The story line of race relations in America is largely colored black and white, and has little to do with the other major shade, brown. Everyone has an opinion on illegal immigration, but when it comes to interpersonal relations, Hispanics do not figure nearly as prominently in the national psyche, even though they are now roughly equal in number with blacks.
Hollywood makes many movies starring black actors like Will Smith or Denzel Washington or Don Cheadle or Halle Berry or Vanessa Williams or Thandie Newton or Angela Bassett. But I can think of only one Mexican-American movie star, Salma Hayek. And she is half-Lebanese, half-Spanish, not Amerindian or mestizo like the vast majority of Mexicans. (Of course, even in Mexico, all of the television stars are of obviously European descent.)
Youngsters in this country are taught to look up to black sports stars, to "be like Mike" (Jordan). Mexican-American sports heroes are almost nonexistent. This may not be a fair comparison, as boxing in the lighter weight categories and marathon running are not popular spectator sports the way basketball and football are. But the point is, other than Oscar de la Hoya, who never quite fully achieved crossover status, this is another area where Hispanics are practically invisible.
I'm as guilty of this oversight as anyone. I live in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Mexicans -- or Guatemalans, or Salvadorans, or Hondurans -- are ubiquitous here. They do much of the yard work, construction work, housework, and so on. When I drive through town, I see them all over. But somehow, I just don't take much notice of them. Many of the workers around the Y where I exercise are Amerindian/Hispanic. I nod to the familiar faces, but almost never engage them in conversation. On the few occasions when I have, they are polite and friendly and likable. But I don't even know the names of the guys who mow my lawn (other than their boss, who is Ecuadorean).
From what I've seen, most Fairfield County residents share my attitude. They just don't pay much attention to the Mexicans. The Hispanics are there as workers, always in the background and never in the foreground.
Contrast this to blacks. The few blacks in my hometown somehow seem more visible, and they get more attention. There is a certain type of white person who uses black people to prove what a good person he is; he will go out of his way to befriend blacks and compliment them and spout liberal cliches in an effort to show that he is not racist. (I've always suspected that these are the people who, at heart, are most uncomfortable around blacks.) These must also be the people whose children turn out to be wiggers. Yet these liberal whites -- wonderful open-minded people that they are -- never bother to make the same effort for Mexicans. (And you never hear of wicanos at the high schools.)
Part of the Mexicans' invisibility stems from the fact that they tend to do their work quietly, without fanfare. This may have something to do with the fact that some of them are not here legally, and do not want to attract the attention of the INS. I don't believe that illegal aliens should be here. But on the rare occasions I think about the ones in my hometown, I do feel a very faint twinge of guilt that I barely even notice them. When I see them, their presence registers, and I certainly don't make any negative judgment about them as individuals. But somehow I never seem to take a second look.
I also wonder what the Mexicans think of us. They must think us soft, and spoiled. And they must resent us. I don't blame them. If I did manual labor for a living, I too would regard those "above" such work as both spoiled and pathetic.
You rarely hear of violence between Hispanics and whites. Occasionally you'll hear of a Mexican rapist and killer. And occasionally you'll hear of a gang of whites who has beaten up a Mexican worker. But both are rarities. Interestingly, when blacks and Mexicans go to the same high school, or live in the same neighborhood, there is often violence. Neither group has been taught that it must kowtow to the other, and neither is worried about being accused of racism, so mass fights often ensue. (Whites, by contrast, generally just bend over.)
In the meantime, the Mexicans in my community remain, by and large, invisible. I wonder how long this will last.