Camilo M. Ortiz
Camilo M. Ortiz , Latinos Nowhere in Sight: Erased by Racism, Nativism, the Black-white Binary, and Authoritarianism , 13 Rutgers Race & the Law Review 29 (2012) (150 Footnotes Omitted)
In May 2010, two weeks after the Arizona state legislature passed Senate Bill 1070 (SB 1070), Juan Varela was fatally shot in the neck by his next door neighbor, Gary Kelley. Prior to the killing, Kelley had repeatedly said to Varela, “Hurry up and go back to Mexico, or you're gonna die[!] ” It is uncertain what specific events led Kelley to shoot Varela in his front yard. However, it is known that Varela was not a recent arrival to the United States, but rather a second-generation, native-born U.S. citizen.
In the days that followed Varela's murder, local news reporters speculated that the shooting might have resulted from the numerous altercations that had occurred between Kelley and Varela, was the result of the intoxicated state Kelley appeared to be in at the time of the shooting, or even that the killing was just a sudden and unexplained act by Kelley, since he always got along with his other Latino neighbors. Other news reports speculated that the motive behind the murder of Varela might have been linked to America's fear of and distaste towards immigrants. This link between Varela's murder and America's panic towards Mexican immigrants is logical. After all, cable television commentators, local radio show hosts, and politicians have repeated and endorsed the ideas that all undocumented individuals from Mexico are criminals, secretly harbor a “reconquista” agenda, and are responsible for the rise in infectious diseases in the United States.
Some scholars have speculated that, in general, anti-Latino violence, including anti-immigrant violence, is directly linked to nativism. Akin to nationalists, American nativists maintain that national unity is built on the belief that the United States is made up of insiders and outsiders: insiders who belong to the nation, and outsiders who are in the nation, but not of it. To American nativists, insiders are native-born citizens who have assimilated the dominant culture through the removal of any foreign connections. Conversely, American nativists see outsiders as “foreign” or “un-American” individuals who have threatened the American way of life because they have failed to assimilate into the dominant Anglo-American national identity. However, a nativist's dislike of a U.S. citizen like Varela results from a different form of nativism which other scholars have termed racialized nativism. A combination of racism and nativism, racialized nativism targets particular ethnic groups, like Latinos, as foreigners in the United States and views them as societal threats specifically because of their “physical features or cultural traits . . . .” To the racist nativist, Latino native-born U.S. citizens living in the United States are perceived as outsiders because of their Spanish surnames, non-Anglo culture, and non-Anglo physical appearance. They are thus unlike European immigrants who were considered foreigners by eighteenth and nineteenth century nativists, but were nevertheless, able successfully to assimilate into the dominant Anglo culture because they were not immigrants of color.
Seen in this light, anti-Latino violence is particularly intractable because Latinos find themselves at the center of both nativism and racism. Nativism is premised on the idea that Others coming into the nation have to assimilate into the dominant Anglo culture through the elimination of their foreign traits. Racism is premised on the idea that Others (such as Latino U.S. citizens) who are in this country should be excluded from the dominant Anglo culture because of their alleged barbarism and uncivilized nature. Thus, Latinos, whether documented or not, find themselves denied full acceptance by the dominant Anglo culture because they are viewed as either internal or external threats to the nation.
Anti-Latino violence may also be a function of the ambiguous categorization of Latinos within the predominant social discourse. While the black-white paradigm of American racial thought illuminates a core piece of American history and society, including the centrality of slavery and white racism, it also focuses on two constituent racial groups, the Black and the White. As such, the binary not only marginalizes other people of color, but also omits their history and struggle for equality. These non-black, non-white Others are, therefore, rendered racially ambiguous.
In particular, the black-white paradigm converts racial discrimination against Latinos as perceived “foreigners,” by analogy, into some familiar shared experience with either blacks or whites, but not in terms of their own unique brown experience. Latinos emerge as an absent racial/ethnic group; they are racially ambiguous. If viewed as if they were black, they are deemed to be racially inferior to whites, even though Latinos do not share the same historical and recognizable experiences as blacks. Or, if Latinos are viewed as white, they are considered racially superior to blacks, even though they do not share the same political, economic, or social privileges as Anglos. Thus, in the minds of many Anglo-Americans, violence against Latinos is neither clearly decipherable nor readily redressable; it is vague, unstructured, and therefore tolerated.
In this article, I argue that the psychological concept of authoritarianism enables the theories of racism, nativism, and the black-white paradigm to merge and explain Anglo prejudice and violence against Latinos in the United States. As a distinct phenomenon made popular by social scientists in the 1950s, authoritarianism describes a type of personality with a philosophy and attitude towards life that seeks conditions that limit human freedom. Most notably, the authoritarian personality has a predominant set of well-defined traits which include, among others: intolerance for ambiguity, conventionalism, suspicion of the Other, and closed-mindedness. Thus, as a personality type that thrives on fear, hate, and ignorance, the authoritarian operates through power, dominance, and irrational beliefs against those who challenge convention.
Through the authoritarian lens, violence against Latinos emerges as a specific distaste towards immigration because authoritarianism is suspicious and distrustful of outsiders. Violence against Latinos also emerges as a product of nativism because authoritarianism seeks to maintain order and national unity. It can also be seen as a result of Latinos' ambiguous racial categorization within the black-white binary because authoritarianism seeks conformity, certainty, and clear lines and categories (us-them; black-white).
Thus, under the authoritarian personality theory, the murder of Varela can be understood as an interconnection between anti-immigration sentiments, racialized nativism, and the ambiguous racial categorization of Latinos such as Varela. Viewed in this manner, the historical context and the crimes against Latinos are acknowledged, as well as the necessity of considering such violence as hate crimes with all the serious political and racial consequence that this entails.
Part Two provides an overview of two significant historical periods, the 1850s and the 1940s, when Mexican-Americans were publicly persecuted through lynchings and legal manipulation resulting from prevailing racist, nativist, and authoritarian attitudes towards that group. I will show that the present day violence against Latinos, as exemplified by the murder of Juan Varela, is directly tied to the historical, racial nativist, and authoritarian beliefs that first came to light in mid-nineteenth and twentieth century America. Part Three examines the relationships among nativism, racism, and the black-white paradigm of race. Part Four discusses the key role that authoritarianism plays within this framework and in the context of Latinos in the United States. My analysis provides a more comprehensive lens through which to examine the Varela murder. It is also highly instructive with regard to the situation of all Latinos in the United States who are viewed as targets or become victims of racism, nativism, and authoritarianism.
To understand contemporary aggressive nativist, racist, and authoritarian attitudes toward Latinos, specifically Mexican Americans, one must begin historically at the end of the Mexican-American War. In 1848, many Mexicans and vast stretches of their sovereign land came under the control of the United States. As a result, at least 75,000 Mexicans were forced to decide whether or not to become U.S. citizens. Of those who voluntarily consented to U.S. citizenship, any constitutional protection afforded to them by the final amended version of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848 was minimized because the full constitutional rights of Mexicans, as U.S. citizens, were to arrive at “the proper time [which was determined] by the Congress of the United States.” As a result, and in due course, Mexicans who opted for U.S. citizenship were denied the right to vote, the title to their land, political representation, and the status of anything other than second-class citizens.
Thus, after 1848, through the Anglo-American political, legal, and territorial conquest of Mexicans, a popularized racial, cultural, and religious sense of superiority took shape among Anglos, which framed Mexicans as a group who were separate, but part of the dominant U.S. territories, and not a prized part, either. With few legal or political protections and without individual importance, Mexicans became the “Others” or foreigners. They were different because of the color of their skin, the language they spoke, the religion they practiced, and the customs they shared. As James Buchanan, then Secretary of State under President James K. Polk, put it, Mexicans were “the imbecile and indolent” race whose “bastard civilization” did not “possess the elements of an independent national existence . . . .”
With wealth and power fueling the Anglo conquest of Mexico, any resulting suffering or maltreatment of Mexican people emerged as a consequence of their racial and cultural weaknesses and not of the Anglos' unrelenting pursuit of power and territory. By classifying Mexicans as Others, not only did the Anglo-Americans justify their methodical, authoritarian, and relentless expansion with a clear conscience, but also established a national unity of insiders and an exclusion of outsiders.
Not surprisingly, the ways in which Anglo-Americans viewed Mexicans as Others found expression in verbal assaults against Mexicans, as well as in physical beatings and mob lynchings. According to several scholars, over a seventy-year period beginning in 1848, at least 597 Mexicans were lynched by mobs in the United States. Based on some estimates, Mexicans were lynched at a rate of 473 per 100,000 of population between the period of 1848 and 1879. In fact, when compared to the rate of lynchings of African-Americans between 1880 and 1930, in certain Southern states, the rate of Mexican lynchings surpassed that of African Americans; and if not, was nearly equal to it. To no one's surprise, the lynchings of Mexicans were only spurred on by the increasing number of local Mexicans who protested or who otherwise engaged in acts of resistance.
In all instances, the lynching of Mexicans was understood and accepted by the Anglo-American population to be the proper response to the non-conforming and barbaric Mexicans who allegedly were “making advances toward  white wom[e] n, cheating at cards, . . . and refusing to leave land that Anglos coveted . . . .” This was exemplified by the case of Jesús Romo, who was arrested for robbery in June 1874, taken from the custody of the arresting officers by a group of masked men, and publicly hanged. The lynching of Mexicans, a form of vigilante justice, was based on the belief in the Anglo-American community that it was a “civic virtue” to do so. To the Anglo-American people, the lynching of Mexicans was not only expected, but was also promoted for the betterment of Anglo society.
The same pattern of blithe, even celebratory, treatment reappeared a hundred years later when Mexicans were a large part of the U.S. labor force and the country entered into the Second World War. Earlier, the 1930s had seen the underhanded, mass deportations of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to Mexico. The underlying reason for this was that local and state governments were unable to support the surplus of foreign labor, which they had requested a decade earlier to fill shortages in the growing agricultural and industrial industries. But now Mexican-Americans, from 1930 to 1940, were cast out by Anglo society. Like the U.S. territorial expansion in the 1840s, Mexican-Americans in the 1930s found themselves threatened, beaten, and viewed as foreigners or Others in a land they helped to develop and, indeed, had once owned.
By the 1940s, Mexican-Americans were welcomed back by Anglo society to fill jobs once occupied by Anglo-Americans and now vacant due to the war. However, the mistreatment of Mexican-Americans continued, fueled in part by the Bracero Program, which allowed Mexican citizens to work temporarily in the United States and help with the labor shortage. With little oversight, Mexican workers were unrelentingly subjected to oppressive working conditions and physical mistreatment.
Segregation between Mexicans-Americans and Anglos prevailed in many public facilities, including movie theatres, schools, and swimming pools , not unlike the situation between whites and African-Americans. In parts of California, Mexicans and Blacks were often only allowed to swim on Wednesdays because that was the day the pool was to be drained and cleaned. Considered cheap, dirty, and expendable by employers and Anglo peers, Mexican immigrants and Mexican-Americans in the United States were forced to live as second-class citizens.
Mexicans were not the only ethnic group to suffer the sting of discrimination. The Alien Registration Act in 1940, an effort by the U.S. government to prevent the much-feared overthrow of the government, required, among other things, the registration and fingerprinting of all alien residents over fourteen years old. Two years later, in 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt issued Executive Order 9066, mandating the evacuation and internment of approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans living on U.S. soil. Additionally, by 1942, the populations of large U.S. cities, in particular Los Angeles, grew exponentially as waves of Mexican immigrants moved in to seek employment in industrial jobs.
By 1942, the country experienced the legalized ill-treatment of the Bracero workers, the congressional fear of a communist takeover, the imprisonment of Japanese Americans, the entry into the Second World War, and the swell of migration of all races to major U.S. cities. In the wake of these powerful events, fear, anger, and distrust took hold in the minds of Anglo-Americans, particularly in Los Angeles. On August 1, 1942, in Los Angeles County, José Díaz was found dead in an abandoned reservoir, dubbed the Sleepy Lagoon after a popular song of the day. Although the L.A. medical examiner found that Diaz's injuries were consistent with a hit-and-run accident, the local police authorities speculated that his death was the result of a retaliatory beating by the 38th Street Club whose members had been beaten by a group of boys from a rival neighborhood cohort the night before. There was no indication that Díaz was part of a rival neighborhood or a participant in the assault against the 38th Street Club. Moreover, there was no forensic evidence that Díaz's death was caused by members of the 38th Street Club. Díaz was simply at a location where the members of the 38th Street Club had decided to congregate.
Immediately following Díaz's murder, local newspapers sensationalized the story and urged the local police authorities to deal with the “Pachucos” and young “hoodlums” who they claimed contributed to the alleged rampant Mexican crime wave in Los Angeles. The police arrested more than 600 Mexican youths over two nights to “‘make the streets safe for everyone.”’
Fueled by the public's paranoid fear of Mexican youth, Captain E. Duran Ayres, Chief of the Foreign Relations Bureau of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Office submitted a “statistical” report (“Ayres Report”) to the grand jury in response to Díaz's murder. Ayers sought to distinguish and explain “the Mexican problem” that plagued L.A.:
All [a Mexican] knows and feels is a desire to use a knife or some lethal weapon. In other words, his desire is to kill, or at least let blood. And, ‘[w] hen there is added to this inborn characteristic that has come down through the ages, the use of liquor, then we certainly have crimes of violence.’
The Ayres Report further explained that as descendants of Aztecs who allegedly sacrificed 30,000 victims a day, Mexican Americans were naturally cruel and violent. Therefore, the solution to the present problem of the alleged Mexican-American crime wave was imprisonment. The Ayres Report represented the official view of the Los Angeles law enforcement.
At the Sleepy Lagoon trial, none of the twenty-two Mexican youths indicted for the murder of Díaz were allowed to change their clothes or cut their hair for the duration of the judicial proceeding. None of the defendants were allowed to sit or talk with their lawyer. Furthermore, not only did the prosecution fail to prove the twenty-two Mexican youths were part of a gang, but also it failed to introduce sufficient evidence to connect any of the defendants to the murder of Díaz.
Nonetheless, the trial court found seventeen of the twenty-two defendants guilty and doled out a range of punishments for offenses ranging from assault to first-degree murder. On October 4, 1944, with the help of the Sleepy Lagoon Defense Committee, the state Court of Appeal reversed the lower court's sentence on the grounds that the defendants' due process rights had been violated. Of the twelve Mexican-American youths convicted of first-degree murder, all had been incarcerated for a minimum of two years in prison before their official release in 1944. A year after the Sleepy Lagoon trial began, tensions between Mexican Americans and Anglos in Los Angeles continued to worsen. In particular, a series of altercations between Mexican-American youths and Anglo servicemen occurred, eventually leading to the “Zoot Suit Riots” or “Sailor Riots” over a four-day period in the summer of 1943. Beginning on May 30, 1943, a clash between a dozen sailors and Mexican-American youths broke out, ending with one sailor left unconscious. In response, approximately fifty sailors with concealed weapons sought revenge and targeted all Mexican-American youths wearing zoot suits. The sailors yelled: “Let's get the chili-eating bastards!” With the police taking the side of the sailors, Mexican-American youths were beaten and stripped of their clothing. As word spread that Pachucos could be attacked without fear of arrest, the sailors, together with two hundred allies, returned the following night in twenty hired cabs and conducted a “search and destroy” raid against all Mexican-American youths who lived in the East Los Angeles barrio.
Because the police maintained that they could not establish contact with the sailors and the press portrayed the sailors as heroes, the sailors continued to maraud for two more nights, freely assaulting any Mexican-American they saw. At the climax of the Zoot Suit Riots, approximately five thousand soldiers, sailors, and civilians took to the streets of Los Angeles seeking to assault not just Mexican Americans, but also Filipinos and African Americans.
By the time the Zoot Suit Riots had officially ended, more than 600 Mexican-American youths had been arrested as a “preventive” measure. Conversely, the sailors or the civilians who had participated in the riots and assaults were never charged with any crime because the city officials found that they had acted in self-defense.
III. Is Anti-Latino Violence Based on Racism? Anti-Immigrant Nativism? Or the Result of the Black/White Binary?
Whether anti-Latino violence is racist, nativist, or a result of the black/white binary depends upon the theoretical lens through which such violence is viewed. For instance, the murder of Varela should be scrutinized through a racist lens where the dominant narrative of race teaches that certain cultures are more superior to others or that the white majority group is, for the most part, “innocent” of racial discrimination. Varela's murder could, then, be understood to be a result of Kelley's customary “assertion of [racial] supremacy,” which maintains a cultural order based on, among other things, distinctive physical traits. With Varela's bronze-colored skin, indigenous-looking eyes, and full lips, he had many distinct physical characteristics that Kelley could have used, unconsciously or not, to assign himself a position of power over Varela. Moreover, because the public image of Latinos is still one of “an immigrant, a recent arrival,” or a racial Other to the dominant Anglo culture, Kelley may have believed his actions were justified to the extent that he was following the dominant Anglo cultural tradition of excluding those individuals who are deemed to be members of a separate and inferior race.
At the same time, Varela's murder must also be filtered through a nativist lens. As the reader will recall, nativism focuses on the “foreign” and “un-American” characteristics of an individual or group that promotes the elimination of those who are unable to assimilate fully into the dominant culture. In short, nativism translates “into a zeal [by the dominant society] to destroy the [foreign] enemies of a distinctively American way of life.” Varela, a man with 200 family members who lived in Phoenix, Arizona, at the time of his death, and a person who spoke Spanish, could certainly have been perceived to embody the trigger for Kelley's fear of foreigners.
According to the news reports, at the time of his arrest, Kelley was an “unemployed golf-cart repairman and greens supervisor.” He had no known family and presumably lived alone in a racially-mixed, low-income neighborhood. Alone and a residential “minority” in a charged environment of political hostility toward immigrants, Kelley's internalized and irrational fear made Varela an easy target. Not surprisingly, nativism becomes particularly pervasive in times of “national stress and fear, as in times of war, economic recession, or demographic shifts stemming from unwanted immigration[,] ” all of which are still prevalent and were particularly pronounced at the time of Varela's murder in 2010.
Like the public's paranoid fear of L.A.'s Mexican youth in the 1940s, itself a product of the country's pathological fear of a foreign takeover as it entered into the Second World War, Kelley saw Varela, like the 1940s Mexican hoodlums, as an internal foreigner whose cultural and linguistic traits represented a disloyalty to the dominant culture's concept of national unity. Thus, it is likely that Varela's murder was a result of Kelley's nativist beliefs about him.
However, the murder of Varela should also be examined through a racialized nativist lens. As a Mexican-American and a third-generation U.S. citizen, Varela might also have symbolized to Kelley the foreigner of color whose cultural traits prevented him full assimilation into the dominant culture and whose race excluded him from full acceptance by the dominant culture. For Kelley, Varela might have represented a foreigner who shared the same separate and inferior physical characteristics as the “imbecile and indolent” Mexican race. In Kelley's mind, Varela could have embodied the dirty, lazy race that drained public resources, took all the jobs, and contributed to the high rates of crime. All told, Varela perhaps signified to Kelley an American future in which cultural and racial diversity would “be among its defining features.” If Kelley believed that Varela's continued presence brought closer the dreaded day when diversity would triumph and blur the distinctions among the external foreigner, the internal foreigner of color, and the nationalist, then killing him might have made Kelley feel less fearful.
On the other hand, considering that Varela's murder occurred Arizona, the same state in which SB 1070 had been enacted just two weeks earlier, meaningful connections must also be drawn between the draconian anti-immigration mandates of the politicians and the negative effects of such directives on some citizens. Like the Alien Registration Act of 1940 and other comparable anti-immigration legislation, the enactment of SB 1070 authorized the limitation, reduction, or elimination of a particular immigrant group within the United States. SB 1070 was also enacted by decision-makers who feared such foreigners believing them to have a corrosive effect on the nation's security and identity.
Thus, Anglo citizens like Kelley are both encouraged and allowed to treat particular groups with hostility and disdain, if for no other reason than to maintain their own sense of national unity and security. At the same time, Anglos are bombarded with overheated rhetoric from state legislators suggesting that the way to control the immigration problem in the United States is to shoot immigrants in the same manner feral hogs are shot - by helicopter. Anglos are exposed daily to fear-filled rants that a weak stance on immigration will inevitably lead to “terror babies.” In such a climate, the connection between the murder of Varela and the broader political anti-immigrant sentiment emerges in stark relief.
Whether Kelley held racist or nativist beliefs that were validated by Arizona's SB 1070 law and whether those beliefs prompted his murdering of Varela are matters for debate. However, in the view of many Anglos, Latinos indisputably are the ethnic group that has embodied the image of the “alien” who does “not really belong to, or in, America.” As some scholars argue, “the public identification of ‘illegal aliens' with person[s] of Mexican ancestry is so strong that many Mexican Americans and other Latino citizens are presumed foreign and illegal. When citizens and aliens look alike, then all are presumed to be alien and foreign and undermining of the national character.”
Finally, it may be that Kelley felt free to murder Varela because he viewed him as a racially/ethnically unknowable and indefinable individual. Working within the black and white binary analysis, the racial construction of Mexican-Americans, and the resulting normalization of racial ambiguity of Latinos, prominently began in litigation. For example, in Hernandez v. Texas, although the Supreme Court held that Latinos were permitted to sue for discrimination in parts of the country where they could show local prejudice, it failed to recognize Latinos, as a group, as a separate race.
Throughout our history differences in race and color have defined easily identifiable groups which have at times required the aid of the courts in securing equal treatment under the laws. But community prejudices are not static, and from time to time other differences from the community norm may define other groups which need the same protection. Whether such a group exists within a community is a question of fact.
Similarly, in Tijerina v. Henry, New Mexico's District Court refused to allow Mexican Americans to define themselves as a separate class of “Mexican-Americans” who sought equal educational opportunities in local schools. As the court put it in its dismissal of the complaint, the term “Mexican-American” was too indistinct to be defined a class within the meaning of class action suits under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Alternatively, various lower federal and state courts have treated Mexicans as non-white. For example, in Inland Steel Co. v. Barcelona, the Indiana Appellate Court held that, as a legal classification of an inhabitant and citizen of the United States, “the word ‘Mexican’ should [not] necessarily be construed to be a white person” when the Encyclopedia Britannica states, “that approximately one-fifth of the inhabitants of Mexico are whites, approximately two-fifths Indians, and the balance made up of mixed bloods, Negroes, Japanese, and Chinese.” Similarly, in In re Camille, the Circuit Court of the District of Oregon that a man who “is as much an Indian as a white person” is not a white person under the naturalization laws because the words “white person” did not intend to include “the red race of America.”
In contrast, in Independent School District v. Salvatierra, the Texas Appellate Court held that Mexican school children could not be segregated from “children of other white races, merely or solely because they are Mexicans.” Accordingly, Mexican-Americans were seen as white by various lower courts.
As exemplified by the cases above, the racial construction of Mexican-Americans by the courts--as either white, not white, or of no racial identity at all--was a consequence of viewing Mexican-Americans within the paradigm of the black and white binary. As a result, the racial classification of Mexican-Americans lacked meaning and resolve. In fact, where the Anglo judges ruled that Mexicans were either white or non-white, it was often based on the need to “reformulate their white selves” and protect Anglo privilege. Although Mexicans were “co-whites” by law, they were never given the same degree of privilege and protection as their white compatriots. Thus, as non-racial equals, Mexicans, by law, were left with no racial classification at all. Accordingly, the categorization of Mexicans remained racially ambiguous.
Although Varela was a Mexican-American with brown skin, he was categorically racially ambiguous, and therefore, insignificant within the commonly accepted black/white paradigm. Thus, perhaps, the act of murdering Varela was not merely a product of Kelley's racist or nativist beliefs towards Varela, but was also fueled by his hatred and irrational fear of Varela's vague, shifting, and racially ambiguous identity - one that could easily stem directly from the various cases that failed to classify Latinos as a legitimized race.
IV. Authoritarianism and Anti-Latino Violence
‘My message to them is, not in two weeks, not in two months, not in two years, never! We must be clear that we will not surrender America and we will not turn the United States over to the invaders from south of the border[[.] ‘
“Invaders, that's what they are. Invaders on the American sovereignty and it cant [sic] be tolerated.”
The authoritarian lens provides a contextual view that draws together the separate lenses of racism, nativism, and the black/white binary to examine violence against Latinos in a deeper and more nuanced manner. It is essential to view such violence through the broader scope of authoritarianism because it examines the personal pathology of the abuser in addition to the cultural influences. Many, if not all, of the theories seeking to explain the continued mistreatment of Latinos have proceeded on the basis of either racism or nativism alone. For example, various scholars have argued that anti-immigrant sentiments are strictly “focus[ed] on racism [in] the absence of nativism . . . [which] reflects a historical amnesia of the recurring patterns of nativism across previous eras of anti-immigrant sentiment in the history of the US.” Thus, in supporting a theory that attempts to unify all posited theories related to the violence against Latinos, it is imperative that the theory not cloud or eliminate the socio-historical landscape in which the contemporary acts of violence against Latinos took root. Indeed, convincing connections should be made between the motivations behind the murder of Varela by Kelley in 2010 and the lynching of Jesús Romo by Anglo settlers in 1874 or that of the Sleepy Lagoon murder. While more than one theory may be necessary to explain the intricate motives behind violence against Latinos, the authoritarian theory focuses on personal pathology as a way to explain the origins of an individual's prejudice towards certain groups. The theory is, in that sense, eclectic - it intermingles with the individual's other beliefs, including racism, nativism, and the general fear of the Other.
Authoritarianism is the over-arching frame and lens for seeing Latinos and the impact of racism, nativism, and the black/white binary. Whether on a conscious or unconscious level, we all have been shaped by authoritarian upbringing and practices, which ingrained in us a need for authority, as well as a belief that punishment is in order for those who defy authority. For some, the need for authority may have stemmed from their relationship as the obedient child to their authoritarian parent. For others, the need for authority may have arisen from the drive to find stability in an otherwise disorganized world. For example, during times of economic recession, loss of employment, divorce, or death of a family member, authoritarianism, as an expression of traditionalist ideals or values can provide us with a sense of predictability and order in an environment that has become uncontrollable. It may be when we feel threatened or uncertain that we seek authority and become vulnerable to authoritarianism. And yet for all, “authority may simply fulfill the function of other needs[,] ” and not itself be the need which needs fulfilling.
At the apex of the Holocaust, social scientists sought answers to explain the success of German fascism, in addition to anti-Semitism and social discrimination. The work hypothesized “a personality profile--that is, relatively stable and pervasive characteristics and tendencies that form a coherent pattern--of ‘the potentially fascistic individual, one whose structure is such as to render him particularly susceptible to anti-democratic propaganda.”’ Thus, there emerges the authoritarian personality (TAP) that is obedient to authority because it developed from a “weak and dependent individual who has sacrificed his [sic] capacity for genuine experience of self and others in order to maintain . . . order and safety[[,] ” but nevertheless took authority to repress, punish, and oppress human beings who did not follow his own order-based reality.
For authoritarians, obedience “provided permanence, stability, and certainty.” In the United States, authoritarian movements were connected to traditional moralism, defense of the status quo, belief in the necessity of maintaining order, and hostility toward new ideas. In turn, authoritarians, as obeyers of rules, do “not hold independent judgments about the goodness or value of [the] rules. Obeyers simply believe that any challenge to rules is deeply threatening . . . .” Authoritarians are “rigid, inflexible[,] and intolerant of difference . . . . [and] ambiguity, [[and] . . . . likely to be prejudiced against racial, religious, and ethnic” groups who are not members of their own authoritarian group. Typically, authoritarian individuals have difficulty dealing with their own deviant impulses, such as aggression, fear, weakness, and sex within the constraints of social relations. Thus, ill equipped to confront such feelings directly, authoritarians displace their unacceptable urges onto others, particularly members of disempowered groups, and attribute to others what is so intolerable to themselves.
While authoritarian personalities can be extreme or mild, several core attributes of authoritarianism have remained constant and proven useful in understanding the social science behind prejudice. First, authoritarians need groups other than their own to maintain a sense of self. “Having failed to develop internally a consistent . . . set of values, [ authoritarian[s] gravitate toward[s] external sources of behavioral control, simultaneously both craving the comfort of externalized responsibility and resenting the resulting stultification of identity and inhibition of impulses.” Thus, Kelley, unable to accept his own feelings of fear and anger, whether due to his joblessness, loneliness, or helplessness, turned his hostility outward. Varela became the target of Kelley's internal conflicts; Varela became the representation of those hostilities. This provided the ideological construct from which Kelley developed his hierarchal relationship with Varela. Varela embodied the negative feelings, ideas, and images Kelley sought to repress, which to Kelley became the basis for his hostile action toward Varela. Therefore, Varela represented the opposite of everything Kelley believed he was: clean, conventional, well-mannered, and disciplined. By degrading Varela, Kelley demonstrated his inability to distinguish between the good and bad characteristics of an individual such as Varela.
Second, authoritarian personalities need groups other than their own to be the vehicles by which they assert dominance. Thus, authoritarians are more prone to seek groups of lower social status. Their victims tend to adhere less to Anglo-sanctioned and defined convention and conventional values, and therefore, are more likely to be considered to violate the (Anglo-made and monitored) rules. As suggested by one writer, authoritarians see human relationships in terms of “justified applications of power[,] ” where, in a just world, the Other only “frustrates the processes of justice and fair play[.] ” Thus, authoritarians are “justified in resorting to facially unjust measures ” in order to make the world just again. In turn, authoritarians have greater opportunity to control those victims who are deemed to have demonstrated their unruly behavior and feel justified to destroy those victims “to prevent them from destroying” the authoritarian. While Kelley and Varela were likely similar in terms of class, they were dissimilar racially. They were also dissimilar in their experiences with social prejudices and bigotry that stemmed from their racial difference. Certainly, Varela was of a racial group that, in Kelley's eyes, represented a threat to Anglo convention. Moreover, where authoritarians tend to only “associate [themselves] with the ‘right kind of people[,] ”’ including individuals who are of an “‘accepted’ . . . social status,” Varela had little hope of becoming a real choice of friend to Kelley. Like other perceived foreigners who do not share the same physical features and cultural traits as the Anglo nativists, Varela emerged as a destructive force for the Anglo national identity in Kelley's view. In turn, Kelley believed it was his duty to rectify the destructiveness that Varela represented for him by murdering Varela.
Third, authoritarian personalities are close-minded. Because authoritarians view the outside world as disorderly and threatening, they have a close-minded belief system that resists change if it is not specifically tied to or endorsed by authority. Kelley may have found Varela intolerable because he represented the opposite of everything Kelley believed he was, and therefore, he was impervious to seeing Varela as a human being. In addition, Kelley could have been easily persuaded by Anglo nativist social influence, if such influence was commanded by a person with authority and power. Kelley more than likely was exposed to such anti-Latino sentiments as: ‘Mexican men have a reputation for leering and worse at little girls, which shouldn't surprise us, since sex with children is socially acceptable in Mexico.‘ When this type of rant was publicized and publicly espoused by state legislators, Kelley may have sought to submit himself to such authoritative demands and, thereby, to provide himself with a moral justification to murder Varela--a perceived and singled-out threat to national unity simply because he was perceived morally weak and culturally inferior.
Authoritarianism provides a relevant, unifying, and corollary insight to the theories of racism, nativism and the black/white binary that leads to Latinos' racial ambiguity. This insight is useful in explaining the motives behind violence against Latinos. Without the addition of authoritarian theory and application, the analysis of the Varela murder, the Sleepy Lagoon trial, and the Zoot Suit Riots can easily disappear from public memory because they do not fit neatly into the traditional black/white binary that dominates legal discourse.
On February 9, 2011, Judge Susan Brnovich declared a mistrial in the case against Kelley when the jury failed to reach a verdict. Although it is uncertain how many jurors were not convinced of Kelley's guilt and why, the facts show that the jurors who heard and deliberated the case were all white.
The murder of Varela can be attributed to a variety of causes: the anxiety and fulfillment that Kelley may have felt based on the mandates and outcries made by public officials who advocated fear and intolerance towards immigrants; the racist and nativist beliefs that Kelley probably held against Varela as a perceived foreigner in this country; and the entitlement Kelley may have believed he had to murder Varela because of the ambiguity that continues to surround the racial/ethnic classification of Latinos. Separately, each of these rationales is plausible in explaining Kelley's motive to murder his innocent, Mexican-American neighbor. Yet, as separate and distinct rationales, their ability to explain the murder of Varela suffers. Therefore, a framework - the authoritarian perspective - in which all three theories of racism, nativism, and the black/white binary combine and work together helps us to understand events such as Varela's murder.
This overlapping theoretical approach allows us to see that Latinos are the victims of a society that permits them to be erased by minimizing the impact of racism, nativism, and the black/white binary that, most of the time, we prefer to ignore. Without a deeper and more nuanced examination of the treatment of Latinos by the dominant society, the Latino community will continue to suffer erasure. Latinos will remain nowhere in sight.
. B.A., University of California, Riverside (2008); Seattle University School of Law, J.D. expected 2012.