence Berk
Ventura, Calif.

Defying the statistics of Hispanics with similar backgrounds, Antonio Villaraigosa will be more than merely a mayor of a mammoth metropolis. He is a Latino incarnation of the American dream. However, being presented to the public as a Hispanic exemplar presents challenges that are momentarily forgotten amid the victory celebrations. With the exception of activists like Corky Gonzales and Cesar Chavez, the Latino community has lacked the national presence of a Martin Luther King Jr. or a Jesse Jackson. This historical vacuum places a huge burden on Villaraigosa. The media might be trumpeting the Latino population surge, but the reality is that the overwhelming majority of that population is without a college education and nearly half lack even a high-school diploma. Hispanic immigrants are the recipients of anger from taxpayers who foot the medical costs that should be billed to employers and insurance companies. Posters and political ads splashed with Spanish phrases are an improvement from former years when anybody speaking a language other than English found himself either an interpreter or in the dark. The national spotlight on Villaraigosa will, I hope, illuminate the path to a better life for countless other Hispanics, who today still find themselves in the shadows.
Wayne Trujillo
Lakewood, Colo.

I read your article on the election of Antonio Villaraigosa as mayor of Los Angeles with amusement. When Villaraigosa was a candidate for the same office four years ago, he believed that turning up the volume on his Mexican heritage would be the siren's lure for generating support within the Hispanic voting block. The tactic contributed to his loss. This time, he downplayed his Mexicania within the population and worked it in those areas containing higher percentages of Mexican- and Central American residents. However, had the current mayor, James Hahn, not been such a controversial and dismal disappointment among those who voted him into office four years earlier--and the voter turnout this year was comparatively pathetic--you would have had no gleaming Villaraigosa to backdrop your "Latino Power" cover story. Which gives rise to the question: how much of Villaraigosa's election can be contributed to a Latino power base? As a Cuban-born naturalized citizen, I take exception to the broad brush used by NEWSWEEK to lump together all of us with a heritage streaming from south of the U.S. border. By the way, many Mexicans do not identify themselves as "Latino," and never will, but clueless gringos are just too confused to even want to know the differences.
Lucia M. Conforti
Los Angeles, Calif.

Real Men Cry

Having read Topher Sanders's May 30 My Turn, "Becoming 'Real' Men at Last," all I can say is bravo! Finally, a real, mature, bold and courageous man who is not afraid to express his--dare I say--emotions. Thank you, Topher, for expressing yourself so vulnerably in front of millions of readers (whom I just pray are reading, relating and putting their guard down because of this). You came off stronger than most. So many men have been brought up by families and society to believe that the only way to be a real man is by putting on this tough exterior and guarding themselves from showing any emotion. Nowadays, more and more women are just waiting for a man who's willing to tap into himself in this "Topher" way. At the right place and time, that is.
Saundra Penn
New York, N.Y.

Topher Sanders showed me in a few hundred words the bewilderment of young men with no male role model. I'd like to commend Sanders and his teenage friends for being there for 15-year-old Ronald, for stepping out of their own comfort zones to bring comfort to their friend. I pray that their children will never know what it is like to be fatherless.
Andrea R. Huelsenbeck
Tempe, Ariz.

Keeping an Open Mind

Anna Quindlen's assessment of the current political climate, specifically at universities, is accurate and troubling ("Life of the Closed Mind," May 30). As a political-science major, I have noticed the propensity of students, myself included, to argue in class rather than discuss. We act as though everything our favored party does is correct. This not only limits the ideas we can embrace, but ultimately sets us up for failure when we find out that no party is perfect. Blind partisanship is extremely dangerous to our system of democracy, in which the opinions of the people, ideally, form political policy. When we start speaking in absolutes--by saying "Democrats are good, Republicans are bad" or vice versa--we are speaking like terrorists. The same argument can, and has been, used against militant feminism: women who believe that men should be subordinate are behaving just like the men who subordinated them for so many years. Revenge may feel good at the time, but it never makes for positive change. Thank you, Ms. Quindlen, for telling the harsh truth as it is. I admire that.
Mary Mann
Columbia, Mo.

I applaud Anna Quindlen's call to listen to people who disagree with us and seek to understand their perspectives. I would, however, have liked to read of instances in which she had changed her mind in accord with the insights of Red State Republicans or theologically conservative Christians. Without that, a reader could be left with the impression that she dismissed her ideological opponents as intolerant, monomaniacal and zealots. That is hardly a promising footing for intellectual engagement.
Elizabeth Nicol
Urbana, Ill.

I agree with Anna Quindlen's column regarding the "anyone who disagrees with me is evil" mind-set that currently passes for thought in this country. However, the roots of our jihadist mentality can be traced well before 9/11 to the 1984 presidential campaign, especially the famous Republican prayer breakfast. It was the "God is on our side" tone of the GOP that drove me out of the party and made me a swing voter.
Jim O'Connor
Richmond, Va.

Now that's just not natural! To have George Will and Anna Quindlen write back-to-back essays that are in virtual agreement may signal the End of Days! But they did: "The Oddness of Everything" (May 23) and "Life of the Closed Mind" are both outstanding and should be required reading for every voter and teacher in the United States. How refreshing to hear voices from both sides of the rhetoric call for a willingness to listen with an open mind.
Nancy Meisner
Depauw, Ind.

Rehabilitating a Legacy

Your May 30 article "It Takes A Village" indicates that because Malcolm Shabazz is the grandson of Malcolm X, black leaders are throwing their support behind this troubled man who set fire to his grandmother's house, killing her; who attempted robbery; who, at only 20 years of age, has spent a third of his life in prison, and, who, despite the black community's rallying behind him upon his release from a juvenile facility in 2001, chose to join the Bloods and sell drugs. The extent to which his supporters are prepared to go to rehabilitate him might be looked upon as commendable, but there should be a far better criterion for finding a successor to Malcolm X than simply a name inherited by someone with dubious qualifications for the job. When Shabazz proclaims he is trying to turn his life around, NEWSWEEK writes, "it is an effort that would have made his grandparents proud." That is far too pat a statement when one does not know if Betty Shabazz, who died as a result of her grandson's crime, would agree.
Judith M. Powers
Walnut Creek, Calif.

No, the African-American community is not prepared to forgive and embrace Malcolm X's grandson, and it is not NEWSWEEK's job to paint us monolithically. Malcolm Shabazz is a common criminal with a famous name. After murdering his grandmother, he made amends by becoming a dope dealer and a thief. On my block there are dozens of young men Shabazz's age who go to college or hold jobs, and they don't get a page in NEWSWEEK.
Debbie Benjamin
New York, N.Y.