‘Shut up, you stupid Mexican!”
The words spewed from the mouth of a pale, freckle-faced boy, taunting me on our elementary school playground.
I wish I could recall what I said to inspire the insult. But more than three decades later, I remember only my reply. “Stupid Peruvian,” I pointed out, wagging my finger.
My family had emigrated from Lima to Northern California a few years earlier, so my nationality was a point of fact (whereas my stupidity remains a matter of opinion). The response so confused my classmate that my first encounter with prejudice ended as quickly as it started. Recess resumed.
Today, my grade-school preoccupation with nationality feels a bit quaint. Peruvian or Mexican — does it even matter? We’re all Latinos now.
And don’t call us stupid. Latinos have become coveted, exciting, DREAMy. In the 2012 election, the Hispanic vote helped propel President Obama (71 percent) over Mitt Romney (27 percent). When politicians ride Hispanic ancestry to presidential short lists and convention keynote slots, when a stalemated Congress has a shot at immigration reform because Democrats need to keep us and Republicans need to woo us, and when Univision beats NBC in prime-time ratings, you know that America’s 51 million Latinos are officially marketable, clickable, unignorable. And if you’ve written a dissertation arguing that we’re dumber than white Americans, you’ll lose your job. Even at the Heritage Foundation, no se puede.